The Tradition of the Clayworth Plough Plays

An image of three of the main protagonists, the Clown, the Sergeant and Eezum-Squeezum

Plough Monday

Plough Monday can be traced right back to medieval times.  It traditionally saw the return to work after the break for Christmas, especially in northern and eastern England.  The traditions for Plough Monday varied from village to village.  Plough Monday was originally the first Monday after the twelfth day of Christmas, 6 January.  Epiphany.

An image of the Clown
The Clown

A unique tradition

The tradition very nearly disappeared during World War 1 and then again in the Second World War.  Credit is due to the players and the landlords of both village pubs for upholding this unique tradition.

The Sergeant in his bright red coat
Enter the Sergeant

Plough Sunday

Naturally, the day before Plough Monday is not surprisingly known as Plough Sunday.  This tradition more often than not, now takes place in Clayworth, North Nottinghamshire, on the third Sunday of January.   

An image of three of the main protagonists, the Clown, the Sergeant and Eezum-Squeezum
The Clown, the Sergeant and Old Eezum-Squeezum

The death of the earth

In medieval times and in the dead of winter it was thought that the earth ‘died’ and there was a possibility that nothing would ever grow again. It was difficult to believe that the earth would ever wake up and again provide food.. 

A battle between Light and Dark, Good and Evil, Life and Death

I am lucky enough to live in the village of Clayworth in north Nottinghamshire, England where the most well-known of these plays still takes place.  The ‘script’ is usually a bit of nonsense but has a hidden, topical message somewhere within.   A pretend battle is fought between Light and Darkness.  Darkness is killed and then brought back to life by some miracle. The death of the Old Year and the arrival of the New Year is symbolised in this tableau.

The village pubs

This year the play was performed as usual in the surrounding villages on the Friday before Plough Sunday. 

The Blacksmith’s Arms in Clayworth     https://www.blacksmithsclayworth.com/ and the Brewers Arms, also in Clayworth,  http://www.brewersarmsclayworth.co.uk/  both play host to the Plough Play on Plough Sunday.

An image of The Blacksmith’s Arms, one of Clayworth’s pubs to host the Plough Play
The Blacksmith’s Arms, one of Clayworth’s pubs which hosts the Plough Play

 

An image of the Brewer’s Arms, one of Clayworth’s pubs to host the Plough Play
The Brewer’s Arms at Clayworth who also play Bost to the Plough Play

It gets very busy

The bar at the Brewers’ begins to fill from 12.15pm and by 12.45pm when the players arrive, it is absolutely heaving. Get there early, get a drink and a seat… and if you think ahead book for Sunday lunch, you won’t be disappointed.

Old Eezum-Squeezum

A fiddler and an accordionist enter the pub, followed at different times by the players: the Clown, the Plough ‘boy’, the ‘Horse’, the Soldier, Old Eezum-Squeezum (sometimes known as Beelzebub), and the Doctor.  Sounds bizarre and yes it is, but highly entertaining and amusing with rhymes and short songs which have been  passed down through the years.  There is even a sword dance! 

It was once common for those who took part in these plays to blacken their faces as a disguise.  They might also include something to associate with nature in their costumes such as a flower or feathers.

A Morris-cum-Sword dance takes place in a very confined space
A Morris/Sword dance in a confined space

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Eezum-Squeezum lies dead on the floor surrounded by all the other Plough Players
Eezum-Squeezum – dead on the floor!

It’s a miracle!

The climax of the play is the fight between Light and Dark,  Good and Evil, Life and Death.  It culminates in the slaying of Darkness (Old Eezum-Squeezum) – who is usually brought back to life by ‘the Doctor’ – and everyone lives happily ever after – with a pint in hand!

An image of Bessie singing her lament
Bessie… or Bill Oddie!

Good luck, fertility and wealth

The play brings together farmers and villagers.  The purpose of the play is to bring luck, fertility and wealth.  You need to be there in order to get your share, so put the date in your diary for 2020!

All you ever wanted to know about gin

Is it the weekend yet?

I like gin and so was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Plymouth Gin on a recent visit to Devon.  I discovered everything I ever wanted to know about gin.

The Plymouth Gin Distillery
Plymouth Gin Distillery

A visit to Plymouth Gin Distillery

The cost of a tour of Plymouth Gin http://plymouthgin.com/ is £7 (no concessions) and it is worth every penny.  There were about 18 others on the tour too.  We were asked to lock away our bags and cameras and switch off our phones.  A strict ‘no photography allowed’ policy is observed. Which is a shame, I  would like to have iincluded an image or two of a Victorian copper vat or perhaps a few ‘botanicals’. 

Good value

The tour lasts for forty minutes and is finished off in the bar with either a complimentary gin and tonic or a miniature gin or sloe gin to take away with you.  

The oldest distillery in England

Plymouth Gin has been on the Barbican near the famous harbour since 1793.  Parts of the building date back to the 1400s when it was a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars… and their distillery – it is now the oldest working gin distillery in England.  

The entrance to Plymouth Gin
The entrance to Plymouth Gin

A link with the Pilgrim Fathers

Plymouth is renowned for its associations with the navy.  One of its most famous sons being Sir Francis Drake.   It was also the last port of call for the Pilgrim Fathers before they set sail for the New World in 1620 https://www.mayflower400uk.org/visit/scrooby-babworth/notts-attractions/mayflower-pilgrim-visitor-centre/.   A wooden plaque in the upstairs cocktail bar lists some of those who boarded the Mayflower on their way to lay down the foundations of what we know today as the United States of America.  An image of the Mayflower, the ship on which the Pilgrims departed these shores, is on every bottle of Plymouth Gin.

A wooden plaque with the names of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 on their way to the New World
A list of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620

Dutch origins

From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has developed from a herbal remedy to a major player in the spirit industry. Gin was based on the Dutch drink known as jenever.  It became popular in Britain when William of Orange became King William III of England.  English soldiers who fought in Holland in the 17th century, drank jenever to calm themselves before battle.  It soon became known as ‘Dutch Courage’ which we know today as drinking alcohol in order to steady the nerves.

Mother’s ruin

Gin was also known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’.  In the mid eighteenth century the effects of gin on the family and economy were disastrous. Gin was the poor man’s drink because of its affordability.  Drinking it had started out as a medicine but as it was cheap and readily available, men became impotent and women became sterile.  This caused the London birth rate to drop.  Also, drinking a pint of gin and having an extremely hot bath was recommended as a way to induce a miscarriage during the 1950s and 60s.

Botanicals

Botanicals are the core flavouring agents for gin.  They can be roots, fruits, herbs or spices.  The botanicals used vary but all must contain juniper berries by law.   

Juniper

Juniper is the most important botanical in gin. In the 16th century it was used as a remedy for indigestion. The juniper is a hardy bush and grows wild all around the globe. And it is juniper that gives gin its pine aroma and bitter(ish) taste. 

Coriander

When dried the essential oils obtained from coriander seeds provide an unexpected citrus top note to gin.

Cardamom 

Cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices.  It is from the ginger family and is often found in the rice portion of your Indian takeaway.  Not much cardamom is needed.  It can provide gin with a distinctive, spicy flavour that works with juniper and coriander.

Orris root

Orris root is from the rhizomes of the Iris plant and has a faint, sweet aroma.  If you are old enough to remember Parma Violet, then it is very similar to that.  However, it is not used for its scent but for it’s fixative powers. 

Angelica root

Angelica root, which we know as the crystallised green streams used in cake-decorating and trifles, adds another earthy note to the gin and marries the other botanical ingredients together.

Citrus peels

The oil derived from lemon and orange peels is used as flavouring in gin.  Different brands of gin use varying blends of botanicals which gives them their individuality.

Wheat-based alcohol

The alcohol that carries the botanicals in Plymouth Gin is wheat-based and comes from Yorkshire.

Exit through the shop

Three types of gin are on sale in the shop at the end of the tour: Regular Plymouth Gin is 41% and is generally used for a standard gin and tonic. (Tonic water originally contained quinine which was used to protect against malaria in the tropics.  The gin was added to disguise the bitter taste of the quinine).

And Navy Strength

Navy Strength Plymouth Gin which is 57%.  It seems that ordinary strength gin – if leaked onto the gunpowder on board ship – would render the gunpowder useless.  But they found that the higher proof gin, if accidentally spilled onto gunpowder, would enhance the properties of the powder.  And so Navy Strength was provided for officers of the Royal Navy, which they drank with water.  Ratings, however were still issued with their rum ration.

Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Navy Strength

And Sloe Gin

Sloes are harvested locally from Dartmoor.  They are stored in sugar and gin for four months to make a delightful, slightly almond-flavoured liquer.  It goes well with Stilton as an alternative to port.

Copa Balloon Glass

I also purchased a Copa glass.  This is the type of balloon glass that has a stem, a bit like a red wine glass.  The Copa de Balon glass dates back to the 1700s – so not as modern as I imagined.

The distinctive navy blue packaging of Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Nay Strength and Copa glass

Cocktails

A Gimlet is gin mixed with lime cordial.  Again, this has its roots in the Royal Navy, the lime provided the vitamin C and is where English sailors got their name ‘Limeys’ (from the Yankees).

A Pink Gin is again thought to have originated from the Royal Navy. Plymouth gin is a ‘sweet’ gin, as opposed to London gin which is ‘dry’, and had angostura bitters added as an antidote for sea sickness.

A typical pink gin is one part gin and one dash of angostura bitters.

A classic gin and tonic with a slice of lemon
A classic gin and tonic

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about gin.  Drink anyone?

An old ‘new look’ for Worksop Station

I am the secretary of a local group which has a very catchy title ‘The North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Community Rail Partnership, Bassetlaw Area Group’ commonly known as NNLCRPBAG (!) NNLCRP works towards integrating public and private service provision to offer travellers an effective and efficient range of transport choices.  It works in partnership with transport operators, public and private organisations to serve the needs of the communities within which it operates. (Phew! Glad that’s cleared up).

Newly refurbished Worksop Railway Station
All those involved with the refurbishment of Worksop Station

I am the one in the hat!

The group supports, and also acts as a lobby group, to transport providers in this very rural area where I live.  One such project is the refurbishment of Worksop Station, recently completed.  Worksop Station is currently the last stop on the Robin Hood Line, direct out of Nottingham to the Dukeries.  

All those involved in this renovation project got together on Tuesday 17th July to look at – and to celebrate, the completion of the renovation work.  Network Rail  https://www.networkrail.co.uk/ supported by the Railways Heritage Trust  http://railwayheritagetrust.co.uk/ and contractors CML https://www.cml.uk.com/news/ has now completed an authentic restoration of the historic, grade 2-listed, Worksop railway station. The station canopies, roofs and windows have been carefully refurbished and repainted, as has the signal box on the Carlton road crossing.

Signal Box
The signal box at Carlton Road Worksop

The Worksop Station project captured the imagination of everyone involved. Network Rail allocated significant additional funding to complete the heritage detailing. 

Cllr David Pidwell, Cabinet Member for Transport at Bassetlaw District Council http://www.bassetlaw.gov.uk/, said ‘It’s fantastic that so many organisations have worked together to complete this important restoration. Worksop station is a gateway to the town from both the rail and road network; it is a potent symbol for the people of Worksop. The station is one of the few buildings in the town which provides a practical service every day to its people whilst having its roots embedded in the heritage of the area.’

Platform 1 Canopy at Worksop Station
The Great Central Rail (GCR) livery restored to Worksop Station

The new colour scheme is that originally used by The Great Central Railway (GCR) in England which came into being when the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name in 1897 in anticipation of the opening in 1899 of its London Extension. The GCR was the first railway to be granted a coat of arms. The arms were granted on 25 February 1898. On 1 January 1923, the company was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).

Worksop Station will feature in this year’s Worksop Charter celebrations, on Saturday 8th September.

The Traquair Murals (the what Murals?)

Fancy that!

There is ‘brown road sign’ local to us pointing towards ‘The Traquair Murals’ – and as I have only lived in the area a relatively short time, my thoughts were ‘the what murals?’  How on earth is it that pronounced?  Well, through sneaky research I have it on good authority that it is pronounced ‘Trakwair’ and… what are they?  Here is everything you ever wanted to know about the hidden gem of the Nottinghamshire countryside that is the ‘Traquair Murals’:

Phoebe Traquair was born Phoebe Anna Moss on 24 May 1852 in Kiltern, County Dublin, Ireland.  Her parents were Dr William Moss and Teresa Moss (née Richardson). Phoebe was the sixth of their seven children.  She studied art at the School of Design at the Royal Dublin Society between 1869 and 1872 and married the Scottish palaeontologist Ramsay Heatley Traquair on 5 June 1873.  They had three children: Ramsay, Harry and Hilda.

Phoebe’s elder brother was William Richardson Moss, a keen art collector who owned a number of works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti who founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, she shared her brother’s love of art, including a particular fascination with the work of Rossetti and that of William Blake.  Her style and choice of subject matter remained deeply influenced by Blake and Rossetti’s art and poetry throughout her life.

So what has Phoebe got to do with a sleepy little village in North Nottinghamshire?

St Peter’s Church in Clayworth (link: http://www.stpetersclayworth.org) is home to one of only two similar artworks outside of Scotland.  These particular murals are the largest works of art in the East of England and were created by Phoebe Traquair in 1905.  And they have to be seen to be believed… vibrant, rich colours that bring the centuries-old, grey, stone walls of the village church to life.  Phoebe’s earlier Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts influences can clearly be seen in this unique, peaceful environment.

On a silver tablet are the words: ‘To the glory of God as a thank offering for the safe return from the Boer War 1899 -1902 of her beloved son Captain Joseph Frederick Laycock DSO, who being at that time a Major in the Sherwood Rangers Imperial Yeomanry, served on the staff of General Sir John French KCB, this chancel has been decorated in deep gratitude, by his mother Lady D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne,’

I strongly recommend a visit to the church to see this work of art but put on your walking boots and take the opportunity to walk down the lane opposite the church to Otter’s Bridge, walk over the bridge, taking in the views of open-countryside then turn left and follow the canal tow-path to the next bridge.  Leave the canal at this point (unless you want a good 6 mile ramble into Retford) turn left again and follow the road back to the church.  Take this opportunity to call in at either the Brewer’s Arms (link: http://www.brewersarmsclayworth.co.uk) or The Blacksmiths (link: http://www.blacksmithsclayworth.com) for a refresher.  After which, continue back up the road to St Peter’s Church to complete the circuit.  It won’t take long – an afternoon should do it.  If you haven’t seen the Traquair Murals then put it on your to do list.  You won’t regret it, an afternoon well spent.