14 September 2019 - Hop Hoodening

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The mayor, Councillor Terry Westgate, meets Kettle Bridge.
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A bit of culture to start with. In book 3 of his poem Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote

But at the laste, as every thing hath ende,
She took hir leve, and nedes wolde wende.
Scholars maintain that this is the origin of the phrase "All good things come to an end". My view is that he really could have done with a decent spell-checker.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that Kettle Bridge Clogs' swansong should be in Canterbury, which is always associated with Chaucer. The occasion was one of those quaint morris traditions that everyone enjoys — Hop Hoodening.

This used to be a regular event for us and we were very privileged to dance inside the cathedral at the 2009 service, but, due to various circumstances, our most recent participation was in 2016.

As usual, the event was expertly organised by Wantsum Morris who had invited a great selection of other sides to join them for the day. Apart from us, there was —

  • Dead Horse Morris (men) + Broomdashers (women).
    Two connected sides that dance what they describe as a regional style, leaning towards Border and Molly.
  • East Kent Morris.
    A Cotswold side from Mersham, near Ashford. They have a long and illustrious history and are former organisers of Hop Hoodening.
  • Headcorn Morris (men & women).
    Another Cotswold side (or pair of sides, to be accurate). We have danced with them on many occasions.
  • Loose Women.
    A very colourful, enthusiastic, and irreverent dancing side. Once seen, never forgotten!
  • Offcumduns Border Morris.
    Formerly a North West side, they successfully converted to Border dancing which attracted plenty of younger recruits and they are now really flourishing.
  • Oyster Morris (men & women).
    Old friends of Kettle Bridge. We danced with this Cotswold side at the picturesque village of Chilham in most years.
  • Rabble.
    Rabble are much more than just a Border side — based in Lenham, they are a Folk Theatre group that performs traditional plays and music as well as dancing.

Wantsum kept to the tried and tested format for the day — a procession into the cathedral for the Service of Celebration and Blessing of the Hops, a show dance afterwards by each side outside the cathedral, dance stands around the city, and a procession to Rose Square for the final show dances of the day.

With it being Kettle Bridge Clogs' last dance out ever, there were understandable nerves and heightened emotions as we congregated in the cathedral precincts for the initial procession. It was especially great to see some old friends including Sally and Peter, Mike and Mary, and Pat L, who had come along to support us on this momentous occasion, and we were blessed with lovely sunny weather.

The procession was led by this year's Hop Queen, Betsy Copland, attended by the Hop Princesses, Lucy Burring and Phoebe James. Just behind the arch of hops was the Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Terry Westgate, followed by all of the dancers and musicians. There was a slight delay in entering the cathedral but this provided an opportunity for some static dancing by the teams.
You can see a video of the procession by clicking here.

Once everyone was safely settled inside the nave of the cathedral, the service, led by Vice Dean, Canon Emma Pennington, began. There were the usual hymns, readings, and prayers, a dance (Beggar Boy) performed by Rabble, and the blessing of the hops. The Vice Dean very kindly even mentioned that it was our final dance out. With the service complete, everyone then processed out of the cathedral into the sunshine.

All the sides present then took turns to perform a show dance. You can see our performance of Milnrow by clicking on this link. This went down very well with the other sides and the audience — as did the free beer supplied by Goody Ales!

Once all the sides had performed, it was time to disperse around the city. Our designated stand was at the junction of Guildhall Street and the High Street, and we were accompanied by Oyster (men and women), Dead Horse, and Broomdashers. This provided an excellent mix of morris styles, covering Cotswold, Border and, of course (saving the best until last!) North West. With five sides dancing in turn, there was only time for one dance from us, namely Presidcot.

Our next stand was a short walk along Guildhall Street to the junction of Sun Street and Orange Street. Here we met up with some more loyal supporters, namely Michael & Ailsa and Carol & Brian. At this venue, we managed two dances — KBC Processional and Marston 6 (which featured a special guest appearance by Sally, who had come all the way from Devon).

With the sun still beating down, it was then time to seek some refreshments, and Canterbury had plenty of choice to offer. A few of us sought the shade at The Marlowe Theatre where we enjoyed a welcome rest and an informal picnic.

The final assembly point was, appropriately enough for those seeking a tasty lunch, outside the pasty shop on the corner of Best Lane. All the sides lined up in the designated order and, on cue, the procession made its way down the High Street and into Rose Lane, finally stopping in Rose Square.

The final event of the day was another show dance by each side, plus a very impressive massed Cotswold rendition of Balance the Straw (Field Town). There was also a memorable performance by Loose Women. They lived up to their name (and reputation!) by, instead of using sticks, hankies, garlands or similar props during their dance, utilised their underwear! I can vouch for the fact that it was perfect as I watched very closely indeed and did not spot a single boob!

But on a serious note, our show dance was the final public performance of Kettle Bridge Clogs. I am sure that there must have been plenty of nerves and perhaps a few tears, but they danced Shawforth with all the precision and energy that has been the side's trademark over the years. It was a wonderful way to finish off the day and to bring the curtain down on 35 years of morris dancing.
A video of the performance is available here.

The final act of the day was the traditional group photograph followed by a trip to the Marks and Spencers café for refreshment, where we were joined by Margaret and Barbara, both former Kettle Bridge dancers who now perform with Headcorn.

Before I finish, I must thank everyone that made the day such a success — all the Kettle Bridge dancers and band, the other performing sides, the family and friends who came along to support us on this special occasion, and of course Wantsum Morris for organising such a tremendous event.

A Footnote

And so, we reached the end of an era — Kettle Bridge Clogs had danced for the last time. Looking back to when they started in 1984, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Arthur Scargill was leading the miners' strike, Prince Harry was born, Steve Redgrave won his first Olympic gold medal, and Band Aid had the Christmas number one with "Do They Know It's Christmas?" ... and we were all a lot younger!

We have achieved so much over the years, helping to keep an important tradition alive and bringing enjoyment to countless spectators with our characteristically energetic and polished performances. The Hop Hoodening event was a fitting finale and we certainly went out in style.

A big "thank you" goes to all those who have contributed to the fantastic success of the side over the years, especially the dancers, the band, and the supporters. A special mention must be made of two of the founding members, Val and Sandy, who have been the mainstays of the side throughout the years and were still performing right up to the end.

All those that have been involved with Kettle Bridge have had some unforgettable experiences and will cherish their memories of the side forever. To paraphrase the title of a Douglas Adams book — "So Long, and Thanks for All the Cake".

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Kettle Bridge Clogs web site by Stephen Cordery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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