GALLERY: Thousands gather in Whittlesey to enjoy the fun of the Straw Bear Festival

DANCERS took to the streets, poets united in the library and a circus invaded the schools as Whittlesey came alive for the annual Straw Bear Festival.

Thousands of people lined the streets on Saturday as the Straw Bear – followed by a procession of dancers – paraded through the Fenland market town.

The festival dates back to the 19th Century where the bear would “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”.

But, in its modern guise, it sees a whole community enjoy a weekend of entertainment.

Brian Kell, who moved to the town in 1979, was the first to suggest reviving the historic event with the Whittlesea Society.

“When we started it again in 1980 there was no parade,” he said. “It was just a few people shuffling around

“We’ve led it from those small days to what it is now and we’re very proud of that.

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“It has become a mid-winter carnival. It’s a community event aimed at everybody and it’s a showcase of traditional British dance.

“I help run two children’s dance teams in the town and this year I actually had to dance because we were one short. It was all the nine-year-olds and me!

“In a nut shell, that’s the spirit of the Straw Bear.”

More than 30 Molly, Morris, Clog and Sword dance troupes performed on the streets of Whittlesey, while storytellers entertained in the church and poets recited verse in the library.

Pete White’s Suitcase Circus, which rolled into the town’s primary schools on Thursday and Friday, set up stall in the market place on Saturday.

Friday night’s concert and Saturday night’s barn and Cajun dances delighted the crowds before the festival closed with the burning of the bear on Sunday.

Councillor Martin Curtis, Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Whittlesey North, said: “Straw Bear is so popular because it’s unique and because it benefits from the vision and commitment of the organisers, which is absolutely top drawer.

“I think Whittlesey is very lucky to have it. It puts the town on the map in a very positive way.”