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The Britannia Coco-Nut Dancers of Bacup

This curious custom is unique to Bacup and takes place every Easter Saturday, starting at 9am outside what used to be the Travellers Rest pub. What comes across more than anything is the sheer unadulterated joy of the dancers as they perform a number of complex routines, often whilst the traffic rumbles past. The first dances of the day were filmed and can be seen here -


As with many of our seasonal customs and traditions, the origins have long been lost to us. Some think the dances originated with Moorish Pirates, some of whom were miners who settled in Cornwall. During the 18th & 19th century when mines were opening in Lancashire, the Cornish sailors travelled North to gain work and brought their dances with them. There were several recorded troupes performing the dances and the Bacup group are descended from the Tunstead Mill troupe who celebrated their half century in 1907. There are seven dances in total some performed in groups of four and others in a line and sometimes with garlands. Each dancer has a pair of polished wooden disks of maple on their hands, waist and knees. These are known as the 'coconuts' and are struck together in sets of rhythmic patterns in time with the various tunes. The amount of dancers varies and has been known to be as many as twenty or more. There is also a 'whiffler' or 'whipper in' who scolds the dancers and keeps them in check with a long thin whip. As a form of disguise each dancer has a blackened face which would have originally been coal soot.

As well as the dancers, another of Bacup's attractions is its Natural History Society Museum or the 'Nat' as it is know locally. This wonderful museum is staffed entirely by volunteers and housed amongst a motley assortment of cabinets and display cases are various domestic, industrial, religious and military artifacts. There is also a Neolithic female skeleton affectionately called 'Blodwen' who was found locally along with various animal bones and a bronze spear head. On the second floor at the rear of the building is an impressive array of stuffed animals, mostly birds, who gaze out from beneath glass domes and cases. Check their website for opening times and more details -