On Reviving the Staw Bear

The Straw bear dancing in Station Road Whittlesea. You Tube image

The Whittlesea Festival of the Straw bear is enacted on the Tuesday after Plough Monday. The first Monday after Twelfth Night. There seems to be no record of its beginnings but in 1909 an overzealous Police Inspector decided to ban the festival calling it a form of ‘Cadging’  The ‘Bear’ a local man dressed in a costume constructed from a metal frame covered in the ‘best straw’ from the previous harvest was paraded around the town knocking on doors and accosting passersby asking for food or money.

Whittlesea Straw Bear

However, In 1980 the festival was revived by Brian Kell and the Whittlesea Society and the Bear was seen dancing around the streets for the first time in seventy years. With his attendant musicians and dancers, the Bear visited most of the local pubs that were convenient places to stop and perform his dances to entertain the public. Over the years many Morris, Clog, and Sword dancing teams from all over the Country and even American-style ‘Appalachian’ dancing have joined the procession and our local Fenland Molly Dancers.

It was thought initially the Straw Bear was unique to Whittlesea but research discovered other similar customs, several being in Germany. In 1999 The German Straw Bear with his attendants came from Walldürn near Frankfurt to join the Whittlsea Straw Bear Festival.

Brian Kell
Brian Kell

Brian Kell BEM, a Northerner from Northumberland and a folk law enthusiast came to live in the Fenland Town in 1979. Brian gave us a delightful entertaining talk about the history of the Straw Bear and its reintroduction in the 80’s, the construction of the bear and the growth of the festival over the intervening years. His talk began and ended with a bear and festival-related folk song.

The Straw bear 2023


The Pig Dyke Molly Dancers at the Straw Brar Festival 2009


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