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Olympic Dress

Submitted by on July 18, 2012 – 6:52 pmNo Comment


Well Dressing is a very old peasant tradition. In Britain the ‘Enclosure Acts’, the world’s first act of population cleansing, stripped the land of the peasantry who were forced into the cities to attempt to survive. Enclosure Acts for small areas of land had been passed sporadically since the 12th century but the majority were passed between 1750 and 1860. This was very convenient for the emerging factory-owning class because they needed a desperate and eager workforce for their new and deadly machines.

The Industrial Revolution was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times. It began in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spread worldwide.

Looking at the historic dates of the ‘Enclosure Acts’ and the dawn of the industrial Revolution appears to stretch the notion of coincidence to the limit. The enclosures, a barbaric and bloody episode in the history of Britain, are equivalent to the pogroms inflicted on the Jews, the forced evacuation of the Palestinians and other acts of ethnic cleansing seen around the world. It was the British aristocracy that showed how it was done.

Well dressing was one of the many peasant traditions that was almost lost, now being championed by rural middle England. The origins of the tradition are alternatively said to lie in pagan tradition or in giving thanks for the purity of the water drawn from certain wells during the period of the Black Death.

Now it is associated with twee country afternoons, church congregations and afternoon teas. But still it holds a high level of skill and dedication to the craft that cannot be ignored.

The Disley Well Dressing was a fairly low key affair, tea and cakes in the church, bell ringing for 50p and a young woman and her companion playing the flute with piano accompaniment. This was the first time I had had tea and cakes while sitting in the aisle of a church. The tea was nice and the cake was home-made, no Mr Kipling shite here.

The Well Dressing consisted of a few wooden boards that had pictures created on them by sticking flower petals onto the boards. It was a bit like a mosaic but instead of tile or glass fragments, flower petals of many different colours were used. Each petal picture board was created by a different local community group, no big sponsorship here. Just local people putting in the time, effort and cash to create a little art and preserve an ancient tradition. Not for monetary or social gain but just for the hell of it. It was nice, the petal pictures were delicious. A tapestry of colour and texture that is unique to this brand of art.


The people of Disley had decided on a theme for their flower dressing and they chose the Olympics. There were rings abounding, multitudinous Olympic rings. There were chickens juggling eggs, flower houses sprouting flowers and a swirling red, white and blue birded thing.

But alas I fear that this small, quaint hillside village will be no more once the Olympic official sponsors hear of the most gross and blatant infringement of the Olympic sponsorship deal. No Olympic rings may be displayed that are not aligned to the official sponsorship sponsors. And clearly the Disley Ladies Art Circle are not official sponsors of the Olympics and therefore stand to be hung, drawn and quartered by the Olympic committee. Once again the rural lands will be cleared of their creative elements. 

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