watervole: (Default)
 Yesterday at Swanage Folk Festival I was lucky enough to see one of the best dancing horses of all.  The Minehead Hobby Horse is one of a very rare breed (there's another one at Padstow, but that's about it).

It's a wild and energetic animal and it led the Swanage procession and I suspect the young man inside was totally exhausted by the end.  (I gather he had rope burns from all that energetic swinging)

Here's some footage of it from another occasion.  It's the Sailor's Horse from Minehead -which may help to explain why it looks as much like a boat as a horse, but it definitely has a tail!

watervole: (Default)
  Folk traditions throw up some wonderful animals on occasion. There are traditional hobby horses - not the children's toy, but proper hobby horses, like Dobbin below.  they sometimes join in morris dances 

and a jig dancing horse from the Outside Capering Crew

and if you like that one, then you need the sequel...

I'll maybe cover hooden horses another day

watervole: (Default)
 Alex_beecroft on LJ mentioned this group and I had to go for a look.

Four Hundred Roses are from Yorkshire and do belly dancing to morris music (and occasionally add some morris figures to their dances).

I rather like the costumes.  They make me think of Victorian pub landladies in a modern musical.

watervole: (Maypole)
Went into Pamphill school to teach the first of a series of  longsword sessions to a class of year 4 children.

Very glad I took my friend Paul with me.  He's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword dancing for many years.

Watching him work with the kids is a real revelation as to what training and experience can do.

He controlled over 30 children without once raising his voice and had them doing exactly what he wanted without noise or fuss.  Simple things, like making it a game to move as quietly as possible when forming their groups, or telling them to sit on the floor cross-legged with their swords across their laps making  sure their swords didn't touch the floor and make a noise.

He spent the first ten minutes just getting them to listen to the music, clap along, count to eight with the music and just developing their sense of rhythm and the patterns of 8 and 16 that the dance requires.

Lots of positive feedback to all the children.

By the end of the lesson, every group had managed the first two figures of the dance and several of the children spontaneously came up afterwards and said 'thank you'.

We're all looking forward to next week.
watervole: (Maypole)
 I'm writing this here mainly so that I can find it again in years to come.

I did two longsword workshops at Purbeck Folk Festival and both went very well.  I taught the North Skelton dance on the first day and went for broke and did Helmsley on the second.  The second dance is not nearly as well known and includes a rare triangular lock.

I spent several hours with the aid of several kind volunteers on and off the campsite figuring how to make the figure from the very ambiguous instructions in my longsword book.  (To be fair, it's very difficult to describe longsword moves to someone who has never seen them.)  As you can see, the research paid off.  Here's the workshop group with their completed lock.

I've tried to write my own set of instructions (after spending most of this morning fiddling around with swords laid out on the floor), and I think mine may be easier to follow - but possibly only by me....
Here's how it's done )

watervole: (Maypole)
 I went to Normandy this weekend with the Quayside Cloggies (the ladies North West Morris group I belong to).

I packed pretty light as I didn't want to have to carry much, especially when we were moving between dance spots.

I kept my handbag for essentials like cash and ventolin inhaler, etc.  I had enough space to take either my camera or my English/French dictionary in my handbag.  I chose the dictionary.

This turned out to be a mistake...

The dictionary came in handy, because I stayed with a lovely French couple who didn't speak very much English.

However, what I hadn't know in advance was that the French Group Alfred-Rossel had also invited a dance group from Cherbourg's other twin town in Germany.  Die Volktanzgrup de Weileurstenssbligen  (I think it is near Bremerhaven).

Ottmar from the German group was also staying with Marie and Bernard and his schoolboy English and my schoolgirl German managed to establish that he was a bandertanzer  (there's an unlaut on the a, but I get the wrong character when I try to type it).

A bandertanz is a maypole dance, done with adults, not children.  They'd brought their maypole (maybaum) 1,100km and here was me without a camera!

It was a wooden pole, a bit taller than my maypole, but also coming apart into two sections.  Instead of having a base that they set on the ground, they had adapted their pole (after getting fed up of carrying it in processions) so that the base was in a hand cart that they'd nicknamed the banderwagen.  The only drawback is that in spite of a jack at the back, it sometimes moves around a bit when they dance round it.

They don't have a web site (as far as I can tell), they said they had no footage on You Tube (but have promised to try and film the dance for me.)..  

Research on You Tube this morning has revealed several interesting facts.  There appears to be only bandertanz (aka bandltanz) and it is performed in many different towns.  It's always done to the same tune, called (possibly) the bandltanz waltz.

I can't find a copy of the sheet music - if anyone can help, it would be much appreciated.

Some of the maypoles used are massive and can have 30 or more couples doing the dance at the same time.

The choreography is roughly,

1.,  Couples sway their ribbons in time to the music.

2.  Couples either walk or do a slow polka step for eight steps clockwise, then 8 anti-clockwise.

3.  Several slow turns with partner, using ribbons gracefully as you pass over and under.

4.  Same as three in reverse.

5.  Woman face one way, men face the other.  A long slow plait is made, going on for as long as you choose.

6.  Undo the plait.

7.  Each couple do a complete right hand turn together.

8.  Women go clockwise, men anticlockwise and turn (left handed) a new partner from the next couple.

9.  Repeat this, carrying on in the same direction.  This will build up a tent figure.

10.  Reverse to undo the tent.

11.  Release the ribbons, take your partner in a ballroom hold and polka round the maypole.
watervole: (Default)
 Because it's my day for talking about folk traditions...

Here - with comments on each photo to explain what is happening - is Saddleworth Rushcart procession.

This is a modern rushcart - and the event is totally unadvertised and totally amazing.

 I took the photos last year.  I'd have gone again this year, but I'd already booked for Discworld and it clashes.

I took four short video clips - they're called Saddleworth Rushcart 1,2,3,4 if you want to view any after the first...

Jig Dolls

Feb. 4th, 2012 02:19 pm
watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
I'm currently reading very small book exploring  the connections between matachin (a historical sword dance) and morris.  

One one page is this photo (which I also found on the morris ring web site)  The photo was taken in 1896 by Henry Taunt and is of the Chipping Camden morris dancers.  It's one of the earliest morris photos known.


You can see the classic white Cotswold morris costume and the bells, (and the rosettes that many teams also wore), but the thing that actually caught my eye was the doll in the centre. See it?  Down by his feet, hanging  from the box that's hanging over his shoulder.

Now look at his feet.  See that small plank with one foot under it and one foot resting on it?  The doll's feet are resting on the plant and it has thin, jointed, legs.

It's a jig doll, but of a size and style that I've never seen before.

"What is a jig doll?" I hear you ask.  See below (they also appear to be an Appalachian tradition)

No discussion of jig dolls would be complete without a reference to the Ballad of Seth Davy (Whisky on a Sunday)
See this link -  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vjfk2turxY&feature=related   

Seth Davy was a real person and one of the few black people to be referenced in a folk song.  Here's and old photo of him in Liverpool- http://aliverpoolfolksongaweek.blogspot.com/2011/08/21-seth-davy.html   He used to perform in the street with his jog dolls.

You can buy jig dolls (or make your own).  Here's one site that sells them,  Must  admit that I'm occasionally tempted to get one myself.  (I've seen some very nice ones occasionally made in the colours of specific morris teams.)

watervole: (Poole Mummers)
Bear with me though my ramblings and I'll end up by recommending a book that you'll enjoy if you like Arthurian-style fairy stories... 

The Seven Champions is a subject that has caught my curiosity for a long time, ever since - many years ago now - I first saw 'Seven Champions' molly dancers and wondered where their name came from.  They had 7 dancers dressed as men and one dressed as a woman.

This is a far more recent clip of the side - Seven Champions tend to be the side that define molly dancing for me - perhaps because they were one of the first molly revival sides (and perhaps because they were the first molly side I ever saw).  More men here (this is actually a 'revival' revival side) , but still the man in drag - which to my mind is still definitive.  Molly sides, as the name implies, should always have at least one person in drag.  Notice that molly dancers are the only member of the morris family to dance without sticks.  (in one sense, molly is probably not morris at all, as its roots lie in parodies of social dances, but modern molly borrows a lot of concepts and culture from modern morris, so I'm counting it in for now)

But why the name?

The Seven Champions, as I was to eventually discover, years later, are "The Seven Champions of Christendom" :
St George of England
St Dennis of France
St Patrick of Ireland
St Andrew of Scotland
St David of Wales
St James of Spain
St Anthony of Italy (or Portugal)

These characters have crept into a couple of folk traditions.  There have been occasional (but not many) versions of mumming plays that use them - see http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/78hu16sw.htm 

Also from Papa Stour in the Shetlands, a sword dance.
 This dance dates back at least as far as 1788, but has links with Northumbrian Sword dances.

It has to be said that Papa Stour is probably an outlier in many ways.  A small island with a small population, though it must have been familiar to Sir Walter Scott as he describes the dance in his novel 'The Pirate'.  It may even be that the mention in the novel is part of what helped the tradition to survive.

I'm sure I've come across a least one other reference to the Seven Champions in a folk context (they also appear in ballads), but I
 can't track down the reference I'm looking for.

The earliest known occurrence of these characters is in a novel by Richard Johnson in 1596, which was adapted as a stage play by John Kirke in 1638.  There was more than one edition of the book and various chapbooks covering parts of the novel or related stories.

It seems likely that the popularity of the book caused the characters to spread out into popular culture of the time and to become (albeit in a very small way) a part of the folk tradition.

However, it's also possible that both novel and tradition drew on other sources.

A more modern version of the novel (but still old enough to be out of copyright) is available at Project
 Gutenberg - The Seven Champions of Christendom.  It's been downloaded a mere sixteen times and one of those is me.

I'm reading it at the moment and it's actually quite fun.  It deserves a wider readership.

It's a romance in the original meaning.  All the characters are noble knights in the best Arthurian tradition.  (This novel isn't set in Arthur's court, but he'd have taken on any of the Seven Champions in an instant)  They can hew the heads of monsters with a single stroke of their swords.  They meet enchantresses, good fairies, save maidens from danger, travel to exotic cities with walls of silver and streets of tin.  They eat magical banquets with wondrous foods and seek adventure in the best fashion.

The descriptive text is colourful and as vivid as a computer game.

 read Mallory's 'Morte d'Arthur' and gave up half way through from boredom.  
'Seven Champions' is far more fun.  It has no historical accuracy whatever, plays fast and loose with geography (though a real place name does creep in on occasion when it sounds exotic enough - Saint George visits Timbuktu), and doesn't take itself too seriously.

If you want to read a fairy tale set in the days when men were real men, princesses were real princesses and small green things from Alpha Centuri were real small green things from Alpha Centauri (I may be lying about this last bit), then go and read Seven Champions.

(but remember that it was originally written over 400 years ago and will thus not always be politically correct)

watervole: (Default)
See Vera's journal for how they do it in the Czech Republic.  Here  and here.   Admire the 'maidens' working on making the wreath that hangs from the top.

Today, I'm setting up my maypole for a Poole arts event.  I'll see if I can get some photos, though it isn't nearly as good as the Czech one.

This is the first time I'll have used my new sound system, so I'm crossing my fingers for it all to go smoothly.  I'm also hoping to teach adults this time, so maybe I can do some of the more complicated dances.

watervole: (Default)
See this page - http://ezinearticles.com/?Greek-Carnivals&id=987977 - for a play that bears resonances with the typical English mumming play. Note the role of the doctor in reviving the loser in the fight.  The Moor might be a relative of the 'Turkish Knight' in many English plays.
watervole: (Morris dancing)
I've just been watching "Come clog dancing" which is a highly enjoyable programme about traditional English clog dancing  (it was originally a men's dance from mining areas) and also a dash of rapper sword by the Newcastle Kingsmen.  The Kingsmen demonstrate perfectly why rapper is unequalled as a pub dance and do spins at a speed that put our local rapper side to shame (though they have the advantage of being younger).

After watching this, you'll never again confuse North-West  morris (often danced in clogs) with clog dancing (which is a solo dance with totally different steps and history).  Highly recommended, and not just for old folkies like me.

watervole: (Morris dancing)
Here (thanks to Vera for giving me the correct Czech phrase to search with) is a Czech longsword dance.

Note the shape of the swords with the hole handle.  Also, can you see the rings attached to the swords.  This has a definite impact on the form of the dance. See how the dancers bounce the swords up and down on their shoulders to make the rings jangle.  I rather like this aspect. 

The stepping (on the evidence of this dance) is a more energetic single step than English longsword dancers use - it gives the dance an energy.

However, (and this is a sample of very few dances) I think the rings have another impact on the dance.  Looking at the swords, they appear thicker than the typical English longsword, hence less flexible.  But the key point about the rings is that, combined with the less flexible sword, they make it impossible to weave the swords together.  They can't form a nut.

What is a nut? (Or 'knot' if you prefer, or 'lock')

Watch this video below.  Right at the end, the men form a nut (the big star that they lift into the air).  Also, compare the style of stepping.  See the much smaller step of English Longsword, almost a slow running step - and the music reflects this.  English music for both longsword and rapper tends to be very even and monotonous (that's related to the nature of the figures which don't fall easily into multiples of four bars).

Then, look at the similarities.  Apart from stylistic differences in the way  the swords are moved through the figures, the first two figures are identical in the English and Czech dances.  Essentially, going under swords and going over swords, with each dancer repeating the move in turn.

Now, the other really fascinating comparison is the mock execution.  I suspect folklorists really have a field day with this one.  In the Czech version, the victim kneels down and is 'executed' with a headman's axe by each dancer in turn.  In the English version, the victim is placed in the centre of the nut and 'killed' as the swords are drawn out.

Is this some obscure pagan survival or simply the fact that a dance using swords logically leads the dancers to think that executing someone would be part of a good performance?

 I suspect the second is far more likely.  (There was a loose association historically between mumming plays and longsword dances with one of the characters in the play sometimes being 'killed' in this manner.)

The distribution of Longsword dances can be seen here - they're very much from the North East of England.

This last clip is Czech again.  It shows the rings on the swords in much better detail, but otherwise it's pretty much like the first clip.

The generic term for dances of this kind is 'linked sword dances'.

I may do a later post looking for examples in other European countries.

watervole: (Morris dancing)
Courtesy of vjezkova, a couple of photos of Czeech traditional performance dances.

The hats remind me a little of those worn by UK North West Morris dancers, though I've no idea what kind of dance is going to be performed here.  It won't be anything like North West, as the dancers aren't carrying short sticks or hankies.  One of them has a walking stick, but I can't tell if he's the only one carrying a stick.

In other ways, the costume reminds me more of what I'd expect from longsword dancers.

Note the guy on one side in full tatter costume on one side.  A little like old photos of English mummers.

There's a wonderful photo here - http://gal.dkhodonin.eu/fasank2010/slides/DSC_0206.html - which I'm unable to copy over.  Look at the wonderful costumes (especially the decoration style of the trousers), and also the unusual (to my eye) shape of the swords they're using.  I can see how the handle has been adapted for dancing.  The style of the dance (on the limited evidence of one photo) looks very like English longsword - which isn't totally surprising as any circular sword dance will naturally evolve pretty similar basic figures.  I wonder if the dancers also perform hankie dances, given that they've all got a pair of decorated hankies tucked into their belts.

watervole: (mummers)
Look what I got in the post yesterday from my friend Vjezkova!  Aren't they wonderful!

Vera shares my love of folk customs and season traditions.

These are gingerbread biscuits from the Czech Republic.  St Nicholas, Devil and Angel.

On December 5th, St Nicholas's day, people dress up in these costumes.  You can read more about it here.

watervole: (Morris dancers- watch out)
All my work getting Anonymous Morris plastered all over the internet has started to pay off. 

We've got two musicians for Anonymous Morris.  Kate and Corwen are interested in old instruments, folk traditions, mumming plays, morris and narrow boats!  Something tells me we're destined to be friends...

I'm really looking forward to meeting them.

They found us via the Dark Dorset website.

See Kate and Corwen's page on mast beasts.  If you're at all interested in any traditions involving horses or any other kind of morris/soulcake/skulls on poles, then you'll find this an interesting read.  I have this sudden urge for a hobby horse...  (not strictly speaking a mast beast, but a close relative that is sometimes found with the morris)

I've also got a battered second-hand snare drum via another morris dancer.  It's battered, but was also cheap.  I've bought some drumsticks for it (and signed one of the staff in the music shop as a possible dancer...) and got an old luggage strap to sling over the shoulder and carry it as a side drum.

I've arranged for some more morris sticks.  (We've got nine at present courtesy of Old Harry morris, which folded last year), but I've now tracked down the guy who cuts sticks for all the local Cotswold and Border sides.  Ideally, the sticks should have a year to dry out and season properly, but green sticks are better than no sticks, and they'll improve with time.  (You get a much better sound when seasoned sticks clash, and they're less likely to splinter)

I've paid the membership for a year for Open Morris (one of three morris organisations in the country, they work together on many issues).  This particularly important for insurance purposes as there's a standard morris insurance policy that covers you at dance outs and practise sessions.

I'm currently working on poster designs.  I'll need to get those all around Poole and local youth clubs, etc in a couple of weeks' time.

It's about as much work as running a convention! 

watervole: (Default)
See Vera's posting on Maypole Wars in the Czech Republic.

What she describes is very like the records of what used to happen with local village maypoles in Britain.

The reasons why we lost our maypole traditions are partly due to the puritans and partly due to other factors  - I'll try and write about it some day when I've more time and my fingers feel more flexible.   however, we do appear to have a unique tradition in ribbon maypole dancing, so we owe thanks to the Victorians for that.  Other traditions of dancing around maypoles are not the same as English maypole dancing.
watervole: (Default)
Vera has kindly reposted her maypole photos for me.

You'll instantly see the close similarity between the Czech Republic maypole and the German one I posted yesterday.

I'd love to see photos of other European maypole traditions.  [livejournal.com profile] cdybedahl says there will be Swedish ones in late June, which arouses my curiosity as to why the later date.  (and also as to what they will look like).

The English part of the Maypole entry on Wikipedia looks as though it is taken from Hutton's 'Stations of the Sun' and I'd regard it as accurate historically.

Hutton is a wonderfully detailed historian (no random speculation to suit his own theories, just a detailed record of everything to be found on the subject in old records) and his book is currently £7.14 including postage on Amazon...

watervole: (Default)
I'm fascinated by folk traditions of all kinds.  One of these is maypoles.  They were an old custom in both Britain and other European countries, but the way in which they survive (where they survive at all) varies.

This photo by [livejournal.com profile] selenak is from Osnabrück in Germany.

I might not have recognised it as a maypole, if [livejournal.com profile] vjezkova hadn't posted a picture last year or the year before  (which I can't now find on her LJ, so Vera, I'd love it if you'd post a link in the comments) while talking about her local customs.

Vera's photo was of a maypole with the branches left at the top, just like this one.  (you never see that on a modern English maypole, as they're kept in storage from one year to the next and never cut fresh).  However, I don't think hers had a hoop on it.  (I can see a possible link from suspended hoops of that kind to the English tradition of maypole dancing with ribbons - many modern maypoles have a top that freely rotates and has the long dancing ribbons hanging from it.) 

See here for my previous posting about maypoles.

watervole: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] grikmeer asked about the Ankh Morpork stick and bucket dance.

The closest I can find is a broom dance.  (Many broom dances have circling choruses which could easily be done going around a bucket.)

They tend to be competitive, with one person trying to copy or outdo another.  Which could be why members of the Ankh Morpork Folk Dance and Song Society regarded them as dangerous.  I can believe someone breaking a leg in a broom dance...

watervole: (Morris dancing)
This is unlikely to be of interest to anyone except those interested in North West morris dancing or English traditions.

I'm reading up on rush-bearing traditions at present. 

In the days of earth or stone church floors, they used to cover the floor in rushes for insulation and to provide a softer surface to kneel on.  Castles and houses likewise used rushes.  (You'll find plenty of references in Shakespeare to strewing fresh rushes for guests)

In areas like Lancashire, the annual renewal of the rushes became a big, festive event and processions would bring the rushcart to the church - accompanied by morris dancers and many others. 

Here's a bit more about the tradition.

This is Saddleworth rushcart - a recreated tradition, but the rush cart (going by a rather rare book that I own) is pretty accurate.  The cart can easily weight a couple of tons.  Note the ropes leading to a bar held by more men in front (I've seen pictures of carts with over a hundred men pulling them with long bars with ten or twenty men to each bar).  Now, look at the men behind, there's plenty of those too.  They're the brakes!  Very necessary if the cart has to go down a hill...

Also note the classical North West morris costume.  The hats decorated with flowers are typical of many Nothern sides (especially men's sides).  The knee britches are often seen as well.  Bells on the shoes go without saying (it's possible that it is the bells that gave morris its name, but more on that another day)  They're wearing clogs.  Not all traditional side would have worn clogs; normal shoes would actually have been more common.  Modern North West sides like clogs as they give a link to the past, they also emphasise the footwork and make a distinctive sound.

Bluffers guide to morris dancing. If a morris dancer is wearing clogs, then they're dancing North West morris (unless they're the Dorset Button rapper dancers who wear clogs becasue they double up as the band for the Dorset Buttons North West morris team).  However, absence of clogs does not prove that they are not North West dancers.

An interesting outlier in rush traditions (in that it's not in the north west and isn't connected to morris) is an annual rush day service that still takes place in Bristol every year at St Mary, Redcliffe.
watervole: (Morris dancing)
Continuing to read my morris history book, I'm also following up thoughts sparked by it on YouTube.

There are many references historically to a dance called a moreska (with several possible spellings), which is often synonymous with morris.

The moreska was often found as part of court pageant and could well have been part of a dramatic presentation that used dance to tell a story - usually the rescue of a maiden (as these were chivalric pageants that slowly took over from the more lethal tournaments).  Indeed, many early references to morris have a maiden before whom the dance is performed.

Out of curiosity, I looked up moresca on Wikipedia and found that there is still a moresca performed regularly on the island of Korčula, (part of Croatia).  It's a full performance lasting half an hour even in abbreviated form (the long version is 2 hours) and is essentially a drama, involving dance, about the rescue of a maiden.  (there may be a connection to the early 'Ring' morris which has dancers in a circle about a woman).

Even better, I then found some good quality footage of the dance on YouTube. (there are more entries on You Tube showing more of the dance, but the clip I have here gives a good overall impression)

Cotswold morris dancers will instantly relate to the double stick/sword work and some of the footwork.  Not bad after 500-600 years of divergence.

watervole: (Morris dancers- watch out)
I just had to enter a book manually into Library Thing, because nobody else had a copy! But you can all read it, becasue a kind soul in the past has scanned the entire book (which is out of copyright) for other morris historians to read.  It's the Esperance Morris Book part 1. The morris revival came about partly due to the existence of a London dress-making co-operative for poor girls.  Mary  Neal was the person who followed up on Cecil Sharp's recording of old dances.  It was the girls of the Esperance club who invited the last of the old dancers to come and teach them dances and then went out all over the country and taught the dancers to the modern revival sides that we know today. Sharp and Neal were to fall out in later years and Neal's contribution would be largely overlooked (even to the extent of Sharp ignoring cases of historical female dancers so that he could claim morris had never been intended for women) The book is a fascinating read, partly for insights into the attitudes of the period - there was a real longing for 'Merrie England' and partly becasue it's clear how much the dances meant to the girls who first learnt and then taught the dances.  There's also good descriptions of several Cotswold morris dances - and there are surprisingly few books available that give the steps of dances. The Singing Games are of some interest, not least because it's clear that children were as much in love with the gruesome back then, as they  are now. The book reminds me a little of fanzines - there's lots of letter of comment in the back.
watervole: (Xmas)
Christmas has many meanings to different people.

To me, it is primarily a time to be spent with family - a time set aside for a few days when work and more secular things are set aside.

But it is also (to me) a folk tradition, and in that light, it is also important to me. I'm not a Christian, but the Nativity story is an important one. All myths (I use the word 'myth' in the sense of 'traditional narrative story') survive because they carry meanings that are important to us. The Nativity is part of a story of love and peace and ultimately part of the story of God's love for mankind. It has folk elements, the shepherds, wise men, angels, etc. and those elements in turn spin off their own stories and songs.

It doesn't really matter that Jesus was probably born in the Autumn, or that Christmas was planted on top of earlier Midwinter Solstice festivals. In the end, all the celebrations are saying the same thing: "New life will return. There is hope for the future."

When I was young, I learnt all the traditional carols at church and at school. As I grew older and firmed up my non-religious view on life, I stopped singing them. Then, as the wheel of time turned, I realised that they were part of our heritage and I could enjoy them on that basis. I could take the message of love, hope, understanding and peace and sing that to my heart's content.

I try and have a relatively non-commercial Xmas. Our family tradition is to try not to spend large sums of money on presents. Second-hand items (like books) are perfectly fine, as is the occasional home-made gift. We ban TV on Christmas day and spend it with family, play games, do jigsaws, etc.

I'd love to have carols at home, but not all the family share my love of them.

Maybe I'll go out with the carol singers from the local church. I did that once before and they were very welcoming to the athiest in their midst. Music creates its own kind of harmony.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, perhaps the above will help explain why an athiest has chosen this particular Christmas card for you all. It felt right to me.
watervole: (concertina)
Mainly for my friend in the Appalachins - link to Cecil Sharp's diary, written while he was collecting folk songs and tunes in the Appalachians.
watervole: (Default)
I've just been re-reading Flowers Afloat, by Tony Lewery - a natural follow-up to our recent canal holiday.

The working canal people often lived on their boats - an entire family in a cabin smaller than my bathroom (6ft X 10 ft was the standard cabin size). The limited space was used as effectively as possible: beds turned into seats during the day or removed altogether; tables folded up to become cupboard doors, no toilet, washing facilities were a tin bowl that hung on the wall when not in use.

One result of this limited space was an explosion of decorative paintwork. The back of the table would be painted so that the picture was visible when the table was folder up. Seat boards, stools, water can, the back of the tin bowl, all would be decorated and probably more besides. On the outside of the boat, the tiller and rope blocks would be painted either with geometric patterns or with flowers. The boat's name would be painted in ornate letters and there would often be a painted picture beside the owner's name on the cabin side.

The vast majority of this art work would be either roses or castles.  (Hence the popularity of 'Rose and Castle' as a pub name near old canals - I found half a dozen on Google with no effort at all and there would probably be more if I looked harder.)

Other subjects were used, the sailor from the Players' cigarette adverts appears now and then, but roses and castles probably account for 90% of canal art.

The cabin doors (viewed from the inside) typically had a castle as the top image and a swag of roses in the panel underneath.

Here, you can see the external appearance of the stern of a motor-powered narrowboat - note the decorated water can which was kept on the roof and refilled with drinking water at suitable stops.

Below, you can see a pair of restored working boats.   Narrowboats were often worked in pairs, the second boat or 'butty' being towed by the first one and having no engine itself. The butty had a cabin, often even smaller than the one on the main boat and it was useful extra living space for some of the larger families.

The earliest narrowboats were horsedrawn, and some horsedrawn boats were still in use during the second world war, but they died out after that.

Note the ogee curve painted on the front of the butty. That was another popular motif, often on the outside of doorways, rather like an entrance arch. (See if you can spot one behind the open door on the picture above this one)

The restoration of these boats is not yet complete.  The name on the bow should be painted clearly, often with a diamond pattern next to the name. You can see the white undercoat already in place for the work to be done.

The size of narrowboats was determined by the locks on the British canal network.  At 70ft long and 7ft wide, the locks defined the boats that would fit into them.

One of the most striking things about traditional canal art is how little it varied. Many boatyards and many boatsmen painted, but all the results look remarkably similar.   While it is possible to see stylistic variations between different boatyards and sometimes between individual artists, you can look instantly at a picture and say 'That's a canal rose/castle'.

Working narrowboats were a relatively short culture, lasting only 200 years, but they provide one of the few extant forms of folk art in Britain.  (There was also a narrowboat tradition of decorative crochet work, which I may talk about some other time)

watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
While at Milton Abbas yesterday, I bought a small booklet on the Chalk Figures of Wessex.  I must admit that I was seduced into buying it by the writer having the same theory as myself, namely that the 'Frying pan' (a roughly rectangular earthwork encloure) just above the giant is named for Bealzebub's frying pan in mumming plays.

You can see the Trendle aka the Frying Pan clearly in this photo. (Trendle is an old word that means 'ring') and the hill is called Trendle Hill.

However, the writer also mentioned something else about the giant that  I hadn't previously come across.  Namely that he might have been carved by the Dorset Clubmen.  Who?, I hear you ask.

They were a third force in the English Civil War, almost totally forgotten now. They were bands of farmers who came together to try and stop both Royalist and Parliamentarian forces looting their way through the county.  There were a couple of thousand of them, mostly armed with clubs and pitchforks, and they were known to have mustered at Badbury Rings (a very impressive Dorset hill fort) before the battle of Hambledon Hill, but they left very little historical record.

The Trendle is not an impressive hill fort.  It was probably an old village enclosure or army encampment - I can't find enough information to gain a good idea. Can't even tell how high the earthworks are.  However, it does seem at least possible that the Clubmen might have gathered at the Trendle on some occasion.

I can just imagine a group of Clubmen waiting to be called to a fight (this is how the Fovant badges that I mentioned recently came to be carved) and also wanting to make a clear statement that they were willing to defend their land against all comers.  What better symbol for them to carve into the chalk than the god Hercules with his club? What better way to say "Fuck, Cromwell and the King" than to carve that giant erect phallus?

It also helps explain why no one remembers who carved the giant (in spite of him being carefully maintained...).   The Clubmen were defeated by Cromwell.  I can just imagine villagers saying to the writer of the 1751 guide: "Who carved it? No idea. Been here hundreds of years.  Why, they do say it be a image of the old abbot of the monastery who annoyed the villagers.  Then again, stories do tell of a giant who fell asleep and was killed by villagers on that very spot.  Or it might be the old god Helis (note similarity of name to Hercules - try saying 'Hercules' with a Dorset accent and you're not far off...), but definitely nothing to do with my great grandfather back in 1644."

In fact, it was probably 'forgotten' almost as soon as it was made (probably a very bad idea to be remembered as having fought against both sides in the Civil War) - except by those who cleaned it regularly.  If a chalk carving isn't scoured at least every 7 years, it will vanish totally.  Many chalk carvings have vanished because they weren't maintained.  There were clearly people who wanted that giant to remain - it meant something to them.

watervole: (Default)
Went with the Cloggies to Milton Abbas street fair today.  It's a very popular local event in a very picturesque village.  It's very well organised and pretty well every house in the village is involved one way or another.

This photo by Joe D shows the thatched cottages of the main street very well.

There's an interesting history as to why the village has such a pretty row of identical thatched cottages. Essentially, the old town of Middleton was in the way of Lord Milton's view where he wanted to landscape his grounds, so he paid an architecht to design a new village in a nearby valley and moved all the villagers into it when it was complete.  By the standards of 1780, they're pretty good buildings, so I don't think the villagers were that badly treated.  More details here

The street fair is on the front lawns of all the houses, and also involves the church, the almshouses and pretty well every square inch you can find.

Outside the old school, they had maypole dancing with the local children.

British maypole dancing is done with ribbons attached to the top of the maypole. Each child (It's almost always a children's dance) holds a ribbon, and the ribbons wind around the pole as they skip round. There are several basic patterns. The simplest one is a basic barber's pole, done by simply dancing round in a circle. Then you get a more complex weave - the children stand facing one another in pairs and then go round the pole passing alternate right and left shoulders.  The most complex one is a tent in which every other child stands still and holds their ribbon taut and the other children dance round each child in turn to make a tent-like pattern with the maypole as the tent pole.

Here's a fairly typical picture. The boys have done a candy stripe one way, and the girls are adding a second layer in the other direction.

This dance is a relatively recent tradition, dating back to the 18th century.

There are older traditions (nearly all lost) of dancing around a maypole, but these were a different kind of dance.

Vera, I want to link to your entry on Czech maypole customs, but you don't use many tags in your journal.  If you can find it, could you please put a link in the comments? I'd like people to be able to compare the different maypole customs.

watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
One of the more interesting British folk traditions (and one that is still actively taking place today) is that of carving horses and other figures into chalk hills.  Remove the turf (and keep cleaning the exposed chalk few years) and the white outline stands out sharply against the grass.  The oldest technique is to dig a trench and fill it with chalk - that gives the best - and longest lasting - results.

My icon is my local (ish) hill figure - the Cerne Abbas giant.  He's 17th Centuary and quite a few hill figures date to that kind of period. The oldest is the Uffiington White horse which may be up to 3000 years old.  (It's very difficult to date these things, so I don't know where that date comes from, but I'm guessing there's some evidence for it as most chalk horses are known to be more recent.  Ah, optically stimulated luminescence dating - bet you wish you'd never asked - finding the last exposure to daylight of chalk from the bottom of the trench.  The horse also appears on Iron Age coins.)

If you want a detailed look at lots of chalk figures, including military badges from during the war and ones constructed in the last decade, as well as the ones that are hundreds of years old then see this web site.

If you'd just like a quick view of the 10 best known chalk figures, then look here

And for those who just want a quick pretty picture, here's the Uffington chalk horse.

Incidentally, I'll give you good money that White Horse morris whom I mentioned a couple of days ago take their name from a chalk horse.  They come from Wiltshire and Wiltshire has not one, but several chalk horses.

Folk traditions are a complex web - if they exist in isolation, they tend to wither and die. When traditions interweave with one another, they gain strength.  Hobby horses and chalk horses have different origins, but where they meet up with yet another tradition - morris - they all gain from the association.

watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
Some morris sides are accompanied by hobby horses or other animals (I recall one giant bird, probably with Phoenix Morris).

A hobby horse in morris terms is not the child's broom stick with a head on one end, but a costume supported on the shoulders that allows the body of a horse to hang around the waist to give the illusion of a man riding on a horse.  There are a lot of variations on this original theme and many don't look much like horses at all. (the word 'hobby' originally meant 'small')

A friend just sent me this clip of White Horse Morris and you can see a hobby horse hovering in the foreground of some of the shots.  Note that with this particular horse, the focus is on the horse and not the rider - thus, the face of the operator is covered over - which makes sense given the name of the side.

(The dancers look a little tired, but they're dancing at the Solstice at Stonehenge, so they may have been up pretty early in the morning.)

Looking at this particular horse, especially its head, reminded me of my student days. In Norwich museum, they have several Snap Dragons.  Old Snap wasn't with a morris side, he was part of the mayoral procession for St George's day (and later St Margaret's day), but you can see the similarity even though Snap is designed to be worn higher on the body.  The page about the 'Snap Dragons' is very interesting and has some good photographs as well.

St George's day celebrations used to be very well-observed customs and many towns had a St George's Guild to raise money and organised the processions, etc.

English folk traditions are mobile and elements often move from one to another.  Hobby horses of various forms are just one example. 

The Minehead horse for example, might not even be recognised as such, unless you were familiar with the evolution of the species.  It looks a lot more like a boat.  Here, the horse is a processional animal, but with other local customs also attached.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Hobby Horses.

I love folk traditions. They're endlessly colourful, inventive, and involve people enjoying themselves.  What more could you wish for?


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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