The Bishopthorpe Sword Dancers

The good folk of Bishopthorpe certainly knew how to enjoy themselves during the winter holiday season.  In January 1844, the plough boys of this village revived the ancient tradition of Sword Dancing which was usually performed over the Christmas or New Year period.  The ‘swords’ used were not real weapons but lathes of wood or metal about three feet long.  The dancers held one end of a sword in each hand and were thus linked in a circle.  The only time they let go of their swords was at the end of the dance when they interlaced them to form a ‘knot’ or ‘rose’, which was then held aloft in triumph by one dancer.  The dancers often dressed up as indicated below.

The flavour of the occasion can be found in an illuminating article which was published in The York Herald of 13 January 1844:

“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 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 the 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 the 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. Crosby’s, the Brown Cow Inn, [now The Ebor] 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 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.”

Many toasts were given to the great and good and so, not surprisingly, the company “afterwards separated highly delighted with the innocent recreation of the night’s entertainment.”

It is rare to find to find such a delightful contemporary description of a local custom.  Are there any volunteers willing to follow in the footsteps of the Bishopthorpe plough boys? Just a thought!

Linda Haywood

Chairman’s Notes Dec 2014

Best Wishes

Believe it or not I am writing this at the end of October so December and Christmas  still seem a long way away – although I have already bought some Christmas cards!   On the other hand, as I get older time appears to pass quicker and quicker and it  doesn’t seem that long since we were celebrating last Christmas.

The Parish Council takes up a considerable amount of time for all involved and I  would like to thank everyone for their hard work over the last twelve months – in  which time we have attended 12 Parish Council meetings, several sub-committee  and one-off meetings as well as taking on numerous small tasks to ensure the  village facilities are maintained and improved.  I would also like to thank you  all for your continuing support and, on behalf of the Parish Council, would like  to wish you a very Happy Christmas and a healthy and successful New Year.

New Projects

We have no major projects on the go at the moment and therefore, speaking  for myself, it becomes harder and harder to undertake the routine work  required to keep the Parish Council operating.  It is always good to hear that  people appreciate what we are doing – and in my case – take the time to read  my Link articles, and on occasions find them interesting!

This was brought home to me in the Post Office the other day whilst collecting  a parcel.  A lady (I won’t mention names to save embarrassment) was also in  the Post Office and heard that I was the Chairman of the Parish Council – she  knew my name but did not know what I looked like.  She turned and thanked  me for the work we do throughout the village and I in turn would like to thank  her, via this article (which she informed me she read), for giving me the incentive  to carry on.   Anyway, back to new projects – it is now some time since we undertook the  major refurbishment of the Village Hall and built the Play Area in Keble  Park – both successful projects to the benefit of people living in the village.

We are now looking at working on the Sports Pavilion on Ferry Lane to improve  the overall layout and upgrade the shower and changing facilities.  This work  has been met with enthusiasm by all users of the Pavilion i.e. Football and  Cricket Clubs and Bishopthorpe Playgroup.  We have now decided to discuss  the project with local builders to enable us to obtain tenders.  I love a new  project and look forward to starting (and completing this work) sometime in  the New Year.

Parish Council Meeting

Our next Parish Council meeting will be held on 9 December, early this month  due to Christmas and in the Sports Pavilion due to the Ebor Player Pantomime  in the Village Hall.  All villagers are welcome between 7:00 and 7:15 to put  any questions or queries to the council.

Stewart Harrison