Plough Monday 9th January 2023

Our roving reporter Alan Helsdon travelled to Tilney All Saints to report on the Plough Monday Service which took place with Tilney All Saints Church of England Primary School under the guidance of Nicky Stockman and teacher Alice Williams who work together on music projects in the school regularly.

On Monday January 9th Ralph Vaughan Williams was starting his noting of songs in the North End fishing community in King’s Lynn after 2 day’s successful work in Tilney All Saints and Tilney St Lawrence including 10 songs from John Whitby, sexton at the former.  We may never know if Ralph missed the Plough Monday ritual in All Saints, or even if the old custom was being honoured that year, but he would have missed it by one day.

Tilney All Saints – Credit A Helsdon 2014

That was 1905 and in 2023 I can say that the village tradition is in safe hands and memories as a whole generation of Tilney children will surely never forget the stories, the colour and the music, and the sense of occasion created by the procession from their school to their church with their Plough and a host of proud parents on that brisk, sunny Monday.  And don’t forget to say thank you to the driver of the C21 equivalent of the horses that would have pulled the decorated, single furrow plough 118 years ago, beacons flashing, guarding the rear of the procession.

I can’t imagine many churches get filled on a Monday morning these days, but All Saints (and it’s not a small church by any means, being one of a famous group of once-rich Fenland churches) was packed with teachers and assistants, well-behaved children (Stars all round please), parents (also well-behaved!) and a few interested outsiders.  We had a marvellous, inclusive 45 minutes including readings; one of John Whitby’s songs, Green Bushes, from that 1905 visit, sung by the whole school (yes, the children got half a day off lessons which they won’t forget either!); a Broom Dance athletically performed by 4 talented pupils and including one pairs figure I had never seen before; 2 hymns; the blessing of the Plough by Rev’d Barbara Pearman, and finally, and almost unbelievably, 4 sides (32 dancers) for a couple of Molly dances, joyfully and confidently performed, accompanied by Nicky Stockman and Dave Beale, and taking up every inch of the west end of the Nave.

The whole event was co-ordinated by local researcher and event organiser Nicky Stockman and by Alice Williams (no relation) within the school and we were welcomed by Mr Wilkinson, the Deputy Head.  Well done to them and all others involved for an educational and historical success, to say nothing of a joyful morning of dance, song and happy tradition.

The New Tilney Plough Monday began in 2020, was hit by the pandemic in 2021 but has bounced back, strengthened and, I confidently predict, will continue to unite and delight the village in the years to come.  Bad luck if you did miss it Ralph, but we were very glad to have been there.

You can see some of the Broom Dance figures on the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust website  – BROOM DANCE FILM which also appears on the Trust YouTube page HERE. This film was created as part of Suffolk County Council’s Covid Recovery Fund. Thanks to Erin and Lucy Brown dancing to Nicky Stockman’s melodeon as well as Gordon Phillips talking about the recent history of the dance.

As part of the Vaughan Williams Folk project (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) EATMT would be delighted to hear from any musicians or community groups who might want to record any of the songs noted by RVW.  John Whitby’s songs are already posted and the sheet music of all local songs will be on the EATMT website in due course at , click on ‘Vaughan Williams Folk’ and then ‘Resources’.  You are invited to ‘have a go’ and help preserve these local songs as well as make your group famous – if only for 15 minutes – by recording one of them.

See also ‘Sharing the Plough‘ – introduction by Nicky Stockman and Gordon Phillips (

There is a brief introduction to ‘the traditions, songs, stories and dances of the Tilney and Walpole villages’ by Nicky at

Photo credits: Alice Williams.  Compiled by Alan Helsdon with much help from Nicky Stockman for EATMT, January 2023