creating community through celebration

About California Revels' Abbots Bromliad

Take a look at the articles listed in the Table of Contents on the left. You can deepen your knowledge of Abbots Bromley lore and read all about the world's first Abbots Bromliad

NOTE: This is the page of Horn Dance History and Lore.
Details about this year's event can be found HERE

History of California Revels' Abbots Bromliad

On Wakes Monday, September 6, 2010, Abbots Bromley and traditional English, Scottish, and Contra dance enthusiasts joined the California Revels for the First Annual Abbots Bromliad, a day of good food, good music, good dancing and the largest participatory celebration ever of the Abbots Bromley antler dance.

Every Wakes Monday, the dancers in Abbots Bromley, England take up the traditional horns for their legendary 16 kilometer trek of dancing through countryside and pub yards. Wakes Monday generally falls on or near Labor Day in America, and so that's when we celebrate it.

The California Revels called upon dance teams and interested individuals to come together for a day of picnicking, dancing and music, which culminated in the Grand Bromliad – a mass dance of the Abbots Bromley antler dance featuring more people than have ever before danced it at one time - all on the same day as they were dancing it in England.

Over 144 dancers trod the sun drenched meadow in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park, accompanied by a dozen or more instrumentalists in what was arguably the largest mass dance of the traditional Abbots Bromley horn dance ever performed.

California Revels has continued the Bromliad every year since 2010, and in recent years has been joined by Puget Sound Revels, also dancing the Horn Dance on the same day, spreading the tradition into the Pacific Northwest.

Origins of the Horn Dance

Most revelers, when they tell friends about the Christmas Revels, include the moment when the stage goes almost dark, and men carrying deer antlers prance about the main floor. Of course they’re describing the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a ritual moment that has become closely identified with our celebration of the Winter Solstice. The dance consists of a line of dancers in walking gait, weaving into repeated serpentine and facing figures, punctuated by light clashes of the hand-held antlers. There are six deer dancers, and four costumed “supernumeraries”. These accompanying figures are dubbed Hobby Horse, Bowman, Fool and Maid Marian (or man/woman). They are accompanied by a melodeon and a triangle player, although in Revels we customarily employ a recorder.

Like so many traditional celebrations, the Horn Dance (or more properly, Antler dance) has a long and ultimately obscure history. The earliest documentary evidence dates from 1686 although it is has been suggested that the custom might date back to August of 1226 at the Barthelmy Fair in Staffordshire, England. Today the Horn Dance takes place annually on Wakes Monday, a date falling in early September. The antlers, large sets from caribou or reindeer, mounted on small carved deer heads are kept in the parish hall of the St. Nicholas Church in Abbots Bromley. There are six sets - three painted white and three painted blue (actually brown, but the earlier coat of blue paint shows through). How these antlers came to this parish is a mystery. In the 1970’s, one of the white sets was damaged, and while being repaired underwent carbon dating which showed it to be over 900 years old. Since there were no Reindeer in England in 1065, the horns are presumed to have come from Scandinavia.

The horns are the property of the Abbots Bromley parish council and never are allowed to leave the Parish (a smaller, lighter set of red deer antlers are used for practice and for guest appearances elsewhere). After collecting the horns from the church at eight o'clock in the morning, the Horn Dancers perform their dance at locations throughout the village and its surrounding farms and pubs, a walk of about 10 miles (or 16 kilometres).

In Revels we perform the dance as notated by our old friend, the songcatcher Cecil Sharp. He recorded that the dancers all came from only one or two families in Abbots Bromley who had passed the steps and patterns down from generation to generation for as long as anybody could remember (that phrase again!). Also, the melody that had come to be associated with the dance shared a similar heritage. It was a tune that the elderly village wheelwright, a man named Robinson had learnt from his grandfather, who played it end of the eighteenth century. And so the bouncy little jingle that we associate with the dance came to be called “The Wheelwright Robinson’s Tune”.

It is interesting to note that in modern day Staffordshire, there are a variety of tunes used with the dance, and the performance has no particular association with the Winter Solstice. As the ritual has come to be “owned” by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming. Some dance it on Mayday morn and it has become a staple of traditional music camps where it is commonly danced by women and children. I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own.

In the California Revels, we have reserved its performance for the darkest point in the Solstice show, where its haunting power is allowed to take hold through the almost hypnotic interweaving of the figures and tune. The ten men who dance it here employ a slightly vaulting step that is noticeably different from the way it is performed even in other Revels cities. Our Fool plays the triangle, a boy dances the archer, and Maid Marian is invariably a robust, bearded man.

Of course the question arises, usually at a safe remove from the magic of the performance itself, concerning the meaning of it all. Why has this dance been performed over all of these centuries? What is it supposed to do? The answers to these questions are rife with speculation. Some feel the dance is supposed to guarantee success in the hunt, others point to a historical conflict between villagers and a surly gamekeeper, others posit a linkage through the Robin Hood allusions to the Green Man, and still others ferret out the Christian iconography of the stag figures.

There is no logical answer to the question of the meaning of the Abbots Bromley dance. It is a riddle whose solution is best left to intuition. One explanation is as good as another - and ultimately as wrong. It is a mystery that fares better in the realm of experience than understanding. Each of us feels the power of this ritual and we respond from a place that is deeper than the conscious mind can fathom. It is primitive magic and the awareness of the moment draws us together in a wild and powerful way.

- David Parr, Artistic Director

The Music of the Abbots Bromley

(Notes by David Parr, Artistic Director, California Revels, in bold-italic)

In response to what seems to me a great deal of misunderstanding and invented fact that swirls around the “authenticity” of music played for the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, I thought it might be good to present some original source material to help inform the discussion. The first quote presented here is from Cecil Sharp, and probably engendered much of the opinion that since the quest to find the proper traditional music at the time of his original documentation of the dance had “failed”, no tune, including the popular “Wheelwright Robinson's Tune” has any particular claim to “authenticity”.

Sword Dances of Northern England

by Cecil Sharp

The Music

There is no special or traditional tune for the dance. The musician told me that any country dance air would serve, provided that it was played in the proper time (in Common Time of quarter note equals 108). When I saw the dance performed two tunes only were played, “Yankee Doodle“ and the following simple little melody:

Listen in MIDI
View in SCORCH

In a letter written in 1893 by the vicar of the parish (see “Folklore Journal,” vol. iv, pg. 172), it is stated that a special tune used to be played for the horn dance by a man with a fiddle and within the memory of some men living, but that all efforts to recover it had failed.

Chapter 3 - The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

While it is certainly true that the dancers in Abbots Bromley, England have generally ignored the “Wheelwright Robinson's Tune” in favor of a wide variety of other pieces, it is equally apparent that the “Robinson's” tune was played regularly for the dance for at least eighty years before it was supplanted by other tunes in the late nineteenth century. Marcia Ellis Rice was a resident and chronicler of Abbots Bromley. A member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, she wrote several books and monographs of the culture of Abbots Bromley and Staffordshire. In this excerpt, she documents the various songs attached to the dance at the turn of the 20th century, and the emergence of the “Wheelwright Robinson's Tune” as, if not the true “Old Tune”, at least the oldest tune that could be recalled by anyone living in the village at the time of her research.

Abbots Bromley

by Marcia Ellis Rice
Headmistress of the School of St. Mary and St. Anne 1900 – 31

So much for the dance. We now pass to the somewhat complicated subject of the music. It would seem that it should be simple enough to produce the dance music, for within the memory of the oldest inhabitants there have only been four musicians. Mrs. Bentley tells us that the musician of her early childhood was a fiddler, she has forgotten his name. After him came “old Mr. Fenton“ who introduced the concertina. “He went from village to village playing the concertina and he used to play with the Horns sometimes.” This was in the 80s when Mrs. Bentley was a little girl. After him came Mrs. Bentley's brother, Rock (not the Shoemaker), and from him, her nephew Tom Sammons, son of our Mrs. Sammons who worked for St. Anne's practically all her life, inherited the position. Tom died in 1933 and the concertina is now in the abeyance. There is no one in the village forthcoming. The leader has to “borrow“ a musician from wherever he can. But in spite of the fact that the musicians have been few the dancers can produce no written music. There was once an old score. Miss Alice Lowe can vouch for that. But it has long been lost. The Bentley family who are in charge of such properties as are not kept in the church, do not remember it. “The concertina has always been played by ear,” says Mrs. Bentley; and for this reason the old tunes that for long were handed down, either with or without a score, are now in danger of being forgotten. The modern musician plays “Yankee Doodle“ or any other popular air of the day, and the dancers seem content. In all probability the score was lost when the fiddler of Mrs. Bentley's childhood died, and the concertina replaced the fiddle.

We can, however, produce four old tunes, and it is much to be hoped that the Horn dancers will be grateful for their rescue, will cherish them and return to them. Here is the story of the rescue. There is one tune which is well known to our readers, whether villagers or Old Girls. It was always played in the early years of this century; then as time went on it became noticeable that “Yankee Doodle” was too often substituted. In our ignorance we called it “ the old tune“ unaware of any older one. Consequently when the Horns, of their courtesy, “came out” for our Jubilee in 1924 we begged for the simple haunting tune we associated with the dance. The answer was that it was “forgotten“. Entreaty and some persistence, however, produced it from the memory of the players. And in time to this music the hobbyhorse snapped its jaws, the boy bate his triangle, and the horns were danced in our hall. This music was not allowed to be forgotten. It was at once written down and is printed in the 1924 number of “the leaflet of St. Mary's and St. Anne's Guild”. We were quite unaware, and so were the horn dancers, that Mr. Cecil Sharp had heard this tune when he visited Abbots Bromley in or about 1910, and that he had printed it in“Sword Dances of Northern Europe”, 1911 – 12 and commented upon it in his chapter on the horn dance. Comparison of the tune as written down by him and by us shows to be the same. So this tune is well identified.

But this is not the tune of the lost score. Miss Lowe tells us that. This written music was in existence in her father's time as vicar. She describes the air as “quaint old music written on a single sheet of paper.“ When it was lost we do not know. The Rev. Stuart Berkley, who became vicar in 1889, became aware of the loss of the old tune and made unavailing efforts to recover it. He mentions this fact in a letter which is quoted in A Folklore Article in 1893. But Mr. Cecil Sharp was far more fortunate than the vicar. After his visit to Abbots Bromley, owing to the publicity he then gave to the horn dance, he received, in 1910, a letter from a Mr. Buckley sending him a tune which he said had given to him in 1857 or 1858 by a wheelwright, Robinson, in Abbots Bromley, who claimed to be the only man in the village who could play the old tune. Mr. Buckley had quote noted down the air from the fiddling of Robinson.” This tune Mr. Cecil Sharp printed his collection of airs for his folk dances, but unfortunately, he took no steps to get the music identified by any of the old inhabitants of Abbots Bromley, and until now the dancers have remained unaware that a tune claiming to be their old horn dance tune had been recovered and printed. It is too late now to get any corroboration of the tune which it would seem was dying out in 1857 or 1858. But inquiries have elicited the following facts, and produced two more old tunes of the later 19th century. Mr. Joseph Salt remembers Robinson, the Wheelwright, well. Mr. Robinson owned the Carpenter’s business carried on in the yard and shed opposite St. Anne's. He sold his business to Mr. George Bradbury's father in 1878, when he was about 80 years old. He was a popular figure in his day. He never “went with the horns“. His social status was above that. But he was musical, Mr.Salt asserts that he was “the only man in Bromley who could play the old tune.” This is important evidence, for Mr. Salt thus confirms Mr. Buckley. There was an old tune which only the Wheelwright, Robinson, could play. We are grateful indeed to Mr. Buckley for having noted it down all these years ago, and Mr. Sharp for having drawn his attention to the horn dance. Whether this is really the music of the old score none are left to say. Only Miss Lowe is aware that there ever was this written sheet of music, and she cannot identify the air after all these long years. Of our other authorities Joseph Salt was only four years old in 1857. William Adie, Mrs. Bentley, Mr. Rock were none of them born. The old tune was lost before their day. But the discussion concerning it that has now arisen has roused both William Adie and Mrs. Bentley's niece, Edie Sammons, sister of Tom, the musician, to search their memories, and they have produced the airs that were played in their young days. Adie’s tune belongs to the 70s and 80s, and is suggestive of the tune of the old song “Going to the Fair.“ Edie's belongs to the 90s into the beginning of this century and it will be seen that it is practically identical with the one produced for our Jubilee. Wheelwright Robinsons is the most original and most akin to dance rhythm. In it we have a tune played for our dance over 100 years old – “old” in 1857. We may certainly hope that it gives us the ancient music of the horn dance.

published by Wilding and Sons limited Shrewsbury, 1939

Here are the tunes referred to in Marcia Rice's article. Note the similarity that Rice mentions between the tune first collected by Sharp and the tune played for the St. Anne's Jubilee, which was taken at the time to be the “Old Tune”.

The Wheelwright Robinson's Tune

Listen in MIDI
View in SCORCH

Listen in MIDI
View in SCORCH

Listen in MIDI
View in SCORCH

Listen in MIDI
View in SCORCH

A final note not really bearing upon the music, but rather on the origin of the dance: The “official” version, put forward by the Parish of Abbots Bromley, has it that the dance originated at Bartholomy Fair in Staffordshire in August of 1226. It then was transplanted into September's Wakes Monday due to the shift in dates occasioned by the adoption of the Julian Calendar in the 16th century. I've not seen any research that bears out the 13th century date, but writers generally point to the following work by Dr. Robert Plot to give evidence of the existence of the dance as early as the 17th century, albeit in the Christmas-12th night season (the spellings are Plot's).

“ At Abbots, or now rather Paget's Bromley, they had also, within memory, a sort of sport, which they celebrated at Christmas (on New year and Twelft day) called the Hobbyhorse dance, from a person that carried the image of a horse between his legs, made of thin boards, and in his hand a bow and arrow, which passing through a hole in the bow, and stopping upon a shoulder it had in it, he made a snapping noise as he drew it to and fro, keeping time with the Music: with this man danced six others, carrying on their shoulders as many Rain deer's heads, 3 of them painted white, and 3 red, with the Armes of the chief families (viz. of Padgett, Bagot, and Wells) to whom the revenews of the Town chiefly belonged, depicted on the palms of them, with which they danced the Hays, and other Country dances. To this Hobbyhorse dance are also belong’d a pot, which was kept by turnes, by 4 or 5 of the cheif of the town, whom they call’d Reeves, who provided Cakes and Ale to put in this pot; all people who had any kindness for the good intent of the Institution of the sport, giving pence a piece for themselves and families; and so forraigners too, that came to see it: with which Mony (the charge of the Cakes and Ale being defrayed) they not only repaired their church but kept their poore too: which charges are not now perhaps so cheerfully boarn.“

Dr. Robert Plot, A Natural History of Staffordshire, 1686

The Bromliad in the International Press

Our First Annual Abbots Bromliad proved to be of interest to the newspapers, receiving coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as in the English press.

September 4, 2010.
This story by Carolyn Jones appeared on page one of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Revelers keep Abbots Bromley Horn Dance alive

Oh, deer!

That's likely to be the reaction from hikers and picnickers in the Oakland hills Monday when they stumble across a herd of more than 100 humans trotting through the redwoods in deer antlers.

No, the horned hordes have not become unhinged. They will be participating in the largest performance of the 1,100-year-old Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, an Old English pagan ritual that's rarely seen outside the central England village of Abbots Bromley.

“This is a very ancient, very rich tradition,” said Ethan Hay, one of the leaders of Monday's performance. “This dance is a mystery, and in order to keep the mystery alive, we need to get people to don antlers and get out there dancing and hope we don't impale each other.”

Ordinarily, the Horn Dance is performed once a year, in early September, by 12 male dancers in Abbots Bromley, a historic town in Staffordshire, England, that got its start in the 10th century. The dancers snake about 10 miles through town performing a simple line dance to a lilting melody played on drums and whistles.

Occasionally they stop to clash antlers, and they have a tendency, when the opportunity presents itself, to stop to rehydrate at local pubs.

In a tradition that predates Robin Hood and King Arthur, some are dressed as deer while others dress as Maid Marian, bowmen, fools and hobbyhorses.

The dancers wear the same antlers worn by their ancestors, 75-pound reindeer racks stored in the town's medieval church, St. Nicholas. The antlers have been carbon-dated to the year 900.

The dance is so old that no one is sure of its origin, although it probably has something to do with hunting deer, Hay said. Several American Indian tribes have similar rituals, such as buffalo dances, all related to the mystique of stalking game.

In Oakland, the ritual is more about having fun than slaying wild animals. It's also a bit more democratic. Everyone is invited to join, regardless of gender, age, Anglo-Saxon lineage or ownership of reindeer antlers.

“I'd love to see a whole bunch of people show up,” said Marc Newell of El Cerrito, a dancer with the California Revels performance group, which is organizing the event. “We don't have many traditions anymore, and this is a way of passing tradition along.”

The high chiefs of Abbots Bromley reacted charitably to news of the Oakland undertaking.

“It won't be the same as ours as it is not linked to Abbots Bromley, but hopefully they have as much fun with their version as we do here,” the Rev. Simon Davis, vicar of St. Nicholas Church, told the local newspaper. “Imitation is a very sincere form of flattery.”

The California Revels dancers, meanwhile, are thrilled at the chance to bring the ancient, mystical ritual to the people.

“The wonderful thing about this dance is that we only touch when the antlers clash, but you feel this magical connection,” said Ric Goldman of Palo Alto. “It's incredibly simple but incredibly powerful.”

The dance's simplicity and repetition leaves participants with an almost trancelike serenity, some dancers said.

“I've seen it a hundred times, but to perform it is just magical. I just felt this power,” said Nancy Weston of San Francisco. “I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.”

The California Revels perform the Horn Dance twice a year, at the organization's Christmas show in Oakland and on the winter solstice in Muir Woods. But this will be the first time the public can don antlers and join in.

“We like to honor ancient celebrations and bring them to life,” said Revels director David Parr. “This is going to be a gas.”

The public can join California Revels dancers in what is believed to be the world's largest performance of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance at 1 p.m. Monday in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Participants should bring their own food and beverages. Picnicking and dance demonstrations will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For information, go to

The original article is found here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
This story, by Tom Abate appeared, also in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Oakland keeps Abbots Bromley Horn Dance alive

Holding antlers aloft in the midday sun, about 120 dancers and a larger semicircle of onlookers gathered in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park on Monday for an odd hunting ritual that entered historical record in medieval England - and still finds followers today in Northern California, lo these many years later.

It was called the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.

Organized by the California Revels, a nonprofit performing arts group in Oakland, Monday's event assembled an eclectic group of dancers, musicians and fans of old English tradition who frolicked in an open meadow while onlookers enjoyed the shade of the surrounding trees.

History records the first rendition of the Horn Dance in 1226 near the town of Abbots Bromley, which still keeps alive a tradition thought to have its roots in pagan hunting rituals.

Pre-Christian aura

Berkeley residents Diane and George Hersh recalled when they first saw the Horn Dance - it was 20 years ago at a folk retreat in the Mendocino Redwoods. Ten men holding antlers performed the ritual to a solo violin.

“It was like they materialized for us and then vanished. It was perfect,” George Hersh said.

“It touches something very deep and spiritual,” Diane added. “But not Christian,” George interjected. “Pre-Christian, his wife agreed.

Revelers with antlers lined up in pairs Monday afternoon to learn or practice the dance as more than a dozen musicians sawed fiddles, beat drums, fingered flutes or pumped accordions.

The basic Horn Dance involves advancing on a partner to click antlers several times, in step with the music.

After some rehearsal, the dancers formed a procession, marching out of the glade and through the woods to reassemble in the clearing and end as they had begun, lining up opposite their original partners to repeat the tapping of the horns.

Monday's dancers included Felicity Stewart, a biochemist from England who hails from Oxfordshire, about 100 miles from Abbots Bromley.

“I grew up in a town where everybody speaks exactly like a hobbit,” Stewart said.

Carl Zwanzig, a quality assurance professional on the eve of his 50th birthday, said taking part in traditional dances was part of his exercise routine. “We do it because it's fun,” he said.

After an hour of cavorting under the hot sun, Lise Dyckman, a folk dancer for more than 30 years, doused her head under a water fountain.

“I feel as if I've been through a spiritual marathon,” she said.

Seated in the shade with a four-stringed mountain dulcimer on her lap, D.J. Hamouris said there were quite a few pagans among the celebrants, identifying herself as a believer in a spirit life for objects and creatures in nature.

“We're part of all this,” she said, waving one hand, “and we take ourselves away from it for what we call normal life.”

With his wife, Jennifer, and their two children, ages 3 and 16 months, Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski roamed the glade on a busman's holiday. A professor at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Joslyn-Siemiatkoski teaches and studies the premedieval roots of Christianity.

“Christianity adapted to whatever traditions surrounded it,” he said.

The original article is found here.

August 4th, 2010
The following story appeared in the Uttoxeter Advertiser of Staffordshire

California Dreaming about our Ancient Antler Ritual

Fans of an ancient East Staffordshire village ritual will be holding their very own imitation event on the same day in September — thousands of miles away in California. Thousand-year-old antlers have been replicated for the event which will pay homage to the ever popular Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. The dance involves a team of 12 members, six of whom parade 10 miles through the streets, farms and pubs with horns. The characters include deer men, a fool, hobby horse, bowman and Maid Marian, a part invariably performed by a man sporting a full beard.

Organisers from the California Revels have promised their first Abbots Bromliad on Monday, September 6 in a park in Oakland will be the largest ever to take place.

Artistic director for the American enthusiasts David Parr said: “As the ritual has come to be “owned” by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming.

“I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own.

“Each of us feels the power of this ritual and we respond from a place that is deeper than the conscious mind can fathom. It is primitive magic and the awareness of the moment draws us together in a wild and powerful way.”

Rev Simon Davis, Vicar of St Nicholas Church where the horns are collected from at 8am on the morning of the Abbots Bromley dance, told the Advertiser ‘imitation is a very sincere form of flattery.’ He said: “It is not the only recreation. There is a group in England which does its own version and another in the East Coast of the USA. Imitation is a very sincere form of flattery. Good luck to them. It won’t be the same as ours as it is not linked to Abbots Bromley, but hopefully they have as much fun with their version as we do here.”

Horn Dancer Terry Bailey said the Abbots Bromley dancers were contacted 10 years ago by the Californian Revels about a possible trip to the USA. “For one reason or another, the trip never came off but we have always been well aware of the interest from all over the world. “There has been a revival of ancient pastimes in the 30 years since my first dance, and now we get crowds of two or three thousand.”

July 30, 2010
This article ran in the Uttoxeter Post & Times, Staffordshire, England

Enthusiasts to imitate village dance on same day – out in California

“We have always been well aware of the interest from all over the world” - Terry Bailey, horn dancer
By Peter Smith -
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Write to the editor, Post & Times, The Maltings, Uttoxeter,
or email

THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD antlers have been replicated as hundreds of enthusiasts prepare to imitate an ancient village dance in California. A band of enthusiasts in the U.S. are to conduct their own version of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance on the same day as the event is held in Staffordshire. The two dances – to be held about 5,500 miles apart on Monday, September 6 – can be traced back to a performance at Barthelmy Fair in August 1226. But organisers from the California Revels have promised their first Abbots Bromliad, in a park in Oakland, will be the largest ever to take place. Revels artistic director David Parr said: “As the ritual has come to be performed by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming. “I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. “It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own.”

The Abbots Bromley dance involves a team of 12 members, six of whom parade 10 miles through the streets, farms and pubs with horns. The characters include deer-men, a fool, hobby horse, bowman and Maid Marian, a part invariably played by a man sporting a full beard. Horn dancer Terry Bailey believed the publicity would attract enough curiosity to ensure the tradition prevailed for hundreds of years.

The 53-year-old, of Abbots Bromley, said: “We were contacted about 10 years ago from a group of people in the U.S. who were keen for us to travel over and give a demonstration. For one reason or another, the trip never came off but we have always been well aware of the interest from all over the world. There has been a revival of ancient pastimes in the 30 years since my first dance and now we get crowds of two or three thousand.”

Jack Brown, who has written a book about the event, believed the dance’s reputation had grown after it was performed at the Albert Hall in 1948. The 82-year-old, of Colton, said: “There was a particularly eerie rendition of the dance with slowed down music which seemed to capture a lot of attention.”

Barbara Kendrick, aged 73, watched the dance for the 42 years her husband Les, now aged 83, played the role of Maid Marian. The retired school cleaner, of Colton, said: “It certainly takes a lot of energy but Les has always had two left feet; he was always lucky it was more or less the same three steps repeated for the entire day.”

Roger Jarman, chairman of Abbots Bromley Parish Council, was delighted the dance’s popularity had reached all corners of the world. He said: “As a village, the history of the dance certainly makes us unique.”

Horn Dance Quiz


Test your knowledge of trivia surrounding the “real” Abbots Bromley.

  1. What animals provide the antlers used in Abbots Bromley, England? 1)
  2. How old are the antlers, according to carbon dating? 2)
  3. How far do the Bromley dancers travel during the day's dancing? 3)
  4. According to legend, where and when was the horn dance first performed? 4)
  5. Who are the “supernumeraries”? 5)
  6. What is the “official” tune played for the dance in Abbots Bromley? 6)
  7. On what instrument is it usually played? 7)
  8. What color are the horns? 8)
  9. Who keeps the antlers and where? 9)
  10. How often do they leave the village? 10)

How did you do? Check for the answers below.

1) Reindeer.
2) 900 years.
3) About 10 mi. or 16 kilometers.
4) Barthelmy Faire, August 1226.
5) Hobby Horse, Fool, Boy Archer and Man/woman or Maid Marian.
6) There isn't one, although “Yankee Doodle” has been occasionally popular.
7) Melodian or accordion have supplanted the fiddle in recent times.
8) Three are painted white, and three, although painted brown, are considered “blue” because the old paint shows through.
9) The Abbots Bromley Parish keeps them on the wall of the parish house
10) Never. There is a second set of “red” antlers for special appearances.