Bibliography of Nottinghamshire Folk Plays & Related Customs

M.Barley (1993)

Maurice Barley (Auth.)
THE CHIEFEST GRAIN [Autobiography of Plough Play collector Maurice Barley]
Nottingham, University of Nottingham, 1993, ISBN 0-904857-05-0

This is the autobiography of the archaeologist Prof. Maurice Willmore Barley, also covering the life of his wife Diana, and including some family history. Barley was an important collector of plough plays, mainly in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The following passages relate to his collecting activities.

While based at the University of Hull, and living in outlying Cottingham, he collected plays in north Lincolnshire:

p.70 - "...The most stimulating company was not that of another academic but of Mrs. E.H.(Peter) Rudkin. A widow of the first world war, she lived with her parents at Willoughton near Gainsborough, and her interests ranged from the old stone age to folk lore. She was a born fieldworker, if there is such a thing, and others have recorded in print how she started them off in one direction or another of research on Lincolnshire (N.Field and A.White, A Prospect of Lincolnshire, 1984). She introduced me to Plough Monday plays, which I went on to collect systematically. ..."

p.70-71 - "... I first heard shepherd's numerals (yan, tan, tethera, etc) from a road-mender in my Alkborough class. If one was lucky enough to get access to local records, the students could explain the topographical details. So Jack Martin, the blacksmith at Barrow on Humber, Lincolnshire, made sense for me of the Barrow town book, a statement of village customs and dues which I published in 1938, to show how a village managed its agrarian affairs before the open fields were enclosed. Martin eventually revived the Barrow Plough Jag play, and Alan Lomax came to tape the performance for the Library of Congress."

After the second world war, he moved to the University of Nottingham, living at North Muskham, and resumed collecting in Nottinghamshire:

p.57 - "I picked up again one of the projects from the 1930s: collecting, mostly from adult class members, the texts of Plough Monday plays, or traditions of them. I found they had been performed in more than 80 east midland villages; the recruitment of young men in 1914-18 had broken the tradition, which must go back to the middle ages, though that is impossible to prove explicitly. Oddly enough, the best evidence came from our own village of North Muskham. Billy Gascoyne remembered the whole text, last performed before 1914. Records of the church courts show that in January 1597 the village team was charged at Southwell with 'ploughing in the churchyard and misusing themselves in the church on Plough Day last'. They appeared in court dressed as plough bullocks and were ordered 'to go and turn down again the furrows in the churchyard'. This is much the earliest reference to what was their practice to the end - ploughing a furrow across a lawn of overturning a doorstep of any householder who refused to let them into a house to perform their play and then be entertained. Obviously they were demonstrating in 1597 against a vicar's disapproval of what he thought was a superstitious practice. One person who helped to collect songs was Laurence Butler, now a medieval archaeologist, then a Nottingham schoolboy who took up folk-dancing while at Cambridge."

Index Terms:
Locations: Notts.; Lincs.; Barrow on Humber, Lincs. (TA0721); North Muskham, Notts. (SK7958)
Years: Col. 1930s; Col.1950s; Ceased before 1914; Perf. 1597; Publ. 1993
Subjects: Plough Plays; Autobiography; Shepherd's Numerals; Plough Jag; Plough Monday; Church Court Case; Plough Day; Malicious Ploughing; Field,N. & White,A. (1984) A Prospect of Lincolnshire
People: Prof. Maurice Willmore Barley (Auth.); Diana Barley (Spouse); Mrs. E. H. (Peter) Rudkin (Col.); Jack Martin (Perf.); Alan Lomax (Col.); Billy Gascoyne (Perf.); Laurence Butler (Col.)
Archives: Ref.: TD00769

Indexed by Peter Millington. Last updated Jul.2007

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