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Evergreen

68 EVERGREEN Autumn

68 EVERGREEN Autumn Above: Jester and musician. GEORGINA HINE Right: A striking black-andwhite picture of the dancers in the Market Place. GEORGINA HINE Far right: The troupe at Blithfield Hall. GEORGINA HINE Terry explains how some people interpret their enactment as a fertility dance. For them, “It’s like the rutting season when you see the horns going back and forward and the circling part of the dance, where the female teases the male.” Others in the village regard it as a celebration of getting the harvest in. Some people have postulated it as an assertion of local forestry rights. For Terry and his troupe, there is no exact definition of when it started, and what it represents. He lets others draw their own conclusions; his sole concern is to see this tradition carried on. Everyone would assume the antlers used in the Abbots Bromley Dance were deer, but they are in fact reindeer so the mystery deepens. Reindeer were extinct before Saxon times. It seems the likely source of these antlers came from Scandinavia. The area around Staffordshire was settled by both the Saxons and Danes. The neighbouring River Trent would have ensured a feasible route between Viking settlements and Denmark and Norway via the Humber Estuary. When the second brown (antler) was damaged, just over 20 years ago, it was sent to Derby University where it was carbon-dated to the year 1065 plus or minus 80 years, which raises yet another conundrum for those seeking a comprehensive explanation. The day begins at 7.30am when the antlers are collected from St. Nicholas’ Church. They’re kept in the Hurst Chapel under the supervision

2017 EVERGREEN 69 of the local vicar. The horns are fixed to wooden stags’ heads dating from the 16th century and clearly seem to represent the hunted rather than the hunters. One item that is not removed from the church is the former Hobby Horse. It’s too old and fragile and has been replaced by a more durable and lighter version. After a short service, the horns are first “danced” in front of the church. The dance consists of two parts, but as Terry tells me there can be variations. It begins with the horn-bearers forming a silent circle. The music begins with the leader breaking the circle and snaking his way between the second and third dancers. The rest follow him, then they form two lines with three dancers in each line facing each other. The antlers are raised with the white horns opposing the brown horns. The two lines advance and retire and cross sides as they appear to lock horns (but never do). The dancers used to wear their own clothes which they decorated with a few ribbons and bits of coloured cloth. The more modern costumes came into existence just before Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and were designed by the daughters of John Manley Lowe Jnr. who was the vicar at the time. Various costumes followed over the years. The present costumes for the horn carriers consist of contrasting shirts and waistcoats for those carrying the antlers. The white horn carriers wear

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