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Pulling in the crowds

Reporter: Words: KEN BENNETT
Date online: 25 August 2014

THE resounding beat of the bass drum echoed across the valley heralding the start of a spectacular weekend of celebration.

In Uppermill, crowds six-deep parted to allow Saddleworth Morris Men’s 40th Rushcart Festival to begin the all-day jamboree in Greenfield, Delph and Dobcross before returning to the village square.

It was the first of two glorious days which had villages reverberating to the sound of clogs, jingling bells mingled with accordions and drums.

Saddleworth Morris Men, clad in their distinctive multi-coloured waistcoats, blue sashes and breeches, acted as a vanguard — beguiling the crowds on the eight-mile tour. Centrepiece of their cavalcade was the two-ton rushcart and its jockey, astride the swaying, 15ft-high tower of rushes.

The group was backed by 26 guest morris sides and supporters from across the UK, including Newcastle, Birmingham, London and Devon.

And yesterday’s sunshine brought a day of mixed emotion as the rushcart was heaved by the battalion of morris men to a packed Saddleworth Parish Church for the rush-bearing service.

Unassuming Richard Hankinson was retiring after 25 years of dedicated service as the team’s squire.

During his tenure, Saddleworth morris men have moved from a quaint folklore spectacle to the respected international stage making appearances across Holland, Czech Republic, Ireland and even San Paulo in Brazil.

Richard (60) first joined the morris men the day after rushcart festival in 1980 and now his son Paul (33) is an enthusiastic member of the team.

They are hoping Richard’s grandson Oliver, who celebrates his first birthday today, will follow the family’s tradition.

“I don’t actually leave my role as squire until next Easter and I certainly won’t be leaving the side,” Richard explained. “But this is my last rushcart and it has been a very emotional weekend. I’ve been greeted with such warmth by folk in every village — without their marvellous support we could not have grown.”

Traditional events running alongside the rushcart parade included a series of competitions held outside the Church Inn and Cross Keys.

The worst group singer contest was won by Katie Pearce and Aylia Hewitt with Kath Brooks taking the worst solo singer crown. Gurning champion was Peter Ashworth.

 

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