Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 6 September 2021

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Earlier this evening I received online greetings from a friend who has recently moved into Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire and who had attended for the first time the Horn Dance. Today, being Wakes Monday, the day after Wakes Sunday, being the first one in September, is the traditional day for the Dance to be performed, although in the past it appears to have been done on other days as well in the Christmas season.

When my friend told me some years ago that he was buying a place to live in Abbots Bromley he assumed I would not have heard of  it. However, although I have never visited it I certainly did know of the Dance. At my saying so he did say that I of course would know of it ….

The Horn Dance is a survival whose origins are lost in the past, and it is, of course, the kind of folkloric custom that leaves little in written records before more recent centuries. The first proper record of it was only published by Robert Plot in 1686. However it is claimed that it was being performed in 1226 in connection with a fair in the village granted to the Abbot of Burton on Trent by King Henry IiI. Moreover one set of the horns used has been radiocarbon dated to circa 1065 and the obvious conclusion of the symbolism is that it is considerably older, but that it has, naturally, evolved throughout its history.

The story such as it is known is set out, together with links to various other related sites on Wikipedia at Abbots Bromley Horn DanceThere is also a good illustrated account at The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

The Guardian has a very good set of photographs from 2017 of the day’s events at  Staffordshire village holds Britain's 'oldest folk dance' – in picturesThere are also videos available on YouTube

The Abbots Bromley website has details about it and accessibility at Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

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