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The Bishopthorpe Sword Dancers.

Little has previously been known of a sword dance team at Bishopthorpe in the West Riding of Yorkshire, apart from a reference contained in the following composite extract from an article by Mr W. Camidge, published in the Yorkshire Gazette on 19 April 1890:
  Amongst the village customs of past years none was so popular with the
  farm servants as 'ptoughboying', and the men servants of Acaster and
  the adjacent villages generally arranged each year to gather up a
  company of' 'ploughboys', who held festival in York and neighbourhood
  during Plough Monday and the succeeding days of the week [...] In
  chose latter days Acaster, Bishopthorpe, and Naburn (like other
  villages) frequently sent a united band of farm servants into the
  city, on or about Plough Monday who amused the citizens with their
  peculiar dress and antics [...] It frequently happened that when two
  or three villages joined to form a company, each village sent a king
  and queen as part of their contingent. After the representatives of
  Royalty followed three or four couple of men who wore outside their
  waistcoats, white shirts, profusely adorned with ribbons of every hue,
  whilst their hats bore rosettes, cockades, and streamers. They
  generally carried a wood sword each, and walked the streets in
  procession, but at every available spot they danced to the strains of
  their music, threading their swords in the dance with considerable
  skill, and going through a series of figures, which could only have
  been perfected by considerable practice and care. (1)


I have now discovered a report in the York Herald and General Advertiser of 13 January 1844, which throws light on the history of the Bishopthorpe Sword Dancers. This contemporary account describes the company's celebrations at an inn in York following their Plough Monday appearance, plus information as to when the team was formed. The full report reads as follows:
  BISHOPTHORPE SWORD DANCERS. - The plough boys of this village have
  recently devoted two days to recreation, and in the character of
  Sword Dancers have visited this city and the surrounding villages,
  where they have met with the most friendly reception, and were
  universally admired by all lovers of the very ancient and rustic
  amusement, the sword dance. They were accompanied by a brass band of
  musicians from this city, and were generally allowed to be the best
  company of plough boys, that have performed before the public, during
  the present season. Twelve years have elapsed since a company of this
  description was raised in Bishopthorpe, which has caused the
  performance of the sword dance to be somewhat a treat to the
  inhabitants of that village. In consideration of the extensive
  patronage the party have met with, they gave a handsome treat to their
  friends, who kindly lent every assistance in preparing dresses for
  the occasion. The treat was given at Mr. Crosbys, the Brown Cow Inn,
  where upwards of 60 sat down to tea, the arrangements for which
  reflected much credit on the worthy host and hostess, and gave great
  satisfaction to the party assembled. After tea a ball took place,
  which was kept up with great spirit, until a late hour in the morning,
  each sex appearing anxious to test the strength of the 'the light
  fantastic toe'. Mr. Horner, of Bishopthorpe, kindly came forward and
  offered his services, gratuitously, on the violin which were
  thankfully accepted, punch and wine were plentifully distributed,
  and the following toasts were given:--His Grace the Archbishop of
  York, the Rev. Wm. Harcourt, and the other clergy of the diocese; Sir
  J. V. B. Johnstone, Bart; Lord and Lady Wenlock; the Citizens of York;
  The Lord and Lady Mayoress; G. Palmes, Esq; Mr. R. Morrison, &c. The
  company afterwards sep[a]rated highly delighted with the innocent
  recreation of the nights entertainment. - Correspondent. (2)


The Brown Cow is still extant. It is situated in Hope Street, York, and is shown in Figure 1.

GORDON RIDGEWELL Hertford

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

(1.) W. Camidge, 'From York to Naburn Lock by Water - Chapter LXXVT (Continued) - [Acaster Malbis: Miscellaneous]', Yorkshire Gazette, Saturday, 19 April 1890, p. 7.

(2.) 'Bishopthorpe Sword Dancers', York Herald and General Advertiser, Saturday, 13 January 1844, p. 5.
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Author:Ridgewell, Gordon
Publication:Folk Music Journal
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 23, 2011
Words:695
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