AFTER 35 years it’s hard to imagine September coming and going without the spectacular rushbearing procession rolling through Sowerby Bridge.
But the centuries-old tradition could have been consigned to the Calderdale history books if not for Garry Stringfellow.
Along with his friend Fred Knights, he’s the man we have to thank for every annual weekend of music and merriment since 1977, when they decided to revive the festival to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee year.
Organising such a huge event proved to be a challenging feat - but rewarding, too.
“People had no idea what to expect,” said Mr Stringfellow, of Edwards Road, Sowerby Bridge.
“One of the problems was finding enough men to pull the cart and the other one was to find a cart.
“Fortunately Fred knew a lot of people involved with the scouts and he was able to enthuse enough of them to help out.
“I think the notion that we were going to stop at various pubs en route was an incitement!”
As luck would have it, a cart was found and bought from a farmer in Heptonstall for about £150.
Then, using photos of the last Calderdale rushbearing - held to celebrate 50 years of local government in 1906, they managed to mimic the traditional frame and thatched rushes.
Panama hats and clogs were sourced for the men, then a simple route was devised, starting at Sowerby Bridge canal basin and making its way up into Sowerby.
“There were quite a few people out on the streets and people watching us as we went up St Peter’s Avenue into Sowerby,” said Mr Stringfellow.
“Of course when we got there everyone who’d been involved was saying: ‘So are we going to do it again next year?’
“It was very gratifying, and it was literally every year from that point on. We formed a committee and it’s been going ever since.”
Now though, the 64-year-old has happily passed on the baton and his son Tom is now on the committee.
“It has passed on a generation and hopefully it will pass on again,” said Mr Stringfellow.
Taking a back seat has allowed the folklore enthusiast time to put his expertise on paper and write a book on the tradition, which dates back around 900 years to when rushes were brought to carpet church floors during winter.
“I didn’t want to make it a totally academic book, it’s a brief history of rushbearing as a whole and what we know about it in the Calder Valley.”
Copies are available from the post office and Deli Belge in Sowerby Bridge, and the tourist information centres in Hebden Bridge and Halifax. The festival takes place next weekend.