Collection date: Jul 1910
Thomas Wood of Kirkby Malzeard sword dance (NYorks): age 84: Sharp met the leader Thomas Wood on a brief visit to Kirkby Malzeard on 4 July 1910, when he collected Tom’s calling on song ‘Ye noble spectators’ (FT2496).
Thomas Wood was born c1827 in Kirkby Malzeard, eldest of 7 sons of William Wood, agricultural labourer and his wife Jane. Thomas was a besom maker for 30 years but was later described as a general labourer. He and his wife Mary had no children. In 1911 census Thomas was on his own as a widower aged 84. He probably died April qr 1914 (Ripon 9a 92).
In his field notebook (Words) 1910/2 p11 Sharp wrote ‘London Magazine Dec 1906’. This referred to a report by Keighley Snowden of a recent Kirkby Malzeard sword dance performance. Sharp was also helped by a log book that had been written in 1892 by a former dancer John Croft*. This log book was kept in the Mechanics Institute (built 1852), which is now the Kirkby Malzeard village hall.
Sharp was able to copy extracts from this log book (Folk Dance Notes 1/150-155), writing that ’70 years ago Kirkby was noted…at Xmas for a week or two for sending out a first rate team consisting of 6 dancers with each a sword in his hand, a fiddler and a drummer, and marshalled by Tom Gregg, who also acted as clown…’ The song and dance figures were described in detail, ending ‘with a sword lattice work which they hold up and all danced round the clown, going round with the hat and the music playing as they marched off.’ End of extract. There was no mock beheading.
Towards the end of the log book Croft praised the team’s efforts at the Ripon Millenary Festival of 1886 and at Fountains Abbey ‘before thousands of people’ but ended: ‘I am sorry to say that this grand old Xmas custom has fallen still further into disuse and that we may now consider a revival hopeless.’ Croft was wrong because a new team did emerge and Sharp revisited on 5 Sept 1910 to witness an energetic dance to the tune of ‘The Girl I left behind me’ (FT2530). The dance had changed a little and so he took further notes (Folk Dance Notes 1/227ff). Sharp published the Kirkby Malzeard dance in ‘Sword Dances of Northern England’ Book 1 (Novello 1911). He would use the Kirkby Malzeard dance as one of his main teaching aids in USA - see example in his diary 6 July 1916 https://www.vwml.org/record/SharpDiary1916/1916/p207
Local side Highside Longsword, founded in 1986, do maintain the Kirkby Malzeard dance and tradition (www.highsidelongsword.org.uk) and revival sides here and in USA also perform the dance. A YouTube by Newcastle Kingsmen is a good starting point as well as a 1935 film from the Yorkshire Film Archive which is viewable (free) at the British Film Institute (player.bfi.org.uk: 11 minute film, middle section).
*William John Croft was a Londoner, baptised in Piccadilly St James church on 26/1/1817, son of James Croft, plumber and his wife Eliza. He had arrived in Kirkby Malzeard by the 1851 census, having married local girl Honour Gill in 1844. They had 1 daughter Mary. Croft was a plumber, painter and glazier, who remained in Kirkby Malzeard till his death in 1908.