Breckon, Benjamin


Collection date: Jan 1912

Area: Yorkshire

Mr Benjamin Breckon of Sleights (long sword) dance, age 57: Sleights is an agricultural village 4 miles inland from the old fishing port of Whitby and is part of the wider parish of Eskdaleside. Sleights had a regular train service in Sharp’s day (part of the Whitby to Pickering line, now a Heritage Steam line ‘North Yorkshire Moors Railway’). 

Sharp met Benjamin Breckon on Plough Monday 8 Jan 1912 and witnessed the Sleights side dancing, as traditionally they always danced on that day - the first Monday after the Twelve Days of Christmas. It seems that he witnessed further dancing on 9 January. There were 6 dancers, a fiddler and 7 ‘Toms’ (or ‘Plough Stots’). Sharp did know about the Plough Monday custom because he had interviewed Robert Grimditch (see his profile) in Ely workhouse, Cambridgeshire in Sept 1911 and had taken copious notes (Folk Dance Notes 2/39-40). However, he had not come across the Yorkshire phrase ‘Plough Stots’ before and had to go and look up antiquarian references (his field notebook words 1912/1 pp31ff). A ‘stot’ is an old English word for an inferior horse or bullock and in former times at Sleights a plough (suitably blunted and drawn by horses) would be taken through the village in a procession by the ‘stots’, who would also collect money. The procession was headed by 3 ‘gentlemen’ on horseback. A song would be sung before any dancing (FT2737) and Sharp transcribed all the various figures in detail as Folk Dance Notes vol2/52-64. He published the Sleights dance in ‘Sword Dances of Northern England’ Book 2 (Novello June 1912 pp13-27).

Mr Breckon was a former dancer and leader, and he gave Sharp more information (Folk Dance Notes 2/65-67). The swords were of steel and the costumes of pink and blue. The Toms often had an effigy of a plough cut out in cloth and sewn on the backs of their coats. Sharp said that he followed the Sleights men all the way to Whitby (presumably on his bicycle). It was traditional for the Whitby fishwives occasionally to throw heated pennies down to the Toms, who had a way to pick them up without getting their hands burned! There was great competition for the Tom with the largest purse.

Benjamin Breckon was born in January qr 1855 (Whitby 9d 355), 4th of 6 children of William Breckon, master tailor and grocer, and his wife Sarah. Benjamin lived his whole life in Sleights and married Mary Nesfield in January qr 1885 (Whitby 9d 571); they had 5 children. Benjamin was a tailor initially then switched to market gardening (1891, 1901 censuses). He died in October qr 1930 (Whitby 9d 560) aged 75.

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