The Newcastle Kingsmen were founded in 1949 as a rag-week stunt by students at King's College, then the Newcastle Division of the University of Durham. Taught by Professor Bill Cassie, the team started by performing the Winlaton rapper dance, and decided to continue after rag week. They originally called themselves the King's College Morris Men, but later changed their name. Members of the side, encouraged by Professor Cassie, travelled out to rapper villages around Newcastle to find old rapper dancers and learn about their traditional dances. Many of these dances had not been performed for many years and may well have died out without trace without the efforts of these students. Traditional dances whose notations were collected and published by members of this team include High Spen, Amble, Bedlington and Murton.
The Kingsmen's rapper dance is made up of figures collected from the traditional dances of the area, together with many figures invented by the team. Each performance is made up of a series of figures called by no. 1, taken from a pool of 57, and can thus be adapted to different venues. Unlike other traditional dances, there is no chorus figure in the Kingsmen dance, and so the dance can and should flow smoothly with no apparent breaks or interruptions.
As a University-based team, the student members graduated and many moved away. Some of the team's members over the years set up new rapper teams elsewhere, and the team is generally credited as the major force behind the spread and revival of the rapper dance around the country.
The team are still highly active today, and maintain close links with the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, especially as most of the active members are current or former students of the University. As well as performing their own rapper dance, and another called “Byker Buildings” their repertoire includes the Grenoside longsword dance and Royton northwest dance. They are based at the Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, and practice on Wednesday evenings.
In the last few years the team has undergone a minor revolution as a younger generation have taken over from the elders. The basic traditions of the team have been preserved while the team has become more active of late, with numerous festival attendances as well as two recent invited bookings in Germany. The team won the Steve Marris trophy at DERT 2007, and both the Premier Class and Steve Marris Trophy at last year's DERT. The Kingsmen have also acquitted themselves well with the additional hosts' special awards, winning the “Landlord's Challenge” for performing in a pub whicb doesn't allow rapper at DERT 2005 in Preston, as well as Whip the Cat's special prize in 2007 for the most imaginative use of cat print!
The Kingsmen celebrate their 60th anniversary in 2009, and are co-hosting DERT 2009 with Sallyport.