Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is an English folk dance involving antlers that takes place each year in Abbots Bromley, a small village in Staffordshire, England.


There are no recorded references to the dance prior to Robert Plot's "Natural History of Staffordshire", written in 1686. However, a carbon analysis discovered that a pair of the antlers used in the dance date to the 11th century. According to some scholars, the use of antlers suggests an Anglo-Saxon origin along with other native Anglo-Saxon traditions that have survived into modern times in various forms.Campbell, James. "The Anglo-Saxons" (1991) Page 241, with illustration. ISBN 0140143955]

The dance was, like similar events throughout the country, temporarily discontinued during the Commonwealth years.


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.

Date and schedule of performance

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 08:00 with a service of blessing in St Nicholas Church, where the horns are housed. The dance begins on the village green, then passes out of the village - but not out of the Parish - 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.


There are 12 dancers. Six carry the horns and are accompanied by 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.

Until the end of the 19th Century the dancers were all members of the Bentley family. The dance passed to the related Fowell family in the early 20th Century in which it remains to this day, though rising house prices has meant that none of them live in the village any longer, with many residing in nearby towns. They have been known to allow visitors to "dance in" if asked politely, and will often invite musicians and others to take part when necessary.


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. They were once kept in the main Village Hall, which is now the Goat Inn, beside the Butter Cross. An alternative set of antlers (red deer) are kept to use when the Dancers are asked, as they are, frequently, to perform outside the Parish boundaries.


The dance itself is simple, since the antlers themselves have some weight to them and are large and bulky.

The dance is performed by 12 performers: 6 men carrying the antlers, Maid Marian, Hobby Horse, a boy with a bow and arrow, a fool, a musician, and a boy with a triangle. As described by Cecil Sharp, there are 6 figures in the dance. He describes the dance as being done with the participants in a single line; however, it is currently performed with the dancers in a double column. The "Sharp notations" are used here, but are just arbitrary names to more easily identify the discrete parts of the dance. The figures are (in the order in which they are danced): circle up, 1 leads off, all together, advance meet and retire (henceforth known as AMR), cross over (CO), and form the line. The dancers use a walking step in the dance, except in the AMR, which has a slight lifting of the foot at the antler clash.

The dance begins with the dancers standing in a line in the following order, which they generally follow throughout the day:
*Dancers 1 to 6 carrying the horns, with dancer 1 carrying the Great Horns.
*Maid Marion
*Hobby Horse
*Boy with Bow and Arrow
*Boy with Triangle

Following number one, the dancers walk in a procession until they reach the desired dancing location. The leader waits until the A music begins again. When it does, he leads everyone into a large circle. The direction of the circle is unimportant; according to Sharp, the dancers began the dance either clockwise or counter clockwise. The dancers circle until the B music begins, and then go into 1 leads off.

At the beginning of the B music, number 1 turns into the set, and leads numbers 2 and 3 inside the perimeter of the circle. They pass between positions 3 and 4, and lead off in the direction opposite to which the original circle is traveling. Immediately after number 1 turns into the circle, number 4 also turns in, leading the rest of the company into a circle.

As soon as number 3 passes through position 3 4, number 4 falls into place behind him, leading the rest of the company into a line again. Everyone should now be in a line going in the opposite direction from the original track. The success of this figure depends on how smoothly number 4 falls into place behind number 3. Timing is crucial to this figure; number 3 must clear position 4 just as number 4, with the other dancers following him, is ready to fall into place behind him. The dancers then form up in a circle and prepare to form the all together. The dancers that are in a circle then form up a set in two lines.

At this point, the dance is ready to begin again. The A music repeats and the dancers form a line to move on to the next place of dancing. Number 1 dances forward, followed by the rest of the dancers. He then leads the entourage into a line by turning over his outside shoulder.

At the beginning of the B music, number 1 leads the company off into 1 leads off. The dance is ready to begin again.


External links

* [ Information about the horn dance from the Abbots Bromley web site]

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