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Ripon Sword Dance Play, Boxing Day, Ripon, Yorkshire, England
1972, Boxing Day
Gelatin silver print
Provided by the artist - Homer Sykes
© Homer Sykes
Performed by members of the Hardcastle family for over two hundred years, this mumming play can trace its development back to the 17th century, and is loosely based on the legend of St George and the Dragon, the central theme being death and resurrection, good versus evil. The Ripon Sword Dance Play used to take place on December 26th, and is a traditional Christmas mumming play, with no sword dancing. During the play a sword fight takes place, with the protagonist killing the hero, who is then miraculously revived by the Quack Doctor with his magic potion. In 1972 when I made this photograph there were three performers, Eddie Hardcastle on the right, his brother Walter, and Walter‘s son-in-law Tony Chambers. They employed two "cadgers", Bill Chapman and Norman Carter to collect money from passing motorists and anyone who stopped to watch the performance. The collection was shared out at the end of the day. The first performance was in a residential street where one of the performers lived and they then followed a particular route around town performing at traditional locations regardless of whether there was an audience or not. Eddie Hardcastle died in 1974 and with him this tradition.
This photograph was included in the book by Homer Sykes "Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs" (Gordon Faser, 1977)