Watford Celebrates 90 years

Members of Watford Folk Dance Group (WFDG) are proud to be able to trace the Group’s origins back direct to Cecil Sharp. One member recently produced a copy of a photograph from the 1920 Cheltenham Summer School: Cecil Sharp is posing with his display team dancers, one of whom he sent to Watford to start a Group. She was Miss Hilda Cornock-Keen who consolidated incipient folk dance activities locally so that the Group was sufficiently well established to be registered with the English Folk Dance Society by 1922. Ninety years ago.

1920 Summer School
In those days, people joined classes to learn morris, sword and country dancing with the object of gaining certificates at elementary and advanced standards embracing all these aspects. When Miss Cornock-Keen moved on, one of her Silver Badge holders, Miss Lena Stone, took over as the WFDG Teacher. She led the class for forty years, continuing with the inclusion of morris, sword and rapper in her programmes. In 1963 Miss Stone chose member Miss Joan Franklin as her successor as Teacher whilst she remained as Chairman of the Committee until1972. Joan ran the dancing until 1971 when, having to nurse her sick mother, she handed over to another member, Ivan MacKenzie. Ivan led the weekly dance evenings from then until 2006, some 35 years. The Group continues to meet weekly but has built up a team of visiting guest callers to run the country dance evenings as no new permanent Leader has been forthcoming.

Club in 1940s

Watford Folk Dance Group celebrated its 90th anniversary year at Christ Church Hall on Monday 17 September 2012. The Group was joined by many of its regular callers, some ex-members and visitors from other local folk dance clubs. In particular, the Group was delighted to welcome the two “most recent” leaders – Joan Franklin and Ivan MacKenzie. Both they and some others present could remember the halcyon days when the revered Miss Stone taught the group and members participated in displays, both at home and abroad.

The very special celebration evening was led by Ann and John Symmonds who had incorporated some of the members’ favourite dances into a programme that tracked through the nine decades from the 1920s. John opened the evening by playing a recording of 'Argeers' conducted by Cecil Sharp in the 1920s and everyone was amazed at the speed of the music and rather relieved they were not expected to dance to the rather scratchy tune! The dancing began, appropriately for Jubilee Year, with 'The Queen's Jig'. Two other dances of particular note featured during the first half of the evening were “Cherry Stones”, devised by the late Miss Judy Lines (who served as Treasurer for many years) in honour of Miss Lena Stone when she retired from teaching; and 'Orleans Baffled', a triple minor dance, favourite of the current Chairman, Mrs Eileen Fudge.

Modern back-to-back
A table laden with “some nibbles” brought along by members was moved into the centre of the room and everyone enjoyed a bite to eat and a chance to reminisce with friends and acquaintances. The VIPs, Joan and Ivan, cut the celebration cake and, with candles ablaze, the assembled company sang 'Happy Birthday to Us'. Joan commented that members should recognise the great debt owed to Miss Stone in keeping the Group going for the first half of its life. Secretary Fran Beak declared that it was remarkable that the Group had run for the best part of 90 years with only four teacher/leaders and that current members should be grateful for the dedication of all of them. She indicated that photographs old and new were on display, both physically and in digital format, for people to browse during the break.

More dancing followed and the celebration ended with 'Never Love Thee More'. This has been Watford's traditional last dance for party evenings over many years. It finishes with all the dancers honouring 'The Presence', as was customary in years gone by, and so concluded an evening of lively country dancing enjoyed by all present.

Watford Folk Dance Group welcomes newcomers to discover for themselves the enjoyment in English Country Dancing that has kept the Group going for so many years. Phone Eileen (01923 233371) or Fran (01923 672341) for info.