Celebration marks life of Sowerby Bridge rushbearing festival pioneer

It is now an annual novelty in a corner of the West Riding, but in the 16th century the practice of rushbearing – in which the beaten earth and rushes that constituted the floor of many churches was renewed at the end of summer – was commonplace throughout the North.

A modern rushbearing festival was staged in 1977 to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee, and has continued ever since at Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, where yesterday a traditional rush cart was used at the funeral of Fred Knights, one of the men who pioneered the revival.

A procession through the town took his coffin to Park Wood Crematorium, at Elland.

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Mr Knights, along with Garry Stringfellow, had discovered that there had been a rush cart in the town in 1906, as part of a community celebration.

Funeral procession of Fred Knights, by rushbearing cart, for the co-founder and Honorary President of Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival, to Park Wood Crematorium, Elland

Mr Knights, who was originally from Portsmouth and lived at Sowerby Bridge with his wife, Rita, had found a cart in nearby Heptonstall and corralled locals to pull it. He remained involved when it became a regular event, and became honorary president of Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival.

“Without Fred, there wouldn’t be a rushbearing in Sowerby Bridge,” said Mr Stringfellow.