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The History of Rushbearing in Great Urswick
The Church of St. Mary and St. Michael

In September on the nearest Sunday to St. Michael's Day when the rushes growing round the Tarn are at their best, what better time to celebrate the changing of the rushes on the floor of the church.

We have to go back a few hundred years to recognise the need for such an annual event. There had been a church on the present site for some two hundred years before the building of Fumess Abbey. The church took its present form with the Pele tower but was a smaller version than the current one.

In the Middle Ages there were no pews in the nave - only forms round the walls with an earth floor throughout. Some people had to walk many miles to Sunday service and afterwards the men practiced archery in the churchyard for the King's army and the butcher sold meat on a slab outside the porch. Grooves where the arrows and knives were sharpened are still in evidence on the porch wall.

The church and the original Grammar School in Little Urswick were very closely linked, the vicar also acting as headmaster. He was allowed to graze two cows in the churchyard (the remains of the chain to stop cows entering the porch can still be seen). At some point it was decided that the muddy floor of the church would be improved by strewing rushes over it from around the Tarn.... Village men would take horses and carts and cut down the rushes and the used ones would be removed and burnt. This replacement of rushes only happened once a year.

In 1905, to commemorate this, the Rev'd. Thomas Norman Postlethwaite instigated the rushbearing ceremony and wrote a special hymn for the service.  He was a bachelor living in Little Urswick and was vicar for twenty-seven years. Often he was seen cycling through the village carrying his carpet bag.


The then headmaster of the school set up the election of the Rush Queen, her attendants and sword-bearers and every child in the school took part in the procession and service. Years later the school situation changed and the ceremony was almost lost but in the days when the church had a Sunday School the event was Once again held,

Now we try to follow as much of the old tradition as possible when the church and school join in this ceremony near St. Michael's Day. The procession starts from the school led by the crucifer and Dalton Town Band and includes the vicar, church dignitaries, the choir, the Rush Queen and her retinue, followed by children and adults from the village carrying rushes and flowers behind the rushbearing banner.

They process round the village stopping to sing hymns at various points, then back to the church and inside for the service. The Rush Queen, wearing a lovely crown made from rushes, is presented with a white bound Bible The children's posies are laid on the altar and blessed. Towards the end of the service the children collect their flowers and go into the church­yard and place them on unattended old graves.

Following the service there is an open invitation to return to the school hall where teachers and parents serve tea, orange juice and homemade ginger bread. And for another year the Rushbearing Ceremony has been observed.                                           

  Mrs V, Ellis

The Rushbearing Banners and the Rush Queens

There are two banners, the first, known as the 'Old Banner' covers the years 1905 to 1992 and has the names of all the Rush Queens embroidered on it; some on the front and others cover the whole of the back.

A 'New Banner' was made in 1993 to the present day and the tradition of embroidering the names of the Rush Queens continues.

A full list of Rush Queens from 1905 to the present day can be seen on the banners in Church


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The old and new Rushbearing Banners