The 2019 Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival.

Whittlesea Festival - Part 2

The festival dance programme began at the Manor Leisure Centre at 10.30am on Saturday morning with the spectacle, music and colour of the procession of morris sides led by the Straw Bear and his “driver".

Read more: The 2019 Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival.

The (new) Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is 40 years old

 

Background to the Straw Bear Festival

The Straw Bear is a very old fenland icon which goes back well into the nineteenth century at the very least.  Straw Bear parades took place on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany or Twelfth Night; the day when local farm workers were supposed to return to their work, ploughing the land. 

The Straw Bear dances in the Market Place, Whittlesea January 2016

As they had not been working or paid during the Christmas holidays the agricultural workers and “ploughboys” toured the locality to perform molly dances, plough-plays or sing and entertain with acts of “mischief” and would beg for money.  To avoid recognition, they would black their faces to disguise themselves as their aim was essentially to intimidate in order to obtain money: those refusing to donate would have some trick played upon them.  In her book “Fenland Chronicle” (Sybil Marshall, 1963) she recounts that her mother, had told her “very often these were real nasty tricks, and they’d wait until Plough Monday to get their own back on somebody what had done them some injury during the year” for example, they would plough up a doorway or take gates off their hinges so that the livestock escaped.

The Straw Bear is not exclusively a Whittlesea custom and some of the earliest newspaper reports date from 1880 where in Ramsey, a few miles south of Whittlesea there are reports of an “individual dressed from top to toe in straw … (who) capered before the houses … to the merry strains of the accordion”

Read more: The (new) Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is 40 years old

Updated! Morris Autumn & Winter Tours 2018 - 2019

There may be other sides performing in the area who have not contacted us.  Contacts for morris and clog sides appear elsewhere in Morris On!  If planning to see a performance please check with the contact or website beforehand as sometimes, for unavoidable reasons, performances are cancelled or re-arranged.

 GROUP(S)

DAY

DATE

VENUE/EVENT

TOWN/VILLAGE

OG

Sat

26th Jan 2019

Dance England, Nottingham Playhouse

Nottingham

OW

Sat

26th Jan 2019

10.30 6pm Mark Jones Day of Dance (see side website)

Ely, Cambs

OM

Sat

30th Mar 2019

Oxblood Molly 5th Day of Dance (see side website) with other invited sides

Halesworth, Suffolk

BMM

Sun

28th April 2019

12.30 St Georges Day Celebrations, Rose & Crown, with many other sides from Suffolk & further afield

Hundon, Suffolk

 

Key                 TBC = to be confirmed            TBA = time to be arranged

BMM = Belchamp Morris Men (Cotswold and Border)

OG = Old Glory Molly Dancers and Musicians (Molly)

OM = Oxblood Molly (Molly)

OW = Ouse Washes Molly Dancers (Molly)

 

Dancing for All - Molly Dance Workshops with Milkmaid Molly

 

Molly Dance Workshops for Milkmaid Molly Buddies

with Alison Giles from the Cambridge Molly side  Gog Magog

 October 18th, November 22nd and December 14th from 7.30 to 9.30pm

Risbygate Sports Club, Westley Road, Bury St Edmunds. IP33 3RR

The workshops are for any Buddies or potential Buddies who would like to learn new dances or anyone who would like to give Molly dance a go. All are welcome to come along and learn this local tradition.

 Information from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Gill on 01284 767476.

 

Gog Magog dancing in Ely on Mark Jones Day January 2018

About Milkmaid Molly

Nearly seven years ago, in January 2012, a new Morris dancing side was launched in Bury St Edmunds which filled a gap in the Morris dance family in West Suffolk.  At the time there was a good representation of the dances of the west and northwest of England with Bury Fair and Hageneth dancing the hankies and sticks dances of the Cotswold; Haughley Hoofers, with their clogs, dancing Northwest and Green Dragon’s boisterous stick-wielding Border dance.  The plan was to create a side with a different tradition to avoid standing on the toes of these well-established West Suffolk dancers. So Molly dancing was the choice, Molly being the tradition closest to home, the tradition coming out from the Cambridgeshire Fens.

Gill Bosley and Graham leading the Milkmaid Molly procession at Ely Festival

But there was another difference, this was to be a side that was inclusive: to involve people with disabilities, to have regular dance practices to learn dances and to socialise and to be able to perform alongside other Morris sides, in other words, to enjoy the whole Morris experience.  

Milkmaid Molly (named from the well-known Milkmaid Folk Club) has a membership of 12 Mollies who have learning difficulties and an equal number of Buddies who dance or play with them. Dances are chosen or created to enable all the Mollies to fully participate. The Buddies also learn more complex dances and when these are performed the Mollies provide the instrumental accompaniment with the musicians. A generous donation of £50 from the line-dance group of a previous Buddy was used to purchase more instruments which were given their first airing on 23rd September at the Bury Hub Fest in Hollow Road.

Milkmaid Molly now have regular bookings to dance every year at Ely Folk Festival and Euston Rural Pastimes and may have been spotted amongst the Morris throng dancing in Bury town centre on Green Dragon’s 25th anniversary celebration in September 2018.

Gill Bosley

Milkmaid Molly

17th October 2018

 

 

Clodagh Chapman remembered

Clodagh Chapman who was an original member of Bury Fair (founded in 1977, but originally part of Hageneth Morris) and a founder member of the Haughley Hoofers died in June.  Her funeral will be at the Bury St Edmunds Crematorium in Risby at 9am on Monday 2nd July 2018.  Colourful clothes and Morris kit should be worn to celebrate her 95years.

Clodagh (back right) with Bury Fair in 1981

(photo from the East Anglian Daily Times December 2010)

I have known Clodagh since her days with Bury Fair and in 2014 I wrote the piece below for the Mardles Magazine and re-publish it today in her memory.  She is the only person I know who created a dance and an embryonic “tradition”.  Like many new dances some worked and some didn’t but Clodagh had one big “hit”; Fires of August which is still being danced today by people who have never heard of Clodagh Chapman.  The Suffolk Weaver is still also danced by Bury Fair but has not been picked up by other sides as much.

I saw “Fires of August” (in the “Buxhall tradition”) performed four days after she died, not in her memory; no-one dancing it knew she had died.  It was danced because it is a good dance (a bit like Brighton Camp, Stanton Harcourt) and can be made into an entertaining race between musicians and dancers.  Few who dance it will know that it was written by Clodagh in the 1980s.  It was originally performed by Bury Fair but has migrated to Little Egypt Morris Men and Westrafelda and maybe others besides.  Hageneth practiced it and I remember performing it once on the Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds.  Unfortunately we never mastered it and it disappeared from our programme.  You really need to go to the Little Egypt summer solstice event to see it danced with enthusiasm and at a pace which always impresses the audience.

“It’s not just skipping around waving handkerchiefs”- Clodagh Chapman remembers creating dances.

From Mardles Magazine September 2014 

Read more: Clodagh Chapman remembered

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