Plough Sunday was, at one time, a major event in the towns and villages of East Anglia. On the first Sunday/Monday after Epiphany, a plough would be drawn through the streets accompanied by singing, dancing and drinking. The plough would be blessed as the agricultural community began a new season of ploughing and growing in the fields. The practice fell in and out of fashion over the years, and in recent times, there has been something of a revival of the tradition. One example of this re-born rural festival took place in Cawston over the weekend.
In medieval times, Cawston had a Plough Guild which met at the nearby Plough Inn in Sygate. On Plough Sunday or Monday, the Guild would process the plough from Sygate into the village of Cawston with great ceremony and festivity, raising money for the Guild and highlighting the importance of agriculture to the village community. They would also light candles and say prayers for a fruitful harvest in the year to come.
The tradition has been revived in Cawston by the local church, and on Sunday 7 January 2024 a procession of horses, tractors and over 50 villagers walked from Sygate to Cawston, singing carols as they walked though the village.
Team Vicar, the Revd Andrew Whitehead, said, “It’s been a real joy to revive the tradition of Plough Sunday in Cawston. It gives us a chance to remember and thank all of those people who work in the fields around us to provide our food, and it allows us to pray for them as they go about their important work.”
Plough Sunday coincides with the church’s celebration of Epiphany – the time when the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus – and so this weekend’s celebrations in Cawston blended the two traditions, with the Wise Men catching a lift in the cabs of the tractors. They were safely delivered to the church and installed in the nativity scene.
The church of St Agnes in Cawston is one of many in Norfolk to house a horse-drawn plough – a reminder of the way we used to work the land. The church also contains other artefacts which tell the story of the traditions involving the plough. When the Plough Inn closed in the sixties, the pub sign was given to the church and is still proudly displayed above the plough. The church also has a gallery dedicated to the Plough Guild, with an inscription carved on its edge…”God spede the plow and send us ale corn enow oor purpose for to make: At crow of cok of the plowlete of Sygate: Be mery and glade wat good ale yis work mad.“