From the Hexham Courant
9th October 1880
Christmas at the Vicarage, by Ralph Hedley, represents “The sword or morris dance, long a favourite of the northern counties. The group is composed of five dancers, fiddlers, clothes carrier, and two men fantastically dressed, called Tommy and Betty, who collect the cash and amuse the onlookers with their comicalities. The dancers each have a two-handled sword, and dance until the swords are interlaced and held aloft by one of the performers; then the dance is continued until each has cleverly regained his sword.”
The ceremony being at its best, the Betty and Tommy of the group are soliciting coin. The former among the crowd in the foreground of the picture. The former among the crowd in womanly garb while the latter is directing his attention to the vicar and his daughter who have been looking down on the ceremony. An errand boy has deliberately set him down on the Christmas hamper, while another with a spray of holly bush and berries looking at the juveniles about. The idea of placing the two central figures in the half-open gateway and on the top of the stone steps leading to the old manorial mansion, framed as it were in the old style of wrought iron railings or palisading of the olden time, is one of the happiest effects on the canvass, and forms at once with the natural surroundings one of the most striking pictures from the hands of this rising artist that I have seen, and I venture to predict that it will be sold before the exhibition has closed, – the merits of the piece being that all the sword dancers, the vicar, his daughter, the village blacksmith, the idlers, male and female, seem to possess features so well-known that one knows them and hence the intensity of nature thrown as it were into the physiognomies of this interesting and cleverly-drawn picture.