Friday 12, Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 January 2024 Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival
See https://strawbear.org.uk/ which is the official WSB website
BARN DANCE/CEILIDH - Fri 12th
The Public dancing returns this year on Friday 12 January at a new venue - Whittlesey Indoor Bowls Complex, 194-198 Station Road, Whittlesey, PE7 2HA - doors open 7.30, ceilidh from 8pm to 11pm - this barn dance/ceilidh will include some singing spots as further entertainment.
The band is a good one; Frog on a Bike, one of Cambridgeshire’s most popular ceilidh bands, presenting for a festival that is probably closer to their hearts than most. With repertoire steeped in the English tradition, a distinctively big folk-rock sound and their signature foot stomping performance, you won’t be disappointed that you came along for the ride!
Master of ceremonies for this evening of music and dancing will be Strawbearian Ollie Simons. Local Peterboroughian Ollie is one of the most charismatic up and coming callers on the scene today, he also dances with more Morris sides than you could shake any hankie or stick at.
Tickets will be £12, available shortly from the Whittlesea Straw Bear main website at https://strawbear.org.uk/
STRAW BEARS ON THE STREETS - Sat 13th
STRAW BEAR DAY kicks off at 10-30 am on SATURDAY 13th from the Manor Leisure Centre with two Bears, Musicians, Decorated Plough, and lots of invited dance teams who will display the wide variety of traditional dance forms from the UK. The entourage will circumnavigate the town until 3-30pm approximately. Our only guarantee will be, “it will be cold” but we hope, not wet, at it was in ‘23. Please note that there is no public parking at the Manor Leisure Centre - please use the Park and Ride from Sir Harry Smith Community College. There will not be a Saturday Barn Dance/Ceilidh this year; it takes place on the Friday.
STORYTELLING - Sat 13th
Storyteller Marion Leeper at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm in the afternoon of Sat 13 Jan 2024, at Queen Street Methodist/United Reformed Church, 24 Queen St, Whittlesey, Peterborough PE7 1AY. She is a weaver of words, teller of legends, fables and tall tales, with surprises galore in her coat of many pockets. She has toured her shows for grownups The Kitchen Cat and Women and Power (with singer-songwriter Jessica Law) around the UK and has stories for children of all ages, from bloodthirsty myths and legends for brave young people, to enchanting Stories in the Dark for under-5s. Marion's sessions are free.
BURNING THE BEAR - Sun 14th
The BURNING will be at mid-day on SUNDAY14th, will be open to the public this year and free and will take place at Decoy Lakes, Drybread Road, PE7 2AD - refreshments available
For further information about the 2024 Festival visit our website https://strawbear.org.uk/ or ring 01733 208245.
STRAW BEAR ORIGINS
In Whittlesea, from when no one quite knows, it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night) to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw and call him a 'Straw Bear'. A newspaper of 1882 reports that "... he was then taken around the town to entertain by his frantic and clumsy gestures the good folk who had on the previous day subscribed to the rustics, a spread of beer, tobacco and beef".
The bear was described as having great lengths of tightly twisted straw bands prepared and wound up the arms, legs and body of the man or boy who was unfortunate enough to have been chosen. Two sticks fastened to his shoulders met a point over his head and the straw wound round upon them to form a cone above the "Bear's" head. The face was quite covered and he could hardly see. A tail was provided and a strong chain fastened around the armpits. He was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money or of beer and food for later consumption was expected. It seems that he was considered important, as straw was carefully selected each year, from the best available, the harvesters saying, "That'll do for the Bear".
The tradition fell into decline at the end of the 19th century, the last sighting being in 1909 as it appears that an over-zealous police inspector had forbidden 'Straw Bears' as a form of cadging.
STRAW BEAR REVIVAL
The custom was revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society, and for the first time in seventy years a 'Straw Bear' was seen on the streets accompanied by his attendant keeper, musicians and dancers, about 30 in all. Various public houses were visited around the town as convenient places for the 'Bear' and dancers to perform in front of an audience - with much needed refreshment available!
The Bear is constructed in a more practical way now, the straw being fixed to a suitable garment, the head supported on a metal frame on the shoulders. This arrangement allows the costume to be removable which is essential as the length of the processional route and the time taken necessitates two persons 'driving the bear'. The person donning the costume is adding something like 5 stone to his own weight.
The procession now contains over 250 dancers, musicians and performers from various parts of the British Isles performing traditional 'Molly', 'Morris', 'Clog' and 'Sword. There is also American style 'Appalachian' dancing, street performances and Mummers plays. A decorated plough is pulled by 21st century plough boys and is now an established part of the procession.
In 1999 the Straw Bear made friends with a German Straw Bear from Walldürn near Frankfurt, a town that celebrates its own Straw Bear Festival on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday.
Although the festivities begin earlier in the week, the Saturday is the only day on which the 'Bear' makes an appearance before the 'Bear Burning' on the Sunday. This leaves the way open for a new bear to be created from the next season's harvest.
Thursday 4, Friday 5, Saturday 6 & Sunday 7 July 2024 - Gate to Southwell Folk Festival, near Kirklington, Notts, NG22 8NX (vehicle entrance)
Booked so far: Rhiannon Giddens (USA), Manran, The Haar (Ireland), Melrose Quartet, The Fugitives (Canada), Charm of Finches (Australia), Tara MacLean (Canada), Catherine McLellan (Canada), Winter Wilson, Frog on a Bike ceilidh band, Sen Stone, Mark Fraser, Dan the Hat - full details: https://www.gtsf.uk/
We are currently working on booking another amazing line-up of artists performing concerts throughout the weekend as well as ceilidhs, workshops and sessions. Have a look at https://www.banter.band/banterfest-home/ Camping is available on-site with fully accessible facilities, plus bar and food. More details and guests will be added,