In Whittlesea, from when no one quite knows, it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st 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 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. Two sticks fastened to his shoulders met a point over his head and the straw wound round upon them to form a cone above the "Bear's" head. The face was quite covered and he could hardly see. A tail was provided and a strong chain fastened around the armpits. He was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money or of beer and food for later consumption was expected. It seems that he was considered important, as straw was carefully selected each year, from the best available, the harvesters saying, "That'll do for the Bear".

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 cadging.

Original Bear in Street
Peterborough Advertiser 1936
1981 First Time Straw Bear Tune Was Played
Stevenage Sword 1980
1981 Old Hunts Molly At New Crown
Straw Bear Tune Played For First Time1981
1985 Chanctonbury Ring
1987 The George Pub
1987 Cross Key Clog On Whittlesey Buttercross
Designer Graham Booth
Photographer Ian Lancaster. 2018 Brian Kell


The custom was revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society, and for the first time in seventy years a 'Straw Bear' was seen on the streets accompanied by his attendant keeper, musicians and dancers, about 30 in all. Various public houses were visited around the town as convenient places for the 'Bear' and dancers to perform in front of an audience - with much needed refreshment available!

The Bear is constructed in a more practical way now, the straw being fixed to a suitable garment, the head supported on a metal frame on the shoulders. This arrangement allows the costume to be removable which is essential as the length of the processional route and the time taken necessitates two persons 'driving the bear'. The person donning the costume is adding something like 5 stone to his own weight.

The procession now contains over 250 dancers, musicians and performers from various parts of the British Isles performing traditional 'Molly', 'Morris', 'Clog' and 'Sword. There is also American style 'Appalachian' dancing, street performances and Mummers plays. A decorated plough is pulled by 21st century plough boys and is now an established part of the procession.

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

Although the festivities begin earlier in the week, the Saturday is the only day on which 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 the next season's harvest.


Brian Kell. Founder and organiser, the Straw Bear festival. For services to music and the community in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire. (Peterborough, Cambridgeshire)

The British Empire Medal, which is awarded for meritorious service worthy of recognition by the crown, was established in 1922. It lay in abeyance from 1992 until it was reinstated in 2012 to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. In the Queen's Birthday Honours list for 2013 it was awarded to some 300 people nationwide, of which Brian Kell was one.

As founder and principal organiser of the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, he was recognised for his service to music and the community of Whittlesey.

For over 30 years his enthusiasm in promoting the Straw Bear tradition has resulted in it growing from a small beginning as a folk event, to a Festival of national and international recognition. His plentiful supply of energy in introducing live theatre into schools and now teaching youngsters music, traditional folk song and Longsword dancing, has had a lasting effect on the Festival, resulting in schools now participating. The financial benefit he has brought to the Town is immeasurable. His Straw Bear legacy is plain for all to see, adorning school uniforms, sculptures, post cards and local tourist information offices. The fact is that Brian single handedly put back Whittlesey's own tradition and in doing so, established a Festival that the town can truly identify with, cannot be denied.

This award is so well deserved, many congratulations Brian.

Brian attended a special British Empire Medal Investiture, held in Peterborough Town Hall on Friday 20th September 2013.


Photographer Rebecca Cole 2020
Photographer Rebecca Kell 2019
Photographer Rebecca Cole 2020

It is a real team effort to bring the Straw Bear to the streets of Whittlesey. All who are involved with the Straw Bear festival organisation are volunteers and give up their own time to contribute to this community event. There are too many to list, but do a stirling jobs behind the scenes. However, for the archives, below are those Strawbearers who have had main public facing roles as Directors, Bears or Keepers. 

Listed in order of appearance on the day. Generally Bear 'Drivers' swap over at lunchtime.


From 1979 until 1998 the festival was managed by the Whittlesea Society, the revival was instigated by Brian Kell, then a member of the society. Following the setting up of a separate friendly society in 1998 the directorship was as follows:-

1998 Brian Kell
1999 Brian Kell
2000 Brian Kell
2001 Brian Kell
2002 Brian Kell
2003 Brian Kell
2004 Brian Kell
2005 Brian Kell
2006 Coral Cornell
2007 Coral Cornell
2008 Coral Cornell
2009 Pete Williams
2010 Pete Williams
2011 Pete Williams
2012 Paul Cornell
2013 Paul Cornell
2014 Paul Cornell
2015 Ann Saxton
2016 Ann Saxton
2017 Ann Saxton
2018 Roger Boon
2019 Roger Boon
2020 Roger Boon
2021 Douglas Kell

Designer Graham Booth


1980 Brian Kell

1981 Brian Kell

1982 Brian Kell

1983 Brian Kell

1984 Brian Kell

1985 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1986 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1987 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1988 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1989 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1990 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1991 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1992 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1993 Brian Kell, Phillip Oldfield

1994 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

1995 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

1996 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

1997 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

1998 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

1999 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

2000 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

2001 Phillip Oldfield, Philip Walker

2002 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2003 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2004 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2005 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2006 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2007 Phillip Walker, Paul Cornell

2008 Joseph Cornell (AM), Douglas Kell, (PM) Philip Walker (Eve)

2009 Douglas Kell (AM, Eve), Tom Sennett (PM)

2010 Christian Cornell (AM), Joseph Cornell, (PM, Eve)

2011 Luke Crick (AM), Tom Sennett (PM, Eve)

2012 Christian Cornell (AM), Joseph Cornell (PM, Eve)

2013 Megan Randall (AM), Douglas Kell (PM, Eve)

2014 Luke Crick (AM), Tom Sennett (PM, Eve)

2015 Christian Cornell (AM), Joseph Cornell, (PM, Eve)

2016 Ady Bull (AM), Douglas Kell (PM, Eve)

2017 Luke Crick (AM), Tom Sennett (PM, Eve)

2018 Christian Cornell (AM, Eve), Joseph Cornell, (PM)

2019 Ady Bull (AM), Douglas Kell (PM, Eve)

2020 Luke Crickwood (AM), Tom Sennett (PM)

2021 Paul Cornell


1980 Gordon Kirkup

1981 Don Anderson

1982 Tom Brazier

1983 Tom Brazier

1984 Tom Brazier

1985 Tom Brazier

1986 Tom Brazier

1987 Tom Brazier

1988 Tom Brazier

1989 Bernard East

1990 Bernard East

1991 Bernard East

1992 Bernard East

1993 Bernard East

1994 Bernard East

1995 Bernard East

1996 Bernard East

1997 Bernard East, Martin Hughes

1998 Bernard East, Pete Sennett

1999 Rob Taylor

2000 Rob Taylor

2001 Rob Taylor

2002 Rob Taylor

2003 Rob Taylor

2004 Rob Taylor

2005 Rob Taylor

2006 Douglas Kell

2007 Rob Taylor

2008 Rob Taylor

2009 Rob Taylor

2010 Rob Taylor

2011 Rob Taylor

2012 Rob Taylor

2013 Rob Taylor

2014 Rob Taylor

2015 Rob Taylor

2016 Rob Taylor

2017 Rob Taylor

2018 Paul Cornell

2019 Paul Cornell

2020 Paul Cornell

2021 Coral Cornell


1989 Douglas Kell

1990 Douglas Kell

1991 Douglas Kell, Jon Kell 

1992 Douglas Kell, Jon Kell 

1993 Douglas Kell, Jon Kell 

1994 Jon Kell (+Eve) Tom Sennett, Douglas Kell

1995 Douglas Kell, Tom Sennett

1996 Douglas Kell, Tom Sennett

1997 Libby Walker, Joseph Cornell, Tom Sennett (Eve)

1998 Luke Crick

1999 Luke Crick, Christian Cornell

2000 Luke Crick, Christian Cornell

2001 Luke Crick, Christian Cornell

2002 Matthew Crick

2003 Matthew Crick, Robert-James Crick

2004 Matthew Crick, Robert-James Crick

2005 Matthew Crick, Robert-James Crick

2006 Matthew Crick, Robert-James Crick

2007 Robert-James Crick

2008 Robert-James Crick

2009 Oliver Cross

2010 Oliver Cross

2011 Oliver Cross

2012 Oliver Cross

2013 Ruby Cross, Grace Randall

2014 Ruby Cross, Grace Randall

2015 Ruby Cross, Grace Randall

2016 Ruby Cross, Grace Randall

2017 Noah Randall, Jasper Kell

2018 Noah Randall, Jasper Kell

2019 Noah Randall, Jasper Kell

2020 Eve Randall, Karalee Kell

2021 Noah Randall




1991 Ruth Taylor

1992 Ruth Taylor

1993 Ruth Taylor

1994 Ruth Taylor

1995 Ruth Taylor

1996 Ruth Taylor

1997 Ruth Taylor

1998 Ruth Taylor

1999 Ruth Taylor

2000 Ruth Taylor

2001 Ruth Taylor

2002 Ruth Taylor

2003 Ruth Taylor

2004 Wendy Crick

2005 Wendy Crick

2006 Wendy Crick

2007 Wendy Crick

2008 Ruth Taylor

2009 Ruth Taylor

2010 Ruth Taylor

2011 Ruth Taylor

2012 Ruth Taylor

2013 Ruth Taylor

2014 Ruth Taylor

2015 Ruth Taylor

2016 Ruth Taylor

2017 Jasper Kell, Noah Randall

2018 Jasper Kell, Noah Randall

2019 Jasper Kell, Noah Randall

2020 Karalee Kell, Eve Randall

2021 -

Photographer Rebecca Cole 2020


2013 Oliver Cross

2014 Oliver Cross

2015 -

2016 -

2017 Grace Randall, Ruby Cross

2018 Grace Randall

2019 -

2020 Noah Randall, Jasper Kell

2021 -

Straw Bear Drivers 1980-2018