Few people know of this, possibly the most primitive dance in Europe. We find scanty records therefore, the earliest dating only from the 17th century. Robert Plot, in his Natural History of Staffordshire, 1686, p. 434, says:–
At Abbots, or now rather Pagets Bromley, they had also within memory, a sort of sport, which they celebrated at Christmas (on New-Year and Twelft-day) call'd the Hobby-horse dance, from a person that carryed the image of a horse between his leggs, made of thin boards, and in his hand a bow and arrow, which passing through a hole in the bow, and stopping upon a sholder it had in it, he made a snapping noise as he drew it to and fro, keeping time with the Musick: with this Man danced 6 others, carrying on their shoulders as many Rain deers heads, 3 of them painted white, and 3 red, with the Armes of the cheif families (viz.) of Paget, Bagot, and Wells) to whom the revenews of the Town cheifly belonged, depicted on the palms of them, with which they danced the Hays, and other Country dances. To this Hobbyhorse dance there also belong'd a pot, which was kept by turnes, by 4 or 5 of the cheif of the Town, whom they call'd Reeves, who provided Cakes and Ale to put in this pot; all people who had any kindness for the good intent of the Institution of the sport, giving pence a piece for themselves and families; and so forraigners too, that came to see it: with which Mony (the charge of the Cakes and Ale being defrayed) they not only repaired their Church but kept their poore too: which charges are not now perhaps so cheerfully boarn.
Why Plot says ‘within memory’ it is difficult to understand, unless there was a temporary cessation of the rite. He might easily have learnt whether the sport still lived or no, but from this and various internal points I suspect the Doctor never went to see for himself. Like too great a number of folklorists he preferred keeping his nose in a book to embarking on ‘field work’. The pot into which they put the feast has now disappeared, and so far from repairing the church and keeping the poor, the few shillings gained hardly pay the dancers for the loss of a day's work.