The Lymm Dance

The Notes of Geoff Bibby

When Maud Karpeles came up to Lymm from London in 1938, with the specific intention of collecting information on the Lymm dance, she knew only that three dancers were alive from the surviving troup of 1900: Charles Simpson, Abraham Wilson and Robert Downwood (sic). 
(See extract from the 1951 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society).

She was not made aware of the revival of the old dance in the 1920's in Statham!

Robert Downward's daughter, Mrs Massey, said that she would never forget the Monday morning when a "gentleman and a lady" (Maud Karpeles) pulled up outside the house in a large car. She answered the door, drying her hands from working in the kitchen, and they had asked for her father by name, saying that they had come all the way from London to see him! They asked her old dad (he was 75) to dance and play the old dance for them, which had obviously amused her greatly at the time, they took out and set up a music stand, and made notes on the dance and the tune.

Before they left they gave Mr. Downward two pound notes! John Robert Downward died in 1947 aged 84years.

Most of the dancers had been "fustian" cutters, fustian being white velvet which was cut into ribbons and sent to be dyed in Manchester on packet steamers on the Manchester Ship Canal. Jack Wilkinson, who was the musician for the troup and played a melodeon that belonged to "Bob" Downward, ran a fustian cutting shop employing about twelve cutters.

Louie (Louisa) Booth of Barsbank Lane, the daughter of Mr. Higgins who was the leader of the Lymm Morris Dancers in the early 1900's, had been taught the dance by her father, and had deposited a page of notes on it at Warrington Library. The notes are no longer to be found at the library and I obtained a copy from Dan Howison (view notes). I visited Louie at her home at 24, Booth's Hill House and she still had her fathers old dancing clothes including a very large pair of bloomers which had a union flag stitched on where it would show when his dress was lifted saucily.

Louie had some stories of Ned Rowles and his wife Emma, who she said was a "bugger". Ned lived in one of some wooden houses, known locally as "the huts" that were built along the railway line in Statham, on what is now allotment land, and he would give Louie and her friends vegetables from his allotment and when Emma found out she would make them give the vegetables back, and choke Ned off. When Emma went shopping in Warrington, she would walk along the railway line to Lymm Station to catch the train. On the return journey she would throw her shopping from the train as it passed her home, and one of her sons would be there to pick it up, thus saving her a long walk with heavy bags. She would then walk back along the line.

Nan Wadsworth made the decorative flowers for the dancers hats.

Known dancers of the Lymm Morris Troup 1900 - 1912:

John Wilkinson (musician), Hugh Martin, Abraham Wilson, Tom Holt (one time leader), Jack Wilson, Ned Holt, John Robert Downward (one time leader), James Holt, Charles Simpson, Mr. Higgins (one time leader), Tom Bell, Ned Rowles (one time leader).

The Morris Dancers had in fact continued to dance until 1912 and the last leader, Ned Rowles had taught the dance to young boys in Statham who had performed it regularly in the 1920's.

There was a rumour (particularly among the lads he had taught to dance at Statham) that Ned had a glass eye, but Louie Booth had no recollection of this. It would not surprise me if Ned had started that idea himself!

Ned Rowles (then of 31, Oldfield Road) died on 23rd October 1948, aged 73.

Ned's son Dick Rowles supplied me with a photograph of the Statham Morris Dancers of 1923 for me to copy and he named all the dancers for me. Dick subsequently lost the original photograph, and I was able to get him another print from the negative!

George Finney of Adey Road who danced with the Statham boys team for a number of years and seemed to have a good memory of the dance, said that the double cast figure was Ned's invention, and he remembers that if the lads got the timing wrong, Ned would threaten to leave them at it and go to the pub. George also said that Ned's bloomers were bright blue!

Jack Gilbert(s) was a dancer with the Statham Lads in the late 1920's and he mentioned that George Owen and Joe Bradburn were also in the troup.

Jack said that Ned Rowles was renowned in the Lymm area as an expert angler and was a dab-hand at operating dancing dolls - the kind that tap their legs on a reverberating plank. He said that Ned whose name was Edward had 3 sons Dick, Sid and Ernie and 2 daughters. He was married (the second time around) to Jack's auntie.

The Lymm Dance as taught by Ned Rowles is documented here.

Jack noticed that on one meeting with him when I was taking notes on the Mumming Play, I spelt his name with a final "s". He said that he had always spelt his name without the s, and that he always thought of himself as a Gilbert, but when he needed to produce his birth certificate for his job at Appleton Prison, he discovered that his name did have an s!

Jack had been the originator of a revival of the Lymm Soulcaking Play put together by Mr. Clark the Pepper Street School headmaster in 1930.

Jack's granddad John Bate used to act in the play and the headmaster had heard Jack reciting some lines from it. The Play was revived and performed by the Pepper St. School pupils. Jack was given a choice of part, and chose St. George.

Previous : Contents : Next

Text © 2002 Geoff Bibby
Site maintained by Andrew White, Thelwall Morris Men