The History of Plough Jags


Plough Plays exist throughout the East Midlands and although there are regional differences in the plays, the outline of the story and the chief characters are the same. Men and boys play both male and female characters.


A Recruiting Sergeant is calling up the Farmer's Man.

His Lady is not pleased and turns her attention towards the Fool. They agree to be married. Dame Jane appears carrying a baby. She claims that the Fool is the father. Beelzebub enters and knocks down Dame Jane dead. A Doctor is called; who raises Dame Jane to life.

The Plays are delivered in a mixture of song, verse, and prose, with plentiful use of ad-libs. There is sometimes dancing.


This is impossible to answer. There is little written evidence. Unlike the aristocracy and important people, rural workers rarely kept diaries or wrote books and letters which survived. We have only a few rather disconnected facts, which leave us with a very patchy picture.

1.         The Monday following 6th January, Plough Monday, is an important date in the rural calendar and used to be a public holiday.

2.         Farm labourers were once responsible for the upkeep of the Plough Light (or similar) in Churches. 15th and 16th Century records show that money or fuel was collected and distributed about this time.

3.         Feasting on Plough Monday is recorded from early times.

4.         There have been Midwinter rituals or performances depicting death and resurrection (the rebirth of the earth?) since pagan times.


Plough lads in particular, and, in some areas, horse handlers.


The plays were rehearsed and costumes repaired and taken around the houses of local landowners in the immediate region (probably not more than 5 or 6 mile radius). The players would be rewarded with money and / or refreshment.


It is certain that the Plough lads were not mindful of carrying on an ancient tradition - in the same way as these days we do not question why we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Consider, however, that at this time of the year there was often little work on the land. In some cases this meant no employment. Farm hands welcomed the opportunity of diversion with free food and drink. It was an accepted form of charity from both giver and receiver. The words 'Alms' and 'Begging' were never used.


Plough Plays are also called Plough Jags, Plough Stots, Ploughboys, Plough Jacks, Morris dancers, and Plough Bullocks. There is no standard spelling for any of these names.


The tradition died out rapidly in the second half of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century.

The break up of the teams or casts could be due to several things - work, movement away from villages to cities, increased mechanisation on farms, and greater provision for the hungry and needy.

As farm teams were less likely to stay together, the handful of plays which survived the wars were likely to be kept going by a core of people from one family.


To the writer's knowledge there is only one instance of a regular performance by members of a family, plus their friends from an agricultural background. They will perform wherever they are invited, (usually around Plough Monday) and they collected for a local charity.

Other plays are revivals performed by enthusiasts, often folk song clubs of folk dance teams. They perform, around 6th January, in pubs and clubs, collecting for local charities.

Other revivals are put on by community groups, schools and youth groups often for village anniversaries, fairs or special events. There were several revivals at the time of the present Queen's Coronation. There will usually be one-off performances and will happen at any time in the year - whenever the celebration be.

It is hoped that people in Lincolnshire will continue this unique tradition.


The above is taken from a leaflet issued at Bourne, in 1996, by Rosie Cross, during a day of folk traditions, at which the Coleby Plough Jags performed at the end of a seminar on Plough Jags.

The leaflet was compiled by the Lincolnshire Folk Development project with invaluable assistance Brian Dawson.

On the back of the leaflet was a map showing some villages in Lincolnshire where there are known texts of Plough Plays in Existence. These may be found at the Lincolnshire Archives Unit, at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, or in the possession of individuals, or folklore specialists.

31 villages are shown. Included in these, Alkborough, Barrow, Brigg, Broughton, Burton upon Stather, Hibaldstow, Kirmington, Kirton in Lindsey, South Kelsey, and Winterton, are in the North Lincolnshire region.

From personal research in the past, Steve Hindley found records of at least 20 Plough Plays within a 10 mile radius of Scunthorpe, - Burringham, Scotter, West Halton, and Winteringham, being others that are readily remembered.