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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Greatham Sword Dance, County Durham

The interwoven nature of some of our folk customs is clearly seen in the Greatham Sword Dance and Mummers Play performed on Boxing Day at Greatham near Hartlepool . A tradition of longsword dancing and its twin rapper-dancing persists in Yorkshire , Northumberland and Durham , notably in the Handsworth team that performs on Boxing Day in Sheffield ; Mummers Plays can be found around the country, for example the Midgley Pace Egg Play; but the Greatham event is the only one today that combines the two. As with the Handsworth team, the Greatham performance (actually danced by the Redcar Sword Dancers) features pseudo-military uniforms; and a couple of the players have blackened faces, reminiscent of the Bacup Coco-Nutters.
Records of the event date it back to at least the first quarter of the 19th century, but it is almost certainly far older. In 1953 a schoolboy team danced at Greatham, then it ended until 1967, the successful revival of that year being repeated every Boxing Day since.
The dance is interwoven with a comic tale of a clown beheaded for insulting the king, the former brought back to life by a quack doctor; but it is done with great humour and no little style, so that even the most folk-allergic will have to laugh.
There is another similarity to draw out: after the show has ended, it is traditional to repair to the pub, in this case the Hope and Anchor , a selfless duty faithfully observed by many others keen on preserving our folk customs.

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