The end of the nineteenth century saw the foundation of the great conservation societies, like The National Trust, which still exist today. One of these was The English Folk Dance and Song Society, founded By Cecil Sharp. There was some wonderful archive film of Sharp himself dancing with others. Seeing the young women in their tunics, waving handkerchiefs, one knew at last exactly what Elsie J Oxenham’s Abbey Girls looked like when they were dancing (in The Abbey Girls Go Back to School, for instance). Hislop then moved on to the story of Daisy Daking (article by Hilary Clare), known to EJO’s readers as The Pixie. During the First World War she went to France to teach folk dancing to the troops. When I first read about this (in The New Abbey Girls?) I was very sceptical about what good it could possibly have done but I was quite wrong. It seems that shell shocked and depressed soldiers really did enjoy folk dancing and were very grateful to Daisy for her classes.
This was a very literary programme, moving next to Tolkien, with The Shire as an idealised England based on the countryside Tolkien knew as a boy, which had disappeared for good. We got Philip Larkin as well. I particularly liked Hislop’s conclusion that the countryside was a sort of ‘green portal leading to…a better world'. And as he pointed out, two hundred years from now, people may look back on our own times as ‘the olden days’. I’ve hardly touched on all the ideas in this programme, which is well worth catching on the iPlayer if you missed it.
Ettingham Park by John Piper, 1979. In the University of Warwick art collection.