When Cecil came to call...
the view from Grenoside

2010 marks the centenary of Cecil Sharps first foray northwards to collect sword dances. He stopped off at Grenoside, North of Sheffield to record their longsword dance and then travelled on to collect Earsdon and the other rapper dances in Volume 1 of ‘Sword Dances of Northern England.’ Much later another link between Grenoside and the North East was formed when the Kings College Morris Men in Newscastle were taught the Grenoside dance by... Grenoside. For some reason, this relationship faded away and for years, Kingsmen (as we now know them) and Grenoside have circled warily round each other, not knowing how they were each viewed. Like all good fairy tales, this one has a happy ending for the two teams have cosied up again, with Kingsmen guesting on the annual Grenoside Traipse and other joint activities being planned. Grenoside man Joe Dunn has penned the following musings about this particular slice of history and dancing in general

Whilst enjoying our post practice curry in The Harrow one night, John S asked about the SDU and the competition in Derby. Having danced Morris for many years, he was asking whether the competitive element was peculiar to sword, especially Rapper, and what was it's purpose.

As a run up to the team's first competition in nearly half a century, here are a few thoughts and a bit of background information for your consideration. William Kimber of Headington Quarry told Sharp of the vast gatherings that used to take place where Morris teams from all over the cotswolds and beyond would get together to compete. The motivation behind Sharp's ‘collection’ of the Morris was that Kimber told him that the tradition was in terminal decline. The large gatherings no longer took place and with every year that passed, the number of teams grew less and less. What was left when Sharp stumbled across the Morris in 1899, was but a remnant of former days. It was a similar story when Sharp started to collect the sword dances.

When he came to Grenoside in 1910 (Grenoside being the first sword dance he collected completely) he was told that “The performances that used to take place on Christmas Eve and the following days have been discontinued due to the indifference of the general public.” Nothing new there then.

John Pitts of Handsworth,says that there were probably up to 200 teams performing Long Sword dances at one time but in his first volume of the ‘Sword Dances of Northern England,’ Sharp mentions just two. Although he was able to collect several rapper dances in and around the Newcastle area, many of the teams had stopped dancing.

The First World War put paid to many sides but fortunately by this stage, Sharp had completed his publications. Ironically, his pamphlets on how to teach Morris and Sword intended for teachers, were used in the rehabilitation of injured servicemen such as at the British Military Hospital in Etaples.

When the war ended, Sharp tried to encourage a dancing and music revival and probably his most successful ventures, were the competitive festivals especially in the North East. He built on the previous competitions held before the turn of the century and in 1919 held the first in Newcastle which he judged himself. The Sword Dance category was essentially a rapper tournament and was a ‘passionately hard-fought affair.’ Earsdon recruited a team consisting of champion clog dancers as did others and it was their influence that led to the rapper stepping that we see today. Grenoside and North Skelton (Long Sword) are reported as having ‘turned up’ but I can't find out how Greno went on. This would have been Walter and Co so they may well have spent the afternoon in the bookies.

However, in 1926, North Skelton caused a major upset by winning the sword dance competition. The Rapper world still smart over this as Sharp had declared his clear preference for the long sword dances of Yorkshire which he thought ought to be placed ‘higher in artistic and traditional truth’ – quite right too Cecil. The competitions worked spectacularly and caused a great upsurge in the number of teams including new ones we now regard as ‘traditional’ such as Newbiggin. By the outbreak of the second World War, interest had waned and once more the number of teams had declined. After the war, the Newcastle tournaments never regained their former prominence but as far as Grenoside was concerned, a Golden Era was about to begin.

Joe Dunn