The 1972 revival of Plough Monday came about when Jim Daniels, Rodney Beeton, Terry Pask, Roy Ellam and a few others got talking over their pints in a village pub one evening and decided to use the event as a way to raise funds for the village.The original plough, which is said to be over 200 years old, was deemed too frail to use so a new one was built using the original framework and new timber which was thought to be about 100 years old.This, plus the addition of a wheel, formed the plough which is still in use today (it’s a bit like Trigger’s broom ... it had many years of service and only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles!).
On Monday 10th January 1972, the refurbished plough was brought out from Lower Farm with six men acting as the horses and an assorted group of men dressed in smocks and string-tied breeches.The top-hatted squire was Rodney Beeton, the part of “Betsy” was played by Alan Plumb owing to the fact that he had the longest, curliest hair.The Ploughmen were accompanied by the Linton Folk Club.The charity in this inaugural year was the Church Tower Fund for which £75.00 was raised.
In 1974, the Cambridge Morris Men were invited to resume their role of 18 years previously and accompanied the team around the village.The list of 44 calls was long and largesse in the form of homemade wine, mince pies and other refreshments was provided at many of these stops.A couple of dances was all there was time for at most places.The Ploughmen had blackened their faces (as in the 1800s style).One Ploughman, Tommy, wore his great uncle’s tall hat and Betsy was got up in the approved style with a well padded bosom.The Queens Head public house, the final destination that year, had standing room only and, when the plough went in, several people had to make a temporary exit.The £262.00 collected was spent on food parcels for Balsham’s over 70s and were delivered on the following cold, snowy Sunday.It took the team a whole day to deliver these parcels and, after being invited into homes to sample various homemade wines and brews, it could only be hoped that the parcels had reached the right households.
Plough Monday continued to grow in popularity and, in 1982, fame had spread to television when the team were invited to Anglia TV studios for a spot on “About Anglia” and, of course, the plough went too.It was also in the 1980s that a television film crew came out to Balsham and did a piece on Plough Monday customs with some locals which included one of Dick Barker’s chickens in the taproom of the Queens Head.
1983 saw the introduction of a ‘song’.This comprised of a tune similar to “All jolly fellows who follow the Plough”, based on a traditional Plough Monday song.This was sung at every call, gathering in volume at each stop, with requests for encores.However, it was abandoned the following year as it had taken so long to get round the village.
By the middle of the 1990s, Plough Monday had taken on a slightly different slant by being more organised, with less calls but more time being spent at each.Also, it became popular for the host at the pre-arranged calls to invite friends and neighbours in to meet the Ploughmen.This arrangement meant less door-knocking late at night and more time to socialise and raise awareness of what Plough Monday is all about.This also meant that they were able to be more punctual.
In 1998, it was decided to add interest by appointing a Plough Maiden.There was quite a bit of interest and photographs were submitted.The daughter of the landlord of the Bell Public House was duly appointed and accompanied the team around the village the following Plough Monday.However, this was a one-off as there was no interest from the village “maidens” the following year.
By 1999, there had been several changes of team members.One of the original instigators, Jim Daniels, had sadly died in 1998 but three of the original members still turned out to do their bit.The sum of money collected that year was £1,931.92.
In 2000, the Ploughmen decided to hold a village event to celebrate the new millennium and a decision was made to revive the traditional Balsham Feast during the summer.This took the form of a village fete during the afternoon with a dance in the evening followed by a firework display.This was a great success and the ploughmen have continued to hold the Feast bi-annually ever since.
In 2006, the team had added to their numbers and had reached 20 in total including Jim Daniels’ two grandsons, Roger and David Scotland who proudly carry the mantle in his memory.This larger number of members enabled them to collect from the ever-growing number of houses being built in Balsham and still get to the pub before closing time.Added to this number is a dedicated team of helpers who tear tickets, count money and assist with the raffle at the end of the evening.The day following Plough Monday has evolved into “Harrowing Tuesday” when Ploughmen, members of the team and their families traditionally meet for lunch of bangers and mash and discuss the events of the previous evening – the name does tend to reflect the fragile state of the team rather than an agricultural reference.
2006 was also the year that the Ploughmen raised funds for the Balsham First Responders in conjunction with Jim and Hilary Potter of the Manor who held a Ceildh.The final total raised was £2,529.65, of which the Ploughmen donated £2,277.60 of this sum to MAGPAS.
It was also the year that a popular member of the Cambridge Morris Men celebrated 50 years of Plough Monday.John Jenner had been in Balsham in 1956 with the then Plough Monday team and remembered clearly the hospitality and how much he had enjoyed that evening.
The key task of the ploughmen is, of course, to raise money for local charities.Money is collected at each stop and along the streets, from one end of the village to the other and there is a raffle at the finishing pub.However, the chief means of fundraising, which justifies such activity in what is usually one of the coldest nights of the winter, is the traditional “horseplay”.There is a great deal of banter among the Ploughmen, Cambridge Morris Men and the followers.
The cries of “pity the poor ole ploughboy” together with the rattle of collecting tins and the jingle of the Morris Men’s bells signals that Plough Monday is with us again.
Proposed route c. 1930
This copy of the original route planned for Plough Monday c.1930 was obtained from the National Archives. It mentioned visiting the seven pubs in Balsham (of which there are only two remaining):
The Fox - Fox End The Queens Head - High Street The White Lion - High Street The Black Bull - High Street The Plough - High Street The Bell - West Wickham Road The Five Alls - West Wickham Road