Longsword Dance Distribution Map

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Longsword Dance Distribution Map
Versions of this map: Interactive Google Map Static Google Map Outline Map
red Christmas
lime Plough Monday
aqua New Year
yellow Unknown time of appearance
  1. Known composite scripts prepared by known authors have been omitted.
  2. Chapbooks, broadsides, and other commercial texts have been omitted.
Analyses: All records Non-dance features Times of Year Level of Detail

This distribution map of longsword dance locations is based on the list in the Ph.D. thesis of Cindy Sughrue 'Continuity, Conflict and Change: A Contextual and Comparative Study of Three South Yorkshire Longsword Dance Teams' (1992). The list in turn is an enhanced version of the relevant data tabulated by E.C.Cawte et al (1960 & 1961), themselves building on work by Joseph Needham (1936). The different versions of this map show the distributions of variations in certain features of the dances, as identified by Sughrue.


This commentary is a work in progress, and any observations and comments would be most welcome.

The overall distribution of longsword dances is regional, consisting of Yorkshire and the counties immediately north and south of the county. There are three outliers - Papa Stour, Shetland Islands; Peel, Isle of Man, and Winchester Hampshire - which may have arisen due to special circumstances.

Longsword dances are of interest to folk drama for three reasons. Firstly, there is a small class of Sword Dance Plays, which are similar to other Quack Doctor plays, except that the combat is replaced with a longsword dance, and the 'death' of the victim is achieved by placing the locked swords around his neck and withdrawing them simultaneously in a mock beheading. Secondly, many dances without plays have a calling on song, in which the dancers introduce themselves individually, or are introduced by the leader. Such calling on sequences also appear in the sword dance plays. Lastly, mock beheadings occur in several non-play sword dances.

Folklorists believed during much of the 20th century that mumming plays and sword dances derived from some all-encompassing pre-Christian fertility ritual that included both dance and drama, as well as plough trailing activities and more besides. This theory was, however, built on shaky ground, to the extent that it was even abandoned by those who had formerly promoted it (Cawte, 1993; Cawte et al, 2007, origins). It is now thought that the sword dance plays are a modern merging of two previously independent customs.

The 'Non-dance features' version of this map shows the distribution of the features that are of interest to folk drama. The plays and calling on songs appear throughout the sword dance region, and no particular pattern or zoning is discernible within it. Similarly, there is no obvious correlation if this map is compared with the folk play distribution (Cawte et al, 2007, folk play classes). These maps therefore do not offer any additional evidence to favour one theory of origin over the other, although they may be compatible with both.

Joseph Needham (1936), in discussing his list of ceremonial dances, theorised that English sword dances could have been a Scandinavian import, because of their distribution within the pre-Norman Danelaw. Stephen Corrsin (1977), however, dismisses this due to the dearth of Scandinavian sword dances, and the inability to bridge an enormous gap in the historical record. There is better evidence for linking Plough Monday to Scandinavia, inasmuch as the geographical distribution of Plough Monday customs of all types correlates fairly well with the territory of Danelaw, although correlation does not necessarily indicate causality, and Plough Monday may have been an Anglo-Danish creation of the Danelaw (Millington, 1979).

The 'Times of year' version of the sword dancing map marks Plough Monday performances with green dots. Their distribution is not especially distinct from the distribution of Christmas and New Year times of occurence. Compared with the map of Plough Monday customs, there appears to be no correlation, although there is some overlap. This supports Corrsin's view on the origin of English sword dances.


In order to compile this map, the data in Sughrue's appendix was split into its components and put into a spreadsheet. The codes she used for references (themselves based on the codes assigned by Cawte et al) were converted into Harvard-style author-year citations. Also, all the Ordnance Survey Grid References for her locations were converted into latitude and longitude coordinates. The codes Sughrue uses for dramatic elements of the dances were converted to text. The resulting spreadsheet had the following fields:

  • Serial number
  • Place Name
  • County
  • Nation
  • 6-figure National Grid map reference
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Date extant
  • Time of year of appearance
  • Sufficient data to enable reconstruction and performance (Y/N)
  • Dramatic Elements - one or more of:
    • calling-on = calling-on song
    • mock execution = mock execution without play
    • formalised speaking = some formalised speaking
    • full play
  • Instrumentation (details)
  • Performers (details)
  • Other information
  • References

The spreadsheet can be downloaded as a CSV file.


I am grateful to Cindy Sughrue for granting me permission to reproduce the data from her thesis.

Peter Millington


E. C. Cawte, A. Helm, R. J. Marriott and N. Peacock (1960) A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1960, Vol.9, No.1, pp.1-41

E. C. Cawte, A. Helm, R. J. Marriott and N. Peacock (1961) A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain: Addenda and Corrigenda
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1961, Vol.9, No.2, pp.93-95

E.C.Cawte (1993) It's an Ancient Custom - But How Ancient?
in: Aspects of British Calendar Customs
ed. by: T.Buckland & J.Wood
Sheffield, Sheffield University Press, 1993,, ISBN 1-85087-243-5, pp.37 56

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm, N.Peacock & P.T.Millington (2007) Electronic ERD - Map of Folk Play Classes
URL:, 2007, Accessed 21st Nov.2015

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm, N.Peacock & P.T.Millington (2007) Original ERD - Origins
URL:, 2007, Accessed 21st Nov.2015

Stephen D.Corrsin (1997) Sword Dancing in Europe: A History
Enfield Lock, Hisarlik Press, 1997, ISBN 0-1-874312-25-7, p.229

P.T.Millington (1979) The Origins of Plough Monday,
Traditional Drama '79, One Day Conference, University of Sheffield, 20th Oct.1979
URL:, accessed 10th Apr.2016

Joseph Needham (1936) The Geographical Distribution of English Ceremonial Dance Traditions
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1936, Vol.3, No.1, pp.1-45

Cynthia Marie Sughrue (1992) Continuity, Conflict and Change: A Contextual and Comparative Study of Three South Yorkshire Longsword Dance Teams
PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, September 1992     [Full Text PDF downloads - 2 vols]

Primary Sources

Ivor Allsop (1978) The Sword Dance of Papa Stour, Shetland
Folk Music Journal 3: 4 (1978), 324-342.

Ampleforth Journal (1950) The Ampleforth Sword Dance
Ampleforth Journal 4: 3 (1950), 217-219.

Lucy E. Broadwood and John Alexander Fuller Maitland (1893) English County Songs
London, 1893, 47.

E. W. Bedell (1848) An Account of Hornsea, in Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire
Wm. Stephenson, Hull, 1848, 92.

Robt. Bell (1857) Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England
London, 1857, 172-4

Robt. Blackwell Notes and Queries
(1906) Manchester City News 27.10.1906.

James Henry Bloom (1931) Robin Hood's Bay
Whitby 1931.

British Museum (1779) The Revesby Mumniers Play as written down 20th Oct., 1779
British Museum Add. MS 44870.

H. M. Bower (1926) MS.
1926 (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

John Brand [ed. Sir Henry Ellis] (1849) Observations on Popular Antiquities, 3rd Edn.
London, 1849, i, 513, ii, 373.

F. Brearly (1971) A History of Flamborough
(1971), pp. 164-171.

Arthur St. Clair Brooke (1904) Slingsby and Slingsby Castle
Methuen, London, 1904, 230-1.

C. S. Burne (1904) Northumbrian Customs
Folk-Lore xv, 1904, 341.

W. Camidge (no date [post 1890]) Ouse Bridge to Naburn Lock
n.d. (post 1890), 483-5. Reprinted from the Yorkshire Gazette, 1890>

E. C. Cawte Collection

E. C. Cawte (1971) The Riccall Sword Dance
Folk Music Journal 2.2 (1971), 102-114.

James Madison Carpenter Collection
Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London.

C. Clarkson (1814) History of Richmond in the county of Yorkshire
Richmond, 1814, 296-8

John Croft (1892) Log Book
Kirkby Malzeard, Yorks., 1892.

F. T. Dinsdale (1849) Glossary of Provincial Words used in Teesdale in the county of Durham
London, 1849, 129-30.

James Henry Dixon [ed.] (1846) Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England
Percy Society, vol. xvii, London 1846, 194-6.

Roy Dommett Collection

Leta M. Douglas (1934) Three More Dances of the Yorkshire Dales and the Boosbeck Traditional L ong Sword Dance
Scarborough, 1934.

Francis Douce (1807) Illustrations of Shakspeare, and of Ancient Manners, ii
London, 1807, 481.

Rose Drew "Timing of the Dance", MSS Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Alfred Easther (1883) A Glossary of the Dialect of Almondbury and Huddersfield

Frank Elgee (1962) Man of the Moors
The Dalesman 24: 1 (April 1962), 33.

J. W. Fawcett (1935) [No title]
Notes & Queries, Series 14 168, Jan./June 1935, 48.

Dr. G. B. Gardiner Collection
(Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

K. M. Gratton (1973) The Loftus Sword Dance
English Dance & Song 35: 1 (1973), 10-11.

W. Grainge (1863) Nidderdale, or an Historical, Topographical and Descriptive Sketch on the Valley of the Nidd
Pateley Bridge 1863, 230.

E Hargrove (1809) The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough, sixth edition

R. M. Heanley (1901) The Vikings, Traces of their Folklore in Marshland
Saga Book of the Viking Club iii, Pt. I, 1901, 35-62.

N. A. Huddleston (1952) Communications to EFDSS
25.8.1952 and 20.10.1952 (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

C. J. Davison Ingledew (1858) History and Antiquities of North Allerton
London, 1858, 342-3.

Washington Irving (1835) Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey
London, 1835, 165.

Washington Irving (1824) The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent
(London, 1824), p. 218.

George Iveson (1958) A Pace-Egging Song
The Dalesman xx, 8, Nov. 1958, 513.

Llewellyn Jewitt (1853) On Ancient Customs and Sports of the County of Nottingham
Journal of the British Archaeological Association viii, 1853, 238.

Maud Karpeles Collection

Maud Karpeles (1928) Some Fragments of Sword Dance Plays
Folk Dance Journal 1928, 35-48.

Maud Karpeles Folkwords, MSS Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

D. N. Kennedy (1930) Observations on the Sword Dance & Mummers
Folk Dance Journal 1930, 13-38.

D. N. Kennedy (1927) The North Skelton Sword Dance
London, n.d. (?1927).

H. W. Kille (1931) West Country Hobby Horses and Cognate Customs
Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Proceedings for 1931, xvii, Taunton, 1932, 76.

King's College (1951) Log Book of the Morris Tour
June 1951.

John Gibson Lockhart (1882) Life of Sir Walter Scott, iv, 2nd Edn.
Edinburgh, 1882, 218.

Arthur Lodge (1869) Forty Years Ago
(Huddersfield, 1869).

John Lennard (1827) 'Winlaton Hopping' in A Collection of Songs, Comic, Satirical and Descriptive chiefly in the Newcastle Dialect
By T. Thompson, J. Shield, W. Midford, H. Robson and others, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1827, 33.

J. Lucas (1882) Studies in Nidderdale
London n.d. (dated 1882 in B.M. catalogue), 45-9.

Manx Sun (1832) The White Boys Play and Dance
Manx Sun 1832.

Nibs, ed Matthews (no date) Eight Morris Dances of England and the Flamborough Sword Dance
(London: English Folk Dance and Song Society, n. d. ).

M. C. F. Morris (1922) Yorkshire Reminiscences
Oxford, 1922, 175.

Mary Neal (1912) The Esperance Morris Book, ii
1912, 2.

Dr. Joseph Needham Collection

North of England Musical Tournament (1919-1939) Programmes
Newcastle upon Tyne, 1919-1939.

H. Norminton (1954) The Loftus Sword Dance Tradition
English Dance & Song xviii, 5, Apr. 1954, 174-5.

H. Norminton (1953) Sword Dancing in Loftus
in Loftus Urban District Council Souvenir Coronation Year Book, 1953, 26-29.

Northern Star (1817) [No title]
Northern Star vols. 1&2 (1817), p. 117.

George Oliver (1829) The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley in the county of York
Beverley, 1829,532.

G. Oliver (1866) Ye Byrde of Gryme
Grimsby, 1866, 177-9.

Thomas Fairman Ordish Collection
(Folk-Lore Society Library).

Thomas Fairman Ordish (1893) English Folk Drama
Folk-Lore iv, 1893, 149-175.

N. Peacock Collection

N. Peacock (1956) The Greatham Sword Dance
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 1956, 29-39.

N. Peacock (1956) Report on Sharp Postcards
1956 (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

Julian Pilling Collection

Thomas Ratcliffe Notebook
Sheffield City Local History Library Collection, p. 35.

F. K. Robinson (1855) A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases collected in Whitby and the Neighbourhood
London, 1855, 131-2.

Robert A Schofield (1977) The Sword Dance of Kirkburton
(Huddersfield: The Kirkburton Rapier Dancers, 1977).

R. Kenworthy Schofield MSS Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Sir Walter Scott (1882) The Pirate
Edinburgh, 1882, note 21.

C. J. Sharp Field Notebooks
(Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

C. J. Sharp MSS
(Clare College, Cambridge: Microfilm Copy, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

C. J. Sharp (1912-1913) Replies to Questionnaire on Sword Dances received by C. J. Sharp
1912-1913 (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library)

C. J. Sharp (1911) The Sword Dances of Northern England, i
London, 1911.

C. J. Sharp (1912) The Sword Dances of Northern England, ii
London, 1912.

C. J. Sharp (1913) The Sword Dances of Northern England, iii
London, 1913.

J. W. Shipley (1931) Folk Dancing in Derbyshire
Derbyshire Countryside i, 4, Oct. 1931, 64.

John Simpson (1825) The Journal of Dr John Simpson of Bradford 1825
(Bradford: Bradford Metropolitan Council, 1981), p. 24.

Keighley Snowdon (1906) [No title]
London Magazine xvii, 1906, 385.

Trevor Stone The Ampleforth Sword Dance
, MSS. Trevor Stone Collection.

Pishey Thompson (1856) History and Antiquities of Boston
Boston, 1856.

T. Thompson (1869) Researches into the History of Welton
Kingston-upon-Hull, 1869, 190.

John Tinker (1912) Letter to Mr Hodgkinson
12 March 1912, Vaughan Williams Memorial library.

John Wallis (1769) The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland
ii, London, 1769, 28.

Nic Mitchell (1982) Rattling of Longswords
Weekend Gazette (Cleveland) 16 October 1982, p. 18.

John Wilson (1903) Verses and Notes
(Chorley, Lancashire: A. Hill, 1903), pp. 131-132 and pp. 181-182.

R. Wortley Collection

A. R. Wright and T. E. Lones (1936-1940) British Calendar Customs
England, 3 vols., London, 1936-40, i, 157; iii, 258.

L. Wroe (1943) Communication to EFDSS
1943 (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library).

G. Young (1817) History of Whitby, ii
Whitby, 1817, 880-1.

This map was generated using the Master Mummers Outline Distribution Mapper.
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© 2015, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: Last updated: 23-Jan-2021