Dancers invite you to join them and help keep Hartlepool Christmas tradition alive

A unique tradition to a Hartlepool village returns for a 52nd year on Boxing Day.

The Greatham Sword Dance which is believed to date back to the first quarter of the 19th Century, will be performed in the village.

The traditional Boxing Day 'Greatham Sword Dance and Play' underway performed by the Redcar Sword Dancers. Pics by Tom Collins

The traditional Boxing Day 'Greatham Sword Dance and Play' underway performed by the Redcar Sword Dancers. Pics by Tom Collins

It was revived in 1967 by the Redcar Sword Dancers and the team have returned to the village every year since.

The dance tells a story of a dancer who loses his head and is brought back to life by a travelling doctor.

Dancers wear distinctive uniform based on recorded descriptions and comprise red military style jackets decorated with ribbons and badges and dark blue trousers with a red stripe.

A healthy crowd watch the tradition every year as it is performed outside the gates of the Hospital of God at noon on Boxing Day.

Brian Pearce of the Redcar Sword Dancers is one of the original team that revived the dance left.

He said: “We originally formed to revive the dance.

“The reason why we exist is we want to keep it going as long as we can.

“We usually get a hundred people or more watching depending on the weather.”

The existence of Greatham’s traditional dance was discovered by chance in 1935 by an American, James Madison Carpenter, who was touring the UK seeking folk songs and plays.

It is believed the custom was only performed sporadically in the years after 1922.

In 1953 schoolmaster Charles Howard trained a team of schoolboys to perform it as part of the Coronation celebrations.

In addition to keeping Greatham’s Boxing Day tradition alive, over the years the Redcar Sword Dancers have performed it at many different events at home and abroad including the Royal Albert Hall.

Following the Boxing Day performance, people are welcome to join the team afterwards in the Bull and Dog for a drink and more singing.