Old Weird Brittanica
June 3, 2009 10:59 AM   Subscribe

This entrancing 17-minute film compiled from footage of British folk celebrations was put together in honor of a new project created by set designer Simon Costin. Finding much of his artistic inspiration in the folklore of Great Britain, Costin wondered why there was no national center or museum dedicated to studying and collecting these traditional customs. So he's decided to start one, The Museum of British Folklore, and is launching the project this summer by outfitting a 1976 caravan and traveling to folk festivals around the country. The expedition is intended to build interest in the museum project, and to collect and document some of the surprising variety of more than 700 annual, seasonal, often pre-Christian festival celebrations that continue to this day.

What's going on in the movie? Depicted in the film (as near as I can tell from the short snippets lacking notes and based upon pieced together clues, so IDs are probably not 100% accurate):

Gloucestershire Cheese-rolling
Abbots Bromley Horn Dance
Morris dancing
Mari Lywd Wassail
Tar Barrel Burning
Padstow May Day
Border Morris
Mummer's Day, also known as "Darkie Day"
Molly Dancing for Plough Monday
Sean-Nos (old style Irish step dancing)
The Hunting of the Earl of Rone
The Burry Man
The Battle Bonfire
posted by Miko (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
IN his interview, Costin describes a "corn babby" doll as "sort of disturbing, and nice at the same time," and I think that well describes many of these traditions.
posted by Miko at 11:03 AM on June 3, 2009

Based on my experience, a lot of these festivals end with someone being locked into a giant wicker statue of a man and then set on fire.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hey, it's all fun and games until we do that to you.

No, *literally*, it's ALL fun and games. And then the burning.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on June 3, 2009

Come to think of it, my garden is looking a bit wilty from all the sun, time to get weaving.

Hey, Astro Zombie, want to come to a fun party?
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2009

Yes, it's all fun and games until someone is sacrificed to ensure crop fertility, then the tears and recriminations begin.
posted by RussHy at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2009

Fucking Morris dancing. I did, however, participate in another pagan-esque bonfire-fueled pseudo-British festival, myself, recently.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:24 AM on June 3, 2009

That's not how the sacred cyle of nature works! No tears. Just fun and games until the next burning!
posted by Artw at 11:25 AM on June 3, 2009

That was Guy Fawkes Night there at the end, right?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2009

Yeah...the "No Popery!" signs give it away.

Though it's likely that Guy Fawkes just inadvertently lent his name to an All-Souls-Dayish, Samhain-ish celebration that had already been taking place for centuries.
posted by Miko at 11:39 AM on June 3, 2009

I do like the WTF reaction when I tell Americans we have a Burn-The-Catholics day though.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in rural backwater England but bar harvest festival and Bonfire Night all we got was ye olde annual spraying of ye noxious chemicals on the farmland and fly-tipping.
posted by Abiezer at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Favourite burning-at-the-stake fun fact: Sometimes people tied bags of gunpowder around their necks when being burned at the stake, to speed things up a bit...
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on June 3, 2009

Abiezer - I bet you got Ye Olde Hedge pr0n as well.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on June 3, 2009

I bet you got Ye Olde Hedge pr0n as well
Now you mention it, that too. The bounties of Nature!
I also managed to miss the tar barrel parade in Allendale linked in the FPP despite spending one New Year up that way. I'm just a bit crap at tradition it seems.
posted by Abiezer at 11:53 AM on June 3, 2009

I was glad to see - well last year at least when I was doing a lot of walking in the countryside - that the tradition of Ye Olde Hedge pr0n is still alive and well, even in this internet age.

Friend of my dad's went to Hallaton Bottle Kicking one year... came back with a broken arm...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:13 PM on June 3, 2009

Friend of my dad's went to Hallaton Bottle Kicking one year... came back with a broken arm...

Seems pretty much the same as the Haxey Hood. I've never been though, as it interferes with me wassailing time...
posted by Sova at 12:18 PM on June 3, 2009

Some of my best friends are Morris dancers. Really. Right here in California, even. They dance the sun up on the vernal equinox and I'm always grateful.
posted by rtha at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2009

I first ran into Morris dancing in the US, too! In Connecticut, where they dance at dawn for May Day on top of a little mountain. It is really cheerful to see.
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2009

A few weeks ago I was drinking with some friends in a city centre pub in Leeds - we'd hired out the whole back room but it was busy so we told the barman he could let people in if he liked.

A group of ten or so men came in, aged between 25 and 50. They were all thin, dressed casually and with the sort of haircuts you find in rural villages. They started moving sofas around until they'd created a squared-off area, then one of them took out an accordion.

With no self-consciousness whatsoever, the men started to dance - in a circle, in a line, in complicated figures that involved lots of footwork and backwards somersaults in mid-air. They produced what can only be described as bendy swords, and with each man holding one, performed complex twistings and un-twistings as they danced to some formula known only to themselves.

This went on for several hours.

By the time they'd finished I was too tired and too drunk to really hear their explanation, but it turned out they met quite often to practice an ancient variety of morris dancing. They believed in keeping it alive even if that meant practicing in front of complete strangers in a crowded city centre pub.

Go them :)
posted by cardamine at 1:44 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I mentioned this before on mefi but I used to know a guy at university, a mature student, and a bit of folkie, who used to do Morris Dancing. He reckoned that nobody but nobody drank like Morris dancers did. One of the reasons he gave it up. On a Sunday, during the season, they used to tour a number of pubs dancing at each, getting free drinks at every one, and by the end they could hardly stand upright, let alone dance. ...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:24 PM on June 3, 2009

Anyone know who that singer at the beginning (and the middle) is? Thanks!
posted by bobbyno at 3:34 PM on June 3, 2009

My dad is a mummer, closely associated with morris dancers. I can confirm they do drink a lot.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:43 PM on June 3, 2009

bobbyno, the singer is the lovely and talented Eliza Carthy.
posted by transient at 8:15 PM on June 3, 2009

IN his interview, Costin describes a "corn babby" doll as "sort of disturbing, and nice at the same time,"

Really? 23 comments and not one "how is babby corned"? Come on, internet people, let's pick up the pace.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

God bless Morris Dancers.
posted by longbaugh at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2009

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