The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is a remarkable folk survival, taking place each year in Abbots Bromley, a small village in Staffordshire, England.
The Horn Dance takes place on Wakes Monday, the day following Wakes Sunday, which is the first Sunday after September 4. In practice, this means that it is the Monday dated between September 6 and September 12 (inclusive).
The dance starts at 07:00 with a service of Holy Communion in St Nicholas Church, where the horns are housed. The dance begins on the village green, then passes out of the village to Blithfield Hall, owned by Lady Bagot.
The dancers return to the village in the early afternoon, and make their way around the pubs and houses. Finally, at about 20:00, the horns are returned to the church, and the day is completed with the service of Compline.
The route is around 14 miles, however a pedometer carried by one of the dancers is reputed to have recorded a total of 49 miles!
There are 12 dancers. Six carry the horns; they are accompanied by: the musician playing an accordion (a violin in former times), Maid Marian (a man in a dress), the Hobby horse, the Fool (or Jester), a youngster with a bow and arrow, and another youngster with a triangle. Traditionally, the dancers are all male, although in recent years girls have been seen carrying the triangle and bow and arrow.
In times past, the dancers were always members of the Bentley or Fowell families, and to this day they must be long-term residents of the village.
The horns are six sets of reindeer antlers, three white and three black. In 1976, a small splinter was radiocarbon dated to around 1065. Since there are not believed to have been any reindeer in England in the 11th Century, the horns must have been imported from Scandinavia.
The antlers are mounted on small heads carved from wood.
Since 1981, the horns are legally the property of Abbots Bromley Parish Council. For 364 days a year, they are on display in St Nicholas Church.
I have some information on the dance and the music, which I will look out, but it's not to hand at present.
The Horn Dance attracts a large number of visitors to the village. As well as the dance itself, Wakes Monday sees a Fair on the village green; Morris dancing; and numerous other attractions.
It is believed that the dance was initiated to commemorate a grant of hunting rights to certain villagers. (I have some more information on this, too.)
As mentioned, the horns date to the mid-11th Century; of course this does not mean that the dance itself is that old. One suggestion is that the dance was performed at the three day Berthelmy Fair, which was granted to the Abbots of Burton by Henry III in 1226. This fair was held to celebrate St Bartholomew's day, August 24, and the switch to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 would account for the dance's present date.
However, other sources suggest that the dance was originally performed around Christmas. (More to follow here.)
The earliest direct reference to the dance is in Plot's 1686 "Natural History of Staffordshire".
The dance was, like similar events throughout the country, temporarily discontinued during the Commonwealth years.