Arcadia Britannica A Modern British Folklore Portrait

Henry Bourne, Robin Muir, Simon Costin

Wonderfully odd portraits of contemporary British folklore enthusiasts in their strange and spectacular costumes

Drawing on pagan Celtic, Germanic, and early Christian rites and beliefs, British folklore is a vibrant aspect of Britain’s cultural heritage that continues to flourish today. Notable for their music, storytelling, and particularly for the terrific display of costumes revelers wear, Britain’s folk festivals are at once great entertainment and a link with the nation’s rich cultural history.

Arcadia Britannica is the product of photographer Henry Bourne’s repeated trips to some of Britain’s greatest folk events: striking color portraits capture an eccentric collection of individuals in inventive outfits, including arboreal costumes, pagan-inspired creations, and historical garb. These were captured at events like the annual Jack in the Green festival held in Hastings in May, for which the town and its people are decked in green to welcome summer, and the Easter Sunday celebration in Bacup, Lancashire, where fiercely proud Britannia Coconut Dancers (or “Nutters”) perform their traditional seven dances. An accompanying text by Simon Costin provides the historical backstory and explains the folklore behind this wacky, inspiring collection of images.


Folkloric festivals and traditions remain vital throughout the UK, evidenced here by the colorful yet serious portraits captured by Bourne. These traditions, visually exciting in their use of costumes, face painting, and props, have helped strong community identity persisting over time. Lovers of fashion and personal style will appreciate this visual survey of British folk costume.

— Library Journal

Bourne crisscrossed Great Britain to capture folk-fest attendees at their most outlandish: “Jack-in-the-Greens” wearing head-to-toe spring foliage for May Day; Bonfire Night revelers in full medieval garb; and partyers arrayed in patchwork at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival. Bourne photographs each of them against a stark white background, capturing their full peacock finery in vivid detail.

— Elle Decor

A compendium of British folklore enthusiasts whose quirky costumes often look to the land.

— Vogue

Outside of the context of the greater spectacle the strange details of the costumes that mix the old and the new come clearly into focus.

— Hyperallergic

Featuring 125 portraits, the book is an endearing album of extravagantly costumed individuals inventively disguised as shrubs or haystacks, shimmering with mother-of-pearl buttons, and posturing as witchy high priestesses.

— Architectural Digest

You won't glean many beauty tips from British photographer Henry Bourne's wonderful and wacky portraits of folklore enthusiasts, but you may find some gardening ones!

— W

The British love of dressing up takes a weird and wondrous turn…When captured by Bourne's lens, one thing is abundantly clear: Much like fancy dress at Halloween, modern folk is fun.

— The New York Times


Henry Bourne


Henry Bourne is a photographer known for his portraits, architecture, landscape, and still-life work. He is a regular contributor to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines worldwide as well as to T: The New York Times Style Magazine. His editorial photographs have also featured in Condé Nast Traveller, Wall Street Journal Magazine, Wallpaper* , and Vanity Fair, among other magazines. His work has been exhibited internationally and forms part of the permanent collection of portrait photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Robin Muir

Foreword By

Robin Muir is a writer and curator, specializing in photography. He was formerly a picture editor at British Vogue and the Sunday Times Magazine. He writes frequently for the international press, and his many publications include The World’s Most Photographed, Vogue Covers, and David Bailey: Chasing Rainbows.

Simon Costin

Introduction By

Simon Costin is the founder and director of the Museum of British Folklore and the director of the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall. He is best known for his catwalk show designs for Alexander McQueen.