Memories of Pastime – Claire : May 2020

I first joined the Orpington Early Dance Group, later to become Pastime, after taking part in a workshop given by Christine and Ellis Rogers at the Kent Music School. An advertisement for it had been noticed by a member of the early music group I then belonged to and my sister, Judith, and I went along to learn a basic pavan, allemande and some bransles. Colin Holloway and Carol Clark from Musica Cantiana were also there. Christine invited anyone interested in learning more to come along to the Orpington group. I think that must have been in the summer of 1984 because I attended the first Early Dance Festival at the Camden Centre in September 1984 and although I recognized Christine from the workshop, did not yet know her well enough to go up and talk.

So I imagine that I must have started lessons at the Orpington Methodist Church Hall in the autumn of 1984. I remember Alison and Peter, Juanita, Melus, Frances Tucker and Roger and Sandra being there as well as Colin who, I believe, was another new recruit. Anyway, by the time of the Christmas party at Beckenham Town Hall, I had made a rudimentary Elizabethan costume and embarked on many years of friendship, fun and learning.

Some of my abiding memories are listed below:

The first performance I took part in was an Elizabethan Revels entertainment at Reigate Priory in 1985 – we were calling ourselves Pastime by then. My costume had been made more acceptable with the help of Frances who was dressed in an impressive Queen Elizabeth outfit.

Reigate Christmas Party

Many Christmas parties, summer events and picnics at Reigate Priory ensued throughout the 1980s and 90s, involving various themes and an increasing number of period costumes to make. It was invariably frosty at Christmas and there used to be a fair in the grounds with Father Christmas arriving by helicopter. The classroom allocated for changing housed an enormous stone fireplace and it was always freezing. I remember Colin processing into the feast with a boar’s head on one occasion.

Pastime performed at the Greenwich Festival in 1987; in the same year Melus hosted a Twenties Party in her garden at Cheam.

Quite soon after I joined, we moved our classes and rehearsals to Chelsfield Village Hall although we sometimes danced at the “chicken shed” at Brambletye Farm, Cudham owned by some friends of Christine and Ellis. On one snowy afternoon I turned up at Chelsfield to find a note on the door that the practice was being held at the chicken shed; driving through the lanes of Cudham in the snow was dicey – must have proved my commitment! We learned mainly C16th and Regency dances with Christine but also some of the “animal” ragtime dances. I also recall a visiting teacher instructing us in the Argentinian Tango which wasn’t easy in flat jazz shoes.

A couple of trips to Hammerwood Park near East Grinstead in the early 90s to give displays of Regency dancing were arranged through Frances’ contacts with the owner who was restoring the house (designed by the architect Benjamin Latrobe in 1792). One event was an evening soiree celebrating David Pinnegar’s engagement and we ate period delicacies in an elegant room with holes in the ceiling and balloons decorating the scaffolding poles.

Pastime’s Brueghel peasants emerged at an entertainment in 1990 at the Commonwealth Institute entitled “Step Stately – A Measure in Time”. This was an ambitious programme, in effect a “Who’s Who” of early dance at that time. We formed a “rent-a-mob” providing links between the different periods of dance, supplemented by readings (one of the speakers being Melus).

We performed as peasants at numerous events over the years, at many venues from Weald and Downland Museum (annually), Chelsfield Goose Fair and fetes, Hever Castle May Bank Holiday weekend and Penshurst Place to St Marks College, Saffron Walden, Chichester Mediaeval Fair with Non Troppo (avoiding the horse dung in the jousting field) and Cobham Hall School where we had to compete with birds of prey in the hall!

One of the most memorable events for me was the Evocation of a Pilgrimage to Dode, with Musica Cantiana, in August 1996. Singing and dancing in the remote lanes of Great Buckland and the grounds of the re-opened plague church of Dode was like stepping back in time. Even the horses in the surrounding fields galloped over to investigate – just in time to watch the Horses Bransle! And we even had photos in the local newspapers.

Most of our performances were day trips from home but my first weekend away with Pastime was to the Hastings Morris Festival over the May bank holiday in 1993. I shared a room with Melus and we took part in the processions around the town, getting daubed with green paint and ending at the top of the hill where dance displays by the various groups were held. We were accompanied by Bill and Barbara but Frances was also there with a pipe and tabor plus a friend dressed as a dancing bear. The confusion arose when Bill started playing from one end of the stage and Frances joined in from the other, not entirely in sync – however we managed to muddle through. And by then the chaps dressed as Green Men were the worse for drink and drumming rumbustiously so we felt it was time to leave!

In another weekend away in February 1996, we hired Blackboys Youth Hostel in Sussex and enjoyed dancing and feasting with some really choice puddings that people had brought.

Hengrave Hall St Georges Feast

We used to take part in the St Georges Feasts at Hengrave Hall near Bury St Edmunds. The first one I attended was in 1998 and I found it absolutely fascinating. I shared a room with Juanita in a turret at the front of the house. The Tudor feast, prepared and served by food historians, was a revelation and the whole evening of dancing with everyone arrayed in amazing costumes, the banquet in the Queen’s Room and the final pavan out into the courtyard combined to provide a magical experience. I went to three more Feasts at Hengrave (one being at Martinmas instead of St Georges Day) and stayed in some unusual rooms with other members of Pastime, including a huge chamber with massive fireplaces.

The Pastime summer schools have become legendary. I missed the early ones in France but managed to attend the one taught by Lieven in Shropshire in 1995. Classes were held at Baschurch Village Hall and we stayed in Boreatton Hall. Sharing a huge room (with the only ensuite bathroom) with Juanita and Barbara Ravelhofer, I recall an evening when a bat swooped in chasing a moth and then disappeared. It apparently flew around all night in Alison and Peter’s room; after attempts by Steve to catch it in a waste paper bin, it was eventually captured in a tea towel and released by Barbara after settling on a curtain.

The dance classes at this summer school – C16th Italian – proved a real baptism of fire for me. We learned a number of dances that we have used subsequently but the major work was Laura Soave, very long and complicated and only attempted by Alison and Peter on one occasion that I recall. This was my first experience of Lieven’s teaching and in my opinion he gives the clearest explanation and demonstration of steps.

The summer school ended with us presenting the dances we had learned in our costumes – I remember envying Gwen, Robin Benie’s dance partner, her new green velvet 1600 dress, right out of Caroso’s “Nobilita di Dame”. As ever the dancing was complemented by wonderful meals eaten outside on the terrace on warm evenings, surrounded by the scent of the lavender bushes.

Subsequent summer schools I experienced were:

1999 at Gelli Olau in Pembrokeshire when I drove down with Janette and we bagged a room with a basin! It was again taught by Lieven in Nevern Village Hall beside a beautiful church with a Celtic cross in the churchyard and Ogham inscriptions inside. Highlights beside the dancing (which included a nifty Canario) were walks around Dinas Head and trips arranged by Colin to see the prehistoric dolmens in the surrounding landscape.

2001 at Kirk Ireton, Derbyshire with teaching shared between Robin Benie (C16th, notably Torneo Amoroso) and Jenny Kiek on Playford. The house where we stayed, Waterside Cottage, was incredibly difficult to find and Sharon had to come out to meet me after a dreadful journey, being stuck in a jam on the M25 for six hours and driving round in circles searching for the venue. I was bringing the food for the first evening’s meal and everyone set to with the cooking when I eventually arrived.

In 2005 I ventured abroad to Richelieu which was a wonderful experience with great teaching of C16th Italian dances by Dorothee and memorable meals created by participants, with a definite competitive edge. On one of our afternoons off we visited Loches with its huge castle.

Of course Pastime has attended or performed in many Early Dance Festivals. Although I had spectated at some of the earliest festivals at the Porchester Halls in London, my first performance with the group was in 1993 when we hosted the festival at Ravensbourne School, Bromley and performed Tesara.

There followed a depiction of a C15th marriage in Cambridge in 1996 with Steve “marrying” Ewa and the children of Colin’s friend carrying colourful banners.

1998 saw Pastime performing a Harlequinade of 1600 in Rochdale Town Hall. Memories include staying at the infamous Railway Tavern (on quite the wrong side of town according to Jim Cartmell); the Court Feast with green soup and ending with cheese on toast and Melus in fits of laughter at the Lancashire dialect recitation and spotlight on the cobwebs round the gargoyle in the beams; and in our performance the “baby” being flung round the room.

In 2002 we performed an Invocation to the Dance at Ludlow Assembly Rooms with guest appearance by Jim Cartmell as Dr Dee. Alison and I drove up together and stayed at the very comfortable Cecil Guest House where my parents had stayed for a holiday some 30 years before.

2004 was Rochdale again, a C15th programme, “The Garden of Love”, this time staying the “right side” of town in a hotel behind the Town Hall.

In 2006 the EDF was at St Edmunds School, Canterbury where Pastime danced an ambitious programme based on the “Warring Elements” with fantastic white costumes, masks and wands. Narrated by Colin Dunbar, the dances included Battaglia and Brando detto Alta Regina and this probably represented the pinnacle of my personal achievement in early dance – if only in remembering such long and complicated pieces!

I have been to the Festival three times in Norwich, twice in Bath and, most recently, to Edinburgh, enjoying the sights of these cities and the companionship of Pastime members.

Over the years we have provided one-off performances at Maldon 2000, Southend Priory, a Pepys Evening at Chelsfield and the Mummers Play at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon. We performed dances of various periods inside and out at Ightham Mote, including 700th anniversary presentations in 2015 where I wore Edwardian costume and took part in the very challenging “Have a Nice Hey” set to the Teddy Bears Picnic.

Pastime has had numerous visiting teachers, supplementing our resident teachers (initially Christine and then Alison), notable among them being Lieven, Dorothee, Robin, Hazel plus Jane Gingell, Mary Collins and Isabel Suri. We have covered a range of periods from Gresley to the Argentinian Tango and American Square Dances.

Alison’s wonderful AGM teas will long be remembered and Colin’s outings to Tudeley and Capel churches to see the Chagall windows and wall paintings. Christmas parties with superb food have been ongoing at Chelsfield Village Hall where the live music band is always a joy. In latter years my involvement tailed off somewhat due to caring responsibilities. A new Pastime committee has been elected to provide greater division of labour and the number of new members has grown to the extent of almost overwhelming Chelsfield Village Hall at times. It will be for others to report on more recent events and venues but for the moment everything is on hold during the coronavirus lockdown. However, we keep in touch electronically with news, tips and clips of music and dancing until we can meet again………