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SOME STILL HERE & SOME LONG GONE

The following articles appeared in an ongoing series in the LSD magazine starting in February 2005. They were written by Tony Piears and appear here by his kind permission. The articles are interesting both for the memories they invoke and for the light they throw on the state of square dancing during the time span covered by them.

Tony's thanks for help are given at the end of each individual article. Additionally, Tony has asked us to record his special thanks to his wife for her support, for deciphering his hand writing and for typing all the articles. 

For those readers who would like a hard copy, each article is available as a PDF download. Click the appropriate link. You will need Adobe Reader if it isn't already installed on your PC. It is a free download available by using the link in the grey header at the top of this page.

 
CONTENTS
(left clicking each title will take you directly to that article)

Bradford SDC 
Leicester Gaytimers, now Charnwood Squares
Circle & Swing
Foot N Fiddle
Lazy River
Newton 8 SDC
Waggoners (formerly Waggoners '50)
Wheelers & Dealers SDC of Stoke Mandeville
Whirlaways
Woodberry Down SDC

 

Bradford SDC                                                                        

Way back in 1949, Stan Sinfield gathered some information from the English Folk Song and Dance Society, and with a few friends from work (one of whom later became his wife), members of his own family and a few others, he formed a group where he started to teach and call. This group later became the Bradford Square and Social Club, and joined the BAASDC in 1954.

In its early days, the club struggled, and despite many beginners' courses, they seemed unable to increase their membership. In those days of course, there were no motorways, and with the majority of clubs situated in the Midlands and the South, it was not easy for other clubs to lend their support. Stan kept Bradford in the public eye, teaching square dancing at evening classes, and among other activities, the club also included cycling and rambling. On Midsummer Day 1954, a coach trip was made to the nearby village of Eshalt. Over 30 members made the trip, and joined in Midsummer Night revels in aid of a local church. Square dancing was held under floodlights on the green, and dancers danced to the music of Rex Squires and his square dance band. Stan Sinfield was in good calling voice, ably assisted by a young caller, Alan Tipper. Despite the fact that it was Midsummer Night, the dance was held in heavy drizzle. Nothing, however, could dampen the enthusiasm of the dancers, and with a barbeque provided by members of the U.S.A.A.F. a thoroughly enjoyable evening was had by all.

In 1954, music at the club was provided by a record player. On July 6th, a section of the Bradford Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra paid the club a visit. One of the highlights of a very interesting evening was the very fine medley of tunes played to accompany the Virginia Reel. Following the success of the evening, efforts were made to arrange live music as often as possible. In August, Stan paid a visit to the London clubs including the opening night of the Whirlaways, and stated that he was impressed with the friendly reception that he received. With membership increasing rapidly, there were fears that their current hall would not be large enough to cope when the new season started, but in the event the hall proved adequate. The club then received a massive boost when well-known American caller and editor of American Squares Magazine, Ricky Holden, accepted the residency of the club. With the club having new blood on its committee and the winter programme well mapped out, the immediate future looked very promising.

Throughout the fifties, Bradford SDC quickly established itself as one of the north's most prominent clubs. The election to the residency of the well known American caller and editor of American Squares Magazine, Ricky Holden, had been a tremendous boost. As the club entered the sixties the future did indeed look bright. In addition to square dancing the club also had a very active social side. There were trips to Blackpool to see the lights. These trips were enormously popular and always very well supported. The rambling section of the club organised a trip to Bolton Abbey and rounded off a very pleasant day by dancing squares by the riverside. As there was no actual music, dancers danced to vocal music.

The club had a demonstration team which travelled widely, presenting squares to the public and advertising their own club. Together with Newton 8 SDC, Bradford claimed that their club was truly representative of Northern clubs. Club caller, Stan Sinfield, made every effort to ensure that the dancers were not presented with dances above their heads. He insisted that beginners must always be catered for.

Both caller and committee always tried to have the club represented at major events. One idea put forward by the club at one time was the forming of a callers' club in the Bradford area. It was felt that active callers could help newer callers in the area to become more proficient. The club itself had its own callers' class every Friday night at 8 pm and I understand that this was very successful in encouraging people to take up the art of calling.

I believe other clubs have used similar systems. One club I know for sure, was Woodberry Down. Jimmy Morris ran callers' classes, which produced a number of successful callers. Perhaps this system is still used today? Stan Sinfield himself was a self taught caller, and a very successful one. In 1954 he became involved with the Bob Oliver Organisation, which he believes would have been a great benefit to square dancing in this country, but we shall never know.

Bradford SDC has long since closed its doors. During its lifetime there is no doubt that it was one of the most successful of northern clubs. Stan, now in his eighties, lives in retirement in Bradford. No doubt, in moments of reflection, he recalls the heady days when the club hall rang with music and laughter, and Bradford SDC was in its heyday.

Tony Piears  (April/May 2008)

 

 

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Leicester Gaytimers, now Charnwood Squares               

I will probably be taken to task for saying this, but Leicester Gaytimers actually had their origins in London. Len Janka, founder and original caller for the club, had, for a number of years, been co-caller with Jimmy Morris at Woodberry Down S.D.C. In November 1955, Len broke away and formed his own club, Kilburn Gaytimers. In March 1956, Len inexplicably left London for Leicester. On September 29th, a new club opened its doors, with Len as caller. Although there have been some doubts it now seems certain that the new club was Leicester Gaytimers.

The opening night at the church hall of St John the Divine was well attended and at the graduation night ten weeks later, sixty people received their bachelor of square dancing diplomas. The club later moved to the adult school at Churchgate, and increased its membership dramatically. Former club caller and now club president, Dave Woolerton, writing in the October 1981 magazine, stated that the club was happy and successful, with ages ranging from 16-60. At least 15 couples met at the club and eventually married. Dave also states that on at least one occasion, two double-decker buses were needed to take dancers to a Saturday night dance.

In 1959, advanced dancing sessions were introduced. Besides being a very fine caller, Len Janka was a brilliant dancer and choreographer. In June 1959, the club's demonstration team won the all England competition with a great display of dancing. The competition was sponsored by Derby City Council, who retained the cup that they presented. Up to 1981, the competition had never been held again, which, as Dave Woolerton pointed out at the time, meant that the club were still the champions. Perhaps that is still the case? Over to you, Dave.

Len Janka, was without doubt, one of this country's greatest callers, and was the driving force behind Leicester Gaytimers. It was, therefore, a great blow when, in late 1960, Len's work took him away from Leicester at very short notice; almost a rerun of Len's sudden and inexplicable departure from Kilburn Gaytimers. As a result, six of the more senior members of the club formed a committee, and, using their own funds, purchased from Len a large quantity of records and a set of PA equipment. They also drew up byelaws that turned Gaytimers into a true club.

With no experienced caller in Leicester at that time, the club enlisted the services of a Nottingham caller, Ralph Meakin. As Ralph was a very good caller and teacher, the club were very pleased to have obtained his services. Unfortunately, Ralph's fee was dictated by the cost of his train fare from Nottingham, and was an expense the club could not afford for long. Another leading caller, Jim Lees, offered to conduct a callers' course for club members. This was accepted and Ralph's services reluctantly dispensed with. Unfortunately, the course failed to produce a regular caller, although some of the students continued to teach.

Dancing to called records became the norm for the next eleven years. In the early seventies, the club was fortunate to obtain the services of two of the country's leading callers, Dave Clay and Harry Preston. Dave and Harry alternated with each other on a once a month basis. It wasn't until June 1972, when Dave Smith agreed to call for the club fortnightly, that a regular caller was found. Unfortunately his studies prevented Dave from calling for the club after June 1974. Once again, however, the club was fortunate in obtaining the services of a very well known national caller, Bill Pead.

Bill had been calling since the mid fifties. During the sixties, he was co-caller with well known national caller, Arthur Broomfield, at Circle 8, Brixton. Bill and his wife, Sue, settled in Leicester in the seventies.

Another very well known caller that the club had calling for them was the late Johnny Maunders. Johnny was one of the finest young callers in the country in the fifties and sixties. His untimely death at the age of 41 was a sad loss.

It had been hoped at one time that Johnny would become a regular caller, but unfortunately, his work frequently took him away from Leicester.

The Gaytimers had something of a nomadic beginning from the opening night at St John the Divine Church hall, to a picture house, which was also a cinema and restaurant, to the YWCA (perhaps it was the smell of fish and chips from the restaurant that caused that move). There followed a further five moves before the club finally settled. I was always under the impression that club chairman, Dave Woolerton had called for the club on a regular basis, but Dave informs me that is not the case. I have to say that I find that very surprising. I remember dancing to Dave's calling way back in the sixties. He struck me as being a very good and competent caller.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, Leicester continued to flourish. There were numerous functions (far too many to list). These included skittles evenings, one night stands and hoedowns for outside organisations, and the oasis weekends 1977-1979. The Leicester and Leisure exhibition was a great shop window for them, and provided the biggest number of beginners.

In 1981, the club celebrated 25 very successful years with a highly successful dance. Gwen Manning and Dave Clay were the callers for this event. It was a great and memorable evening, and one that brought to an end an era, for on that evening, Leicester Gaytimers became Charnwood Squares.

The reason for the change of name was quite straightforward. Years ago the term "gay" simply meant happy go lucky, fun loving and carefree. No doubt that was what Len Janka had in mind when he opened both Kilburn and Leicester Gaytimers. Today, as we all know, the term "gay" has a totally different meaning. It was with this in mind that the club decided that a change of name was both advisable and desirable. I hasten to add that there was no question of discrimination, just simply to avoid any misunderstanding as to the club's activities.

As Leicester Gaytimers, the club had enjoyed 25 successful years. The question at the time, was would the club, as Charnwood Squares, enjoy the same measure of success. Looking back over those 25 years, the answer has to be a resounding yes. During its long history, the club had quite a long list of callers. Many of these have already been named. Dale Chapman continued as club caller until 1988. Exactly why Dale left the club is not certain. A very popular caller, it is believed that he gave up square dancing altogether. He was succeeded by another popular caller, Robert Bird. Robert continued as caller until September 1989. Again, it is uncertain why Robert left, but he was apparently a pub landlord, and probably needed to devote more time to his business. During the mid eighties, the club had a twinning arrangement with a European club called the Charming Pioneers from Norderstedt. The two clubs visited each other in alternate years. This very successful arrangement continued until at least 1990, proving once again, without doubt, that square dancing is friendship set to music.

In late 1989, Charnwood Squares secured the services of Derek Bere, better known as Dirk the Shirt. Dirk became the regular caller, but this did present a problem. He was not available on the normal club night of Tuesday evening. On the evening he was available, Wednesday, the club's existing hall was not. This necessitated both a change of evening to Wednesday and a change of hall. The hall that the club moved to was Glen Pava Barracks, interestingly enough, a young offenders' prison.

The nineties was a period of great activity for the club, including very good social activities, barbeques, boat trips etc. 1994 saw a significant influx of new members and things were looking very promising until Derek Bere resigned early in 1995.  The club was able to carry on with guest callers and dancing to tapes. However, it was felt that the situation required a regular caller and the club advertised accordingly. American caller, Walt Burr, was hired. At that time Walt was trying to make a living as a paid caller following his discharge from the US Air force. Unfortunately, Walt's fee was dictated by the distance he had to travel and it was something that the club could not endure for long so reluctantly, Walt's service was dispensed with.

Two local callers, Pete Durber and John Warren, took over the calling chores on alternate weeks. Dave Woolerton was also asked but he decided that he would only call if one or the other was unavailable. This arrangement stands to this day. By 1998 the club was experiencing severe financial difficulties and it was feared that it would have to close. A temporary solution was found where both callers agreed· to halve their fees. Within a year, however, the club's hall was closed and the club' future hung in the balance. A new venue was found but proved to be very unpopular with club members.

In 2000 a new hall was found and is still in use today. Dave Woolerton states that the hall is probably one of the best in the country with a beautifully sprung floor but is, however, very expensive. The club was only able to meet the expense by meeting once a fortnight and the callers again halving their fees.

For two years the club's future was uncertain. Closure was prevented by the determined efforts of a few individuals and also the reintroduction of round dancing by Jean Preston. The club's membership was further boosted by the closure of Stockade Swingers and Dancing Knights.

Since 2005 the club's finances have been just in the black but unfortunately the improvement in numbers has been eroded by age related losses. Dave Woolerton states that the outlook is much brighter than a few years ago. Like so many other clubs however, the future depends on the club's ability to recruit new members.  This is a problem that has been present for many years. Even back in the fifties and sixties we were always searching for ways to attract new dancers.

Dancers are the lifeblood of the movement. The club, through many trials and tribulations, has existed for fifty years; its first 25 years as Leicester Gaytimers, its 2nd 25 years as Charnwood Squares. I have no doubt that in 2031 Charnwood Squares will still be around to celebrate 75 highly successful years.

Tony Piears  (Nov 2006 - Jan 2007)

PS The history of Charnwood Squares is proving an awkward one to write and I must thank Roger Walker for the potted history that he sent me. My main source of information however, has been David Woolerton. I owe a great deal of thanks to Dave for the trouble he has taken in compiling the club's history for me. Thanks Dave. I may write the articles, but the credit is all yours.

 

 

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Circle & Swing                                                                       

Thursday, April 14th 1955, was a night that the residents of Walthamstow will have remembered for many a long day, for this night marked the opening of Circle and Swing SDC. Although the opening night had been advertised well in advance, the 2 club's three callers, Pete Sansom, Ray Freeman and Pat Mcquaid had catered for a maximum of sixty people. To their great surprise 120 people arrived. The boys had to dash out and buy whatever they could to cater for the extra 60 people. It was hectic and it was fun. Certainly a very memorable start to one of our greatest clubs. Oh, I almost forgot, I think square dancing featured somewhere during the evening. From its hectic beginnings, the club has hardly looked back, going from strength to strength.

The club's first major event occurred on the 10th December 1955, at the Caledonian Road Baths. Pete, Pat and Ray put on what was billed as their first attempt at putting on a dance and as a first attempt it was a huge success. Clubs from all over the country attended and many of the top line callers of the day made this a night to be remembered.

A week later a coach load of Circle and Swing club members attended Margate's Blue Star Club's Christmas party. This was another great night in this club's history. Unfortunately, it was slightly marred when, on the way home, and almost into London, Pat Mcquaid suddenly leapt up and counted heads. It was then realised that two club members had been left behind, and, as we heard later, had hitch hiked all the way home.

Former Association President, Jack Smith, once described Pete, Pat and Ray as the energy boys. They certainly produced some supercharged ideas. One of these was the double dance held at Queen Alexandra House, Kensington, on Saturday, May 5th 1956. To this end the boys hired two different halls in the same building, with Eric Bowles and his Hoedown Music supplying the music in one hall, and Stan Symmonds and the Foot and Fiddle Band playing in the other. There was certainly no shortage of callers on hand to keep the evening moving with a swing in both halls, and with the dancers keeping up a shuttle service between the two halls, the atmosphere was electric. It was a novel idea, and one that proved a great success. Circle and Swing's success story was only just beginning, but already the first of many changes was in the air. Ray Freeman married and was called into the RAF for National Service and in 1956 was sent to Cyprus. He never returned to square dancing which was a great pity. Ray was a very good caller with a very likeable personality and I personally believe he would have been one if the greats. Unfortunately we shall never know.

By 1957 the club was down to just one caller. Due to heavy demands on his time, the need to train callers to take over his first club, Foot 'n' Fiddle, his forthcoming marriage to his fiancée, June, and his planned departure for the USA, Pete Sansom handed over the reins at Circle & Swing, to Pat McQuaid. Pete, however, continued to be very active on the British square dance scene, and was heavily involved in the winter square dance festival in December 1957.

1957 was a very busy year for Circle & Swing. There were a number of events in which the club was involved, including the birthday round-up at the Caledonian Road baths and the club's second birthday dance at the William Morris Hall, both of which were huge successes. Throughout the year, however, the main focus was on the winter square dance festival. This event, which had television coverage, was the greatest event in which the club had been involved.

From all over England, they came to the Grange Farm, Chigwell in Essex, to dance to the music of the Foot 'n' Fiddle Band, and a whole host of callers, both British and American. Former PRO, Mike Arnold, recalls that Pat McQuaid was paid £10O by ITV for the weekend, a very tidy sum at the time. The cycle of change continued with the departure of Pat McQuaid to Canada, in March 1958. The new man to take the helm was, at the time, one of the greatest callers, Pete Wiggins. Circle & Swing club members were able to say farewell to Pat at the Association dance held at the Drill Hall, Albany Street in March 1958. Also leaving to return to the USA was another very popular caller of the day, Lucky Beason.

Pete Wiggins remained with Circle & Swing until May 1959, when Pat McQuaid returned to take control. Making his mark as a club member and very promising caller within the club at that time was a young man who was later to become one of the country's leading callers, Pete Skiffins.

Just after Christmas 1959, I was very surprised to receive a phone call from Pat McQuaid, asking me if, together with Jimmy Buckley from Southern Star, I would call at Circle & Swing's New Year's Eve dance. Pat, it seemed, had other pressing engagements (I think her name was Jill). I readily agreed and was quite pleased to be part of taking Circle & Swing from the fifties into the sixties. Like Pete Sansom two years earlier, Pat was finding that calling for Circle & Swing was making heavy demands on his time. In 1960 together with another well known caller of the day, Colin Walton, Pat opened Country Jumpers S.D.C. There was also his forthcoming wedding to his fiancée, Jill, and preparations for his return to Canada in 1961. Thus throughout 1960, Pete Skiffins was groomed to take over when Pat finally stepped down.

The summer of 1960 proved a very busy one for Circle & Swing. In June, there was a 'Save The Magazine' dance which raised £10. While that may seem a paltry sum now, in 1960, £10 probably equalled £ 100 today.

There were two outings to the coast, Margate and Bognor. I would like to quote from the October 1960 magazine which reported those events. "A good time was had by all, except perhaps for our caller, Pat McQuaid, who was seen running around the beach, clad only in a bath towel as protection against the sun. (Yes, we did see it)".  Exactly what they saw is not clarified. I think we'll leave it there.

In 1961 the wind of change again blew through Circle & Swing. In February Pat and Jill married and in October they left for Canada. Pat, I hear, has now left square dancing. In April 1961 Pete Skiffins took over as caller, a post he held very successfully for 4 years. Pete, as we all know, went on to become one of the country's leading callers and is still very active today.

Throughout its long history the club has been fortunate indeed to have had the services of some of the country's greatest callers, from the initial trio of Pete Sansom, Ray Freeman and Pat McQuaid, to Pete Wiggins and Pete Skiffins.

In 1965 Pete handed over to Alan Coombes, another very popular and very capable caller. Under Alan's leadership, Circle & Swing celebrated their 10th birthday, which was held on 24th April, l965. The dance was very well attended. Alan Coombes and Pete Nugent shared the calling, and although he was not officially on the calling programme, Pete Skiffins was persuaded to share the calling. The dance was a great success, and a fitting end to a highly successful decade.

Under Alan's very capable leadership the club continued to flourish. In 1969 Alan retired for business reasons and Pete Skiffins returned to take over as caller. In the June, Circle & Swing dancers, along with other clubs, were able to welcome their former caller, Pat McQuaid, when Pat called at Wandsworth town hall on June 7th that year. The seesaw calling relationship between Pete Skiffins and Alan Coombes continued, when, in May 1970, Alan again returned as club caller. This 2nd highly successful spell lasted until February 1973, when Alan handed over to Norman Brodie. Norman's spell as caller was very short lived, eleven months.

Taking over a club as big as Circle & Swing was a major challenge, and popular callers like Pete Skiffins and Alan Coombs were hard acts to follow. Perhaps it was hardly surprising that, for a while, club attendance fell, but I understand that Norman rose to the challenge and that by the time he handed over to Ron Hepden in March 1974 the club was thriving.

On April 12th 1975 Circle & Swing celebrated what was billed as their 21st birthday dance, but was in fact, only their 20th. The dance, held at Leyton Town Hall, was a great success. Julia was the caller, and the price of 45p was a bargain. It was a great and memorable evening.

Ron Hepden, a very popular caller, had a very successful run at Circle & Swing, with the club continuing to thrive and enjoy immense popularity. In 1979, Ron handed over to yet another caller, Colin Carter. I feel sure that somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, but in the history of square dance clubs in this country, I don't think there has been any other club that has seen as many callers as Circle & Swing, although there was a spell in 1979 when the club had no regular caller. Three more callers, Philip, Trevor and Bridget, took over the calling chores. In 1980 Phillip stood down and Trevor and Bridget were joined by Terry Chapman, a caller of great renown, who became the club's only caller in 1981. Under his leadership Circle & Swing continued to flourish.

The history of Circle & Swing spans fifty years. It would, of course, be impracticable to attempt to present the whole of that history and inevitably some has to be glossed over. In 1984/5 Eddie James heard that Circle & Swing was without Terry Chapman. He was invited to call on odd occasions and was so successful that he was invited to stay on permanently, and under his very capable leadership, Circle & Swing have celebrated three very important milestones, their 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays.

In 1994, Circle & Swing mistakenly held what they believed to be their 40th anniversary dance. I very clumsily put my foot in my mouth by writing to the magazine and pointing out that is was only their 39th. It would have been understandable if Eddie had given me a rocket for not pointing it out privately. Instead he very kindly invited me to the actual 40th dance in April 1995. I was very pleased to accept and was even invited to cut the cake. It was a great evening. Paul Bristow, who was caller in chief for the evening, quipped that Circle & Swing had a 40th birthday last year and a 40th birthday this, so who will do the calling at next year's 40th.

At a later date, while on a visit to the States, Eddie met up with Pete Sansom. He extended an invitation to Pete to call at Circle & Swing, if he ever visited England. Pete was very pleased to accept and duly kept the date on 30th August 2000. It was a great and nostalgic evening with many former Circle & Swing club members turning out to dance to their former caller. Pete and Eddie together gave us a truly memorable evening.

From the original calling trio of Pete, Pat and Ray, to the present caller, Eddie James, Circle & Swing have been fortunate indeed to have had the services of some of the country's greatest callers. Eddie was recently featured in Hall of Fame, and is, without doubt, one of the finest callers on the square dance scene today.

From that first frantic and very enjoyable night of April 14th 1955, Circle & Swing has risen to become one of the country's greatest clubs, 50 glorious years.

Tony Piears (Sep 2005 - Feb 2006)

 

 

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Foot N Fiddle                                                                         

When Pete Sansom opened Foot N Fiddle on 22nd February 1954 he little realised that he was creating an institution that would last 43 years. Square dancing in the Southall area was nothing new. Southall Squares, under Charlie Hurkitt, had operated there since 1949. With Pete at the helm, the new club gained instant popularity. For the club to be complete however, it needed a band. On May 10th 1954 the Foot N Fiddle band under Stan Symmons exploded onto the square dance scene. The Southall community centre was packed that Monday evening. In addition to Pete, there was a whole host of guest callers and the atmosphere was electric. It was a great and memorable evening.

Throughout the summer of 1954 the club continued to prosper. There was another very successful dance on 13th September and the club finished the year on a very high note with a fabulous Christmas party.

1955 saw the club making great strides. Numbers increased and there was one very large bonus: international caller, Cal Golden, who was stationed in England with the USAF, lived in close proximity to Southall. Cal enjoyed enormous popularity and he and his wife were regular visitors to Foot N Fiddle.

Through the middle years of the fifties Foot N Fiddle continued to enjoy enormous success. Pete Sansom was one of the country's most popular young callers and with the Foot N Fiddle band now well and truly established, Monday club nights were often as popular as some of the Saturday night jamborees.

Many of the most popular callers of the day, Jimmy Morris, Jack Unwin, Wally Spratt etc. were regular visitors. By 1957 however, change was in the air. Pete Sansom, already involved with Circle & Swing and the plans for the 1957 winter festival, was also planning his wedding and making preparations for his planned departure to the States. It was time to groom his successor, or, in this case, successors. The successors were to become three of the country's most popular callers — Robin Rumble, John Smith and Tim Fitter.

In 1956 Foot N Fiddle changed their club night from Monday to Wednesday and a beginners' course dramatically increased the numbers.

1957 was a very successful year for Foot N Fiddle. In addition to a number of successful dances, the club won first prize at a carnival. The Foot N Fiddle band, by now recognized as one of the top square dance bands in the country, also enjoyed a highly successful year. In addition to club nights, they provided the music for the 'Welcome to Bob Osgood Dance', and the Circle & Swing's winter square dance festival.

1958 was a memorable year for Foot N Fiddle. On Saturday, June 7th, a dance was held at the Albany Street Drill Hall, with Pete calling to the Foot N Fiddle band. Without doubt however, the highlight was the wedding of Pete to his fiancée, June Griffin. Although it involved the club, this was, of course, far more than just a club celebration. It was the square dance wedding of the year, and was a great and memorable occasion. It also brought to an end an era, as the next day, June and Pete left for the States, where they live to this day. Foot N Fiddle was under new management.

With the departure of Pete and June Sansom to the USA in September 1958 Foot N Fiddle was now in the very capable hands of Robin Rumble, John Smith and Tim Fitter.

The long hot summer of 1959 was a very busy one for Foot N Fiddle, as demonstration teams were much in demand. In the Southall carnival that year the club won 2nd prize in their class. 1959 was also a busy year for Foot N Fiddle's three callers. Tim Fitter ran a club at Wraysbury near Staines, while John Smith and Robin Rumble were on the calling programme at both the Labour Day Round Up at Wiesbaden in September and also at the Paris Round Up in November.

Into the sixties and the club continued to thrive. Robin Rumble ran a beginners' club on Tuesdays, from which dancers graduated to the main club on Wednesdays, and the Foot N Fiddle band continued to be in great demand.

In the summer of 1961 the band, together with Robin Rumble and two squares of dancers, went to the Teddington branch of the Cheshire Homes Organisation. The dancers gave a demonstration and such was the enthusiasm of the watchers, that when Robin asked for volunteers, all those that were able crowded on to the floor. The evening was so successful that when the cars arrived to take the people home nobody wanted to leave. The organiser agreed to an extension, but, inevitably, of course, the evening ended and another event in this c1ub's history came to a highly successful conclusion.

Square dancing, by its very nature, is one of the greatest marriage and friendship bureaus. Over the years hundreds of couples have met and married through the medium of square dancing. Foot N Fiddle can certainly claim its fair share. In March 1962 the late Bernie Goold and his fiancée Judy married. This was in fact, a club romance, as Bernie, one of the founder members of Foot N Fiddle, met Judy at the club.

Throughout the sixties, Foot N Fiddle continued to thrive. In 1964, the club celebrated its 10th birthday. The first decade had been momentous. From its early beginnings in the back room of a Southall club, Foot N Fiddle had risen to become one of the country's top clubs. Without doubt, the first ten years had been ten very eventful years. The club's future was bright.

The 2nd decade saw the club continue to go from strength to strength. As is always the case in this ever changing world, Foot N Fiddle experienced change. Tim Fitter left the club, and after a while faded into complete obscurity. The club's other two callers, John Smith and Robin Rumble, also became involved with other clubs, Robin with Bushey Hoedowners and Lucky Cloverleaf, and John with 6T8. Foot n Fiddle however, was still very much in their capable hands, and throughout the seventies the club flourished.

The seventies opened on a very high note for the club, with the wedding, on 25th April 1970, of Anne Round and Robin Rumble. There was a pre—wedding dance at Acton Town Hall on April 4th 1970. The dance was by open invitation, and something like 500 plus dancers turned out to wish this very popular couple every happiness in their married life. It was a great and memorable evening in the club's history. Another very interesting evening occurred in May 1971, when the club attended a square dance on ice. While I understand that there were some budding Torvill and Deans, it was more a case of hands, knees and bumps a daisy. Nonetheless, great fun.

The history of Foot N Fiddle spans a great number of years, 43 to be precise. As with Circle & Swing, 1 must inevitably skip over a large part. From 1971, we jump forward four years. In 1975, Pete Sansom and his lovely wife and daughter visited England.  A dance was laid on at Vyners School, Ickenham.  Pete, as always, in great form, kept the dancers on their toes with a top class display of calling. 1979 was a year of great significance for Foot N Fiddle, for it marked the 25th anniversary of this great club. The anniversary in May 1979 was marked by a highly successful dance, and the club could look back on 25 highly successful years. Moving into the eighties, the club continued to flourish. The club's two callers, Robin Rumble and John Smith were at their peak, enjoying immense popularity. There were a number of successful functions in 1980, one of which was a coach trip to Littlehampton. A raffle was held on the coach and also a competition to guess the exact time of arrival. Littlehampton sports a funfair, which proved very popular. There was a picnic on a windswept beach, and of course, a square dance to round off a very successful day.

With a quarter of a century behind them and the eighties off to a flying start, the club's future continued to look bright.

Throughout the eighties, Foot N Fiddle continued to flourish. By the mid eighties, however, the ever blowing wind of change was again making itself felt. John Smith's work was taking him to the West Country with more and more frequency. Eventually, John and Hilda decided to move to Dorset, where they still live to this day. This left the club in the very capable hands of Robin Rumble. Unfortunately, Robin himself was experiencing health problems. As the club moved into the nineties, game as he was to continue, he was forced to retire. The club continued with a new caller, Ian Morgan, and also, Dereck Crisp.

By the mid nineties, unfortunately, this great club was in decline. I am reliably informed that, at times, they struggled to get a set. A far cry from the great days of the fifties and sixties and even beyond. After much debate, it was finally decided to close the club. The final night was on Wednesday, March 26th, 1997. Instead of an ordinary club night, a party was held. Although those who attended had a great night, it was a sad end to a truly great club.

In its heyday Foot N Fiddle was one of the country's greatest clubs. Ably supported by Stan Symmonds and the Foot n Fiddle band, many great callers came to the club to give the dancers many memorable and enjoyable evenings. In addition to BAASDC callers, many famous international callers visited. Cal Golden, Mildred Buhler, B.P. Merritt, Lucky Beason, Major Moose Holland etc. and of course, the Foot n Fiddle callers themselves. In addition to Ian Morgan and Dereck Crisp, who called for the club in its final years, there was, of course, the club's founder Pete Sansom and that indomitable trio, Robin Rumble, John Smith and Tim Fitter.

It is always sad to see a great club close its doors in finality, but if one thinks about it, that's life. A club is born, it has its heyday and dies, but the memories last forever. 

Tony Piears (Mar - Jun 2006)

I would like to thank Ken Miller and his sister, Jean Carrington and also Robin Rumble and Judy Goold for their help which enabled me to put this final article together.

 

 

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Lazy River                                                                              

In 1997, Lazy River square dance club celebrated their 50th birthday. At the same time, they also celebrated 50 years of square dancing in the Southwick-Shoreham area.

The Southwick Community Centre, founded in 1945, hosted a number of events, one of which was barn dancing. Taking a very keen interest in the barn dancing was a young boy who was later to become caller for Southwick square dance club and, at a still later date, caller for Lazy River which the Southwick club became.

On Whit bank holiday Monday in 1955 John Chatfield held what was billed as his first public dance. It was at this dance that John met up with a young man who was also to make a name for himself as a caller, Gordon Brooks. Like most young men in those days John had to do his national service. On leaving the air force in 1958, he ran monthly dances at the Red Triangle in Southwick. Gordon Brooks was a regular guest caller. John later made contact with BAASDC after meeting with Tommy Cavanagh and Viv Canon. Following this meeting the newly formed Southwick club became a member of the Association in the early sixties with John as caller.

It was in the summer of 1962 that I first met Gordon Brooks at a callers club meeting. I moved to Brighton in October 1962 at which time, Gordon ran a club at the RNA building on Brighton seafront. Gordon very kindly invited me to guest call there on a fairly regular basis.

In 1965 John Chatfield, due to work commitments, was unable to continue as caller, so Gordon Brooks took over. That same year the club moved to Shoreham, where it is located to this day. It was at this time that a change of name was decided upon. With the club now located at Shoreham it seemed inappropriate to retain the name of Southwick Square Dance Club.  Club member, Janet Ferrigno, produced a very interesting booklet at the time of the club's golden jubilee celebrations. In it she states that her young son (3 years old in 1965) always accompanied his parents to dances and demonstrations. A popular call of the day was set to the tune of Up a Lazy River. The little lad asked his parents "Are we going up a lazy river?" and the name stuck. As the river runs through Shoreham it was decided that it was a very apt name so Lazy River it became.

Although 1 had visited the Southwick club on a number of occasions, l didn't actually visit the Shoreham club until very late in 1965. Present club secretary, Jim Shrimpton and I worked together at the time and it was Jim that persuaded me to visit Shoreham. I became a member on 1st January, 1966, and retained membership for almost 4 years. One of the first major events held by the club was the Seaside Swing Thru, held in collaboration with Rocking 8s of Hillingdon. The event, held at St Mary's Hall, Shoreham, on Saturday, June 18th, l966, was a huge success.

Christmas 1966 saw the club celebrate in style with an event described as an arresting evening at Brighton Police HQ. Club members gave a demonstration and quickly had everybody joining in. In addition to this the club held their own highly successful Christmas Party.

1967 was another highly successful year as the club continued to go from strength to strength. The annual Seaside Swing Thru was held in June, with Al Green as guest caller. Unfortunately the club suffered a major setback in 1967 when Gordon Brooks resigned as club caller, although he was often around to help out Lazy River continued to dance to called records and reel to reel tapes. The Seaside Swing Thru had, by now, become an annual event and in 1968, Robin Rumble was invited to call the event. At that time Robin was at the height of his career and the dance was a huge success.

The club continued without a regular caller until January 1969, when I was invited to take over the reins. I was more than happy to accept, and continued as caller for a year, until other commitments forced my resignation. 1969 was a busy and successful year for the club. In March they held their annual dinner and dance and in the same month attended the Association dance at Wandsworth.

The annual Seaside Swing Thru held on June 14th, l969 had originally been planned with Tommy Cavanagh doing the calling. In the event Tommy was unable to accept and Ron Vizard was hired, with Gordon Brooks and myself giving support. The evening was a great success.

Sunday, August 10th saw the club take a river trip to Beaulieu. On Saturday, October 4th I performed my last dance as club caller. My forthcoming wedding and the fact that we were moving away from the area necessitated my resignation as club caller. Following my resignation Lazy River drifted loosely for a while, dancing to (called) records and tapes. In March 1970, Gordon Brooks returned as club caller, calling on alternate weeks. The club, at this time, was experiencing difficulties as membership had slumped to 23.

In 1971 it was decided to move to another hall in Shoreham, and to meet only once a month. On July 29th, l972, Gordon Brooks achieved a record, calling a mixture of patter and singing calls non stop for 100 minutes. It was a marathon effort and £156 was raised for leukaemia research. Gordon was mentioned on the local Brighton radio station and also on Radio 2.

By 1973 Gordon was much in demand as a barn dance caller, and called frequently at Butlin Holiday Camps. This necessitated his resignation as club caller. The club carried on dancing to (called) records.

In 1976 Keith Lovegrove joined Lazy River and became club caller for a while. The club also moved to Shoreham Community Centre where they remain to this day. In 1980 former Southern Star members, Rose and Ted Rogers, retired to Sussex. They joined Lazy River and Ted became caller. In 1983 Rose and Ted were joined in retirement by two other former Southern Star members, Queenie and Jack Higgins, who also became club members and Jack was also invited to call.

The eighties were an up and down time for Lazy River. At its lowest ebb membership slumped to 8 members. In 1983 Janet and Terry Bartlett joined the club and they took over the running of the club in 1987. In the mid-eighties, Eileen and Robert Hurst joined Lazy River. Robert later became and remains the club caller to this day.

In the mid-eighties the club's revival received a great boost by the return of a number of former club members, including Janet and Ray Ferigno, and Janice and Jim Shrimpton. They returned to the club after meeting up at a charity dance, organised by Gordon Brooks's first wife, Brenda. At the time Brenda was very ill with cancer. The dance was organised to raise funds for St Barnabas Hospice, where Brenda was being cared for. The event raised £l,200. Sadly, Brenda died shortly afterwards.

Lazy River received a boost in the mid eighties, by the formation of Worthing Squares, who gave their support on club nights, and at Saturday dances. During its long history, the club has had a number of callers at the helm. One very popular young caller who started his career there was Les Lansley, who later became caller for Sunny Allemanders at Broadbridge Heath in Sussex.

As with all clubs with a very long history, it is not possible to write the history in full. Much of it has to be glossed over.

On 11th October, Lazy River SDC had two celebrations in one. First and foremost was the club's 50th birthday celebrations and secondly it was a celebration of 50 years of square dancing in the Southwick, Shoreham area.

The day in question was, unfortunately, very wet but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 275 dancers that attended. The afternoon session of dancing was opened by Neil Whiston and Lazy River caller, Robert Hurst. Dancing was in two halls, and dancers had the choice of Al, plus, mainstream, and rounds, which were cued by Ron Yard and Eileen Hurst. Other guest callers included Keith Lovegrove, John Killeby, Haydn Hammond and Sally Osborne. The event was covered by the local press and television. The day was broken up with a buffet dinner at 5.30 pm during which everybody was presented with a commemorative bone china mug. The mug was inscribed with a Lazy River Golden Jubilee emblem.

The evening session of dancing commenced at 7.30 pm. The evening went with a swing, the highlight of which was the introduction of Lazy River's original two callers, John Chatfield and Gordon Brooks. Dancers were taken back to the fifties, with the calls of Red Wing and one of the most popular of all fifties dances, I Wanna Say Hello. This great and memorable evening was brought to an end with Neil Whiston and Robert Hurst calling the last tip.

Veronica and I had received an invitation, and unfortunately it was not possible for us to attend, but we were certainly there in spirit. It was a great disappointment to have to miss such an important event of a club that had played an important role in our lives. Although we were absent the club very kindly sent us a mug, which has pride of place among our square dance souvenirs.

During its long history Lazy River has been fortunate in having had a long line of very capable callers, some of whom are sadly no longer with us. In the current caller, Robert Hurst, they have one of the finest young callers in the country. Robert is, I understand, researching the history of square dancing. I have no doubt that when it is completed, it will make for very interesting reading.

This year marks this great club's 60th anniversary, and I have no doubt that will continue to flourish for many years to come.

Tony Piears (Feb - Apr 2007)

My thanks to club secretary, Jim Shrimpton, for the help he has given me in producing these articles. In particular, I would like to thank club member Janet Ferringo. Janet produced a very informative booklet, giving a potted history of Lazy River. Besides my own personal memories, and with Janet's permission, I have used her booklet as a very useful source of information in writing these articles on Lazy River. Thanks Janet.

 

 

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Newton 8 SDC                                                                        

Opened by Jim Lees in 1952, by 1955, Newton 8 had grown to become one of the country's leading clubs. 1955 was that rarity, the long hot summer. Newton 8 took full advantage of the weather, taking square dancing into the parks and various open air venues. Their stated intention was that they were not giving shows, but holding dances. It proved to be a very effective way of gaining new club members.

Throughout 1955 the club continued to thrive, with both Jim Lees and Alan Sheriffs becoming two of the most popular callers and leaders in the country.

The club's Christmas party that year was delayed until January 1956, the reason being that Jim and other club members had been laid low with flu. The party, when it came, proved well worth the wait. Fun and games were the order of the day with musical chairs (or should that be musical squares) and club members acting out nursery rhymes. Jim Lees, ably supported by Alan Sherriffs, Huw Sprig and other guest callers, gave the dancers a great evening's dancing with the accent very definitely on fun.

In May 1956 the club celebrated its fourth birthday. Just over 100 dancers turned out for what proved to be a highly successful evening. A lady by the name of Mrs Faulconbridge of Wollaton (who was said to follow dancers round the city) was invited to cut the beautiful birthday cake, and small gifts were made to the original Newton 8 members present.

Jim Lees introduced an American caller, dressed as Davy Crockett, and the group danced the Davy Crockett round dance. Summing up things during the evening, Jim Lees stated that square dancing in Nottingham was rapidly gaining ground. His two open clubs were rapidly reaching saturation point, and only time prevented him from opening a third.

Today, I understand that square dancing is badly in need of new dancers. Dancers, it has always been said, are the lifeblood of the movement. In 1956, the cry was for callers. Writing in Club News in 1956, Jim Lees stated "The cry is callers, callers, callers. We have the dancers, we have scores of interested folk, just waiting to dance." How times change.

Throughout the fifties, Newton 8 was one of the country's leading clubs and its caller, Jim Lees, was one of the most proficient and popular callers. As we entered the sixties there seemed little to suggest this would change. One of the main events of 1960 occurred on Saturday, February 13th. Relations between London and Nottingham were unfortunately at a very low level at that time. Despite this, there was no lack of London support for this dance, and certainly no lack of warm feeling in the way Jim Lees and the Nottingham dancers received us. One of the highlights of this memorable evening was the introduction of the 'Sheriff of Nottingham' and his lady. It was also stated that Robin Hood sent his compliments but regretted that he was unable to attend on this occasion. We left the dance hoping that this heralded an era of better relations between London and Nottingham. Unfortunately such was not the case, and relations remained strained for some considerable time to come.

As many people may remember, one of the features of the sixties was the presentation of the friendship barrel to the club considered to be the most deserving of this honour. At the Newton 8 dance on Saturday April 24th,1965 the barrel was awarded to the Lucky 13 club of Nottingham for having brought with them 29 people. The featured caller at this dance was Al Green, then resident in London. Al was supported by Steve and Eleonor Mathias from the Leicester Gaytimers. Jim Lees called for the first time since February, due to convalescence following an operation. One surprise item during the evening was a 15 minute appearance by Dave Ford and his folk music group. Dave had played in Newton 8's own trio about 3 years previously.

On July 26th 1965, 2 coach loads of dancers from all five Nottingham clubs left for an afternoon at Skegness, followed by an evening dance at the church hall, Winthorpe. Squares were called by Jim Lees and Ron Vizard with our old friend Alan Sherriffs presenting the rounds. Jim Lees retired in the summer of 1966, handing over the reins to a man who was to become another great and very popular caller, Ron Vizard. Ron was very ably assisted by another hugely popular figure (then and now), Alan Sherriffs. The club continued to be known as Newton 8 for a further year until it changed its name to Rainbow Squares.

With the retirement of Jim Lees, there is no doubt that both the Association and Nottingham had lost one of their great driving forces. It was my pleasure and privilege to present Jim in the Hall of Fame series in Let's Square Dance. Sadly Jim died on November 17th 2001, but he left behind a great legacy. One of the great pioneers, his name will ever be linked with Newton 8 SDC.

Tony Piears (Feb - Mar 2008)

Footnote: My thanks to Alan Sherriffs for help and information which has assisted me greatly in producing this article.

 

 

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Waggoners (formerly Waggoners '50)                              

Opening on Guy Fawkes Night, 1974, Waggoners '50 took its name from the pub that was the venue, and the entry programme that was then referred to as the basic 50 programme. It was formed by Pete and Beryl Skiffins, Eric Curtis and his late wife, Freda. The idea was to enrol only people from outside the square dance movement, and also to introduce Eric to the art of calling.

In November 1980, the club was handed over to a committee to run, and in 1984, the mainstream programme was adopted, and numbers gradually increased. This was helped by an annual beginners' course, which was held in a room adjacent to the main club hall with Eric doing the calling.

Over the years the club introduced social events such as dinners and coach outings. They also introduced dances that were suitable for friends who were not square dancers. This contributed to a very good atmosphere. A Saturday night birthday dance with a mainstream programme, held at Panshanger FC hall in 1982, became an annual feature, and then, a spring dance at basic programme level was added to the club's calendar.

A satellite club, the Oblongs, was formed at Coverack by Margaret Parks and her late husband, David. They retired to Cornwall in 1993. Visits to the club in the autumn have been rewarded by a return visit by the Oblongs in the summer. The club states that they have welcomed dancers from all over the world. They have danced with people who have physical disabilities and use wheelchairs, and also people with learning disabilities. They have even danced in a swimming pool and jacuzzi.

In 1995, the club celebrated its 21st birthday with a very special dance at Panshanger FC hall. Two beginners from the club, Simon and Trudy, became apprentice callers, and went on to form their own club, the Activ 8'S. As an experiment, the club approached a couple of local clubs with the idea of holding a joint dance using club callers, rather than featuring a Saturday night caller. Activ 8'S and Badger Sets agreed to join with Waggoners, the callers being Trudy, Simon, Irene, Alan and Eric, and it was decided to donate the profits from the sales of the tickets to Harefield Hospital. Doubts about how the idea would be received by the dancers were dispelled when ticket sales exceeded 100. It was a great evening, with many experienced dancers commenting that it had been many years since they had enjoyed such a friendly atmosphere. There were numerous requests for a repeat performance, which prompted Eric to ask "Have we found a magic formula?" It would seem that the answer to that, Eric, is yes.

In 2006, Pete Skiffins made the decision to give up calling. Pete has been one of the country's top callers for many years. I remember him at the start of his career as a very young caller at Larry Sherman's Wagon Wheel Club, way back in 1957. I asked to be allowed to feature him in Hall of Fame, but Pete declined. That was his prerogative of course, but I always felt that it was a great pity, as he would have made an excellent subject. With the retirement of Pete, club members, Simon and Trudy, who had formed the Activ 8'S, were invited to take his place as club callers, while Eric continued to call for the club beginners.

Waggoners celebrate their 33rd birthday this year. I believe that like most clubs today, they have their problems. Hopefully, they will survive for many years to come. Certainly, a warm welcome awaits all who wish to visit or join the club. As secretary, Pat Macdonald once wrote in the magazine "Being a member of Waggoners is fun all the year round, not just on a Monday evening".

Tony Piears (Oct 2007)

 

 

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Wheelers & Dealers SDC of Stoke Mandeville                    

It was on Monday, September 20th, l982, that Alan Covacic and his wife, Terry, founded Wheelers and Dealers S.D.C. The venue was the archery unit at Stoke Mandeville spinal unit. Club nights consisted of student classes for new dancers, with occasional tips for wheelchair patients from the hospital. Some bedridden patients were wheeled from their wards to the archery unit, so that they too could enjoy the dancing. Alan states that because of the active involvement of the club with the spinal unit and the patients who were in wheelchairs, the name Wheelers and Dealers SDC of Stoke Mandeville was decided upon. The club badge was designed to reflect this involvement

The wheel represents the spinal unit and its use of wheelchairs. The playing cards represent the helping hand of square dancers, and the handshake indicates the close relationship between them. Although the club no longer has any direct links with the hospital, the badge serves as a reminder as to how and why the club was founded.

For several years, the club enjoyed a steady period of growth, and a new student class was started every year with varying degrees of success, and club membership also rose year by year. After two years at the hospital, the club decided it was time to move on, and they met at various venues in the Aylesbury area. For a while, they also had two club nights, one for regular club dancers, and the other for new members. Eventually, the club moved to the memorial hall at Wendover, where they are to this day.

The club was also active in other areas. Marathon dances, carnival floats, demos, coach trips to Europe and other activities. All of the things, as Alan says, that 'successful clubs do'. Unfortunately, it was the very success of the club that also caused problems. Alan found that he ran into a problem that has haunted square dancing for decades, that of keeping beginners and more advanced dancers happy. Back in the fifties, when square dancing was in its infancy, an inexperienced dancer could go to a club and join in the dancing. As the movements became more intricate, this became more and more of a problem. Alan states that imbalance was also a problem, there being too many ladies on their own. These various problems resulted in a fall in numbers, and with less people and no new members, club nights became a drag.

At the end of 2001, it was decided to suspend club nights indefinitely, but fortunately, the loyal members of the club refused to let the club die. They decided to continue the successful Sunday afternoon tea dances on a regular basis, and this proved very successful and became a way of life for the club.

In late 2005, Alan felt that the time was right for another attempt to recruit new members, and the club started a Tuesday evening student class. This proved to be a great success. Eleven dancers graduated in October 2006, with a further eight already enrolled in a new class.

With membership increasing and providing plenty of enthusiasm, Alan states that the club is buzzing again, and this time hopes are high that it will continue to be successful for many years. I visited Alan's club about five years ago, and found it to be a very enjoyable evening. He struck me as being a very pleasant person, and a brilliant caller.

I believe that Alan's great work with the spinal unit of Stoke Mandeville hospital is deserving of the highest commendation. His time there brought a great deal of enjoyment and purpose to the lives of the patients and staff at the hospital. The club is now planning for and looking forward to a European style special, to celebrate their 25th birthday in September 2007. As Alan says "Wheelers and Dealers are back."

Tony Piears (May 2007)

 

 

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Whirlaways SDC                                                                      

It was on the 27th August, 1954, that Whirlaways opened its doors at Bernays Institute, Stanmore Broadway. Wally Spratt was one of the most popular callers of his day, with claim to teaching squares as far back as 1945. He already had a thriving club at the Kodak building in Harrow, The KRS.

The opening night had been well publicised, resulting in a full house. Music for the evening was provided by a very popular band of the day, Laurie Clarke's Square Four. Guest of Honour was Mildred Buhler, who declared the club well and truly open. Mildred soon had everybody on the floor, promenading into sets. She kept everybody on their toes, with a very lively session of calling. Accompanying Mildred was a young caller from Dublin, Declan Kennedy, and he gave us a very lively rendition of Hot Time.

As was the style in the fifties, there were a large number of guest callers for Wally to call on. They included many of the popular callers of the day, Jimmy Morris, Jack Unwin, Eddie Hall, Jack Smith, Len Janka, Viv Canon, Pete Sansom, Tony Piears, and of course, the grand old man of square dancing himself, Wally Spratt.

It was a great start to a club that was to become one of the country's leading clubs. Because of its location, many people referred to the club as Stanmore Whirlaways. This annoyed Wally intensely, as he always insisted that it was just Whirlaways. The club's second major event occurred on New Year's Eve, 1954. It was a bright and very cold evening for the last night of the old year, and the hall was packed to capacity. Music for the evening was provided by Laurie Clarke's Square Four. A party atmosphere prevailed and Wally himself was in great voice, and of course, he had good support from all the callers present, Jack Unwin, Eddy Hill, Rod Ditchburn, Tony Piears, and a popular club member, making his calling debut, Alan Ward.

The evening ended with everybody joining hands for Auld Lang Syne. There followed one final call from Eddy Hill, who claimed that he was calling the first dance of 1955. One wonders how many other callers throughout the country were making that same claim.

By 1955, the Whirlaways, though still less than 6 months old, had risen to become one of the country's leading clubs. In February, the club changed its venue from Stanmore to Harrow. This further emphasised Wally's insistence that the club should be known simply as Whirlaways, without any prefix. The opening night at the new hall was well attended. With Len Benedick on accordion, supplying the music, and a large number of guest callers; a great evening was had by all. In March, they celebrated with a Saturday dance. Guest of Honour was Tommy Cavanagh, with music supplied by Len Benedick on accordion. With a whole host of guest callers for Wally to call on, the dance was a great success.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a certain amount of rivalry would develop between the club and Jimmy Morris's Woodberry Down. At first, the rivalry was friendly, but unfortunately, the two callers had a falling out, and the rivalry became a deep rift. On the Whitsun weekend at the end of May, both clubs held a dance on the Saturday. If that sort of thing happened today, it would probably prove disastrous for one club or the other. Such was the happy state of square dancing in 1955 that both clubs reported a sell out. As I was present at the Woodberry Down Jamboree, I can certainly verify the fact that 20 sets danced to the calling of Jimmy Morris and other top line callers.

Whirlaways also reported a very large crowd, with all tickets being sold five weeks beforehand. This, Wally Spratt claimed, was a record for this country. Dancing was to the music of Tommy Cavanagh's Western Music. Guest of Honour was Mildred Buhler. In addition to Wally, dancers danced to the calling of Mildred Buhler, Tommy Cavanagh, Nell Webb, Jack Smith, and Alan Ward. Back in 1955, summer was not generally regarded as a closed season. It is true to say that a few clubs did close their doors for the summer, but the majority remained open. Whirlaways was one such club. While they enjoyed a successful summer, they were busy planning for their first birthday dance to be held in September.

Whirlaways opened their doors and celebrated their first birthday on September 10th, 1955. All tickets were sold well in advance. Mildred Buhler, who had declared the club open the previous year, was again guest of honour, and music for the occasion was provided by Tommy Cavanagh's western music.

It was Mildred who opened the evening, with a very lively rendition in her own inimitable style. As was the case in the fifties, there were a large number of guest callers present, all of whom obliged with a call. It was a very memorable evening, and a fitting way for the club to mark its first year.

Throughout the fifties, the club continued to flourish and retained its position as one of the country's leading clubs. This was due to the popularity of caller, Wally Spratt and his hard—working wife, Cora. In addition to his work with the club, Wally was, in turn, secretary and president of the B.A.A.S.D.C. Also, together with another very popular caller of the day, Jack Smith, Wally was responsible for the organisation of those fabulous Treetop weekends that we all enjoyed from 1955 to 1959. Incidentally, how many former Treetoppers out there know that the owners of Treetops holiday camp were appropriately named Mr & Mrs Plant?

Throughout 1956, the club was involved in a number of activities, including visits to the American air base at Newbury, and the Circle Eight club.

Wally, a very outspoken character, was no stranger to controversy. His long running feud with Jimmy Morris's Woodberry Down lasted until Jimmy announced that he and his wife, Beryl, were leaving for the States.

In November, 1959, Wally was involved in further controversy. A round up was held in Paris, and a large group of British dancers and callers attended. These included top name callers of the day, Colin Walton, Robin Rumble, Jon Vear, John Smith, and Len Janka. On the same day, the Lariat square dance club, run by a well known caller of the day, Max Stern, held a dance. The dance was sparsely attended, and Wally, who was involved with the dance, blamed the round up. At a later meeting of the Association, Wally demanded that, in future, home dances should be supported ahead of foreign dances. Needless to say, the motion was defeated on the grounds that people have to be free to make their own choices. There was a threat for a while that Wally would take Whirlaways out of the Association. I was always good friends with Wally, but, as one who attended the Paris round up, I had to agree with the Association. After a great deal of arguing and persuasion, Jon Vear and I managed to persuade him to keep the club in the Association

It was in the summer of 1961 that Wally Spratt announced that, although he still intended to be involved with square dancing, he was giving up calling. On 10th June, 1961, Whirlaways held its final major dance. The Labour Hall was packed to capacity, and music for the evening was provided by Len Benedick and his electric accordion. With Wally in great voice, and a whole host of guest callers to call upon, it was a very memorable evening, and a fitting ending to a great club. Wally continued in square dancing as a dancer and in an advisory capacity until his death in the early eighties. Although he was involved with other clubs, it is for this one club that he will ever be remembered — the Whirlaways.

Tony Piears (Nov 2007 - Jan 2008)

 

 

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Woodberry Down SDC                                                           

There have been and still are many great Association clubs. To my mind, however, (and I mean no disrespect to any other clubs) in the fifties, one club stood out like a beacon. Almost an association within itself, that club was Jimmy Morris's Woodberry Down, yet the club had modest enough beginnings. Jimmy Morris was initially a ballroom dancer. In 1951, he attended classes run by Bob Franks, a well known caller of the day. He was studying to take an exam to become a member of the Imperial Society of Dance.  One day, after one of the lessons, Bob Franks invited Jimmy to stay behind and attend a square dance class that he was teaching. Jimmy agreed and was immediately hooked. He found square dancing much easier than ballroom dancing and much more fun and relaxing. Always a go-getter, Jimmy quickly realised that it was the calling and teaching side that appealed to him. He wanted to start calling but Bob Franks objected. Jimmy decided that the only way to go was to start his own class. He hired a hall on the Woodberry Down Estate at Manor House, and a great club was born. The club remained at Manor House for about two years.

In 1953, Jimmy moved to the Earl Haig Hall at Hornsey, but the name Woodberry Down was retained. At that time, Jimmy Morris worked in a men's tailors in Oxford Street, together with another man who was to become a very good caller, Len Janka. At that stage Len wasn't interested in calling. He danced in Jimmy's demonstration team and took money on the door.

I first visited Woodberry Down at the end of 1953, and became a member in January 1954 when the club was renewing all memberships. I was the seventh person to join and I still have my membership card from that time with the unique number of 007 (not however a licence to kill). In those early days the world and his wife went to Woodberry Down. Sunday evenings were more like major dances. Many of the popular callers of the day attended. Tommy Cavanagh, Jack Unwin, Jack Smith, Pete Sansom, Canada's calling personality, Gerry Dulay and Wally Spratt, to name a few. In those days it was the custom to ask guest callers to call. The Woodberry Down demonstration team toured far and wide presenting Californian style square dancing to the public. Jimmy was a hard task master. He insisted that the square be kept small and that the girls should use their skirts when dancing. Sunday evenings at Woodberry Down were always great fun. One thing Jimmy disliked however was horsing around in the square. I once felt the sharp end of his tongue for twirling a girl during a promenade.

Club caller and leader Jimmy Morris, Association founder, and its first ever president, took Woodberry Down to such heights that he was known throughout the square dance world as Mr Woodberry Down. During its long reign, Woodberry Down staged many great events. One of the greatest was the glittering square dance cavalcade held at the drill hall, Albany Street, on Saturday February 27th 1954. The drill hall was the venue for many of the greatest events of the fifties, and seldom had it seen a greater night. Over 600 dancers packed the hall to dance to the Woodberry Down band and an impressive array of callers, Jimmy Morris, Jack Unwin, Wally Spratt, Pete Sansom, Jack Smith etc. Calling on the programme that night was the Isle of Wight's yodelling caller, Bob Guy. At the end of the evening Bob issued an open invitation to attend the Isle of Wight Jamboree, which was held in June that year.

In addition to major events Woodberry Down also staged many smaller events. Probably the most hilarious of these occurred on the evening of Friday, May 2lst 1954. Accepting an invitation to be the guests of the US Airforce at their base at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, a coach load of Woodberry Downers left London around 6 pm. We were told that we would reach Brize Norton at around 8 pm, and could expect to be back in London by midnight. In the event, the driver lost his way and we reached the airbase around 11.30 pm. The Americans still welcomed us with open arms, and we danced till around 3 am. One of the most hilarious events of the night occurred when a very large American sergeant stepped up to call a dance with the grand sounding name of Around the Railroad Tracy. The sergeant was very drunk and he called the dance with a very large cigar in his mouth. Suddenly, he took the cigar from his mouth and thrust it, still alight, into his back pocket and carried on calling. We were amazed to see columns of smoke pouring out of his back pocket. He finished the call absolutely enveloped in smoke, and looking as though he were about to burst into flames. We eventually arrived back in London at 5.30 am, having had a thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious night.

On 31st July 1954, Cal Golden burst onto the British square dance scene at Oakwood Square Dance Club. That was his first official appearance before British square dancers. His first actual appearance was at Woodberry Down on July 4th 1954. The Earl Haig Hall was packed to capacity. Cal's style of calling and his friendly easy going personality soon won the crowd over. The weather outside may have been dark and gloomy but this was one more glittering evening in the history of this great club.

Throughout 1954, Woodberry Down grew in leaps and bounds. In addition to its own band the club also had its own magazine. The Woodberry Down demonstration team toured round presenting Californian style square dancing to the public. Under Jimmy's guiding hand the club became almost an association within itself

On 24th March 1956, Jimmy married his fiancée, Beryl, in what was undoubtedly the square dance wedding of the year. A square dance wedding would not be complete without a square dance, and that night several sets of dancers danced the night away and later that same evening Beryl and Jimmy set off on their honeymoon.

On Sunday, 8th April l956, Mr and Mrs Woodberry Down, alias Beryl and Jimmy Morris, returned from honeymoon to find a packed Earl Haig hall waiting to greet them. A bridal arch of paper streamers was held by members, who also held a card with letters printed on it. By positioning themselves into a V, the words Woodberry Down Square Dancers were formed and over the stage, in silver on a white background, the words "Welcome Back" overlooked another V of members whose cards spelt Beryl and Jimmy and on the stage was a mock wedding cake in three tiers. There followed an evening of very happy dancing in a tremendous atmosphere. Although it was a week past Easter the club held its annual Easter bonnet parade. There was a large entry and the judges had a hard time picking a winner from the very novel and seasonal entries. The ladies' was won by two well known dancers of the day, Phil Nussle and Ella Brazier with lovely Easter creations. Larry Sherman won the men's with a hat in the form of a church with a light inside and a bride and groom at the front. The runner up was Alf Oliver with what I thought was an equally brilliant creation, a set of square dancers with a band on a stage, all made with coloured pipe cleaners. I can remember many great evenings at Woodberry Down but that evening of April 8th 1956 must surely rank as one of the greatest.

On 1st July that year the club organised an outing to Southend and this was very well supported. In those days the main attractions were in the grounds of the Kursaal, the scenic railway, tunnel of love, water chute etc. Pete Sansom and I decided to go on the water chute. I suggested to Pete that if we sat right at the front the water would go over our heads and the people at the back would get the soaking. How wrong can you be! Pete took me at my word and we copped the wave full in the face. He was carrying a rolled up magazine and to this day I can still feel the belting round the ear he gave me.

In addition to club nights and major functions Woodberry Down also held callers' courses. Many good young callers of the day cut their teeth on a Woodberry Down caller's course.

At the Drill Hall, Albany Street, in November 1956 Woodberry Down celebrated their fifth anniversary in style. Dancing was to the Woodberry Down Band and a whole host of callers of the day as well as special guest callers Mildred Buhler, Cal Golden and Major Moose Holland.

1957 was the year that saw Woodberry Down reach its peak, with the visit of Bob Osgood. The year was off to a lively start. Jimmy and the Woodberry Down Band were soon in action, with a dance at Holborn Hall, Grays Inn Road. A very lively crowd danced to the calling of, in addition to Jimmy, Jack Unwin and special guest caller, Cal Golden. On March 24th, 1957 the club celebrated Beryl and Ji1nmy's first wedding anniversary, with a really swinging night, similar to the welcome back dance of a year earlier.

It was, however, with the visit of Bob Osgood to Britain that year, that the main interest of the club was centred. It was from Bob's Sets In Order magazine, describing an association of clubs in California, that Jimmy first hit on the idea of forming the BAASDC. Details of Jimmy's correspondence with Bob, and the subsequent forming of the Association, are to be found in the 'Hall of Fame' series. The 'Welcome to Bob Osgood' dance was held on Saturday October 19th, 1957. The notice advertising the dance read: "Woodberry Down Square Dance Club, on their 6th anniversary, and in association with the British Association of American Square Dance Clubs, proudly present Bob Osgood, 'the world's most famous caller'. For Jimmy and for Woodberry Down, it was the peak.

1958 began much the same as usual, and then inexplicitly, there came a slump, and crowds began to dwindle. A rough element began to creep into the dancing, and big name callers such as Pat McQuaid, Jack Unwin, Lucky Beason and Pete Sansom were lost to the British square dance scene.

Through all this the good ship Woodberry Down sailed on undaunted. One of the main events of the year was the hoedown on the farm, held at Reigate, Surrey, on the 20th July, 1958. With music by the Woodberry Down Band and a whole host of guest callers, this event was a huge success.

With the club still highly successful, it came as a huge shock, when Jimmy announced that he and Beryl were leaving for the States in January 1959. By this time, even Woodberry Down was feeling the effects of the slump. I was present at the last sad night of Sunday, November 23rd, 1958. Barely two sets danced to Jimmy's calling, in a gloomy atmosphere. A far cry from the heady days of the mid fifties, when the Earl Haig hall echoed to music and laughter. Jimmy's disappointment was reflected in his remark to me "I hate coming every week it's like this". A sad ending to a great club.

If November 23rd was a night to forget there were many great nights to remember; Cal Golden's visit in July 1954 and the Welcome to Betty Casey dance in May 1955.

One that sticks in my mind, above all others, was Woodberry Down's Christmas Party on December 18th, 1955. I don't think I can ever recall the Earl Haig hall being so crowded. Comfortable dancing was impossible and the Woodberry Down members themselves provided the entertainment. A well known club member of the day, Ted Britten, performing some very funny skits, band guitarist Brian Hart, with his yodelling cowboy songs, and a very lovely young lady, with an equally lovely voice, singing "Suddenly There's a Valley".

The club's days may be long over, but in the annals of square dance history and in the memory of former club members everywhere, Woodberry Down will live forever.

Tony Piears (Feb - Jun 2005)

 

 

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