Abbots Bromley in 1817


Description from A Topographical History of Staffordshire by William Pitt (1817)


Abbots Bromley Is an ancient market-town of Pirehill South, situated five miles north-east of Rugeley. It is an irregular decayed place, without manufactures or trade, and took its name from the Abbey of Bromley, in the neighbourhood. There are no public buildings in this town worthy of observation, except the Church, which is an ancient structure of stone, with a high tower, which contains six musical bells. It is dedicated to St. Nicholas, and is a discharged vicarage : the Rev. P. P. Neale is the present minister. 

The parish of Abbots Bromley is extensive and populous, including the township of Bromley Hurst, and the liberty of Bromley Bagots.

This parish contains 279 houses, 291 families; 737 males, 802 females: total of inhabitants, 1,539. 

In the town of Abbots Bromley there is a Free-school, founded in 1603 by Mr. Richard Clark; and an Alms-house for six indigent old women, endowed by Mr. Lambert Bagot. The weekly market of this town is held on Tuesday ; and there are three annual fairs, namely, the Thursday before Midlent Sunday, May 22, and August 24, for horses and cattle. 

A remarkable custom, called the Hobbyhorse Dance, is mentioned by Dr. Plot, as having existed in this town within the memory of many persons alive at the period when he wrote. It was a sort of amusement which the inhabitants celebrated at Christmas, or New-year's Day and Twelfth-day. On these occasions a person danced through the principal street, carrying between his legs the figure of a horse composed of thin boards. In his hands he bore a bow and arrow, which last entered a hole in the bow, and stopping on shoulder in it, made a sort of snapping- noise as he drew it to and fro, keeping time with the music. Five or six other individuals danced along with this person, each carrying on his shoulder six reindeers' heads, three of them painted white, and three red, with the arms of the chief families who had at different times been proprietors of the manor painted on the palms of them. " To this hobbyhorse dance there also belonged a pot, which was kept by turns by four or five of the chief of the town, whom we call Reeves, who provided cakes and ale to put into this pot.

All the people who had any kindness for the good interest of the institution of the sport giving pence a-piece for themselves and families, and so foreigners too, that came to see it ; with which money the charge of the cakes and ale being defrayed, they not only repaired their church, but kept their poor too, which charges are not now perhaps so cheerfully born." 

This practice seems to have existed at other places besides Abbots Bromley ; for we find hobbyhorse-money frequently mentioned n the old parish books both of Stafford and Seighford. It continued in force till the era of the Civil wars between the Parliament and the House of Stuart, at which time Sir Simon Degge informs us, that he saw it often practised. The same author adds, in another part of his work, " that they had something of the same kind to get money for the repair of the church of Stafford, every common council then collecting money from his friends; and whosoever brought in the greatest sum to the hobbyhorse, was considered as the man of best credit, so that they strove who should most improve his interest : and, as he remembered, it was accounted for at