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September 2009 News Update

The 5th 6th and 7th September were three remarkable days. We had kindly been invited by Katie Howson to attend the East Anglican Traditional Music Day on Saturday the 5th September. The Museum of East Anglian Life site covers quite an area and has some wonderful exhibits including a selection of painted gypsy caravans as well as immaculate examples of steam engines, buildings and barns from various periods which have been carefully moved and reconstructed, piece by piece. The weather was perfect and a steady stream of visitors came to call. In the evening there was a concert in the stunning 14th century Tithe Barn including Jig Jaw, Michael Wright, Jim Ward & Will Duke and of course Sam Lee. All this was presided over by a huge and rather splendid metal Green Man at the far end of the barn.



The next day we set off for Abbots Bromley. As part of the Henry Bourne portrait project, we had been in contact with the dancers who perform the Abbots Bromley Horn dance which is always on a Monday, the day following Wakes Sunday, which is the first Sunday after the 4th of September. Armed with an introduction from Doc Rowe we contacted Terry Bailey and were able to set up Henry's little white tent, in which he takes the portraits, in the grounds of Blithfield Hall, for which Lady Bagot kindly gave her permission. Abbots is a pretty village in Staffordshire and the first written mention of it dates back to 942.

On the Monday morning, I set off with my brother to witness this age old rite. Early on there were just a few people on the village green, busy setting up stalls for the days visitors. I found a map and we walked off along Goose Lane. Eventually we rounded a corner and could hear the sound of an accordion and voices. There above a tall red brick wall were the tips of the famous antlers weaving back and forth. In the courtyard of Rose Bank farm were the twelve characters who make up the troupe. There are 6 Horn dancers, a Maid Marian character, a Jester or Fool played by Terry Bailey, the Hobby Horse, a young boy keeping time on a Triangle, another young boy with a bow and arrow and finally a musician playing an accordion. 


We were kindly offered the first drink of the day and trays of home made cakes were also passed around. The dancers had already started off at the church where the antlers are kept throughout the rest of the year. The carved wooden heads and sets of antlers form two teams, the 'whites' and the 'blues', although these are now brown and must have been repainted many times over the years. In 1976, a small splinter of bone from a broken horn was carbon dated to around 1065. Of course it's not known if the horns were being used for their present purpose then or if they were perhaps a replacement set for some that were even older. Since it's not thought that there were any reindeer in the UK at this period, the horns must have been imported from Scandinavia. This brings up all sorts of supposition as to the origins of the dance itself. All of this is of course the perfect kind of material for the museum to delve into.


By late afternoon, with Henry's excellent portraits completed at Blithfield Hall, my brother and I set off on the long drive with Roberta, up to West Yorkshire.