Hoghton Rapper

Roy Smith writes...

As it happened, the Team began quite informally when a newly acquired member of Hoghton Folk Dance Group expressed an interest in passing on some of the Sword Dances of his native North East. Mrs Crook, the Group leader, next produced a set of long swords and practice began upon the Kirkby Malzeard dance. The Group was able to provide the requisite number of willing men, and it was decided to present the dance as an item at the District Spring Gathering.

The reception there was encouraging and the side embarked upon the task of learning some Rapper Sword Dancing. This posed various problems, not Alan the least being the need for regular and extended practice. So Sword Team practices began in the kitchen of a Higher Walton farmhouse. The shortage of a musician was another difficulty, solved when one of the girls took up her recorder playing again, and things began to progress.

A costume evolved, including sashes and long trousers, and public appearances became more colourful. A member began making new swords for the team (and has retained the job ever since!). As time progressed the side gradually altered: new members and musicians were recruited: one dancer retired from his hazardous position as “back-somersault man” to become the fiddle player (and later transferred to the accordion, to start one of our better known North West folk dance bands). Then dark blue knee-breeches and white stockings were adopted.

More requests came for displays at a wide variety of venues. One member began demonstrating clog dancing. Horizons widened. The teams went to days and weekends of dance organised by the Morris Ring, and received much encouragement. Some "Cotswold" Morris dancing was begun, though at that time practices were in a kitchen, with barely space to contain a set of six men standing still. Standards improved. The Team was accepted into The Morris Ring, and received the staff at the Guildford Ring Meeting in 1976. In 1977 the side travelled to London to represent the Lancashire District at the National Gathering. A more spacious practice hall was found, in Fulwood, giving opportunity to extend the long sword and Cotswold repertoire. A couple of “mini-Ring” weekends were organised, with teams from other parts of the country coming to dance in the area.

Some other highlights include appearing at the Lancaster International Folklore Fiesta as an English representative side, and entering for a “Rest of the World” class in the then new Rapper Tournament at the Derby ‘Dancing England’(an interesting experience!). We enjoyed Ring Meetings in Manchester, Thaxted, London, Ripley and with Green Ginger M.M. as well as a visit to Recklinghausen, Preston's twin town, in 1985. We danced at a wide variety of events; including socials with German visitors, a French dance team and/American tourists; multicultural evenings, and all manner of fetes, galas, church socials, W.I's and such.

One of the ‘originals’ remains. Other members have left, new ones have joined – some were later to join other sides (one, in fact, founded a new Morris team). Numbers have always remained small, seldom reaching double figures. One aspect that must be mentioned is the very high standard of musicianship in the team, Sue Jennings is our current musician and deserves our gratitude for the way in which she works at getting the most out of the dances (and the dancers!). We are extremely grateful for the help, support and encouragement from wives, families and friends; members of the parent Hoghton Folk Dance Club, and many other groups and individuals in Lancashire and elsewhere.