70 EVERGREEN Autumn Intricate moves are all part of the dance. GEORGINA HINE a rust-coloured oak leaf-patterned shirt with plain sleeves and a light green waistcoat. Those carrying the brown horns in contrast wear a light green oak-patterned shirt with plain sleeves and a rust-coloured waistcoat. All wear tan hats, breeches with oak leaf patterns and long green socks. The Jester and other members are dressed in costumes to suit their character. The Deermen proceed through the village and further away to the outlying farms and then, around noon, to Blithfield Hall. This was home quite recently to the Bagot family who resided there since 1360. Here the troupe dance on the front lawn before they set out to some surrounding farms. Later they return to the village moving slowly between four village pubs, the High Street and finish the dancing activities at the Market Place, with its ancient Butter Cross, before returning to the church around 8pm. Some people have calculated the distance covered as 10 miles, but Terry feels it’s closer to 15. “Some do more than others,” he points out, “and there are normally three or four that can stand in when necessary.” This is just as well as the dance is physically demanding, with the antlers ranging from 29 to 39 inches across and weighing between 16¼lbs and 25¼lbs in total. Two prominent families, the Fowell and Bentley families have ensured the survival of the dance since at least 1800, with the two families inter-marrying in 1858. For these families it was not only a historical tradition, but also a proud family tradition to uphold. Son followed father and grandfather. In 1915, four of the seven Fowell brothers, Alfred, Arthur, David and John were given dispensation from the Lincolnshire Regiment to participate in the dance before their departure to the Western Front. They performed the dance in their uniforms and then departed for France. Within a month Arthur and David were dead. Using replica uniforms, this event was commemorated in 2015. Up to 1979, only three dancers were not members of the Fowell family. This was when Terry Bailey
2017 EVERGREEN 71 joined by accident. He was attending a fete in Stone, a Staffordshire village, with a friend of his who happened to be one of the Deermen, when they discovered the Jester hadn’t turned up. Terry was suddenly co-opted in and has been participating ever since, for the last 38 years. Smaller families, more daughters than sons in the Fowell family has led to to a wider recruitment from the local community. Terry’s two sons have become part of it. “Then there’s Jeff Bradbury whose lad and grandson is in it,” Terry tells me. Access has widened and nowadays girls can join, provided they’re related to the Fowell family. “Our main concern is to ensure the dance keeps going and there are enough young people coming in to take the place of the older ones.” This doesn’t seem to be a problem, as there’s a growing waiting list of those wanting to join. Terry is always staggered by the response to the event, which has grown over the year from a few hundred visitors to upwards of 2,000. Last year there were visitors from the USA, Canada and Australia. One couple Terry spoke to, had even factored the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance into their six-week schedule before they left Australia. “I’m always amazed by the number of people who come to see us now.” Amongst them are a growing number of enthusiasts who want to observe old traditions and who have made it part of their booking list. For Terry, belonging still means being a part of the oldest traditional dance group in the country. “I’m not as fit as I used to be,” he tells me. “I don’t dance as much as the others. It’s more about ensuring these days that the visitors are entertained and letting people know what’s happening.” The group does get invited out to dance at other venues, but they try not to do too many as they want to preserve tradition and avoid the obvious taint of commercialisation. JOHN GREEVES The dancers at Blithfield Reservoir. GEORGINA HINE Further information: www.facebook.com/AbbotsBromley HornDance/?fref=ts www.abbotsbromley.com www.georginahinephotography. co.uk/group
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