The Original Chingford Stick Dance

There are several versions of The Original Chingford Stick Dance danced by various sides under various names, and several stories of its origin.

The following is a copy of a letter sent by the author of the dance, Geoff Hughes, to the Editor of The Morris Dancer in reply to an article concerning the origin of the dance.

The letter was written on March 29th, 1988 and was expected to be published in the edition appearing in August of that year.

Does anyone have a copy of the actual publication? We don't have one.

Dear Eddie,

I was most interested to read the article "It's NOT the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance .... So WHAT is it?" in the February edition of The Morris Dancer since I am the person who created the dance in the early 1960s! I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and hopefully settle the arguments surrounding this dance once and for all.

The origins and history of the dance are as follows:

In January 1961 Peter Boyce took up a teaching post at Chingford County High School and immediately set about introducing Morris dancing into the school. He had previously taught in Weston-Super-Mare and was a member of Mendip Morris Men. I had been introduced to Morris dancing at primary school and became a founder member of the school team which shortly became The Chingford Lads Morris Team. Chingford Morris Dancers (as they were originally called) came into existence in 1962 but Chingford Lads were entirely separate, the common factor being Peter Boyce. After a couple of years The Chingford Lads became a sort of junior section of the Chingford Morris Dancers which was renamed Chingford Morris Men. However, the younger school teams continued to be known as Chingford Lads for several years.

In 1962 Peter organised a weekend when teams from his previous school in Weston-Super-Mare visited us in Chingford. As well as a team of boys the same age as ourselves there was also a team of about sixth form age who all danced with Mendip Morris Men. This team included among its members two of Geoff Rye's sons and Richard Brock. The musician was John Brock. During one of the shows that weekend this team of older dancers performed a dance which they called the Upton-Upon-Severn Stick Dance. As Foreman of the embryo Chingford Lads I found this dance fascinating as the stick clash came at the beginning of the phrase instead of at the end! Some weeks later I asked Peter to teach us this dance but he could not recall the whole dance. However we were able to remember the chorus figure with three distinctive stick movements and a small CCW circle finishing with a double stamp. We also recalled Whole Rounds, Whole Hey and a distinctive Hey across the ends of the set. Taking this as a starting point I then began to put together my own version of the dance which I had seen.

Since there were six choruses in the dance there would obviously need to be at least six figures and since the dance I had seen started with Whole Rounds and finished with Whole Rounds and All In there seemed no reason why other figures should not be repeated. (At this stage of my dancing career I did not know a great many figures and so this seemed the easiest solution.) I therefore repeated the Hey across the ends of the set with the middle couple dancing it at the other end of the set on the repeat. These were called Hey Right and Hey Left. The Whole Hey was called Hey Up and began with the middle couple dancing up between the top couple who moved backwards to make space for them during the first two bars.This made Hey Up consistent with the other Heys in that the middle couple always passed between the end couple. It also made the Hey Up a very angular figure with none of the flowing curves of the usual Hey.

These Figures now meant that the dance had a total of five figures. If the dance finished on the final chorus instead of a figure after the final chorus, only one more figure was needed. I wanted a figure which meant travelling forwards all the time so that it would be consistent with the other figures but, as I said earlier, I did not know many figures at that time and none of those which I did know seemed appropriate, apart from Headington Crossover. Peter Boyce had already encouraged me to read The Morris Book and while leafing through it one day I spotted a diagram for Ilmington Cross and Turn. I had never even heard of Ilmington but the track shown in the diagram seemed ideal as to me it resembled a Hey for two. Without bothering to read the written notation of the figure I introduced the figure at practice the next day. (We practiced every Lunch time!) The figure fitted the dance perfectly and it seemed natural to repeat the clash on the first beat of the return cross to match the first half of the figure. Having also made the Circle Left in the chorus into a much larger movement the dance was therefore complete in this form:

Whole Rounds
Tips and Butts
Hey Right
Hey Left
Cross and Turn
Tips and Butts
Hey Up
Whole Rounds
Fencing and All Up

I called the dance the Upton-Upon-Severn Stick Dance although I had not at that time seen Maud Karpeles' notation. We used the same tune as the team from Weston-Super-Mare which Peter told us had been collected by Maud Karpeles. Some time later, when we had been performing the dance for many months, I was given some old copies of The Journal and found in one of them Maud Karpeles' notation of the Upton Stick and Handkerchief dances and noticed that not only was the dance quite different from my dance but that the tune which I had believed to be the traditional one was in fact collected in North America.

We continued to perform my version of the dance, the names of the figures gradually shortening through use to Rounds, Right, Left, Cross and Hey Up (or occasionally just Up). After a couple of years, and mainly because the dance was so different from the published Upton dance, we began calling it simply The Stick Dance. However the tune was so well known to many people and we had called it the Upton-Upon-Severn Stick Dance for long enough for the name to stick in most people's minds. It was certainly Chingford Lads' (and later Chingford Men's) trademark and it was from us that Bob Parker and others "collected" the dance, Unfortunately, they continued to call it the Upton stick dance because of the tune, which is ironic really since that tune had even less connection with the traditional dance than my version!

Chingford Morris Men eventually, after much experimenting, found a different tune for the dance and I taught them the genuine Upton-Upon-Severn stick dance from Maud Karpeles' notation in order to show people how totally different the two dances are.

So to clear up the points raised in the American Morris Newsletter:

(i) Roy Dommett is correct in attributing the dance to Chingford.

(ii) As far as the Cross and Turn figure is concerned it did not come from Jockey's interpretation as I had not even heard of them in 1962.

(iii) The dance pre-dates Albion by several years. However, since Albion was founded by ex-members of Chingford, two of whom had been members of the first Chingford Lads team, it is easy to see where they got the dance from!

(iv) Bob Parker also got the dance from Chingford in the first instance.


Apart from The Stick Dance (or The Original Chingford Stick Dance as I believe Chingford Men now call it) I also composed several other dances in the same style during my time as Foreman in the 1960's and early 1970's before leaving Chingford and moving to Lancashire in 1973. These dances still form the greater part of the repertory of the Chingford Morris Men.

They are:

Constant Billy - a hand clapping dance. This was the first of the new dances. The tune was written by Peter Boyce and the younger lads team always called it "Geoff's Dance".

Innocent Hare - a handkerchief dance with a chorus involving a temporary change of orientation and positioning of the set as in the Upton handkerchief dance.

Eighteenth of March - another stick dance, so called because I composed the dance on my birthday and it received its first public performance in its finished form at my 21st birthday celebration.

Shooting - the tune for this is St Patrick's Day. At the time of composing the dance I was a member of an Irish dance team and this was a tune we used. The dance just came to me one day while humming the tune.

Princess Royal - a handkerchief dance inspired by Chipping Camden's Shepherd's Hey.

Cuckoo's Nest - a version of the standard dance but in the Chingford style. The caper movements overlap each other rather like a round.

Old Woman Tossed Up - a stick dance. I composed this dance when Chingford visited Lancashire to dance with Garstang in 1976. My daughter was then just over a year old and the nursery rhyme was one I used to sing to her in a vain attempt to get her to sleep.

So that's the history of Dance X straight from the horse's mouth. I hope that we can now see an end to all the confusion and contradictory and often ill-informed comment concerning the dance that has appeared in such publications as The Morris Ring Circular (January 1986).

Yours sincerely,

Geoff Hughes