Location: Durham, England (NZ----)
Year: Publ. 1815
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Sword Dancers


The Bishoprick Garland : or a Collection of legends, Songs, Ballads, &c. belonging to the County of Durham
London, Nichols, and Baldwin & Craddock, 1834, pp.58-62




{The part assemble promiscuously, and the captain forms a circle with his sword, round which he walks, and sings; each actor following as he is called upon.}


Six actors I have brought,
Who were never on stage before;
But they will do their best.
And the best can do no more.
The first that I call in,
He is a squire's son;
He's like to lose his love,
Because he is too young.
But though he be too young,
He has money for to rove;
And he will spend it all,
Before he'll lose his love.
The next that I call in,
He is a tailor fine;
What think you of his work? -
He made this coat of mine.
So comes good master Snip,
His best respects to pay :
He joins us in our trip,
To drive dull care away.
The next that I call in,
He is a sailor bold;
He's come to poverty
By the lending of his gold.
But though his gold's all gone,
Again he'll plough the main,
With heart both light and brave.
To fight both France and Spain.
Next comes a skipper bold,
He'll do his part right weel;
A clever blade, I'm told,
As ever poy'd {Note 2} a keel,
Oh! the keel lads are bonny lads,
As I do understand;
For they run both fore and aft,
With their long sets in their hands.
To join us in this play,
Here comes a jolly dog,
Who's sober every day,
When he can get no grog.
But though he likes his grog,
As all his friends can say,
He always likes it best,
When he has nought to pay.
Last I come in mysel,
I make one of this crew;
And if you'd know my name,
My name it is True Blue {Note 3}
{The Dance then begins in slow, and measured cadence; which soon increases in spirit, and at length bears the appearance of a serious affray. The Rector, alarmed rushes forward to prevent bloodshed; and, in his endeavours to separate the combatants, he receives a mortal blow, and falls to the ground.}
{Then follows the lament - the general accusation - and denial.}
Alas! our rector's dead,
And on the ground is laid;
Some of us must suffer for't,
Young men, I'm sore afraid.
I'm sure 'twas none of I,
I'm clear of the crime;
'Twas him that follows me,
that drew his sword so fine.
I'm sure 'twas none of I,
I'm clear of the fact;
'Twas him that follows me,
That did this bloody act.
I'm sure 'twas none of I,
Ye bloody villains all!
For both my eyes were shut
When this good man did fall.
Then cheer up, my bonny bonny lads,
And be of courage bold,
For we'll take him to the church,
And we'll bury him in the mould.


Oh! for a doctor, a right good doctor,
A ten-pound doctor, oh!


Here am I


Doctor, what is your fee?


Ten pounds is my fee;
but nine pounds, nineteen shillings, and eleven pence,
three farthings, will I take from thee.
See here, see here, a doctor rare,
Who travels much at home;
Come, take my pills - they cure all ills,
Past, present, and to come.
The plague within, the palsy, and the gout,
The devil within, and the devil without -
Every thing but a love-sick maid -
And a consumption in the pocket.
Take a little of my nif-naf,
Put it on your tif-taff.
Parson, rise up, and fight again,
The doctor says you are not slain.

{The rector gradually recovers, which is the signal for general rejoicing and congratulations.}


You've seen them all call'd in,
You've seen them all go round;
Wait but a little while -
Some pastime will be found.
Cox-green's a bonny place,
Where water washes clean;
And Painshaw's on a hill,
Where we have merry been..
Then, fiddler, change thy tune,
Play us a merry jig;
Before that I'll be beat,
I'll pawn both hat and wig.

{A general dance concludes the performance, to the old and favourite tune of, "Kitty, Kitty, bo, bo!"}


"It is the practice, though less in repute than formerly, during Christmas holidays, for companies of pitmen and other workmen from the neighbouring collieries to visit Sunderland, Durham, &c., to perform a sort of Play or Dance, accompanied by song and music.
Their appearance is hailed by the children with great satisfaction, and they receive liberal contributions from the spectators.
The dancers are girded with swords, and clad in white shirts or tunics, decorated with a profusion of ribbands, of various colours, gathered from the wardrobes of their mistresses and well-wishers. The captain generally wears a kind of faded uniform, with a large cocked hat and feather, for pre-eminent distinction; and the buffoon, or 'Bessy,'who acts as treasurer, and collects the cash in a tobacco-box, wears a hairy cap, with a fox's brush {Note 1 dependent.
The music is simple, and not devoid of harmony: its peculiar beauty depends, perhaps greatly, on the force of early associations."
Note 1 - "Query - If this was not formerly meant to represent the Lion's skinof the ancient heroes: and this is not the only classical allusion, used by the Sword Dancers, for a 'Besse' on the borders of Yorkshire, was heard to sing:
'I've liv'd among musick forty long years,
And drunk of the elegant spring.'
There can be little doubt that Helicon was the original reading."
Note 2 - "Puoy, Poy, or Pouie, a long pole with an iron spike at the end; used in propelling keels in shallow watere. - Fr. Appui. Brockett's Glossary. The Puoy on the Tyne is the Set on the Wear."
Note 3 - "At this part, the 'Bessy' sometimes considers it necessary to give some account of his own genealogy, viz;
My father he was hang'd,
My mother was drown'd in a well;
And now I'se left alone,
All by my own sel."

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