Major, Richard


Collection date: Jan 1912

Area: Yorkshire

Richard Major of Flamborough sword dance (1881-1954): Richard Major was visited by Sharp in Jan 1912. He was the young cousin of William Major (1862-1932), who had previously imparted the Flamborough sword dance figures to Sharp in Dec 1910 (see separate profile). Sharp taught the dance to his students at the Chelsea Polytechnic in London during the Spring of 1911 ready for 2 public shows there in June. He taught it also at the Stratford Summer School that year in August and finally published the dance in his 'Sword Dances of Northern England' book 2 in June 1912.

That same summer (1911) Mary Neal took a holiday near Whitby in Yorkshire, inviting Clive Carey to go up and notate 11 songs for her on 22 Sept (CC/1/105-115). She seems to have made contact with the Flamborough dancers around that time and invited Richard Major to go down to London on 5th Oct 1911* to teach her pupils at the newly refurbished Crosby Hall. He wrote a rather self-effacing note on Esperance headed paper, probably at that visit (CC/2/128). Although he had danced for 12 years, Richard made it clear that ‘he was not the only leader’ and that he had learned the dance from another cousin, whose full name was Major Leng Major** (b1876). Richard Major was aged 30 at the time and he implied that the dancing had been successfully revived in Flamborough as early as 1899.

Whether or not Sharp was anxious that the Esperance Club was also beginning to teach the Flamborough dance (and would actually put it into the Esperance Morris Book Two in 1912), Sharp felt impelled to return to Flamborough ‘to make quite sure I have the points correct’ (letter to Maud Karpeles MK/3/15). He seems only to have interviewed Richard Major and his notes appear in Folk Dance Notes 2/69,70. Ironically Clive Carey travelled to Flamborough in March 1912, armed with a phonograph newly purchased by Mary Neal, also to double-check the dance (its tune) ready for the forthcoming Esperance publication (CC/1/523).  

Richard Major was born on 24/8/1881, the 8th of 9 children of Richard Major Snr, fisherman, and his wife Elizabeth. Richard Snr died in 1891 and Richard Jr (a fisherman too) stayed to support his widowed mother for many years before marrying Elizabeth Emmerson in April qr 1914. In the 1911 census (RG14/28905 schedule 88) Richard was living at The Highland, Flamborough, which address Sharp specifies in his Folk Dance Notes 2/70. Richard Major died in April qr 1954 (2a 4) aged 73.

*See Gordon Ridgewell confirmation of this date in Folk Music Journal 2005 p640.

** Major Leng Major is an extraordinary name and has no military connections. He was the 3rd son of William Major (1841-1913) and his wife Anne (née Leng).

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