Longsword Schools Programme

Teesdale Longsword logo

An Auspicious Beginning

It was a very significant day for the M@HoT project back in 2012 when we received a note from Kim Harding, the wife of the vicar of St Mary’s Church in Barnard Castle, to say that she had come across reference to a Longsword dance and accompanying play in Gainford in the writings of the then vicar’s daughter, Alice Edleston, from that village. In November 1893, Alice had sent Thomas Ordish, who was the expert in the field in those late-Victorian times, descriptions of costumes, tunes and transcripts of the plays. Though much has since been lost, this gave us the opportunity to think about reintroducing the dance into the dale.

Copies of the original letters and part of the tune – and even a photograph of a Longsword dancer’s hat and coat, though sadly not in colour! – can be viewed online in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (part of the amazing The Full English digital archive) at: www.vwml.org
For a transcript of the play, see:
www.folkplay.info/Texts/86nz11ce.htm

Longsword Dance Revival

So, since it began, M@HoT has been able to offer a day of Longsword dance workshops to all the new Year 7s in their first year at Teesdale School. With the full support of the school, we feel it is important that every child gets the opportunity to learn a traditional dance from the dale.

Caption: Two teams of five from Gainford primary school performed at the village's Fun Day in June 2016, under the watchful eye of class teacher Jill McLachlan and musician, Mike Bettison. (Photo by Tony Kennan)

Caption: Two teams of five from Gainford primary school performed at the village’s Fun Day in June 2016, under the watchful eye of class teacher Jill McLachlan and musician, Mike Bettison. (Photo by Tony Kennan)

In 2012 the workshops were led by Alex Cumming with support from Gainford-based volunteer tutor Patrick Langdon and musicians Mike Bettison, Neil Diment, and Helen Bishop (who somehow manages to combine her role as school librarian with being our ‘Longsword Dance Champion’ within the school). In 2013 Tom Redman led the sessions and since then they have been led in-house by M@HoT’s own team that included Patrick, Mike, Helen and Neil.

Teesdale School Longsword Dance workshop

A group of Year 7 Longsword dancers show off their “Lock” at the workshop led by Tom Redman and held in Teesdale School in November 2013. (Photo courtesy Paul Place.)

We now have a small but enthusiastic group of Longsword dancers established in Teesdale School who meet every week under the guidance of Patrick on Friday lunchtimes.

In Autumn 2014, for the first time, and in order to generate further interest, we ran the school’s first Interhouse Longsword Dance Competition. Teams from the school’s three houses competed — Strictly style! — in a dance-off organised as part of the school’s end of term WinterFest production. The winners, Goodall House, were presented with medals and a specially engraved John Browell trophy. John used to perform with Patrick down in the Spen Valley, in West Yorkshire, in their own dancing days and donated a complete set of steel swords to the team — previously we’d had to make do with a set of wooden ones hand-made by Patrick. Since then, Goodall have repeated their success and have held the trophy for three years.

Teesdale School Longsword Dance

Teesdale School’s Head of Music, Mr Ferrari, about to be ritually decapitated at the end of a Year 7 Longsword dance workshop, November 2013. (Photo courtesy Paul Place.)

Primary Schools Programme

After successfully establishing a Longsword dance team at Teesdale School which performs regularly in the area, and even from time to time further afield, we began to work in the feeder primary schools. In 2014 we ran a pilot programme in Bowes Hutchinson primary school that culminated in a performance from two teams at the village’s Christmas Fayre.

Bowes Primary School Longsword Dance team

Not a trace of nerves among the Bowes Hutchinson primary school No.1 Longsword team back stage before their Christmas bazaar performance! (Photo by Neil Diment.)

Building on the success of that project, in 2015 we worked in three primary schools: Gainford, Green Lane in Barnard Castle, and Bowes again. The Gainford performance included a version of the Sword-play too!

For 2017/18, thanks to funding from the Arts Council, we are planning to run a Longsword program and hold public performances again with teams from the same three schools.

Date Time Primary School Event/Venue
October/November tbc Bowes Hutchinson Bowes Christmas Show
Saturday, 17 June 2.15pm Gainford Gainford Fun Day
tbc tbc Green Lane, Barnard Castle tbc