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British Life & Culture

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by Mandy Barrow

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Plough Monday Traditions and Customs

What and when is Plough Monday?

The first Monday after Twelfth Night is Plough Monday, a day when ploughmen traditionally blackened their faces and marked the end of the Christmas period for the agricultural communities.


As agricultural work was scarce in the winter, farm labourers disguised themselves, by blacking their faces with soot, to get money by dragging a decorated plough around the larger houses in the villages. As they dragged the plough they would shout out "Penny for the ploughboys!". 

Ploughs were often decorated with colourful rags/ribbons

They were often accompanied by someone acting the Fool. This character would often be dressed in animal skins and a tail, and carried a pig's bladder on the end of a stick.

Molly Dancers

Molly dancing is most commonly performed on or around Plough Monday.

In the past, Molly dancers sometimes accompanied the farm labourers to dance and entertain for money. They blackened their faces with soot to disguise themselves so they could not be recognised by their future employers.

Old Golly Molly Dancers

Molly dancing traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris. The dances are still performed today.

Old Golry Molly Dancers

Blessing of the Ploughs

In medieval times it was common for ploughs to be blessed by the church on Plough Sunday. Farmers resumed their work on Plough Monday after the 12 days of Christmas.

Plough Monday Plays

Plough Monday plays were popular in parts of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands. They were similar to that of Christmas Mummers Plays in that they were performed by young men and included some of the same story elements, such as the death and resurrection of one of the characters.

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival

During the 19th century Straw Bears - men or boys clothed in a layer of straw - were a familiar Plough Monday. In some places, instead of dragging a decorated plough, one of the farm labourers dressed as a straw bear and along with other farm labourers would beg door to door for money. 

The tradition of someone dressing up as a straw bear is maintained every year in January, in Whittlesey, near Peterborough.

Straw bear

On the Saturday before Plough Monday the Straw Bear is paraded through the streets of Whittlesey.

The bear is a man covered from head to foot in a straw costume that weighs about five stone.

The Straw bear is attended by a host of morris, molly and folk dancing, and musician from all over the UK.

Click here to see more photos of the straw bear

Click here to see more photos of the morris, molly and folk dancing.


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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.