Ripon Sword Dance Play, Boxing Day, Ripon, Yorkshire, England
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
24 x 30.5 cms (9.43 x 11.99 ins)
Acquird Directly from the artist
Signed on the reverse.
Performed by members of the Hardcastle family for over two hundred years, this mumming play can be traced 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.
Homer Sykes has recently begun revisiting many of the festivals he photographed in the 1970s. In 2009 Sykes returned to Ripon to re-photograph the Sword Dance Play, recalling: What was wonderful about this festival was that there was nobody there. What I hated was having too many people in pictures. I was very aware of the contrast between the traditional festival and the desolate scene of suburban Ripon. I wanted to isolate the performers against the background. The amazing thing is I went back 4 years ago and expected there to be loads of people that I would have to edit out. Not edit out, but you can try and frame things so you don't have too much clutter. But there was nobody there still.
This photograph was included in the book by Homer Sykes Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs (Gordon Fraser, 1977)
British Photography / The Hyman Collection