English Country Dance
a.k.a.  The Hidden Page

Cheddar Cheesby (a mug shot)

In the soil of modern England we discover fragments of rock or remains of living creatures which speak to us of long-past ages. Amongst the countryfolk of Britain we equally find customs and ceremonies which recall to us the beliefs and ways of life of our ancestors of long ago. Many and varied are these old-time customs, age-old customs, older than civilization – older perhaps than the tilling of the soil.


The annual May Festival is still celebrated in many places throughout the country.  Here, a procession is seen on the way to the village green at Elstow, in Bedfordshire, where John Bunyan lived.  The May Queen, in her flower-bedecked carriage, is accompanied by her retinue of twenty-four virgins, and is preceeded in the procession by the Maypole itself.

Dancing around the erect Maypole is a joyous event which continues well into May Day evening, weather permitting.  The tunes and the dances come down from the olden times and celebrate the ending of winter and the re-birth of all things as the days lengthen into Summer.


The people of Heston, Cornwall, dress themselves in hats and dance processionally through the town, and in and out of houses the doors of which are left open.  As they dance they sing another song whose origin, like that of the tune and the dance, is lost in the mists of antiquity.  It tells of our heros of olden times, Robin Hood and Little John, of going into the merry green wood " for to chase–O, to chase the buck and doe".

Like the Maypole ceremony, the Twirly-Dance banishes the gloom of winter and brings the summer in : "For we are up as soon as the day–O; And for to fetch the Summer in; The summer and the May–O; The summer is come–O; The winter is gone–O."


The dance of the deer-men is held at Abbots Bromley on the first Monday after the Sunday nearest to September Fourth.  Here, twelve stout and true yeomen (note Cheesby at centre right) each take a pair of deer's antlers from the local museum and rampage through the village shouting " lock up ye daughters, lock up ye wives, horny yeomen four-by-three, for winter is a-coming–O; and so are we"

Although the wild deer sporting these massive horns have long since gone from our shores, the Horn Dance that our forefathers composed is still danced today.


The old-established Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday football frolick is a ceremony which has got somewhat out-of-hand in recent years.  In the market town of Ashbourne in Dove Dale the ceremony draws crowds not only from the immediate vicinity, but also from towns up and down the valley where the frolick is no longer practiced.

Singing is prone to be boisterous and it is as well that the ladies are at home, making pancakes. "Ashbourne's ground !, Ashbourne's ground !; the ball is found !; sod the ref; the bugger's drowned"


The strange antics of quaintly-festooned Oxfordshire men was first noted by a young student, Cecil Sharp, at the turn of the last century.  He collected the variations of the Morris, Stick and Sword Dances prevalent the length and bread of the Country.  So pleased was he with his efforts, that he promptly formed the English Folk Dance Society (now the EFDSS headquartered at Cecil Sharp House).

Morris Dancers stamp, kick and bound and clash their staves.  After they've bruised their knuckles sufficiently, they change-over to waiving handkerchiefs.  Dressed in white, girt with brightly-coloured ribbons onto which tiny bells are sewn, they dance to encourage a good harvest and an abundance of crops for the coming winter.


The seven mummers with master-of-ceremonies 'Father Christmas' bearing down on our hapless photographer one frosty Boxing Day.  Frightening, aren't they?  Good job everyone's inside watching 'The Sound Of Music' on the television.  Although the mummers look like abominable snowmen, they actually represent King George, a Turkish Knight, (and/or a Giant), and a Quack Doctor.

Confused?  don't be – it's so simple – The giant sings"Here I am, old hub-bub-bub; And in my hand I carries a club; And on my back a frying pan; Am I not a valiant man?"  There is much horse-play and fooling about, King George slays the Turkish Knight, who is then revived by the Quack Doctor.  Pagan stuff with human sacrifice the day after Christmas.  Hurrah!


In Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, the Norse Gods are remembered at the close of the year.  The villagers, with round shields and winged helmets, pull a model of an ancient Viking 'Long Ship' through the streets to honour their long-dead Norse ancestors.  The bands play the ancient Norse tunes and rockets (maroons) blaze overhead.  It is dark by mid-afternoon, on-lookers carry blazing torches.  The Norsemen leave the ship, and it is cast to the ocean, blazing now as torches are thrown upon it.  Then much raping and pillaging is done by the assembled multitude, subject to weather conditions.