Grenoside Sword Dancers

More History

It is known that, from at least the late late 19th century, the team undertook walking tours, some by request to perform at local grand houses for beer and sandwiches but other tours were for the enjoyment of the local people.

On many occasions a collection of money was taken. The story is told of a collection at Earl Fitzwilliam’s Christmas party at Wentworth which realised the astonishing sum of 25 pounds. It is said that a gleeful and unrepeatable expletive rent the air from one of the more pious members of the team!

The cash was never the sole reason to go dancing but it certainly helped. It must be remembered that Christmas was a difficult period for working men and women. In the Sheffield area the cutlery industry had an enforced lay-off at Christmas for two weeks of stock-taking. It was inevitable that Grenoside’s industries of nail-making and file-making would also be on “short time.” So any money to supplement the family income would be most welcome. To dance for the team at this time would be both a privilege and a benefit. 

In 1910, Cecil Sharp, the folk song and dance collector and the founder of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), came to Grenoside to collect the dance which was then published in his book “The Sword Dances of England.” The interlocking swords became the symbol of the EFDSS. In 1933 the EFDSS presented the Grenoside Sword Team with new swords which are used to this day. In 1951 the team was presented with a set of paisley jackets. These were to be worn for a presentation of the dance at the Albert Hall as part of the Festival of Britain. Even today the team is asked to perform the dance at prestigious events throughout England, has been part of a town-twinning event at the city of Bochum in Germany and has visited Italy as guests of Bal do Sabre, Bagnasco.

Other than during the two World Wars (when Grenosiders had other things to do!) the dance has been performed during the Christmas period and particularly on Boxing Day – a day close to the Winter Solstice. Boxing Day became the focal point of the Grenoside Sword Dancers’ year. On Boxing Day at 11:00 am you will see the sword team, resplendent in their bright costumes, come walking down Main Street led by the Captain. It is an important but not stiffly formal procession. The dancers seek out friends to wish a merry Christmas to as they march loudly in their clogs down the road. As with many traditions it takes place outside a public house, in this case The Old Harrow.

Boxing Day 2001. The low mid-day sun indicates 11am as the dancers march to their first spot outside
The Old Harrow.

The Captain sings a song of bravery and love and the dance proceeds with his symbolic beheading and death. The main part of the dance then starts and immediately the Captain revives and “rises from the dead” to lead the dancers in reviving the spirit of the New Year. The six dancers weave intricate patterns with their swords and equally complicated rhythms with their steel-shod clogs. The dance reaches its climax as the fiddler increases the tempo of the dance whilst the dancers perform a rolling figure. The dancers finally form a tight circle and perform a fervent tattoo on the floor before raising their swords, pointing upwards to the sky and, one hopes, a mid-winter sun.

Boxing Day 2007. With the new jackets on view, the Captain sings his song in front of a large audience.

Each year a large audience of locals and visitors from far afield come to witness the dance and celebrate the renewal of friendships and a new year.  After the dancing is done you may be lucky enough to hear traditional Grenoside carols being sung in a local pub. You may ask, “what are traditional Grenoside carols?”  Well that will have to wait for another time or better still get yourself up to Grenoside on Boxing day and become part of the tradition.