IT’S tempting to think of traditions as static kinds of things, but the most enduring are those which have adapted best to changing circumstances. 

So much is certainly true of the Moulton Crows, a dance troupe which performs a near century-old routine both in its home village, and at fairs across Cheshire and beyond.

This esoteric and somewhat bizarre spectacle sees 16 anonymous men dressed as crows perform a traditional routine which has become part of the fabric of the village’s identity over the last 90 or so years.

The routine begins when a farmer erects a scarecrow – which is a real person, by the way – before the crows taunt it with blood-curdling shrieks.

Northwich Guardian: The Relics of the Corn Field was made up Crewe railway engineers, and probably inspired the Moulton CrowsThe Relics of the Corn Field was made up Crewe railway engineers, and probably inspired the Moulton Crows (Image: Supplied)

One then falls victim to the farmer’s gun, before being carried off by the others.

Far from being stuck in a time warp, the ritual has evolved and adapted a lot of the years.

For one thing, where once it was a way for laid-off salt miners to earn a few extra pence at summer fairs - no prizes for guess what they'd spend it on - any money raised now is ploughed back into worthy village projects.

One Crow, number 6, has been looking into the history of this fascinating Cheshire tradition, and was kind enough to share some of his insights. 

Northwich Guardian: The Crows have come full circle, and are now adult village men againThe Crows have come full circle, and are now adult village men again (Image: Supplied)

“Before World War One, Moulton was renowned for its May Festival,” he said.

“It was a traditional country fair attended by thousands.

“The war put a stop to it for a decade, but things got going again in 1929. 

“There was a man called Fred Jackson, a member of the Moulton Verdin Working Man's Club, and one day, he saw another troupe, called The Relics of the Corn Field, in Crewe. 

"It had dancing scarecrows, and there are news reports of these as early as 1923.

Northwich Guardian: The Crows are quite at home in the 21st centuryThe Crows are quite at home in the 21st century (Image: Supplied)

“These were guys from the nut and bolt shop of the LMS Locomotive Works. They toured the fairs roundabouts.

“I think Fred saw them, and in 1929, decided to adapt the dance and invented The Relics of the Corn Field, Moulton. That was when you started to have the crows dancing around the scarecrow.

“It was done to bring money into the village, but the Relics only lasted two years, from 1929 to 1930. They then resurrected in 1932 until 1939, and were known as the Moulton Young Rooks. This time it was younger men, perhaps 16- to 20-year-olds. 

“The name Moulton Crows didn’t emerge until after World War Two, when it was again quite young men, and it was all pretty stable up to the 1960s.

“Some time around then, is began to transition from young men to older schoolboys until the early 1980s, when there was a bit of crisis trying to keep them involved.  

“We then had to look to even younger ones from Moulton County Primary School to keep it going, and this was the first time the Crows actually included girls.

“There was an unusual element then – a dove character – which symbolised the soul of the dead crow, flying away to heaven. This is how it was until about 1997.

“There was a break then until 2006, when the village men took it up again. It had come full circle.

“The tradition of being a Crow is now taken with great seriousness and pride. Though we’re all anonymous, people who were once crows as kids will not hesitate to tell you.

“So when you think about it, the only thing which has remained totally unchanged over the years is the costumes.”

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