Memories of an Earsdon Old Boy
My name is Colin Gibson and I am Town Clerk to Ollerton & Boughton Town Council in Nottinghamshire. Amongst my responsibilities is arranging for and organising various events on the Town Council calendar. It was in this respect that I met Stephen Maidens of the Stone Monkey Sword Dancers.
Talking to Steve took my memory back nearly 40 years to 1948, when I was a 15-year-old member of the Earsdon Youth Club near Whitley Bay in Northumberland. One should remember that these memories are of forty years ago, so the facts may have become blurred and are more my impressions than any documented record. I was born in Garden Terrace, Earsdon, on 9th June 1933. Following the end of the War, a Youth Club was formed in the Eccles Hall at Earsdon, where we played table tennis, did a bit of boxing and not very much else that I can recall. Around about 1947 or '48, a man called Nibs Spence (or could it have been Nibs Pearson) attended the Eccles Hall and we were informed by the Youth Leader, a man called Mr Fotheringham who was the local head teacher, that Mr Spence (or Pearson as the case may be) wanted to teach a team the Earsdon Royal Sword Dance.
As a result, five of us were formed into an Earsdon Royal Sword Dance team by Nibs. The other members' names as I recall were Billy Blower, Alan Young, Alan Sidney and myself. Unfortunately I can't recall the fifth member.
I can remember Nibs telling us the history of the Earsdon Royal Sword Dance team and he said that the dance in this specific form was more or less copyright and couldn't be performed by other people. Nibs came, I think, from Backworth, a village about three miles from Earsdon and presumably Nibs came to Earsdon to teach the Royal Sword Dance because of the name being in the title. Nibs himself was a very accomplished sword dancer and I believe at that time there was a senior team.
We were told the history of the Earsdon Royal Sword Dance team and I can remember that the ‘Royal’ in the title was because the team had danced in front of the King (probably George V). Also the team had danced at the Albert Hall and I believe had some national renown and had a history going back a number of years, although how many I couldn't be sure.
I can recall Nibs teaching us steps by getting us to take the weight of our bodies between two chairs and tap the floor twice with each toe. We would tap with one tap on altenate feet then on the third tap we would hop and tap again. I'm afraid I never became very proficient at this. We were able to do various figures with the swords, which had handles at each end and after each figure one of us holding the swords up interlocked. We were told that the middle of the swords when they were held up should assume the shape of the King's crown. We then would get hold of our handles and break the swords and were told that the last one to break would always cut their fingers. We became fairly proficient at a number of figures, one of which was the figure eight; the other names I can't remember. An old man, although he may not have been so old but seemed so to us, called McKay (possibly Jim) used to play the fiddle and I can remember going to the City Hall for a music festival where we were to perform the Ears don Royal Sword Dance in the Junior Section. There was no smoking in the City Hall anywhere in the atrium and our fiddler sat playing his fiddle and smoking a Woodbine whilst we were dancing, oblivious of the anxious gesticulations of the City Hall staff.
I can remember watching the senior team on one or two occasions and they had a fiddler and also a jester (I think the name was Betty) but I know the Betty did not dance, he just used to go round generally clowning about. I remember that we started off the dance with the five of us standing in a line holding the wooden handles of the swords, then we would go into a circle and perform various figures culminating with holding the five, and I believe they called them "rapper" swords aloft and we were able to do this quite well without the swords collapsing in a heap on the floor.
I remember we also went to Hexham at that time and competed in a festival there. We won medals at both Hexham and the City Hall festivals, although too much should not be written into this since, as I recall, we were the only junior sword dance teams to appear therefore it was unlikely that we would be beaten. I do not know what became of my medals.
I can remember watching a clog dancer from County Durham called Jackie Tordoff at either Hexham or the City Hall. He became quite famous and I later met him in 1958 appearing in cabaret in Jersey, clog dancing on tables, etc. I know it was 1958 because it was the year I was married.
I think our team danced for about a year and then we all went our separate ways but the memories will probably remain with all five of us to this day.