Founder of the Straw Bear Festival

The Straw Bear festival is an old custom which Whittlesey, in the city of Peterborough is known for. The festival was resurrected in the 80s by a renowned folk fan Brian Kell. He was instigated to bring back the ancient tradition, because he felt that people didn’t understand the wealth in culture. He learnt about the lost custom from a 1976 record called Rattlebone and Ploughjack, an Ashley Hutchings-production.


Brian Kell is the founder and organiser of the Straw Bear festival, one he nurtured from a small folk event. He is a keen community volunteer which gave him a place as one of the 300 people in the Queen’s birthday honours list that were recognized in 2013. As the founder of the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, he gave the town a festival that they can truly identify with. The straw bear festival have become a festival that is not only known locally, but also internationally and his efforts to promote it resulted in its growth. He was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) at the Peterborough town hall. The medal was established in 1922 and is only presented to anyone who merits recognition for their service. In his case, he was recognised for his services to both music and the community.

Mr Kell, retired in 2010 after working for the Land Registry for 43. He spent some 30 years pursuing the comeback of the 70 years forgotten festival. He did that single handedly, so his legacy is quite obvious and the award was well deserved by him. When the festival returned, it came with new activities. Now, aside the processions that is been led by a bear, it brought with it live theatre productions and folk-orientated acts. Also schools now participate in the event and as the younger generation, they are being guided and trained to continue what Kell has begun.