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Dancer with an original hobby horse
Every September the Horn Dancers of Abbot's Bromley hold their annual folk dance, dancing through the streets of the town to the outlying farms, holding their deer antlers on sticks in front of them. The festival is held on the first Monday after the first Sunday after the 4th of September. The dance has been performed through Abbots Bromley and the surrounding area each year since 1226. Now, nearly 800 years later the festival is still being performed, and a remarkable fact is that in all that time the Horn Dance has been cancelled only once. The reasons for letting the public down that year was apparently one of the dancers died, and the accordion-player fell ill. The twelve characters who make up the troupe are the six Antler Men, the Hobby Horse, the Fool, Maid Marion, the Archer and the two musicians.
Horn dancers of 1900
The traditional antlers used in the ceremony are cumbersome and heavy, the one pair is over three feet wide and weighs twenty-five pounds. They're not actually antlers from stags. They are reindeer horns, mounted on wooden deer-heads. Poles are attached to the antlers to make the whole assembly easier to carry. Like the dance itself they go back quite a way. Carbon dating has shown one set of antlers to be in the region of 900 years old. It is thought that the dance originated from Anglo-Saxon traditions that have survived to this day. It has been speculated that the dance originated from pagan times and was connected with the ruling dynasty of the region of Mercia, of which Abbots Bromley was a part. The theory is that royal foresters would have organised rituals to ensure a plentiful catch each year, a tradition that survived into Christian times and gradually came to be seen as affirming the villagers' hunting rights.
The antlers are stored safely in Abbots Bromley Church when not in use, and the Dancers go to the church early in the morning of dance day. At 7.30 a.m. the Vicar blesses the dancers and they set off on their tour of the local area, performing dances at different locations in and around Abbots Bromley, covering over 10 miles in all.
At each location the main musician plays traditional English folk tunes on his accordion and the triangle man keeps time with his triangle. In earlier times the tunes would have been played on a fiddle.
The dancers keep going all day with breaks for refreshment at the local pubs and at the end of a long and exhausting day, the horns are returned to the church at about eight o'clock in the evening. The enthusiasm of the folk dancers is keeping this ancient ritual alive.
Attractions during the day include exhibitions, craft stalls, and of course five local pubs.