Cowen Trophy Rediscovered

by Alan Clough

I had a photo of the old Winlaton White Star Team, proudly displaying the Cowen Trophy. They won it in 1924, after coming first in the North of England Musical Tournament, for the third year running. 1 had asked other members of my team, “where was the cup now?” it had not been seen since 1924, when the photo was taken, I was told. A mystery ah! I liked mysteries.

Dancing in the villages around us, like Winlaton and Swalwell etc, people would come up to us and say, “My Dad, Uncle, Mother, Granddad etc, used to do that.” It happened every time we danced out.

Tales of the old Teams and the characters that danced in them enthralled me; many of the people we spoke to were getting on a bit and I thought that if someone didn't record what they had to say it would be lost for ever. I started to take a note of names and phone numbers when ever people approached us, so I could contact them later (it was hard to talk in the pubs, especially in the sixth pub with a pint in each).

My wife had Ricky Foster, of High Spen Blue Diamonds, at her school teaching her kids to Rapper (more power to his elbow) and mentioned my intention of meeting those people to him. He asked if he could come along and bring George Wallace with him and so it started, a lovely adventure with some lovely people and hearing lots of wonderful memories.

What about the Cowen Trophy, I hear you ask? Well!

During my super sleuthing activities, l got to know a chap called Ronnie from the Winlaton Local History Group. He was a very interesting chap and knew everyone in the area, so he said he would ask about and see if he could find me some dancers or their relatives. I'm pleased to say he found lots and I found lots. Every one I spoke to would give more names and an idea of where they might be found, or usually where they used to live 20 years ago, “Up that street on the right near the top or it could be the left, anyway, anyone will tell you if you ask up there.”

One day Ronnie rang me up and said that a lady from the local history group would like to talk with me. Her cousin had danced in the ladies team of the sixties and her granddad had danced before her and (wait for it), she had on her mantelpiece a cup that her granddad had won. “What sort of cup?” I asked, the hairs starting to stand up on the back of my neck. “Don't know,” said Ronnie, “She just said a cup.” “#+$%/#,” said I!

I made arrangements to meet her a week later. It was a long week, but at last the day came and George and I went along to the local club to see her. She was a charming lady and was full of interesting tales to tell about dancing, and her granddad. Whilst listening to her memories I could not help noticing a bag on the seat beside her; my mouth got dry (good excuse for another mouthful of my beer). She told us that her cousin had danced in the ladies team for quite a few years and that her family had a tradition of sword dancing.

Her grandfather, William Prudhoe, had been the Tommy in the Winlaton White Star Sword Dancers Team, which had danced in front of the Queen in London at a competition in the 1920s. She also said she had had the cup on her mantelpiece for years, passed down from her father, who had had it on his mantelpiece ever since the granddad had died in 1938. She then proceeded to take out of the bag, one of the loveliest sights I have ever seen (apart from my wife). Gleaming in the lights of the club, looking just as it did on the old photo but even better in the flesh, was the Trophy. It was a wonderful sight and a wonderful feeling to be looking at the long lost Trophy after all those years. It almost brought tears to the eyes (being an emotional chap), thinking that we, George and I, were the first dancers outside the family to see the Trophy in over 70 years. The present owner of the cup was surprised and delighted that the old cup that she had known all her life could inspire such feelings from us. She was proud of her Granddad and proud of the Cup but it never dawned on her that anyone else would be interested in it. It took her completely by surprise. She allowed us to take some photos of it, all of which came out badly because of the aforementioned bright lights. We arranged to see the cup again and get some better photos.

Well, it's back on the mantle piece now and I hope when she looks at it, she sees it in a different way, realising now that it is not just a nice shining cup, but something to be treasured and looked after - a bit of sword dancing history, which I feel will always have a special place in the hearts of all Sword Dancers.