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".
Decorated ploughs form part of the procession (2016 photo)
There are some huge animal in the parade (2016 photo)
and even several mini-straw bears rescued from a former local pubs
Old Glory Molly carry the mini Straw Bears (2016)
The “cadging” is now licensed and benefits a huge range of local charities.
There are 19 different dance spots throughout the town centre, not all at pubs!
Community support is shown by straw bear themed windows
and the town garden’s straw bear sculpture.
Look up and you’ll see a large straw bear prancing along a thatched roof
overlooking the main square!
Throughout the day the Straw Bear processes and dances through the town to his own tune, played "slowly with a lumbering beat" . Two people take turns to wear the straw suit which reportedly weighs about 5 stone and dancing in it is no mean feat! The dancing is a real celebration of morris dancing in its widest sense; local Molly Dancing is joined by Cotswold, Border, Rapper, North West, Appalachian and Sword and the performance tradition includes local school sides which has cemented the custom into new fenland generations. Originally the event featured mainly local sides but gradually its fame has spread far and wide and this year there were sides from as far as Southport, Harrogate, Wokingham, Brighton, Sheffield, York and Macclesfield. Local sides were also well represented with Pig Dyke Molly appearing for the 31st year plus Mepal Molly, Gog Magog Molly, Ouse Washes Molly and Old Glory Molly Dancers and Musicians plus others too numerous to mention (some of those not mentioned by name appear in the photos below).
As there are so many dancing spots, many with simultaneous perfromances it is not possible to see all the sides who appeared this year let alone get good photos of them all, especially as I was dancing with Old Glory Molly. Fortunately Gill cruised around with the camera and got pictures of sides I was not able to see. In a bid to show some of the sides we missed I have included some photos of sides taken in 2016 and also a couple of youtube videos of this year's event https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaRvnAH3TBA shows the procession and a second one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McYbhXeTo7k which shows the preparations before the procession and then some of the sides at the various dancing spots.
Minster Strays from York dancing in Market Street Mortimers Morris from Nottingham perform in Market Street
Old Glory Molly perfrom the Buck, at the Boat Old Glory Molly Dancers and Musicians
Wakefield Morris get airborne in the Market Place Sussex Junction (Brighton) also get airborne in the Market Place
Peterborough - All Up at the Boat Pig Dyke Molly sway in Market Street (2017)
The Witchmen (Kettering) in the Market Place (2016) Waters Green Morris (Macclesfield) at the Letter B
Tyler's Men probably got it all wrong in Market Street
The dancing continues on Sunday and the whole event culminates with the burning of the Straw Bear suit and with the Plough Service in the local church when the plough is blessed for the coming year. Festivals at this time of year often end in fire, perhaps tying in with our primaeval desire for light and anticipation of longer, warmer days. In Whittlesea it means that the Bear has to be made anew each year, so straw is carefully selected at the end of each harvest for the following year’s Bear costume in the same way that corn dollies were made from the last of the harvest straw to keep the corn spirit alive over the winter until ploughed into the first furrow of the new season to pass the spirit on to the new crop.
Morris On! correspondent, January 2019
Based on an article written by Gill Brett which first appeared in Mardles Magazine in May 2016.
Straw Bear Festival programme 2019