History

Emphasis must be placed on the fact that everything we have said is in no way authoritive and is open to debate, however whatever the history of the 'Nutters' are fiercely proud of their tradition and are much loved and respected by the people of Bacup and the Rossendale valley, one thing  for sure is wherever the 'Nutters' go their appearance, the dances, the music and the 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! 

 

The Team

 

The Britannia Coconut Dancers are a traditional male team only and like like many of the traditional Morris and folk teams
with no certainty can state the factual origins of the traditional dances that have been passed down through generations.  
Every Easter Saturday without fail the Britannia coconut dancers all meet at what used to be the travellers rest public 
house which boarders Britannia and Whitworth.  

The team arrives at approx 8:30am to be ready to start their annual Easter procession at 9am also accompanied by members of Stacksteads silver band to progress through the local towns and dance through the streets to follow a tradition which takes them from boundary to boundary.  The garland dances that are performed open and close the seasons whereas the nut dances and figures portray a storey from when the men got trapped down the mines. The dances the team perform are ‘folk dances’ and the custom of blackened faces are thought to reflect a pagan tradition as a disguise from the evil spirits / and part of the mining connections. There’s no clarity on the tales that have been relayed by word of mouth, however the dances are known to be originated with Moorish pirates which the costume is that of what a Moorish pirate would wear.  The Moorish pirates which originated from North Africa are said to have settled in Cornwall and they became employed in the local mines.  As mines and quarries opened in Lancashire in the 18th & 19th  centenary some of the Cornish men headed north bringing their mining expertise with them  and it is with these men that the dances were reputedly brought into this area, in particular two Cornish men who came to work in Whitworth  (this was relayed 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 which was the Tunstead Mill troop who celebrated their half century in 1907 and is from this troop in which the Britannia Coconut Dancers descended from.

 

The Dances

 

The dances consist of garland dances number 1-5, a nut dances ‘thowd crash’ and the figures.  The Garland dances are performed in square sets with each of the dancers carrying an arched garland which are decorated to resemble red, white, and blue flowers and these garland dances are spring ritual dances connected with the renewal of crops. Similar dances had been performed in feudal times when rushbearing carts used to take rushes to the lord of the manor. One of the dancers is known as the ‘whiffler’ or ‘whipper in’ and he proceeds the dancers and is his duty to crack the whip to drive away any evil spirits or forces of evil.

 

The nut dance is most unusual and is performed either in a straight line or two lines of four with each of the dancers wearing wooden discs or nuts on their hands, and knees with a belly nut around the waist.  During the Nut dance and the figures the wooden nuts which are made from maple are struck together in time with the music.  The name “Coconuts” were given to the discs when the dance came to Lancashire and is said they resembled the protection to the elbows and knees when crawling along the narrow seams down the mines.

 

Music

 

The dancers are accompanied with the English concertina for many of their performances however Stacksteads Silver Band are used for larger performances to elevate the sound and the Coconutters music like the dances have been handed down over the years.

 

The ‘Nutters’ have and still travel all around the United Kingdom and overseas and have appeared several times 
at the Royal Albert Hall for the English Folk Dance and Song Society and have attended the International Eisteddfod 
on four occasion and visit many towns throughout the country

 

Other international festivals that they have appeared in are:

 

Arnhem - in Holland 1956 & 1958
St Niklaas – Belgium 1986 (asked back in 2000)
Sidmouth 1996 (asked back in 2001)

 

Tv show’s appeared in:

 

Larry Graysons Generation Game
Magpie
Surprise Surprise
Jigsaw

T.V. Documentaries appeared in:
Irwell water – by the BBC
Out of the Dark into the light – by Independent film company

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© The Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup