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66 EVERGREEN Autumn Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

2017 EVERGREEN 67 The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance group is the oldest traditionalist dance group in Britain dating back hundreds of years with antecedents stretching even further back to pre-history, if you believe some folklorists. The dance takes place annually in Abbots Bromley, an attractive 13th-century village in Staffordshire, on Wakes Monday (the Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September). This year it is on 11th September. Six men (known as the Deermen) carry heavy sets of antlers and are accompanied by Maid Marian (a man dressed up), the Hobby Horse, the Jester or Fool, a boy carrying a bow and arrow and another young boy with a triangle who beats time to the music. Nowadays there can be two musicians playing the accordion, although in the past a violin was used, with earlier music coming from the pipe and tabor. Maid Marian who predates the legends of Robin Hood collects money from passers-by. The Fool dances with a pig’s bladder and stops to amuse the crowds and answers questions. The Hobby Horse careers about opening and closing its mouth while the bowman appears to shoot into it to ward away the evil spirits. The dance is a living, breathing thing that goes back hundreds of years and, according to Terry Bailey — who plays the Jester — historians still can’t find the true date when it began. Various views about its origin exist. The dance was performed at the three-day Barthelmy Fair in 1226 to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day (24th August) and was later moved to the beginning of September when corrections were made to the Julian Calendar in 1752. No recorded references exist to the Horn Dance prior to Robert Plot’s Natural History of Staffordshire, written in 1686. According to Robert Plot, it was also re-enacted sometimes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Connections have been made that go back even further in time. In the Trois-Frères Caves, in Arieg, France, an image exists that dates back 14,000 years. Known as the “Sorcerer”, this is thought to be a dancing man wearing antlers on his head and suggests an even more ancient origin. Main page: The Deermen collecting the horns from the church. Left: Dancers in 1900. GEORGINA HINE

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