Traditional folk music, dance and customs - Harrogate, North Yorkshire - Chas Marshall's Website
Ripon Sword Dancers
The earlier history of the Ripon Sword Dancers had been quite well researched and documented - have a look at the English Folk Play Research web site run by the Traditional Drama Research Group. For example, click here for details of the Ripon play in 1920.
( Hear my version of the calling on song on the Yorkshire Garland web site - this melody is more as I remember Tony Chambers' singing rather than current practice. Find the Words of the Ripon Sword Dance on my Publications and Articles page. )
This short piece is to let those interested discover what has happened in more recent years.
The Ripon Sword Dancers' old style of street performances came to an end around the early 1990's when Tony Chambers, his wife Margaret and Bill Chapman ceased to go out. During these latter years when they struggled to put out a team they had invited Paul Freeman and Chas Marshall to join them. Paul is a distant relative of Margaret Chambers and he is also a member of the group which performs the Skelton-on-Ure Blue Stots play. Margaret Chambers is a descendant of the Hardcastles who were carriers and custodians of the play in earlier years. Margaret's father and Paul's mother are cousins.
Paul had actually taken part in the play while Chas had participated in the role of "cadger" or collector. When Tony and Margaret Chambers finally gave up, they encouraged Paul to carry on the tradition, which he did with the help of friends from Wakeman Mummers and Ripon City Morris Dancers.
The Ripon Sword Dancers play continues with a family link to the past tradition-bearers and with some players who remember the play from their childhood in Ripon. However, all the players were already involved in folk revival activities such as mumming and morris dancing and it could be argued that the play has now lost some of its innocence. Certainly reference was made to earlier printed versions of the text from the local library, though this was largely due to the absence of a written copy being forthcoming from Tony Chambers. The knee-length white coats with tags of coloured cloth attached, as shown in the photo, initially gave way to "full tatter jackets" completely covered with a profusion of cloth strips. Mr. N A Hudleston had in his possession some old costumes and wooden swords from the Ripon Sword Dancers. They used to perform at Christmas in his home at Cayton Hall, South Stainley in the 1960's. He says the white coats were beaters jackets - white so that they could easily be seen on a shoot.
But there still continues to be a pull from the past in the way that these customs are performed. Indeed, during 2002, the present Ripon Sword Dancers have appeared twice at Cayton Hall; one occasion being Mr. Hudleston's 87th birthday party in March. On both these occasions one of the original 1960's white coats was worn. The performers have now reverted to the more traditional decorated white coats in place of their full tatter jackets. Mr. Hudleston kindly passed the old Ripon Sword Dancers costumes on to Chas who, in turn, donated them Harrogate's Pump Room Museum in December 2003.
The performances are normally restricted to Boxing Day morning plus an occasional trip to Cayton Hall in South Stainley at the request of Mr. N A Hudleston. However, on Boxing Day 2003, an additional evening tour of several of Ripon's public houses was undertaken, where the play was enthusiastically (and noisily!) received. The monies collected are donated to a Ripon hospital charity.
Boxing Day activities are are divided into two separate tours each with a very different character. The morning tour starts at about 10 a.m. in Ripon Market Place and perambulates the streets with performances to very few people and, on some occasions, none at all! This tour generally includes visits to Peric House on Princess Road, The Magdelen, Magdalen's Court (outside the house of Margaret Chambers), Lickley Street, Priest Lane, Ailcey Road, Victoria Avenue, Alma Gardens, Vyner Street, Lister House (inside) and Kirkgate, finishing in the Royal Oak. The evening pub tour starts at about 8 p.m. in the Magdelen where a photograph of the early Ripon Swords Dancers adorns the wall. The rest of the tour can include visits to the following: Ripon and District Social Club, One-Eyed Rat, Golden Lion, King "Billy", Black Swan, Turk's Head, Ripon Bowling Club and Navigation.
The Ripon Sword Dancers would like to thank the people of Ripon for their encouragement to keep the tradition alive and for their generosity which has let us make the following donations to Ripon Hospital: