Well dressing

Peakland Traditions

...unique Peak District customs

Let's Stay Peak District casts its eye over some of the unique traditions and customs forged in the Peak District and still upheld out today.


In a land so steeped in history and folklore, it is not surprising that the Peak District has many traditions, most of which have been handed down in local families over many generations.
 
The best-known of the many Peakland traditions is obviously that of well-dressing, a unique example of folk art giving thanks for the gift of water, and found only in the Peak District.
 
Perhaps the most boisterous Peakland tradition is that of the Ashbourne Football Game, which takes place through the usually-peaceful streets of the Georgian market town every year on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
 
Town centre shop fronts are boarded up and all traffic banned as the game takes over the whole town. The two teams of local lads who are known as the “Up’ards” and the “Down’ards” – the Henmore Brook being the dividing line – fight in huge, swaying crowds to score in their oppontents’ ‘goals’. These are set three miles apart, orginally at Sturston Mill and the former Clifton Mill, whose ‘goal’ is now marked by a commemorative stone.
 
Another tradition which completely takes over a town is the Castleton Garland ceremony, held every year in the Hope Valley community on Oak Apple Day (May 29). It is thought to be a survival of a pagan rite welcoming spring, and has echoes of the Beltane festival and May Day celebrations of the Celts.
 
A local man is dressed as the Garland King, and encased in a heavy, bell-shaped wooden framework completely covered with spring flowers. He rides through the village with his Queen, accompanied by dancing local schoolchildren and a brass band. They process to the parish church, where the garland is lifted from his shoulders and hoisted to the top of the church tower, where it is left to wither.
 
The Winster team of Morris Dancers is one of the earliest recorded in the Peak, and their ‘season’ usually starts around May Day, when they perform in various villages complete with straw hats, white shirts and cricket flannels, brightly-coloured chest scarves, a waist sash and jingling bell pads, worn below the knee. Pioneer folklorist Cecil Sharp recorded five dances and songs unique to Winster, including the famous Winster Gallop.
 
At one time, the floors of village churches were strewn with rushes in place of carpets, and the custom of rush-bearing is perpetuated at Macclesfield Forest Chapel in a ceremony held every August.

© Let's Stay Peak District
 

Last Updated: 15 Jun 2015