ENGLISH village life has no shortage of head-scratching customs, but a ritual centred in Moulton could rank among the most intriguing. 

Each year, folk dance troupe the Moulton Crows perform a traditional routine which has become elemental to the village’s sense of identity over the last 95 years. 

At Moulton Crow Fair each year, 16 anonymous men dressed as crows plus a scarecrow, a music man playing a traditional tune called Trumpeter Bob, and a farmer with a shotgun, proceed through the village.

They then perform a complex dance routine where the crows taunt the scarecrow, complete with blood-curdling shrieks and calls.

The farmer then shoots a crow, which is carried off by the others, before the scarecrow leaps off his stake and performs his own dance.

The ritual began in 1929 as a way for laid-off salt workers to make some much-needed extra cash at dance competitions.

Nowadays, a collection is taken from the audience at the end of the show, and the money is channelled back into village projects.

Northwich Guardian: The Relics of the Cornfield, performed by Crewe railwaymen, is a forerunner of the Moulton CrowsThe Relics of the Cornfield, performed by Crewe railwaymen, is a forerunner of the Moulton Crows (Image: Supplied)

The identities of the Crows are a closely guarded secret, with each referred to only by a number which he keeps throughout his time as a member.   

Crow number six, who’s been researching the group’s origins, shed some light on the background of this mesmerising tradition.

He said: “It all got going in 1929, when a chap called Fred Jackson saw a similar performance by railway workers in Crewe, called The Relics of the Cornfield, and decided to adapt it.

“Moulton folk have a strong sense of identity, and the tradition of being a crow is held in great pride, even though it’s all anonymous.

“People who used to be crows, though, won’t hesitate to tell you.

“Nowadays, any money the Crows make is ploughed back into the village.

Northwich Guardian: The Moulton Crows performing in the 1950sThe Moulton Crows performing in the 1950s (Image: Supplied)“There was a time when it went towards an afternoon of tea, games, and entertainment for up to 200 village children. 

“They’d also be given an orange to take home. It’s a humbling thought. 

“In the old days, the music was provided by the Moulton Brass Band, but they’ve long since ceased.”

Over the years, the Moulton Crow’s antics have been sought-after at traditional fairs, with performances at Chester, Wrexham, Ellesmere, Oswestry, Crewe, Nantwich, Sale, Altrincham, and even Hereford.

This year, as well as appearing at Moulton as usual on Saturday, July 13, they’ll also be performing at the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival on Saturday, June 15.

Another of the the Crows, number 12, says their future is 'looking rosy'. 

He added: “We’re strong in numbers right now, and we even have spares. We do get new people showing an interest from time to time.

“All you have to be able to do is drink a pint and count up to eight. If you can’t do that, you’ll struggle to learn the dance.

“The dance belongs to the village, not the Crows. When you hear Moulton folk talking about it, they always say ‘our crows’.

“We’ll never win Strictly, but I doubt anyone who performs on that show has just downed a gallon of ale.”