Thropton WI, September meeting

Cheviot view from Hepburn
Cheviot view from Hepburn

The culture of clogs

Thropton WI was very pleased to welcome members of Hepple, Rochester and Rothbury WIs to its September meeting.

We didn’t have a meeting in August, but many ladies enjoyed the opportunity to entertain members of Southridge WI on one particularly wet Friday. We are twinned with Southridge and these visits give us a great chance to find out what goes on in town-based WIs.

September’s meeting was the first time our new president, Beverley Dean, had been in charge and some might have thought that the serving of alcohol at the end of meeting heralded an entirely new era. Perish the thought!

We toasted 100 years of the WI with Prosecco and ate cakes baked by the committee.

Our meeting was richly entertained by four members of Hadrian Clog, the Tyne Valley-based dance group. They perform traditional clog and hard shoe dances from the North East of England and beyond.

With a mix of explanation, illustration and performance, we were treated to a variety of clog dances. The first being a fast and furious Westmorland dance.

Clogs, wooden soled shoes with leather uppers, have been worn for centuries. Some working men’s clogs were strengthened with iron rims. Imagine the din in the mornings when the men set off for the mines. Having in the past had some popularity in kicking sports, clogs are now linked to dancing.

The rhythms of industrial machinery influenced the nature of the dance. So a Lancashire waltz, based on the sound of the working mill loom, will differ from a North East one influenced by the mechanical noises of mining or fishing. Different again would be the dances inspired by the rhythm of barge engines.

Clog dancing competitions encouraged a more technical delivery and a more pointed shaped clog evolved. A dancer had to demonstrate competence with both feet and perform on a pedestal. There are still competitions today in the North East and Lancashire.

Clog dancing progressed into the world of music hall entertainment, but eventually lost popularity with the emergence of tap dancing. In the 20th century it was in decline and, of course, by then not many people wore clogs. Now there are very few professional clog makers.

Today clog and hard shoe dancing is enjoying something of a revival. You might have seen the flamboyant processional style danced at Mayday and carnival events.

This talk was very much appreciated and some ladies tried on clogs and had a go.

The next meeting is on Wednesday, October 7, at 7pm, in Thropton War Memorial Hall. ‘My Life as a Digger’ is the title of Sue Turnbull’s talk.