A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WESTON FOLK DANCE CLUB
WESTON SUPER MARE FOLK DANCE CLUB
The Weston Folk Dance Club as we know it today dates from 1959 but its origins go back many years before then.
THE START OF FOLK DANCING IN WESTON
It was about 1913 that Miss Mojer, a young teacher at Locking Road School, was introduced to Mrs Colson who had been invited to teach Morris Dancing at the school. She began to teach her friends and there is a letter written to her in April 1915 by the acting secretary of the English Folk Dance Society (formed in 1911) giving her figures required for the Earldon Sword Dance.
In 1924 a Somerset County Branch of the E.F.D. S. (which in 1932 became E.F.D. S. S.) was formed and Weston-super-Mare was one of the 9 centres in the Mendip group
One of the dancers with the Elementary Class was Mrs. H, M. Restall who was to play an important part in the Branch and its successor, the Somerset District. She was treasurer for several years and she was membership Secretary from the 1940's to 1967; a position which included responsibility for Magazine distribution and often sales of tickets for events.
During this early peroid music was provided by Primrose Wood, who was paid 3s 6d per evening. Miss Mabel Jackson-Barstow, one of the Weston dancers, was both a Vice President and a Committee Member of the Branch Committee right up to 1962 - she died in 1990.
In 1938 the Branch held a very successful day of dance at Weston-super-Mare.
POST WAR YEARS.
After the end of World War II, the Weston Centre continued to meet. Mrs. M. Robertson took over the leadership of the Weston Centre, although Miss Mojer continued to be a member: Miss Restall was the secretary for Weston during and immediately after the war. Dancing was, of course, based on the Country Dance Books, i.e. Cecil Sharp's interpretation of the dances originally published by John Playford in 1651 and in subsequent editions.
In September 1946 the County Branch became the Somerset, Bath and Bristol District of the E.F.D.S.S. and it was not until 1954 that the `Bath and Bristol' was dropped and it became the Somerset District.
Square dancing started to become popular in the mid 1940's and really took off about 1951. Some dancing was organised in Weston and in 1953 there was a Square Dance in the Winter Gardens and again in 1957 and 1958.
By this time the E.F.D.S.S. had moved away from 'Playford' to Community Dancing - the first Country Dance Manuals had been published in 1947.
In 1956, following a course for school teachers in Weston-super-Mare, it was proposed to start a new club for teachers and their friends. As it was thought that there was no scope for two clubs in the town, the Playford Group was dissolved and the members volunteered to support the new club which met at the Bourneville school. The Weston Group was congratulated by the Area Organiser on its broadminded attitude.
The following year it was reported that two masters at the Grammar School, had started a school club - it became the Folkways Club.
When in 1959 one of the Group Leaders was leaving the town, it was suggested that the remnants of the square dance group, the beginners group and the dancers who had been meeting at Bourneville School should get together and form a new English Folk Dance Club. It would meet at the Guide Hut - now the Theatre in the Hut opposite the Fire Station. English dancing was to take place on the 2nd. and 4th. Wednesday of each month - there would be Scottish on the lst and 3rd. and whenever there was a 5th. Wednesday, then a joint evening would be arranged. The English dancing would be part of the Weston Group. The initial cost per evening was expected to be Is 6d per head. Advanced English dancing would take place on Fridays at Walliscote Junior School.
THE WESTON FOLK DANCE CLUB.
A letter was sent out at the end of August 1959, outlining the above suggestions and inviting everyone to attend the first meeting on September 9th. 1959.
The Group met fortnightly at the Guide Hut from September 1959 until 1964 when it moved to Emmanuel Church Hall (subsequently demolished to make way for the Town Hall extension).
Mrs. Robertson continued as leader in 1959 and she encouraged others to share in the leadership. Music was provided by a succession of musicians. Peter Boyce led the first band; later, after he had left Weston, he formed a band in the London area and played regularly at Cecil Sharp House. Lynda Robinson and her Folkways Band followed Peter - and she later married Dennis Smith, one of the best known accordionists playing today. In turn she was followed by Barbara Wood - she wrote the book "Follow the Band", still one of the best works for beginners ever written. Barbara is sister-in-law to Jimmy Coleman the violinist and regular partner with Dennis Smith. Barbara was followed by John and Mary Brock who happily still keep in close touch with the Club today.
In those earlier years senior boys at the Grammar School belonged to the Club and some have continued dancing to this day.
Contact with some of the National Servicemen stationed at R.A.F. Locking in the 1960's resulted in a few joining the Club and happily most of them have maintained their interest.
The Club always had close links with Mendip Morris, many of whose members are also members of the Club. For many years joint Easter and Whitsun Tours were organised with country dancing as well as Morris.
The tradition of holding special dances with well known callers began in the early 1960's and continues to this day.
From its formation in 1959 the Club was always willing to give displays of dancing to various organisations, not only in Weston-super-Mare but also in Axbridge, Bath, Bristol Claverham, Congresbury, Hutton, Long Ashton, Shipham, Wedmore, Winscombe and Yatton.
Special efforts were made for the Annual Dairy Festivals held on the Beach Lawns from 1960 to 1966 and Weston Club put on special events in aid of the National Folk Days and Folk Weeks which were instigated by the E.F.D.S.S. - these included outdoor and indoor dancing, for the public, a folk exhibition at the Museum and several dance displays.
Between 1966 and 1982 dancing took place, weather permitting, during July and August first of all in the Rose Gardens of the Winter Gardens and later on the Sea Front. This was very popular with the visitors and raised funds for local charities as well as for the E.F.D.S.S. Somerset District. Due to several years of bad weather on the night these displays have now been discontinued.
Among other activities in 1970 a number of members took part in the Falmouth Folk Festival, providing such a surprising programme that they were christened "The Flying Circus" and other groups were reluctant to follow them.
It was in the same year that the Club entered a float in the Summer Carnival and won the ROY ARCH CUP in the `original entries section'. The theme was `The Dorset Triumph'.
THE NEXT MOVE.
In 1971 the Club decided on a change of venue and moved to the Moose Hall, Addicott Road, meeting every Tuesday evening. By the 1990's the hall was beginning to prove too small for the numbers who wanted to dance and a search began for new premises, not an easy task in Weston. It was to be several years before a new venue was found but in January 1996 the Club was able to transfer itself to the Corpus Christi Parish Hall in Ellenborough Park, where it still meets today on Tuesday evenings.
EXTRA MURAL ACTIVITIES, AS IT WERE.
Weston members always supported the Somerset District of the E.F.D.S.S. and over the years provided many of its officers. Others served as PRO's, Membership Secretaries and at least 17 club members served on the committee at one time or another.
The Club has always supported efforts to encourage younger persons to dance, particularly in the schools where members have regularly taught dancing. As early as 1956 a Children's Festival was organised in Ellenborough Park and later at the Winter Gardens. The Club has provided cassettes of music and books of instruction to certain local schools.
Ever since the establishment of Halsway Manor as a Folk centre the Club has been very supportive. It has provided generously to the funds, including a gift of £400, and has helped regularly at Open Days and other special occasions. In 1968 it held its own weekend there.
1992 saw another Club activity with the organisation of a coach outing to the National Garden Festival in South Wales. This has been followed by a number of trips to the Sidmouth Festivals from 1993.
WESTON SUPER MARE FOLK DANCE CLUB TODAY
The Club today operates from the Corpus Christi Curch Hall where it meets every Tuesday from September to July.
It has a number of members who call regularly and about once a month a guest caller is invited. The dancing is usually to recorded music evenings of live music provided by John and Mary Brock and Robert and Mary Blackborrow.
Recent years have seen the introduction of a very successful American Evening in the spring. The caller has been a visiting American - the last two years Cis Hinckle, and in 2006 Diane Silver. John and Mary Brock have provided the music for these great fun nights.
Each year the club organises a special Saturday night dance with American Supper. A guest Caller and a live band are booked for the occasion.