So I did manage to go to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. When I emailed my friend Steve about it, he told me he could not go, and how much it was going to cost me to go via public transport, and I knew I would not make it, and especially if I had to travel there myself. But then Steve emailed me back, saying he changed his mind and could go and help me pay for my travel there – so then I knew I’d make it! I would not only know just Steve there. My friend Shamus plays the accordion for the dancers!!!
I met Steve at Wakefield station and we made our way south to Derby, then to Uttoxeter where a cab driver was waiting for us – Steve books him every year, so he knows him personally now. I paid for the cab, because I was by now able to pay my way. I paid for the cab back to the station later that day too.
In Abbots Bromley, you found yourself in a relatively untouched village – a typical Staffordshire village at that – with not much changed. Some of the buildings here still are certainly medieval. We were dropped off at the Buttercross – a hexagonal shaped building near the green that was used for market day over many centuries – I’ve seen one other like it in Bungay. This one is more medieval looking, the Bungay one looks Georgian. Someone there that day told me what a Buttercross was – at market, it was where people bought butter, milk and eggs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buttercross
We visited a pagan art stall – a longhaired, bearded attractive man selling his pagan art (mostly green men) in the market and I bought a few as gifts for people back home. After that we had our first pint at the Goat’s Head pub, and met some of Steve’s pagan friends there. Great chats with people I’d just met, who had good stories to tell. Even Steve had stories to tell about his annual jaunts to Abbots Bromley. He’s been coming since 1989, and I think, could write a book about the goings on that he had witnessed over the years – the pagan camps, the large and small crowds and how they’ve evolved. One story he told was about how he and his pagan friends were sitting in the pub or somewhere and a tradesman came along and asked them about runes – he had seen some around the village – while working on the old cottages, under the tiles of the old roofs and houses – dating back centuries. They had been scratched into the architecture of the old buildings – some of these probably not repaired for many centuries. Sketching the runes for the pagans, the tradesman was told it may have been symbols of protection upon the house. Kind of reminds me of the concealed shoes superstition. Now THAT would be good article.
After our pint, we went to the old Church House (picture above) – that is certainly medieval, but definitely one of the oldest houses in the village. They put on a great spread there – sandwiches and cakes and tea to eat – we had our lunch there – well, a small lunch, we also ate more later on.
Steve took me to the Church (above) to see where the horns are kept. I could tell by looking at it, it had been Saxon once, and like all Saxon churches, had been added to over the years. Quite a lovely church. The bars that hang the horns up are there, and even the old hobby horse from years ago – I’ve seen old images from the 70’s of that hobby horse being ridden about the place – it says that it is from the medieval times – could it actually be that old? I often hold doubt of things like this – what looks medieval, could have been made as recently as the nineteeth century. They use a new one in the dance now. There were also glass cabinets holding the regalia and costumes of horn dancers past.
There was also a story from Steve about the pagans who actually came to church services in previous Horn dance weekends, in their robes and pentacles, and sat in the front row, much to the annoyance of the vicar. The Christian locals prefered to sit up the back as far away from the pagans as possible. Would have loved to have seen that!
In the churchyard, the ground surrounding the church was raised, as if it was small pre-Christian mound. It makes us wonder, if indeed a Saxon church was here, maybe something before it existed. Steve also showed me a headstone, belonging to a man that was once a leader of the horn dancers – and it says that on his headstone. He belonged to the Fowell family, and they are the official horn dancers – their family and another one are a part of the dance, and have been for many, many generations. Steve also told me about another friend of his and visitor to the Horn Dance day would spend the night in the graveyard because he had nowhere else to sleep. And people and locals did not mind – to the villagers and locals, he was just the ‘guy who slept in the graveyard.’ Oh Boy! The characters you get at these events.
We walked up the street to the Bagot Arms, passing some of the places where Steve says the dancers stop for a pint, or food. In the Bagot Arms, Steve and I had another pint (two ciders in two hours! Oh my Gods! That’s so unlike me!) and we chatted about many other things – pagans in the UK and Australia, folk dancing, horse brasses, and many other things that crossed our minds. I kept seeing more and more people walking past the pub window, as I realised the tourists were arriving. It was probably about 3.00 - 3.30pm by now, and the dancers were due to arrive in the village. After a toilet run, I went outside to find Steve standing there, prompting me along. As I looked West down the road, I saw the dancers skipping along the road with their horns. I got really excited here – this was it! I was finally going to see this horn dance. I cannot express how excited I suddenly was. I think the whole thing hit me then about where I was!
As they came along, they circled around each other, and I saw Shamus playing his accordion. He acknowledged me and gave me a head bow. I began to take some short footage of the dance, and saw Ang was in the background. She saw me and came around to give me a hug. After this dance the dancers went under an arch and out into the backyard of one of their friends who had put on a bit of food. Steve suggested we walk back into the village, and before we walked off, Ang invited us out the back with the dancers to hang out with Shamus. The four of us got some group photos together and then went further out the back to the lawn to watch some of the dancers dance with some locals. They are a more open folk dance than I thought. You think about Padstow and how only locals can go to the May Day Festival there because the tourists ‘clogged the village’ but here in Abbots Bromley, they let locals dance and WOMEN too! What a nice bunch of people.
My friends Steve and Shamus
After that, we followed the dancers out to the street again and walked along as we watched them head to the Bagot Arms back towards the village. At this car park, Shamus shoved some of the horns into my hands. I was holding the lighter horns that were damaged in the mid 70’s and the broken bit dated to around 1060s. I got a picture of me with it. Then I got Steve to hold them as well.
We headed back towards the Buttercross, running into more pagan friends of Steve on the way and stopping for chats. At the Crown Pub, we went inside to see the new décor of the renovated pub – all modern and ugly, and saw the Horn Dance paintings done in the 1940s. Then we went round the back of the pub and visited the pagan camp site up the back – I saw Nick from the Black Pigs and went to say hello to him by his hearse. He’s not very approachable, but then, I barely know him. We got a hotdog outside the front of the Crown and then stood with more of Steve’s friends, Cathy and Robin. It was now when the horn dancers arrived outside the Goat’s Head and held up the traffic doing their road-hogging dance. Then they rested by the Goat’s Head and let friends dance with them. I chatted to Ang, Fran, and Shamus and Steve and his friends joined us. I visited the stalls again and bought some Horn Dancer pins and the DVD ‘Morris: a life with bells on’ mocumentary. Then the dancers went out the back of the Goat’s Head and posed for photos. We stayed back there in the large beer garden until about 6pm, then headed back to the Crown. It was time for Steve and I to get back to the station, so we looked for our cab. I could not find Angie or Shamus at all, so never got to say goodbye. It was the last time I saw Shamus too before I left England.
Our cab was waiting when it started to rain again. We got the train from Uttoxeter to Derby and on the Derby train, an announcement told us we were not stopping at Wakefield, so Steve had to get off at Sheffield. I went onto Leeds and got there after 9pm, missing my Ilkley train by a few minutes. The next one was in an hour, but even then it said ‘delayed’. So did a lot of departure trains. I got Subway to eat. At 10.06 when the Ilkley train should have left, the station had ordered some coaches to take us out to Shipley. Both the Ilkley and Skipton lines went on a coach and dropped us off at Shipley. I had no idea where to go from there but heard a girl calling a cab driver she knew to take her to Menston, so I asked her if I could get dropped off in Guiseley, and she said yes. She was very nice, and very relaxed, considering that she had been at the train station since 20 to 8! She did not want any money from me for the cab ride coz she was going to be reimbursed for it by the railway. So I got home at 11.20pm. The train was arriving at Shipley at 11.30, so I got home 10 minutes before I would have boarded the train. Yes!
I had an awesome and memorable day at Abbots Bromley and am very glad I got to go. It was magic! And brilliant to witness such an old dance and finally see how it was conducted, especially since I have been going to folk dances all year. A absolutely wonderful day!