Camden Clog

Pat Tracey wrote this article for NEMA in 1993

The Lancashire Hornpipe

Pat Tracey

My main Interest in the Hornpipe is centred on Lancashire clog dancing of the 19th and 20th centuries. Two strands of Hornpipe are involved - the even 4/4 rhythm of "Soldiers Joy" for example, and the uneven, or dotted rhythm of "The Trumpet Hornpipe". Each rhythm is associated with its own distinctive style of stepping.

The Even 4/4 Rhythm

The first of these, the old Lancashire heel and toe style, danced to the even rhythm, is the earliest known style of clog dancing. In the form it has come down to us, it is essentially a product of the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries which made Lancashire the centre of the cotton industry and the first county to employ its workers in 1arge, purpose built factories.

The change in the lives of the people was traumatic. From working small farms and weaving their own cloth in their own homes, they were forced, for economic reasons, to go out to work, share the working day under the same roof as their neighbours and stand at their looms for twelve hours and more each day. The damp Lancashire climate, which kept the cotton threads supple, and the cold stone floors added to their problems. Their prime need was for strong, waterproof footwear and they found the answer in the countryman's clog.

Country clogs were made for use on the land and, like today's wellies, were kicked off at the door. They were made of stout leather uppers nailed to thick wooden soles on to which bands or rims of iron were fixed to protect the wood. They were heavy and loose fitting and, to quote my grandfather, "weighed a ton". Yet it was in clogs like these that the cotton workers developed their distinctive style of clog dancing.

Information about early clog dancing comes to me primarily through my grandfather and his contemporaries, though support has come from other sources, such as the "folk" memories of people I have met through dancing.

My grandfather was born in East Lancashire in 1856. and learnt clog dancing from the men in the area while he was still a young boy. They, in turn, remembered the older dancers and passed on their stories which my grandfather related to my mother when he taught her the steps.

The tradition is that clog dancing was sparked off by people standing at their looms, rattling their feet to keep warm, the more rhythmic among them dancing to the rhythm of the looms themselves. (Weavers were still tapping at their looms in this way in the 1930's). The rhythm of the looms also suggested the rhythm of the music, and there was no shortage of people who could get a tune out of a fiddle or pipe to accompany the dancers.

Clog dancing seems to have spread rapidly. In the early part of the 18th century, villages were isolated and inward looking and people provided their own entertainment. Most families had someone who could play an instrument or sing a song, and clog dancing burst on to their scene as something of a novelty. It had the great advantage that it required no extra expense as people danced in their working clogs. By 1850 every village had its champion clog dancer.

The style of the dancing was dictated by the clogs themselves. They were heavy and loose-fitting and slipped off at the ankles. In order to keep them in place, the dancers developed a flat foot style and used their heels as much as their toes to make the sounds, circling their feet outwards as they did so. The rhythm of the machinery runs through the stepping and the actions of the looms inspired some of the steps. When I visited Quarry Bank Mill at Styal in Cheshire, I had an opportunity to try dancing to the rhvthm of the looms. The Mill, a former cotton factory, has been restored by the National Trust. It is far grander than any of the Lancashire mills I remember, but, during the restoration, looms were brought in from East Lancashire to set up the weaving shed. The day I visited, a man was operating 4 looms, the number usually operated, so I put on my clogs and danced. The stepping just fell into place with the rhythm of the machinery.

The basic rhythm of the dancing is a rather relentless driving rhythm which is punctuated by pauses and accentuated by occasional stamps to create patterns of sound. Tunes such as "Soldiers Joy" have the same relentlessness, but the all time favourite has been "Navvy on the Line". widely known as "The Clog Hornpipe". In tunes such as these, basic steps and patterns match the music note for note.

The Uneven or Dotted 4/4

The second style of clog dancing associated with Lancashire is danced to uneven or dotted 4/4 hornpipe tunes such as "The Trumpet Hornpipe", "Steamboat" and "Click go the Shears", all played to a jolly bouncy rhythm.

This style is danced with the basic stepping on the toes, with the heels reserved for special effects. It is essentially "high" dancing, as opposed to the "ground" dancing of the old Heel and Toe.

Until the middle of the 18th century, Hornpipes were in triple time, but from the 1780's they appeared in common time. George Emerson, who has condensed so much information for us on the Hornpipe, points to the possibility that Thomas Arne might have been responsible for the change of direction when, in 1760, he composed a "New Hornpipe" for Mrs. Vernon, a celebrated dancer, to perform to at Covent Garden. A successful performance would have alerted all dancers to the new hornpipe, and the fact that after this time there was a proliferation of hornpipes in 4/4 even rhythm, named after professional dancers - "Fishar's Hornpipe", "Aldridge's Hornpipe", Durang's Hornpipe" - suggests that something new had caught their attention.

Although the rhythm was akin to that used by the Lancashire Heel and Toe dancers, professional performers tended to dance "high", stepping on their toes and wearing neat fitting shoes. Modern tap dancing, which uses similar rhythms, is also danced on the toes.

As towns expanded with the growth of the cotton industry, troupes of itinerant performers came into East Lancashire. They set up their booths in rented rooms and shops, and gave several performances before moving on to the next town. My grandfather and his contemporaries always said that it was their people coming into the cotton areas who saw the potential of the clog as a dancing shoe. This is, at least, a possibility.

When travelling performers and locals congregated in the hostelries at the end of the day, there was music and dancing, with the local clog dancers showing off their steps. According to my grandfather, this always caused a stir and much laughter when the professionals borrowed the clogs and tried to dance in them. He said they used to "clump about" with the clogs "flying all over", but they could not dance in them because their style of dancing was different. They also, of course, danced in shoes. However, these travelling performers saw the potential of the clog as a dancing shoe and they could call on theatrical shoe makers to make tight fitting, light weight clogs especially for dancing. All travelling performers hoped to get the big break and go on to the stage. Among those who made it, some achieved it by dancing in wooden soled clogs, and clog dancing became the craze of the late 1870's, 80's and 90's.

Professional clog dancers were not bound by traditional rhythms. They danced to hornpipe, jig, reel, waltz etc., yet the dominant rhythm on stage at this time seems to have been the 4/4 dotted hornpipe, danced with the basic stepping on the toes.

It is widely accepted that dancing to dotted hornpipe spread out from Lancashire. One possible explanation is that it harks back to the "dancing that came before clog dancing". Although it was superseded in time by the even rhythm hornpipe in the cotton areas, it might have persisted elsewhere.

My great uncle, from whom most of my dotted hornpipe steps come, was born in the late 1860's and learnt to clog dance as a boy in the early 1870's. How advanced his dancing was at this time, I do not known because he subsequently went on the stage and was naturally influenced by the dancing of other professionals. Nonetheless, his dotted Hornpipe had a strong Lancashire flavour in that he used his heels a great deal, including the heel beats of the old heel and toe style. I have come across this in other East Lancashire clog dancers, most notably in a Mr. John Hargreaves, born in the late 1880'ss whose dancing was a mixture of old heel and toe "ground" stepping and "shuffle-on-the-toe high stepping" - danced to dotted hornpipe.

It is also possible that the dotted hornpipe became predominant through the influence of some highly acclaimed performers such as Dan Leno, who is remembered as the greatest clog dancer of all time. He is the most famous example of a travelling performer who became a Music Hall star through his clog dancing. Though he subsequently became a famous comedian and Pantomime Dame at Drury Lane, it was as a clog dancer that he first attracted attention. He was not from the north but a Londoner, caught up in the clog dance craze when the family troupe were touring in Lancashire in 1877, when Dan was seventeen. He subsequently won the title of Champion Clog Dancer of the World seven times, and danced to great acclaim in the theatres. Yet he left no record of his steps beyond saying that the art of clog dancing consisted of "the rolling, the kicking, the taps, the twizzles and the shuffles".

However, research of the late 1950's, 60's and 70's brought forward dancers who claimed to have "genuine Dan Leno steps", either taught by him directly, or learnt from someone who had learnt from him, etc. All of these steps were danced with the basic stepping on the toe to 4/4 dotted hornpipe which at least suggests that his most memorable dances were performed to that rhythm.

A Mr. Proctor of Burnley, who had made dancing clogs for professional dancers in his young days, told me that Dan Leno used a lot of heel beats in his dancing, and my great uncle said that he made use not only of the soles and heels of his clogs, but of the wooden sides of the soles and heels as wail. In other words he used "all the wood" - my great uncle's criterion of clog dancing.

It is always possible that Dan Leno learnt this technique when he learnt to clog dance in Lancashire, though through talent, hardwork, inventiveness and sheer professionalism, he took clog dancing to the pinnacle.

Sailor's Hornpipe

About the middle of the 18th century, Sailors' Hornpipes became popular character dances on stage. Typically, dancers went through the motions of activities on board ship - hauling the ropes, climbing the rigging, looking out to sea, turning the wheel and so on, and dressed themselves in theatrical sailors' costumes.

Dancers, of course, were always on the lookout for novelties, but the popularity of sailors' dances at this particular time seems to have been sparked off by the war against Spain, in which the Royal Navy played a dominant role.

Thomas Arne contributed to the popularity of naval themes by composing the music to the song "Rule Britannia" which had its first performance in 1740. In the same year, London playbills advertised "A Hornpipe in the Character of Jacky Tar" and "A Hornpipe by a Gentleman in the character of a Sailor". Some 20 years later, when the Royal Navy was again prominent, Garrick composed "Hearts of Oak" and a sailor from the Royal Sovereign performed a hornpipe at Drury Lane.

In his book "Folk Dance of Europe", N. A. Jaffe refers to a Provençal dance adapted from a British Sailors' dance which the French called "L'Anglaise" and the Italians "La Via Jarello". One of its features is dancing to the four points of the compass and Jaffe suggests that this might have been the remnant of some ancient ritual intended to protect the sailor as he "Ventured forth on the high seas".

Although Sailors' Hornpipes came to prominence on stage, it is highly likely that there were sailors dancing on deck and that, at some point, the stepping and the action imitated life at sea. Many folk dances are occasional dances. The old Lancashire heel and toe clog dancing has steps using both the rhythm and the actions of the looms and many countries have fishing dances where people dance in patterns to represent making nets, and so on.

In the latter part of the 18th century the real sailors of the time are depicted in cartoons as wearing striped trousers and wide brimmed, tarred hats, with soft slip-on-shoes on their feet, which suggests that any dancing on deck could have peen light and quite athletic. There are records of sailors playing instruments and dancing on board the slave ships, and Captain Cook himself is reputed to have encouraged dancing on deck in the 1770's.

It is interesting that in 1835, a performer called T.P. Cooke or "Tippy", as he was known, who had served on one of Nelson's ships, danced a Sailors' Hornpipe in a play called "Black Eyed Susan", According to J.S. Bratton, writing in the Folk Music Journal 1990 Vol. 6 no. 1, T.P. Cooke visited every port on the coast to learn the hornpipe steps he found there and then concocted his own hornpipe. This, of course, does not necessarily mean that he was learning from scratch when he toured the ports. He could just as readily have been looking for new steps to enhance his deck performances for the stage. At any rate, as an actor and hornpipe dancer in nautical plays, he was very popular at the London dockside theatres which were frequented by sailors.

The most accessible record of a Sailors' Dance from the 18th century is that of the American dancer John Durang who was born in 1768. He became identified with the Sailors' Hornpipe and with the tune composed for him in 1785 and known as "Durang's Hornpipe". The list of steps suggests that his sailors' dance was a mixture of ballet and hornpipe stepping, with a touch of the athletic. Though only 2 of the 22 steps listed suggest a Sailors' Hornpipe ("Heel and toe haul back" and "Wave step down"), it is possible that he used arm and body movements, not listed, to illustrate the different actions.

In late 19th century Lancashire, when clog dancing was reaching its peak as a "straight dance" and people were looking for novelties, one of the popular novelties was the Clog Sailors' hornpipe. It was danced in the old Heel and Toe style to recognised clog steps which, on their own, would not have suggested a sailors' dance. However, the arm and body movements that accompanied the stepping clearly illustrated figures such as "climbing the rope", "hauling the rope", "the look-out", "tying the knot", "deck drill", "rolling", "ashore", etc.

The last time the Royal Navy inspired a wave of sailor dances was in the 1930's wnen the fleet was in port. Children in every dancing school in England were tapping out Sailors' Hornpipes to songs such as "The Fleet's in Port Again", and "The Fleet's lit up as she rides at anchor", composed at the time. But even in Lancashire the children were wearing tap shoes and dancing on their toes.

Main references:

  • "The Hornpipe", George Emerson. Folk Music Journal, Vol 2 no. 1
  • "Folk Dance of Europe", Nigel Allenby Jaffe, 1990
  • "Dancing a Hornpipe in Fetters", J. S. Bratton, Folk Music journal 1990,Vol 6 no. 1
  • "Dan Leno", J. Dickory Wood 1905
  • Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth

© Pat Tracey 1993


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