E. C. Cawte, Alex Helm, R. J. Marriott, and N. Peacock, 'A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain', Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.1 (1960), 1-41
Ridgewell, Gordon, Cawte, E. C., Folk Music Journal
I have recently unearthed reports of a sword dance competition held at Blyth, Northumberland, in January 1881, enabling me to provide a supplementary list of thirteen additional rapper sword dance teams to this Index. Altogether, fifteen sets took part in the contest held in the Theatre Royal on 16 and 30 January 1881, thus establishing that the rapper sword dance was more widespread in the second half of the nineteenth century than previously indicated. (1) Two reports of the competition were published in the Blyth Weekly News on 22 January 1881 and 5 February 1881; my listing is taken from the first of these, to which I have added OS grid references for team locations where traceable:
Durham The Wear Yule Dough Set Northumberland The Lads that Everybody Likes, Tyneside The Excelsior Set, Seaton Burn NZ2473 Henderson Gibson's Putter Set, Holywell NZ3174 The Merry Lads, Choppington NZ2583 Load's Old Set, Scotland Gate NZ2584 First Rose of Northumberland, Cramlington NZ2777 The Funny Lads, Dudley NZ2673 The Hastings Canny Lads, Hartley NZ3475 Bob the Nailor's Young Set, Cowpen Quay NZ3182 Dudley Putters' Set NZ2673 East Holywell Putters NZ3173 First Northumberland
In view of the dearth of records for nineteenth-century sword dance competitions, I quote here in full the two accounts of this tournament:
THEATRE ROYAL, BLYTH
A monster sword dancing competition took place at this place of amusement on Saturday night last, and was perhaps the greatest affair of the kind that has ever taken place. The proprietor gave the munificent sum of [pounds sterling]5 for first prize when no less than fifteen sets of dancers contended, namely, The Wear Yule Dough Set; The Happy Lads of Hetton; The Lads that everybody likes, from Tyneside; The Excelsior Set, from Seaton Burn; Henderson Gibson's Putter Set, Holywell; The Merry Lads, Choppington; Load's Old Set, Scotland Gate; First Rose of Northumberland, Cramlington; The Funny Lads, Dudley; The Hastings Canny Lads, Hartley; Bob the Nailor's Young Set, Cowpen Quay; Dudley Putters' Set[;] East Holywell Putters; and first Northumberland. Messrs. William Dixon, William Oliver, Henry Gillis, Robert Crammond, Cambois, and Thomas Messer, Waterloo, officiated as judges. The sets balloted for turns, and the singer in of the set whose turn came first was to sing the well-known ditty beginning:--
Six actors I have brought, Who were never on stage before, But they will do their best, And the best can do no more.
It is needless to say that the above novel contest drew together a very large audience who seemed to enjoy immensely the old fashioned pastime which dates as far back in England as the time of Edward III. The antics and grotesque figures of the Bettys and Tommys as they led their respective dancers on to the scene of action was highly amusing, and the performance of each set was very graceful as they whirled and eddied round each other. The conditions were for each set to pay an entrance fee of 10s. The entrance fee was divided amongst the losing sets together with [pounds sterling]1 to pay their expenses. At the expiration of the dancing it was very difficult for the judges to decide, but they eventually came to the conclusion that i[t] was a tie between 'The Jolly Lads Set', Seghill, and 'Load's Old Set', Scotland Gate. It has been since decided to dance the tie off on Saturday, January 29th, when as Mr. Fynes announced from the stage, he will give another prize of [pounds sterling]4 open to all with the exception of the winners of the above prize. (2)
THEATRE ROYAL, BLYTH
Last week's proceedings were brought to a close on Saturday night last, by the interesting drama of 'Maria Martin' and the Sword Dancing Competition, which the judges were unable to decide the fortnight previous--the two sets on the occasion were 'Jolly Lads Set, Seghill', and 'Load's Old Set, Scotland Gate'. This time after a careful summing up of all the respective points of each set, the judges came to the unanimous conclusion to award the first prize to Seghill Jolly Lads. The second contest, which was danced off on the same night, was for a prize of [pounds sterling]4--divided as follows, first [pounds sterling]3; second, [pounds sterling]1. According to ballot Mr. John Gills's Seaton Burn Lads came on first, and were sung in by Mr. Edward Ferguson, who acquitted himself very creditably in the following old fashioned ditty:
Good people, give ear to my story, I've happened to call on you by chance, I've brought a few lads blythe and merry Intending to give you a dance; Seaton Burn is their habitation, The place where they were all born and bred, There's not finer lads in the Nation, Or none that's more gallanter cled. For the above competition six sets entered, and the judges for this and the deciding of the previous contest were Mr. Ralph Keith, Bedlington; Mr. Henry Gillis, Cowpen; Mr. Thomas Gibson, Holywell; and Mr. John Fenwick, Bebside. The first prize of [pounds sterling]3 was awarded to the Cramlington set, but the judges were unable to decide as to the best between Choppington and Seaton Burn. It was eventually decided to divide the second prize between them. The programme was adhered to to the very letter. (3)
A putter, incidentally, was a term used in coal mining for 'A man or boy employed in "putting" or propelling the trams or barrows of coal from the workings' (OED).
(1) E. C. Cawte, 'A History of the Rapper Dance', Folk Music Journal, 4.2 (1981), 79-116 (pp. 85-89).
(2) Blyth Weekly News, 22 January 1881, [p. 3].
(3) Blyth Weekly News, 5 February 1881, [p. 3].
These finds throw helpful light on the rapper dance at this time. Little is known about the Hetton le Hole team; it is more than twenty miles from Blyth, but that seems to be the nearest Hetton. Most of what follows refers to the other teams, and in particular to those with a place name in their title. All of the last are within seven miles of Blyth, and all the new ones are within three miles of a team already known. It would be interesting to know where and how the competition was advertised so as to attract such a number of teams, and one of them from as far away as Hetton.
A large group of dancers can raise two teams under different titles. This was certainly true of some teams near Newcastle. (1) It seems the same was true at Dudley. Cecil Sharp was probably told of a team at Choppington. He made a note of teams at 'Sledbourne' and 'Chapeltown'. (2) By combining experience of the local dialect, and Sharp's problem with spelling place names, with a search of local maps, the only possible conclusion is that these places must be Sleekburn and Choppington, the latter formerly pronounced like 'Chopputun'. Scotland Gate is less than half a mile north of Choppington, so maybe once again one group provided two teams under different titles.
Tom Armstrong joined the Earsdon team in about 1870 and was later Captain. He lived at East Holywell, and that was presumably why the Earsdon team was sometimes called East Holywell. He also had teams at Seaton Delaval and Seghill, (3) and it is at least possible that he also had teams at East Holywell and Holywell, the latter being on the road from Earsdon to Seaton Delaval. It is striking that there is no mention of the Earsdon team, but in the second competition the Seaton Burn team used part of the Earsdon calling-on song, which suggests that this also was a team taught by Armstrong or one of his colleagues. 'Counting rapper teams is like counting village football teams.' (4)
Mr Fynes at the Theatre Royal offered a prize of [pounds sterling]5, and [pounds sterling]1 for the teams' expenses, and he offered another [pounds sterling]4 prize for the second competition. In 1877 a competition for players of the Northumbrian small-pipes was started in Newcastle. The Duke of Northumberland gave a first prize of [pounds sterling]10 10s. ([pounds sterling]10.50), and the committee gave second and third prizes totalling [pounds sterling]10 15s. ([pounds sterling]10.75). It seems the prizes were the same in later years. (5) It tells something about either the generosity, or the business sense, or both, of Mr Fynes that he gave nearly as much as the Duke. Consciously or not, he was following the example of Newcastle, and he was followed by others: singing competitions in Lincolnshire and Lancashire, the North of England Musical Tournament, and the bothy ballad competition at Elgin. (6)
E. C. CAWTE
(1) Programmes of the North of England Musical Tournament, showing two Earsdon teams in 1921, two Westerhope teams in 1926, and two Winlaton teams every year from 1935 to 1939 inclusive (transcriptions in Cawte MSS, ND 192-197).
(2) Cambridge, Archive of Clare College, Cecil J. Sharp MSS, ACC 1987/25, Folk Dance Notes, vol. 1, p. 206.
(3) E. C. Cawte, 'A History of the Rapper Dance', Folk Music Journal, 4.2 (1981), 79-116 (p. 85) (East Holywell); Cawte MSS, ND 71 (Seaton Delaval and Seghill).
(4) Cawte, 'A History of the Rapper Dance', p. 85.
(5) Newcastle Courant, 14 December 1877, p. 7; 20 December 1878, p. 6; 12 December 1879, p. 2; 10 December 1880, p. 6; 9 December 1881, p. 6. I am grateful to Gordon Ridgewell for these texts, and many others, from the Newcastle Courant.
(6) Ian Russell, 'Competing with Ballads (and Whisky?): The Construction, Celebration, and Commercialization of North-East Scottish Identity', Folk Music Journal, 9.2 (2007), 170-91.…
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Publication information: Article title: E. C. Cawte, Alex Helm, R. J. Marriott, and N. Peacock, 'A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain', Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.1 (1960), 1-41. Contributors: Ridgewell, Gordon - Author, Cawte, E. C. - Author. Journal title: Folk Music Journal. Volume: 9. Issue: 2 Publication date: Annual 2007. Page number: 246+. © English Folk Dance and Song Society 2009. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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