Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

This is another strange dance that survives but is far from clear what it was meant to be. This was featured in The Unthanks special on English dancing. This is from Curious Country Customs by Jeremy Hobson:

One of the best known and almost certainly one of the oldest …is thought to date back as far as the Stone Age. Six men (known as Deermen)carrying heavy reindeer antlers and accompanied by a musician playing an accordion, a Hobby Horse, a transvestite, a Fool and 2 boys (one with a triangle, the other with a crossbow) – all the ingredients of a good day out!- begin the festivities outside the Vicarage at 8am. By late evening having danced and indulged in mock battles among themselves throughout he village and at Blihfield Hall (this the only day of the year it is open to the public) and at many outlying farms and houses, it is reckoned that The Deermen and their entourage will have covered between 10 and20 miles in their massive luck-bringing marathon.

One school of though suggests the Horn Dance is, in fact, a more recent phenomenon and began about 1,000 years ago, as an assertion of local forestry rights. However, although the horns used in today’s ceremony are known to date from around that time, the fact that the Norman aristocracy guarded their hunting forests so intensely that anyone found poaching lost either a hand or an eye for a first offence and his life for a second, it seems unlikely that anyone would be foolish enough to boast of their poaching success by prancing around the village with a brace of antlers strapped to his head.

It is celebrated at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire (1st Monday after the 1st Sunday after 4th September. ”

Here’s a clip of Becky and Rachel Unthank on the BBC about this dance. It is incredible the horns are stored in the local parish church, a reminder of how robust and flexible the English take on Christianity is, and it’s an amazing annual event for the local community

Hmmm. Abbots Bromley presumably belonged to Abbots, so not sure if the Norman aristocracy held sway over the hinting rights here. The pacing around has echoes of Rogation ceremonies, when locals marked the boundaries of their parishes, so this may be similar. If locals were not allowed to kill the deer, how did they get the antlers? I read somewhere that when jousting fell out of practice, locals got the quintains, or jousting horse on wheels, and used it in processions in imitation of their masters, so this may also be somehow relevant.

Whatever the origins, it is an incredible event.


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