Major, William

Dancer

Collection date: Dec 1910

Area: Yorkshire


William Major of Flamborough sword dance (1862-1932): There used to be a railway station a few miles outside Flamborough on the Hull-Scarborough line. It was opened in 1847 and handled tons of herring, corn and coal (it closed in 1970). Sharp made his way there and collected the Flamborough dance figures from William Major probably on 22 Dec 1910. That’s the date on his songs ‘Old John Walker’ and ‘Prickly Bush’ (FT2558,9) anyway. William Major stated that he danced for ‘2 or 3 years with the men about 25 or 30 years ago but gave it up because it led to more drinking than he cared about’.

The Flamborough men traditionally performed over the Christmas period, often going to Sewerby Hall, a Georgian country house on Boxing Day. They use long wooden swords and wear a fisherman's outfit (blue jerseys and white trousers). There is no Mummers Play associated with the Flamborough dance. Sharp taught the Flamborough dance extensively at the Stratford Summer Schools and also during his USA trips. He published the dance in his 'Sword Dances of Northern England' book 2 (Novello 1912).

Sharp would have wanted to be home in London for Xmas Day 1910 – his youngest child Susannah would have been an excitable 8 year old. He no doubt wrote up his extensive interview notes in the New Year (Folk Dance Notes vol2 pp2-12). He dated them wrongly as Dec 1911 but then many people get muddled at the turn of a New Year. The next entry in the Folk Dance book is dated Feb 1911 and the next is the Mawdesley dances in March 1911. The timing is also confirmed by the field notebook (words) 1910/4 p14. So Flamborough was definitely a Dec 1910 event.

William Major was baptized at Flamborough church on 26/12/1862, son of Jane Major (no father given). Jane was the daughter of Richard Major (1808-1851), fisherman. Jane can be found in the 1871 census living with her widowed mother Elizabeth at Flamborough – William was with her, aged 8. Jane then got married to John Knaggs, Flamborough fisherman, in 1872 but William stayed in the care of his grandmother.

He became a fisherman too and married Jane Ann Leng at Flamborough on 24/2/1883. They had 4 children and were living at Allison Lane, Flamborough in the 1901 census (RG13/4523 f61 p3). Jane died in 1902 and when Sharp found William in 1910, the latter was living at 16 High St, Flamborough with 3 of his children. He was 48.

William Major died on 20/6/1932 aged 69, leaving £283. He was the cousin of Richard Major (see separate profile), as William’s mother Jane was the younger sister of Richard Major’s father.

The Flamborough side was revived in 1978 and the dance is taught in local schools too. Various Youtubes exist. 

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