Whittlesey prepares for the 40th Straw Bear Festival this weekend
Straw Bear Festival fans from around Europe are preparing to join the 40th event in Whittlesey this weekend.
The popular weekend of family focused fun is from Friday 18 to Sunday 20 and will see people fly in from around the globe to take part alongside the core local community entertainers and organisers.
Saturday (January 19) will start with the Suffolk Guild of bell ringers ringing St Andrews Church Bells from 9.45am to 10.30am.
A spokesman said: “We have commissioned a special 40th anniversary ruby red enamel lapel badge which will be for sale from our stall.
“Our programme contains a list together with a photograph of all of the ex-straw bears both big and baby bears together with all the past festival directors from 1980 to present day.
“Our plan to have 40 dance sides has been achieved and surpassed. The latest is 43 teams.
“20 children representing the 4 local primary schools will process at the front of the parade carrying 40 small hand made bears each individually year marked from 1980 to 2019.
“We hope the weather stays fine to make this a truly memorable festival.”
The weekend kicks off on Friday with folk music at the Ivy Leaf Club. The jam packed festival begins the next day at 10.30am and goes through to 3.30pm with 36 teams of Molly style dancers who will fill the town streets with music and entertainment, including dancers from local schools
There is also story telling and a host of music sessions.
In the evening on Saturday the fun continues with dancing to a ceilidh band at Sir Harry Smith Community College.
On Sunday there is the traditional straw bear burning event and plenty of activities to keep visitors busy from noon to 2.30pm.
The Straw Bear Festival raises money for a wide variety of community groups including local Scouts and Guides, churches, the town’s cricket club and Whittlesey Museum.
In the 1800s it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday to dress one of the members of the plough team 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.
The bear was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money, beer and food was expected.
The tradition fell into decline at the end of the 19th century, the last sighting in 1909, as it appears that an over-zealous police inspector had forbidden ‘Straw Bears’ as a form of cadging.
The festival was brought back in the 1980s.