The origins of many traditional dances are lost in the mists of time and no one can say with any certainty how they came about, but if you go to the small Pennine Town of Bacup situated between Rochdale and Burnley on Easter Saturday you will be confronted by a band of men the survival of which is as unexpected as is fascinating and whose strange appearance could be described as exotic!
Easter Saturday no matter what the weather they gather a 9am
at the Travellers Rest Public House on the A671 Rochdale
to Bacup road accompanied by members of Stacksteads Silver
Band to dance their way through the streets following a tradition
that takes them from boundary to boundary of the Town.
The dances they perform are actually Folk Dances and the custom of blackened faces may reflect a pagan or medieval background which was done to disguise the dancers from being recognised by evil spirits afterwards, it may also reflect mining connections.
The picture is by no means clear and tales have been related by word
of mouth, however, the dances are supposed to have originated with moorish
pirates (hence the costume). Some of these sailors are said to have
settled in Cornwall and become employed in local mining. As mines and
quarries opened in Lancashire in the 18th & 19th century a few Cornishmen
came North bringing with them mining expertise. It is with these people
that the dances were reputedly brought to this area. In particular two
Cornishmen who came to work in Whitworth (this was related by
a former team member many years ago).
The Dances spread throughout Rossendale and around the turn of the Century there were at least four troupes. One of these was the Tunstead Mill Troupe who celebrated their half century in 1907. It is from this troupe that Britannia is descended.
Seven Dances are performed in total. Five Garland Dances, simply known as Nos' 1 to 5 and two Nut Dances 'Thowd Cash' and the 'Figures'.
Garland Dances are performed in square sets, each of the Dancers
carries an arched Garland decorated to resemble red, white and blue
flowers. These are Spring ritual dances connected with the renewal of
crops. Similar dances were performed in feudal times when rushbearing
carts took rushes to the Lord of the Manor. One of the Dancers carries
a whip and is known as the 'whiffler' or 'whipper in', he proceeds the
dancers and it is his duty to crack the whip to drive away any evil
spirits or forces of evil.
Their usual accompaniment is the English concertina but for Easter Saturday and certain performances members of Stacksteads Silver Band are used. The music like the dance steps has been handed down over the years.
The 'Nutters' have travelled far and wide, appearing several times at
the Royal Albert Hall for the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They
have attended the International Eisteddfod on four occasions and visited
many towns throughout the country. They have appeared in International
Festivals in Arnhem in Holland in 1956 and 1958 and St. Niklaas in Belgium
in 1986 (and asked back again for 2000) and Sidmouth in 1996 (and asked
again in 2001). They have also appeared on TV on numerous occasions:
Larry Graysons Generation Game, Magpie, Surprise Surprise and Jigsaw.
They have featured in documentaries 'Irwell Water' by BBC and 'Out of
the Dark into the Light' by Independent film Co.
Emphasis must be placed on the fact that everything we've said is in no way authoritive and is open to debate, however, whatever the history the 'Nutters' are fiercly proud of their tradition and are much loved and respected by the people of Bacup, one thing is certain wherever the 'Nutters' go their appearance, the dances, the music and name of Bacup remains vivid in the memory of the people because nowhere is there a traditional dance team quite like The Britannia Coconut Dancers!
In a word - they are unique!
Picture Gallery 1
Picture Gallery 2
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