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10 February 2011 @ 02:59 pm
Michael Wood's Story of England; Still Folk Dancing After All These Years  
The next episode of Michael Wood's Story of England in our queue covered the late 13th and 14th Centuries - so it started off fairly positive, looking at the how the end of the 13th Century was a boom time for Kibworth (and England). And showing us how the records at Merton College (who bought the manor for the main village in the 1270s) let historians trace individual families through the rest of the history of the village. They're very detailed, right down to which villagers owned which strips in which fields & such like. But there was a sense of doom hanging over it - we all know what happens in the 14th Century, after all. But even before the Black Death (which doesn't get there till 1349) there were catastrophes in store. In 1314 famine and animal disease hit England - the programme presented us with firsthand reports from the people of the time (again much of this came from the Merton College archives, the accounts that the village had to present to their landlords). And it intercut this with footage from our own recent animal disease troubles (burning of livestock with foot & mouth) and bad weather. Which served to hammer home how lucky we are these days, with our lack of direct dependence on the success of our own harvest, or the survival of our own livestock. And then of course the programme moved on to the Black Death, which hit Kibworth particularly hard with two thirds of the village dying (I think that's what he said). And again the firsthand accounts of the aftermath of that were directly compared to modern life - they juxtaposed an account of the charity donations set up to provide a priest to say masses for the souls of the dead with footage of a cancer charity fundraising event which also had candles lit in memory of those dead, ill or recovered from cancer. Very well done, and affecting - brought home the sheer scale of the catastrophe in a way historical accounts sometimes fail to do.

And to offset the somewhat depressing mood we'd been left with, we watched Still Folk Dancing After All These Years. This was Rachel & Becky Unthank from The Unthanks going round England watching people do local folk dances. As well as being folk singers they also do Northumberland clog dancing (and include it as part of their stage show), so they have a sort-of professional interest in this. But mostly the appeal was that they come across as two friendly and cheerful women, who were enjoying watching the dances. They had a go at a few of them, too - and didn't take themselves too seriously. The dancers were fairly varied - the obvious selection of Morris Dancers of various types. But also other traditions. I think my favourite was the Staffordshire Horn Dance, which this one village (Abbots Bromley, I think?) has done every year for the last thousand or so years. We were particularly entertained by the parish priest (the horns used in the dance are kept in the church) talking about how it was "pagan with a little 'p', friendly pagan". I thought it had a noticeably different style to the ones that had been revived during Victorian times and later, tho I couldn't put my finger on what it was (not being a connoisseur of such things).
 
 
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