Lost Rapper Teams:
Five Quarter Rapper

by Phil Heaton

The tradition: It's often been said that sword dancing movements and features have a tradition extending back into “the mists of time...” Just as traditional is the sweaty complaint, “Not again... we nearly got it right that time!” Because the Tradition is really all about the effort, brain power and the performers magnificent ability to suspend boredom in order to get the thing right.

And so to the tale of Five Quarter, experts as I remember of sweaty nights, suspended boredom and almost getting it right.

A throwaway remark, “if you think that's hard try doing Murton” at a Sallyport practice in November 1972 led to a wee bit of research. Soon the demented souls were trying to dance inside out and ‘backside first’. Sallyport of course were and are (still) probably the greatest exponents of Newbiggin but Les Williamson decided that the team needed another challenge. Democratically, he chose Murton.

The Murton dance was collected by Chris Cawte and Charlie Soper during the '50s from the Lowerson family, who still live in the village. The feeling was that the dance had developed from another tradition which had disappeared and had been based around the pits of the South Hetton Coal Co., five miles east of Durham City. Murton Colliery itself is another mile or so towards the coast and had, until it disappeared in 1991, a deeper and newer pit than South Hetton.

The Lowerson family had moved into Murton as the pit complex developed and it is probable that they were performers already. The dance collected by CC and CS seemed to have been a deliberately complicated reworking of the older Rapper.

Our contact with the Lowersons proved rewarding. They had received a copy of the book years before but had no idea that their dance still existed. The family turned up all kinds of great momentos; medals, kit, swords and especially the crack (the family danced and won competitions as a mixed team with white faces and Pierrot costumes).

The dance and how to perform it was a different proposition. Harry (Henry) Lowerson, son of Henry (Harry) - the main informant in the 50's - was unsure about teaching and spreading his family dance. He was really interested in our revival but thought it should be known as the Lowerson dance and not Murton.

Meanwhile, Sallyport struggled on and the dance, despite the accumulation of many confused and dead brain cells, began to take shape. Unfortunately, the wrong one for Sallyport and it became a dead duck.

Enter one Vince English, glib talking Irish whistler. He thought all that effort shouldn't go to waste and became very interested. He found a pub to practise in and set about persuading various amongst us to get stuck in.

And so the Murton (Lowerson) tradition revived, almost with the family approval.

The dance was practised at the Railway in Ryhope, 3 miles from Murton and new recruits were treated to free beer by the landlord grateful for the rest of us doubling his take.

The team danced out and took on its own identity. Sallyport remained viable. The pit villages in East Durham and many of the pubs and especially the clubs were treated to the Rapper. Disaster at a university do at Durham was followed by a top of the bill spot at Hetton Lyons Cricket Club domino handicap match (Sunday League). Even greater things were to follow - Durham Festival was a high point and we went all out to get into the tradition and show it as much for the family as ourselves.

One of the features of the tradition is an elaborate Tommy and Betty routine with calling on songs, a dancer's singing chorus and a ritualised beheading. Tommy is reported as wearing “breeches in an all-over pattern with a bell at each knee, cap like a policeman's helmet to match the breeches, dark blue stockings and a patchwork jacket.” Tommy, of course, was the absolutely unique James Bass Stanness who, deprived of his usual taily coat and top shiner, was feeling a little out of sorts as we performed around the festival. The policeman's outfit ‘disappeared’ from the campsite. Reports of a sighting of a strange floral costume floating down the River Wear were uncorroborated. Bass? He knows nothing.

Trouble followed later in '73 when Harry Lowerson turned up to practices and it became obvious that he was not happy calling the dance Murton.

John Stephenson, red hot concertinerist, suggested Five Quarter, which was the name of a very deep seam where he worked at Wearmouth Colliery. And so it was. Five Quarter rapidly widened their contacts and their flame burned brightly. Ray Griffiths introduced a set of lads from among the leavers at his school and their introduction to beer, dancing and probably more beer, led to an explosion.

The dance and the team grew organically as I lost touch and moved away. Meeting up occasionally, I was amazed at the strength of the team and the loyalty. I was a complete outsider. Good, I thought, but time and tide moved on and there's another story to mark the end of the team in '76 but I wasn't there. Still, end it did.

Dancers as Phil Heaton remembers them:

George Wallace, author, poet, historian, Nortumbrian dialectist and superb dancer.

Richard Preece, boy-faced sometime reluctant participant, good egg and bar propper.

Bass Stanness, ex army musician, wicked driver and still performing Tommy.

Eddie Elliot, indecipherable Geordie talker, brilliant stepper, poached by Nibs Pearson to dance with Royal Earsdon.

John Stephenson, working miner; concertina player, lived in Ryhope (risky place, nearly as rough as Murton).

Vince English, a born survivor with a pocket full of whistles and with a free beer mentality.

Jackie Walton, keen, Geordie and full of stories.

Ray Griffiths, a Sunderland lad, into Outdoor Acts, rarely got caught. Has a big house in the Lakes, see me for the address.

Jimmy Pritchard, brown ale swiller, good song singer, friend and ultimately a member of the Durham Rams. Now a headteacher.

Keith Cunningham, professional concertina player, used to drive with his eyes dosed - everybody does in Sunderland.

There were more but I've forgotten names - time and tide tha knaas....


The Rapper dance as taught by the Lowerson family at Murton, E. C. Cawte & C. Soper, Guizer Press

Various dance descriptions, usually found in EFDSS Magazines. Kenworthy Scofield & Violet Orde 1927; Norman Peacock 1955