Fools & Hobby Horses

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place each year on Wakes Monday (the first Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September), which means that this year it will be on 10th September.

As far as I can gather, the horn dance is one of those traditions where no-one is quite sure what it’s all about. There are six dancers carrying reindeer antlers, a fool, a hobby horse, Maid Marian, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player & a triangle player. The horns are collected from the church of St Nicholas at 8am and are returned 12 hours later after the participants have danced around the village and out to Blithfield Hall. According to the horn dance of Abbots Bromley website, when one of the horns was damaged in 1976, a piece was sent to be carbon dated. It was found to date back to 1065 (plus or minus 80 years) although the general consensus is that this doesn’t really help to date the dance itself.

I’m ashamed to say that every year I’ve planned to go and watch the dance, but haven’t made it for one reason or another. I have been to the village on several non-horn dance occasions though and it is a lovely place.  However, Mr J Carver, in his 1779 book ‘The Universal Traveller’ wasn’t impressed , saying,

It stands at the distance of a hundred and twenty eight miles from London but contains nothing worthy of note

(Lichfield fares a little better. In Mr Carver’s opinion, ‘It is a long, straggling place but has some handsome houses’).

Walking through the village, to my 21st century eyes, practically every building looks worthy of note. Amongst many others, there’s the Butter Cross (or Burger Cross as a practical joker would have it in 2002), the Goat’s Head Inn (which is thought to date back to the early 1600s, with possibly even older cellars and of course, a secret passage story!) and Almshouses (above the doors are the Bagot family arms and the inscription Deo et Igenis DDD Lamberius Bagot Arm Anno 1705).

The Butter Cross, The Goats Head Inn & St Nicholas Church

View of St Nicholas, where the horns are displayed throughout the year.

Church of St Nicholas, from the High St

Almshouses

A couple of years ago the BBC made a programme about folk dancing in England and you can see the clip about the horn dance here. There are also some photographs of the tradition taking place in the 1930s here on the Staffordshire Past Track website.

I believe that the horns never leave the parish boundary (when not in use they are stored in the church of St Nicholas) although the dance can be performed elsewhere (another set of antlers is used on these occasions). I’ve also just discovered that this year the third annual Abbots Bromliad will take place in California, where they are hoping to beat their own record for most people dancing the horn dance at once (144 in 2010). You can even order your own set of acrylic antlers for $20 to help you feel the part! Hmmm, I wonder what the postage & packaging would be to get a pair sent to Lichfield….and would they get here in time to wear on the 10th September?

Seriously, we’re lucky to live so near to a place where one of the country’s best known (and possibly one of the oldest) traditions takes place and I really must make an effort to go this year to see it for myself.

 

Elford Revisited

The estate that Mr Paget handed over to Birmingham City Council in July 1936 was made up of over 600 acres, including the Hall & associated gardens, Home Farm inc. the Park, Cottages, Woodland and part of the River Tame. You can see Elford Hall circa 1790 to the left of the Chruch in the above picture and there are more recent photographs of the Hall on Staffordshire Pasttrack

According to the 1936 Estate Agent’s report, the Hall obtained water from various wells, although water was pumped to the ground floor of the house via a petrol engine (South Staffordshire Water Co was in the process of laying pipes in the village at the time and the agent recommends that the Hall be connected). Sewage was collected in cesspits. Lighting in the Hall’s 16 bedrooms and other rooms was still from oil lamps and candles, although a public electricity supply had recently arrived in the village.

One thing I’m interested in is the relationship Elford Hall & its owners had with the rest of the village. What effect did the unexpected decision to hand over the estate to a public body have on the villagers?  Perhaps a small hint of the role played by the Pagets can be seen in the meeting notes of the Elford Hall Committee held at Birmingham Council House on 17th Februrary 1937. It says:

“A communication was submitted from the Chairman of the Elford Village Hall Committee asking for a contribution from the council towards the coronation celebrations in Elford Village. The Chairman undertook to communicate with Mr Paget as to his action on the occasion of the silver jubilee. Decision deferred.”

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is what would have happened had Mr Paget kept Elford Hall? The England’s Lost Country Houses site lists over 50 demolished country houses in Staffordshire alone. Most disappeared after the First World War. Although of course eventually demolished in 1964,  Elford Hall is one of the longest surviving on the list. Would retention by the Paget family have ensured its survival or hastened its demise?

I’m off to one of Staffordshire’s surviving country houses on Tuesday. Shugborough Hall – offered to the National Trust in lieu of death duties on the death of the 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1960 and managed by Staffordshire County Council.

Elford, Fisherwick, Beacon Place, Drayton Manor or Shugborough – I’m finding the world of country houses and the families that dominated our area fascinating. The social and political changes that led if not to their complete demise, to a change in their use. And of course discovering the remaining fragments of those disappeared estates.

Actually, I am now regretting not watching Downton Abbey as research….

War & Elford Hall – Updated

 I went to Birmingham archives today, to hopefully see some records that would reveal more about the now demolished Elford Hall, on the Tamworth/Lichfield border.

Why did I have to go into Birmingham to see the records of somewhere in Staffordshire? Well, the Elford Estate has been under the ownership of Birmingham City Council since 29th September 1936. It was given by Mr Francis Howard Paget for the ‘healthy recreation of the inhabitants of the City of Birmingham’. Mr Paget took the decision to donate his Staffordshire estate to a public body, after he witnessed his friend being blinded by a grenade in the trenches of WWI.

Council House, Birmingham.

The records I looked at today were the minutes of the Elford Hall committee meetings held at the Council House between July 1936 and June 1945. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the committee which included the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, weren’t quite sure how to make best use of this generous gift, especially the Hall. There is talk of  the Municipal Officers Guild taking over house & gardens as a rest home for members of staff, or if not them the NUT. Whilst such decisions were being made, the Estate Agent’s report of December 1937 tells how the Hall was ‘being kept aired as far as possible. Some bedding & soft furnishinings stored.’ He also suggests that pensioners from the estate should be recruited as park keepers to look after the grounds, with the assistance of a woman from Fisherwick.

Elford Hall’s history had already been changed by one war and then a second, different conflict also left its mark. On 21st May 1937, almost 4,000 Basque children seeking refuge from the Spanish Civil war arrived in Britain. Some were eventually sent to Elford.  There are only a few mentions of this in the minutes – in the meeting notes dated 12th June 1939, the committee was reminded that since their last meeting, arrangements had been made, after consultation with Mr Paget to accommodate number of Spanish children at Elford Hall. Also, in December 1938, when an application for the hall to be used to house young German male refugees (who after agricultural training would be sent to Palestine) was rejected on the grounds it was fully occupied by Spanish children. However, it seems that by the time the committee went to visit in June 1939, the Hall was once again vacant. It was recorded that the Hall had sustained a considerable amount of damage.

Other subsequent applications for use (German/Czechoslovakian refugees and as a children’s hostel) were deemed unsuitable. On 17th July 1939, another suggestion – a convalescent home – was put forward. I imagine such discussions were interrupted by the declaration of war less than two months later. The only other reference I could find to the Estate during the period the records covered (June 1936 to June 1945) was in July 1940, when an allegation of trespass and damage to trees & fences by soldiers manning a searchlight at Elford was made. The Hall was demolished in 1964 but as I mentioned in my The Garden of Elford post, the walled garden and some of the associated buildings are in the process of being restored.

There wasn’t as much information on the Basque refugees as I had hoped. There is however some uncatalogued material held at the library which may add to the story and which I will seek out in the not too distant future.

Edit:

Whilst having a look at Mr Paget’s family tree, I found out that his daughter, Elizabeth Beatrice Rochfort-Boyd had been a prisoner of war at Camp Holmes in the Philipines. In September 1943 she wrote to her father, as can be seen here. Elizabeth was born in January 1913, making her around 30 years old at the time of her imprisonement. The Camp was liberated in February 1945.

Mr Francis Howard Paget died on 9 April 1945 aged 58 at his home in Kent.

Edit 2:

For context, I found a news report dated 28th April 1937 from The Guardian archive regarding the bombing of Guernica, which can be read here.

Also a 10 minute report from the Witness program on the BBC World Service, in which Snr. Hermino Martinez talks about his evacuation can be listened to here. This doesn’t directly relate to Elford but gives some idea of the experience of the Basque evacuees.

Also of interest is an article in The Black Country Bugle about the Basque children who stayed at Aldridge Lodge in Walsall. You can read it here.

Edit 3: A report in the Lichfield Mercury edition of August 13th 1937 describes a meeting of Elford Parish Council. The refugees were due to arrive at Elford in mid-August and the meeting records the concerns of the Council about the effect that housing the refugees in the Hall may have on the village.

Sources:

Elford Hall Sub-Committee Minutes 1936 to 1945

www.elfordhallgarden.org.uk/history

http://www.basquechildren.org