Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival, 2017

On Plough Monday – the first Monday after Twelfth Night (5 January) – or the following day, men dressed in costumes made from straw would be led around the Cambridgeshire towns of Whittlesea ( now more usually known as Whittlesey) and Ramsey.  The custom appears to have been short-lived, being first recorded in Ramsey in 1880 and appearing intermittently until about the end of the century, and being first recorded in Whittlesey in 1859 and continuing with some gaps until 1909.  Since the bear and his attendants expected to receive cash from house-owners and others, it is thought that they appeared mainly at times when employment was scarce and working men needed to supplement their income.

At Whittlesey the custom was revived in 1980 and since then it has grown to become what is probably the first major morris dance festival of the year.

In 2017 the Festival consisted of a concert of folk music on Friday evening, the main event with dance teams around the town, story-telling sessions, ‘acoustic sessions’, followed by a barn dance on Saturday 15 January, and music and dance session on Sunday, followed by the Straw Bear Bonfire.

Saturday was a fine, crisp, sunny day, so from 10.30 until 3.30 people were able to enjoy a wide variety of morris performances around the town.  The programme listed some 38 groups, not all morris, as participating, including nine Molly Dance (the local form of morris dance) sides.

Image:  upper, straw bear with the Lady of Old Glory Molly dancers; lower, Old Glory’s Lord and Lady.

Edited 2 September 2022.

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