A History of the Club 1933 - 1994

The club is one of the oldest extant English folk dance clubs in England and has now (in 2007) been providing folk dance opportunities for 74 years. Whilst keeping alive the folk dancing traditions of England, our folk dancers are proud to be part of this local folk dancing tradition. The text following is taken from the booklet entitled 'The Felpham and Middleton Country Dance Club The First Sixty Years' (©Reg Came). It was produced from the minute books of the club being researched and written by the then Chairman, Reg Came. It is reproduced here with his permission and an acknowledgement of the assistance of Barbara Oakley with the editing and typing of the original. To bring us up to date Reg has added an Appendix.


The year 1933 marked a turning point in the history of the world. In January Herr Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, an event which culminated in the most extensive carnage in the history of mankind, whilst here in Felpham towards the end of the year a band of women formed themselves into a group dedicated to the pursuance of that most peaceful of pastimes, the English country dance.

These ladies had been attending country dance lessons and on October 31st the class decided that they "should form themselves into a Club and become affiliated to the English Folk Dance and Song Society" (EFDSS). They established the principle, which remained for many years, that the Club should be run as a class and taught, rather than led: The original teachers were Mrs. Houseman and Mrs. Iggulden, and the pianist was Mrs Wood. The Club paid 12/- per term (60p) to meet weekly in the Felpham Parish Hall. The membership subscription was 1/6d (71p) per term. Men and women were invited to join, as were children over the age of fourteen. They were also encouraged to become individual members of the EFDSS and in the first term thirty members did this.

The Club was very much female orientated; indeed for a number of years there is no mention at all of men. A decision was taken to introduce a Club dress, to be worn on all competitive occasions, and this resulted in the introduction of red pinafore dresses with white blouses. The material required was available from Staleys in Bognor, at a cost of 2/11d (14p. approx) a yard; the pattern was in two sizes, 36' and 40'.

Country dancing was a very popular form of relaxation and in its first year the Club was represented by dancers at Aldingbourne, Arundel, Bognor, Brighton, Chichester, Walberton and Worthing.

In 1934 a junior branch was formed which started off in great style with 35 members. Sadly these had dwindled to 20 by the end of the term and by the end of 1936 had declined to 6. They paid one old penny per lesson.

However the senior Club continued to flourish. Dancing techniques were taken seriously, new members were only accepted by majority vote following nomination by a proposer and seconder. Presumably the Club also had the right to vote out any member who was felt to be unsuitable. By 1938 the Club was able to enter a team in the Sussex Folk Festival at Goodwood.

Consideration was given to the formation of a Morris team but the cost of obtaining tuition proved to be too great and the idea was dropped.

In 1939 war was declared and the Hall was commandeered so the Club had to find a new home. The new Methodist Hall was chosen but could only be used on condition that the Club called itself a 'physical culture class." To achieve this end a Miss Newnham was to be asked to give a few minutes P.T. instruction during each dance night. The following year the Club was frequently disrupted because of air raid warnings and a general feeling of uncertainty. It was noted in the Annual Report for 1940 that the main object of the Club had been "to maintain the social side of the Club, all feeling the need for recreation and relaxation from the anxieties and strains of the war, our dancing may have deteriorated but our spirits have improved; when the lights failed we danced by candle-light and when buses failed we walked."

1945 saw the end of the war in Europe but, unlike many organisations, the Club did not indulge in any spontaneous V.E. celebrations, presumably because it had expended all its organisational efforts on an earlier party in celebration of May Day. This is described in the Minutes as "the most successful party yet held, starting with the Helston Furry processional led by Jack in the Green, the dancers, many in fancy dress and all wearing flowers, wreaths, and carrying posies entered from the grounds and danced round the hall." Nearly two hundred people attended the event and £10 was raised for the school building fund. No wonder there was no immediate mention of a V.E. Party. However at the next Committee meeting Miss Newnham proposed that the summer party to be held in Mrs. Tubbs' garden be called a Victory Day party, thus making it eligible for extra rations granted to such festivities. In the event the party had to be held in the Methodist hall and the extra rations failed to materialise - the Club had not appreciated that only children were eligible for this bounty. This did not create any serious problem though; the relevant Minute records that "we were able to obtain provisions by other means."

After the war normality gradually returned and the Club was represented at numerous events. Once again their thoughts turned to the formation of a Morris group but by 1946 they had again abandoned this idea.

Until the end of the Forties the Club seems to have maintained an even keel, accepting invitations to give displays at events organised by the W.I., Toc H and others as well as attending summer parties in gardens as part of the campaign to raise funds for the new Parish Hall, but in 1950 a dramatic event took place.

Since the inception of the Club all the named officers had been women (representing the majority of the membership) but in this year the Minutes record that "in view of their services" four male Vice Presidents were elected. To emphasise the fact that men were very welcome to join the Club this fact was brought to the attention of the local Press. In 1951 Ted Pratt was elected Secretary. By this time there were 13 Vice Presidents and the Club was a flourishing concern, with a youth group led by the indefatigable Miss Newnham.

Also at this time there is the first mention of an excursion to the Albert Hall, twenty members attending the Annual Folk Festival run by the EFDSS.

An entry in the Minutes shows that a tentative request was made to persuade ladies dancing in the men's position to wear some form of identification. After discussion the Committee decided to take no action and it was agreed that "Miss Newnham would explain the difficulties to the members." What the difficulties were is not recorded.

During 1952 and 1953 yet another effort was made to resuscitate Morris dancing in the Club and it was agreed that a special section be sponsored. At the same time an attempt was made to raise the standard of dancing by devoting the first ten minutes of each session to the teaching by Miss Newnham of steps and figures to new members. The dance report for this period suggests that there was some discord between those who were good dancers and those who were not; only members who came up to the standard set by Miss Newnham were permitted to attempt the more advanced dances. Juniors were encouraged to come along and learn by watching but were excluded "in any way" from participating. A more positive note was sounded by the introduction of a Club waistcoat on which, by permission of the County Council, there appeared the West Sussex Coat of Arms.

The Club continued to prosper. Yet another attempt was made to form a Morris Group and it was also resolved to try to initiate a Sword group. Consideration was given to the possibility of hiring the prestigious Rex ballroom for a party to celebrate the coming of age of the Club and it was suggested that the President of the EFDSS should be invited to be Master of Ceremonies for the occasion. The Club also purchased an electric gramophone. The membership was now fifty, twenty eight of whom were associate members of the EFDSS whilst three were full members. There was an average turn out each week of forty members and spectators were invited to watch at a fee of sixpence (2.5p).

By 1958 the Club had live music and the gramophone was sold. The Club's success contrasted with that of the EFDSS HQ where there were serious financial problems resulting in staff salary cuts of between ten and twenty percent. Alas, two years later the Club was also in difficulties because they lost the use of the Methodist hall, numbers dropped and there was an increase in rent at the new venue. To combat this a weekly "bring and buy" was introduced.

A few years later the Club had once again turned itself round; membership increased and it became necessary to restrict the number of juniors. However this was somewhat offset by the doubling of rent required for the Felpham Village Hall and as a result the Club moved to Middleton.

Miss Newnham, now referred to in the Minutes as "Wyn", asked to be relieved of her role as teacher in order that she could concentrate on the band of which she was leader.

Wyn Newnham   diw5.jpg
Wyn Newnham and the Felpham Folk Five

The visits to the ever popular Albert Hall Festivals were abandoned (although this was resumed in 1970 when the Club's finances improved). When decimalisation arrived the cost of the weekly raffle was adjusted from one old penny to one new penny - an increase in real terms of over one hundred percent. In 1972 the average attendance was as low as sixteen. Wyn Newnham stood down as Club leader, becoming secretary, but returned as leader in 1975/6. It appears that the Club may have become somewhat unruly during this time because, according to the Minutes, it was deemed necessary to bring it to order with a plastic whistle. However the leader did not wish to use this device and the practice ceased.

Miss Newnham was unanimously elected a life member and Primrose Houseman, the current President who still took the Chair at the Annual General Meeting, celebrated her 90th birthday.

The Club was able to make a contribution of £10 to the national H.Q deficit of £2000.

From 1970 to 1980 the Club recovered its fortunes, membership reached 40 including 18 EFDSS subscribers and there were many outings. One of these, to the Christmas Party at Shoreham, warranted the hire of a coach. 1980 marked the introduction of a coffee break, at a charge of 5p per cup.

Sadly Primrose Houseman died in 1981. She was succeeded as President by Ted Pratt. In this same year 53 people went by coach to the Albert Hall function; the Club had a membership of 44 members and had taken over the responsibility of financing the twice yearly Playford dances at Chichester. Finances were satisfactory and support was still being given to the beleagured HQ at Cecil Sharp House.

These years saw a golden age for the Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1984. A party was held in Middleton village hall, Dick Reed was engaged as the caller and the Club's own band, led by Wyn Newnham, played for the dancing. During this time the "school term concept" was abandoned and the half term break dropped. In an effort to reduce the pressure on the band a music centre was purchased.

Inevitably the good days were to come to an end. EFDSS Headquarters were badly in need of money and it was suggested that individual Clubs should co-operate to raise a mile of pennies. In Middleton Peter Hopkins started a metal can collection which would be sold to help HQ funds; the Club also sent £50 which represented the profit on the Playford dances. Sadly confidence in HQ was eroded when the management there proposed to sell off Cecil Sharp House and move to the Midlands only to discover, somewhat belatedly, that certain covenants would make this an illegal act. Opposition to the closure began to grow and a splinter group arose entitled "The Friends of Cecil Sharp House." This placed the Middleton Club in something of a dilemma since it had to decide which faction to support. In the end the Club decided to come down on the side of the management but at the same time it reduced its next contribution to central funds.

In the Club itself all was not well either. The euphoria of the golden jubilee had melted away, together with some of the members. To compound the problems the President, Ted Pratt, suggested that Miss Newnham was taking on too much since by now she was leading the band, calling most of the dances and, in effect, controlling the Club. She opposed this view so vigorously that Mr. Pratt resigned but, by the following year, medical reasons prevented her from playing the violin and eventually she agreed to stand down. Miss Newnham was replaced as leader by Marjory Prior and Peter Hopkins became deputy caller.

Miss Newnham's departure after so many years of valuable service to the Club, first to hospital and then to Whiteley Village, seemed to be the catalyst for other serious problems and it was not long before Marjory Prior resigned in order to become caller at the Laburnum Centre. Fortunately Peter Hopkins agreed to become principal caller and the Club danced to tapes from a music centre.

In 1990 unforeseen difficulties arose when a new member demanded to see the Club's written Constitution. This led to the discovery that the Club had existed for nearly sixty years without such a document but a sub-committee was formed to deal with the matter and successfully completed the task. Then, before the Club had been given the opportunity to ratify it, the new member had disappeared.

In this same year the only surviving founder member, May Dower, died. Her niece kindly presented a cup in her memory, to be given to the person who had made the most outstanding contribution to the Club during the year. The first recipient, by popular acclaim, was Peter Hopkins.

By 1991 the Club (like so many other organisations) was experiencing difficulty in finding people to take on the offices of President, Vice President and Chairman but eventually it was possible to elect a President and Chairman.

An unwelcome surprise was given to the Club by the arrival of a demand from Phonographic Performance Ltd. for a fee in respect of performing rights for the taped music. Fortunately H.Q., which, by now had reformed successfully, was able to negotiate a blanket charge of £24.50 for the year.

The 60th anniversary of the Club's inception was celebrated with a Diamond Jubilee party held in St. Wilfred's Hall, Bognor Regis. The Minutes of meetings for this time show the Club in a more relaxed mood, with little formal tuition and no attempt to take part in events outside itself. People came, and continue to come, for the pleasure of taking part in social dancing which is not only very enjoyable in itself but which has taken place for many hundreds of years and which forms a direct link with our ancestors.

©Reg Came 1993
Appendix

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A History of the Club 1933 - 1994

Copyright © Reg Came/John Douglas