GALLERY: Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival on the horizon ... and it promises to be bigger and more colourful than ever

Straw Bear 2010

Straw Bear 2010 - Credit: Archant

The New Year has come and gone, which can only mean one thing ... the return of the Whittlesey Straw Bear festival.

This year’s event, which will attract thousands of people to the town from all over the world, promises to be bigger and more eccentric than ever.

The colourful folk festival, which runs from January 9-11, will see about 350 performers who will follow the Straw Bear around the town performing at many different venues.

There will be traditional music with various styles of dancing, story telling, poetry, a Barn and Cajun dance and folk concert.

The event kicks off on Friday with music and comedy at the Ivy Leaf Club. The Islanders, comedian Keith Donnelly and the world’s only Anglo-Latvian Zydecajun Ceilidh band, Ock’ n’ Dough, are on the bill.

The Straw Bear procession departs from Manor Field Leisure Centre in Station Road at 10.30pm on Saturday.

There will be dancing on the streets in the form of Molly, Sword, Morris Dancers, Mummers and Appalachian Steppers.

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Storyteller Patrick Ryan will be at Queen Street Chapel. At Whittlesey Library, Dan Evans will play the guitar and Poets United will present their latest work.

In the evening, there will be a Black Beards Tea Party and Barn Dance at St Harry Smith Community College.

On Sunday, the Straw Bear Bonfire takes place at Sir Harry Smith College at 2.30pm following a music and dance session which kicks off at noon.

The Plough Service takes place at St Andrew’s Church at 4pm.

A free park and ride bus service will operate from Sir Harry Smith College from 9am-4pm and there will be a memorabilia stall under the Butter Cross on the Market Square on Saturday.

Road closures will operate around the town on Saturday including Market Street, St Mary’s Street, London Street, Station Road, Market Square, High Causeway,and Gracious Street. Signs will be in place highlighting restrictions.

For more information, go to www.strawbear.org.uk. Tickets for concerts and dances are available from Matthew at 07857 357970

HISTORY OF THE STRAW BEAR FESTIVAL (from www.strawbear.org.uk)

In Whittlesey, from when no-one quite knows, it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first 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 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 begging.

The custom was revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society. The procession contains more than 250 dancers, musicians and performers from across the country performing traditional Molly, Morris, Clog and Sword.

In 1999, the Straw Bear made friends with a German Straw Bear from Walldürn, a town that celebrates its Straw Bear Festival on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday.

The Saturday is the only day 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 next season’s harvest.

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