‘A Most Unusual Request’

Derek Nixon, from Anthony Nixon Furniture in Barnard Castle is used to getting requests ‘to make things that are out of the ordinary’. “It is not unusual to be asked to make individual items,” he said. “After all that is what we do – make bespoke furniture to customer’s requirements.” But a recent request from the Music at the Heart of Teesdale (M@HoT) project for a dozen metre-long wooden swords was definitely a first. “We are very pleased to be able to help. We think it wonderful that Music at the Heart of Teesdale is teaching local youngsters traditional tunes and dances,” he told M@HoT’s Longsword Dance tutor Patrick Langdon.

As a local community group, M@HoT is actively reviving some of the traditional music, song and dance of the area. The swords are used to teach local children longsword dancing. Neil Diment, the M@HoT project coordinator added, “It is more than just the music and dance. We want our youngsters to have a sense of pride and ownership of local traditions.”

Children at Gainford primary school learning their Longsword Dance moves under Patrick Langdon’s tutelage.
(Photo by: Neil Diment)

M@HoT’s Mike Bettison has been researching the Teesdale Mercury archives and has found references to longsword dancing in and around Barnard Castle in the 1800s. “We know that there were dance teams doing longsword dancing around here in Teesdale. There are reports of teams in Startforth and Stainton,” said Mike, “And we have written correspondence about longsword teams in Gainford, Piercebridge and Eppleby. So it would not have been unusual, if you were walking around Barney in those days, to see a team of men out doing longsword dancing and collecting money from the audience.”

“I made the first swords four years ago and they have seen quite a lot of use. They are getting a bit battered and worn now,” said Patrick Langdon, who teaches these traditional dances to pupils in some local schools. “I explained to Nixon’s what we needed and Derek very kindly offered to make us some new swords for free, which is great. I asked for a dozen and they have actually made us twenty-three, which is fantastic!”

Children at Green Lane primary school very much enjoyed learning an old Teesdale tradition and gave a performance of their dance to parents at the end of their dance programme delivered by the M@HoT project
(Photo by: Patrick Langdon)

Anthony Nixon Furniture has also agreed to donate £500 to the M@HoT project to help ensure that the group can continue to revive and teach traditional music and dance in Teesdale. Director Chris Dauber said, “Music has been a central feature of my family’s life in Teesdale, and we are very pleased to support the inspirational voluntary work that Patrick and his team are doing.”

“The M@HoT team have run two 6-week primary school Longsword programmes this summer term, helped in part by Nixon’s generous donation, at both Green Lane and Gainford primary schools. We are delighted that a team from Gainford primary school will be reviving the tradition in their village, dancing with the new Nixon’s swords and performing on the village green for the third year in a row as part of the village’s Fun Day at 2pm, on Saturday 17th June,” added Patrick.

For more information about the Music at Heart of Teesdale (or ‘M@HoT’ for short) project, please contact M@HoT project coordinator, Neil Diment at: neil@ndiment.co.uk, or tel. 01833 638263.