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Ancient Durham traditions revived on Plough Sunday

Celebrations for Plough Sunday last weekend revived an ancient English tradition which was first recorded in Durham in 1413.

Celebrations for the start of the agricultural year began in the Durham City Market Place, before a crowd of morris dancers, traditional musicians and members of the public followed the plough as it was drawn into the Cathedral.

The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham, received them and led a short service, after which a symbolic gift of four coins in a leather bag were given to those drawing the plough.

Plough Sunday celebrations historically involved the drawing of a plough around the community to mark the start of the agricultural year. Feasts were held, and those dragging the plough performed songs, dances and plays along their route. Plough Sunday gained a riotous, carnival atmosphere as it marked the return to work for agricultural workers, but died out after the nineteenth century.

Durham has the oldest recorded mention of the celebration of Plough Sunday in England: in 1413 an official from Durham Priory presented four pence to the group drawing the plough.

Paul Martin, a Morris dancer and traditional musician from Durham and one of the 6 ‘plough stots’ who hauled the plough, revived the custom after realising its special link to Durham.

“We revived the celebration of Plough Sunday in Durham five years ago, and it has grown in size and audience each year,” said Paul, “This year Morris sides from Durham and Yorkshire gathered to perform and raise the profile of these historic traditions. Plough Sunday is a brilliant way to engage people in a sense of community, place and the past, and we are thrilled that the event is so popular with local audiences.”

The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham, said, “The Cathedral is honoured to be involved in this recreation of a historic and lively tradition. Durham is a city rooted in its history, and it is entertaining but also profound to draw back the veil of history to reveal the customs of a world from six centuries ago.

"Plough Sunday showcases the role of the community in the life of the Cathedral, and we fully support the revival of a tradition that encourages inquisitive members of the public into the Cathedral.”

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