Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

Village Traditions

Plough Monday, or Ploughboy Plays in Woodborough:

The characters in most of the plays come from the more recent past, the time of the Crusades. Mrs Annie Hill of Shelt Hill shares her memories of the Woodborough play. As a small girl, before the First World War, she recalls seeing her brothers performing in this Plough Monday play. They would make their way round the cottages of Church Walk, New Row and the other old houses that used to be on Roe Hill, there way lighted by a stable lantern on a stick. Furniture would be pushed back in the tiny rooms and in would march the characters one by one.

The public holiday on the Monday following 6 January. In the Middle Ages farm-workers in eastern England raised money for the local parish church by drawing a plough around the streets. The associated performance of a play involving song, dance, verse, and ad-libbing is not recorded before the 1760’s, though it may have been earlier. In rural areas where the tradition survived into the late 19th century the players toured the local farmhouses and were rewarded with food and drink.

Up until the First World War there were Plough Plays performed in Woodborough. There is no evidence as to when they began. The leader would go to a selected house and ask if they were interested in seeing the play. Most people were, but if they weren’t they stood the risk of having the front lawn ploughed up, which once happened!

A common theme runs through most plough plays wherever they are performed. Usually one of the cast dies only to be resuscitated by a “quake doctor”, which may be a an ancient reference to the triumph of life over death. Another character seems to take the part of the person who has voracious appetite. The plays themselves were traditionally performed on the second Monday in January and could have been proceeded by a Plough Service in Church.

There are many variations of verses but a typical performance would be as follows:  

We wish you all a merry night and a happy New Year.

What can you do?

I cure Ipsey Pipsy, palay, goat pains within, pains without,

Cure him then

In comes the farmer

What can you do?

Plough, sow, reap, mow, as far as I go from end to end

I never make a baulk or bend

 “Gee back, woe”,

The all group together they sing -

“We are the Jolly Plough Boys, who plough through the mud and mire

The mire it is very dim, the waters run so clear,

We wish you all a merry night and a happy New Year”.

Mummers Plays:

The local men would performed a traditional play at Christmas in the larger houses of their parish. The characters included St George, the Turkish knight, Beelzebub (carrying a club and a frying pan), the Doctor, and the Fool. The folklorists of the late 19th century recorded many surviving performances - but how far back in time the play goes is debatable. The play has been revived in many places in the later 20th century. Mummers’ plays are so ancient that they may go back to the time when the early farmers made human sacrifices to ensure the fertility of the crops. But the characters in most of the plays come from the more recent past, the time of the Crusades. A typical play follows but there are no doubt many variations:

In comes I, old Easom squeesom.

On my back carry a besom,

In my hand a frying pan.

Don’t you think I’m a jolly old Man?

In comes I, Beelzebub,

on my back I carry a tub,

Rub-a dub-dub,

One man and his tub.

In come I, Big Belly Ben,

Eat a calf, eat the Butcher and a half,

And then my big belly’s not full,

In comes I, big belly Ben,

Can eat more meat than three score men.

Eat a cow, eat a calf,

Eat the butcher and a half,

And then my big belly’s not full!

In comes I, the soldier.

What can you do?

I can shoot!

Then shoot him! (BBB is then shot).

In comes I, the doctor!

What can you do?

I can cure ipsy, pipsy, palsy and gout,

Pains within and pains without.

Cure him then! (they point to BBB).

(Doctor kneels and cures him).

In comes the farmer

What can you do?

Plough, sow, reap, mow,

As far as I go from end to end,

I never make a baulk bend,

I say to my horses “Gee back, woe?.

Then the group would sing, “We are the jolly plough boys!”

And were given a glass of home-made wine   

And very merry they must have been by the evening’s end!

Who plough through mud and mire,

The mud and mire it is so very dim, the waters run so clear.

Oak Apple Day:

Restoration Day the 29th May, more commonly known as Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day, was an English public holiday, observed annually on 29 May, to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy in May 1660. In some parts of the country the day is still celebrated. It has also been known as Shick Shack Day, or Oak and Nettle Day.

In 1660, Parliament passed into law "An Act for a Perpetual Anniversary Thanksgiving on the Nine and Twentieth Day of May", declaring 29 May a public holiday "for keeping of a perpetual Anniversary, for a Day of Thanksgiving to God, for the great Blessing and Mercy he hath been graciously pleased to vouchsafe to the People of these Kingdoms, after their manifold and grievous Sufferings, in the Restoration of his Majesty..."

The public holiday was abolished under the Anniversary Days Observance Act 1859, but the date retains some significance in local and institutional customs. It is, for example, still observed as Founder's Day by the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.

Traditional celebrations to commemorate the event often entailed the wearing of oak apples (a type of plant gall, possibly known in some parts of the country as a "shick-shack" or sprigs of oak leaves, in reference to the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House.

In Woodborough this was a great day for the local children to play pranks on each other. The tradition was to wear  a sprig of oak leaves and anyone found not wearing one was liable to be chased by a group of boys brandishing bunches of nettles. If they caught you they would sting your legs with them. Usually the boys would wait opposite the bottom of Lingwood Lane until they spied someone not wearing the traditional sprig.

Woodborough Feast:

The Feast is held on the first weekend after July 2nd and celebrates the patronal festival of the dedication of the church. This date is believed to be that of the death of St Swithun. We do not know when the Feast started to be celebrated in its present form.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s the fair was much larger than it is now with roundabouts in both the Four Bells and Nag’s Head yards, traditionally Ashley’s were in the Four Bells and Martin’s in the Nag’s Head. There were also many stalls along the church wall as far as Church Walk. These would sell anything from clothing, crockery to brandy snaps, gingerbread and sweet meats. There was always the skittle alley, hoop-la stall and Aunt Sally.

On Feast Monday there was nearly always a wedding and also a full day cricket match, it was a village holiday. In 1920 the big draw was a Cake Walk and prior to this there was always a large Swing Boat. Before 1940 the Sports were held on the lawn at Woodborough Hall where Mr Charles Hose Hill lived and he hosted a free tea for the children on Feast Monday. Mrs Elsie Jamson says that it was a great family weekend and anyone who was in service and living outside the village would arrange to be home for the Feast.

In 1914 the tea and sports stopped but were revived in 1928 when the sports were held on the Broad Close and the tea in the Institute on Roe Lane when as many as a hundred children attended.

During World War II the sports and tea were again abandoned and the flower show was held every bank holiday on the Governor’s Field. From 1948 the tea was held in the Parochial Hall on Lingwood Lane and this continued until the early 1960’s when the sports were moved to the playing field where they continue to be held. The tea has been held in the Village Hall since it was opened in 1974.

The Woodborough Carol  - A new tradition in Woodborough:

As report in the February 1964 Woodborough Newsletter for the past two years, a group of local residents have sung carols at various points in the village on Christmas Eve. The beauty of this is that it has been done purely in the spirit of Christmas, no collection has been taken. The choir is of all ages and all denominations, Mr Mansfield Foster has accompanied the carols on a harmonium in a van lent and driven by Mr Arthur Foster. On each occasion, the choir has swelled as it progressed up or down the village. The repertoire has been limited to several tried and trusted favourites, but it is hoped to enlarge it next year, provided singers are prepared to attend two or three practices.

At some of the stopping places, singing has been most rewarding, with those that live in the vicinity coming out to listen and join in; but in others, despite the heralding ring of a set of antique fetlock bells, all adjacent doors have remained closed, which is disappointing and depressing for the singers who have given up their Christmas Eve at home to spread the spirit of Christmas among the old and the young.

Due to the generosity of Mr R.W. Cooper, the carollers have been followed by Father Christmas with a sack of apples and oranges for the children. It is hoped that this new tradition will be kept up in the future, and will receive the support and cooperation of the whole village.

The Woodborough Carol

Veil you bright head, ye twinkling stars,

In your ethereal blue (repeat)

On this glad day a star appears

More glorious far, the new (repeat).

His beams eclipse immortal clay,

How dim they seem to shine (repeat)

On this fair birth a gentle rain,

In tenderness divine (repeat).

Come, let us view the Saviour’s bed,

Unnoticed and forlorn (repeat)

And press to see the lowly shed

Where Heavenly love was born (repeat).

Sweet were the smiles that decked His face,

And soft His infant eyes (repeat)

But sweeter was the matchless grace,

That brought Him from the skies (repeat).

Woodborough Street Market:

The first street market was held in 1969. The idea came from the Woodborough Community Association which had been formed in 1965. The village needed to raise £1000 towards the cost of a new school. Sir Frank Small had promised to give £1000 if the village could raise the same amount.

The theme was “Old English” and apart from the WCA organising the market, the Parish Council held a “Crafts and Bygones” exhibition in the 1878 school hall. They had some marvellous exhibits, including a Victorian perambulator. The market has become the biggest fund-raising event and has been held every year since 1969. Some of the themes have been Robin Hood, the South Seas, Romans, Gypsies, Flower Power, the Roaring Twenties, Westerns. In the Silver Jubilee year, 1977, all the stallholders and stalls were dressed in red, white and blue.

All organisations in the village are involved in the Street Market, in recent times it has been held in the car park belonging to the Four Bells pub. Also used the Governors’ Field, which is opposite the Four Bells. In 2022 the playing field situated behind the Village Hall was the location. The event is managed and run by the Woodborough Community Association.


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