Grenoside Sword Dancers make unannounced appearance on Boxing Day

Grenoside Sword Dancers - one of Sheffield’s oldest societies - are shown here marching through the village on Boxing Day as part of a tradition dating back to the late 19th century.

Monday, 28th December 2020, 2:04 pm

Just three members gathered for the dance - which is normally carried out by between 10-12 people - in an unannounced appearance.

Captain Dave Brookes, who will have been taking part for 50 years in 2021, fiddle player of 47 years Ray Ellison and dancer Ashley Powell marched from behind the Red Lion Pub down to the Old Harrow.

Sadly, this year the group was unable to perform the sword dance - during which the captain is symbolically beheaded.

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Captain Dave Brookes, centre, with fiddler Ray Ellison, left, and dancer Ashley Powell

However in pre-Covid-19 times the dancers - one of only four crews in the country who perform the longer traditional sword dance - would entertain a large crowd outside Harrow with the colourful spectacle every year on December 26 at 11am.

Guest teams would then perform before the Grenoside team danced again at 12pm.

However team member John Scholey, 72, told how captain Dave Brookes was ‘determined we would do something this year’ despite the pandemic.

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Passers-by watch from the Old Red Lion

He said: “We couldn’t do the sword dance because you need six people for that but we did our traditional clog steps with about four to five people watching.

“We didn’t advertise it as we didn’t want a big crowd but we’re hoping next year it’ll be back to normal with our usual large gatherings.”

John described how this year Dave sang the captain’s song as he and Ashley performed the clog stepping dance while Ray played fiddle.

Afterwards Dave gave a speech remembering co-captain Gerry Bates, who died this month.

The sword dance during happier times

Gerry, a well-known member of Sheffield’s folk music and dance community, was also a dancer and squire for Sheffield City Morris and leader and carrier of Catalan-style processional giants group Sheffield City Giants.

Speaking about Grenoside Sword Dancers, retired IT professional John told how the troupe had never missed a Boxing Day performance since the end of WW2.

The earliest record of the much-loved South Yorkshire performers was made in the Pall Mall Gazette in the late 1800s - when a visiting woman from the capital brought news back home with her of the curious parade.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.