Three miles north-east of Ashington in Northumberland, there is the small port of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. As well as being a fishing and coal port, there were coal mines around the village. Two rapper sides were known to have existed here.

Photo of Newbiggin dancers
The Newbiggin sword dancers in 1925

The older of the two rapper sides was not a formal side, but rather a scratch team formed annually by local clog dancers, who performed rapper dances at Christmas. They toured as far away as Sunderland, and one year stopped off at Earsdon on their way back “to show them how to dance.” Their last performance was in 1908. They wore kit including velvet hoggers and waistcoat, but each dancer had different colours. Their dances typically included five figures called 1s and 2s, 2s and 3s, Reverse, Fast and Guards. As clog dancers, they paid particular attention to their stepping, including the single, double and treble shuffles in the dance. They were especially proud of their “threbble shuffle” as they claimed no other side could do it!

The later team was founded in 1920 by Billy Clark, a dancer from Westerhope, who based the dance on the Westerhope style, but changed some of the figures so as to make a different dance. The team participated in the later years of the North of England Musical Tournament, and although they were often runners-up, they never managed to win the Cowen Trophy. The side wore brown hoggers, gold sash, white shirts and black ties, but later changed to black hoggers with red sash.

The team travelled to London in 1926 to perform for a festival organised by the Folk Dance Society, sleeping on the floor of a Scout Hut as they couldn't arrange cheap accommodation elsewhere. Between their two performances they toured London and apparently made a fair amount of money in the process.

The notation of the later Newbiggin dance was collected by Marjorie Sinclair and Elsie Whiteman in 1927 after Billy Clark gave a workshop on the dance at an EFDS conference.

The team stopped performing in before the Second World War, and despite some attempts to revive it locally, there is no Newbiggin team in existence. However, the tradition is kept alive by the Sallyport Sword Dancers in Newcastle upon Tyne, and the dance is also performed by Stevenage Sword.

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