Cheshire Rounds


Arr. Roland Clarke

Country dance: Duple minor longways.

A1 1 – 2 1st man cast down , 2nd woman cast up – into one another’s places; 1st woman and 2nd man follow their partners so all end improper in progressed places.
3 – 4 1st and 2nd couples circle right half way to original places.
A2 1 – 2 1st woman cast down and 2nd man cast up – into one another’s places; 1st man and 2nd woman follow their partners so all end improper in progressed places.
3 – 4 1st and 2nd couples circle left half way to original places.
B1 1 – 4 1st couple cross over, cast one place, half turn to proper sides. 2nd couple moving up.
B2 1 – 4 1st and 2nd couples four changes of a circular hey.

Thompson’s Complete Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, Vol. II. 1765
Modern interpretation Kathryn and David Wright, Wright’s Humours Vol 2, 1984

The original instructions for country dances were basic and terse with no directions for any but the first couples.  Other dancers were expected to reflect or complement the actions of the leading couple  with everyone dancing as much as possible.   This modern interpretation by Kathryn and David Wright in Wright’s Humours Vol 2, beautifully illustrates how an experienced second couple would interpret the dance.

The Cheshire Rounds had been published consistently in dance manuals since Playford’s The Dancing Master in 1701 through to Preston’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1801.  By the time it was recorded in the Sydney Gazette of 1803,  it had acquired the status of a favourite folk dance and one befitting a wedding celebration.

The Sydney Gazette account is written in the humorous style of editor, George Howe, with a satirical look at the “Irish” and “bumpkins” of Sydney Cove rather than a serious eyewitness report.  It is assumed most of the readers would have been familiar with the dances mentioned.

On the evening of Saturday the 7th instant a Celebration of Nuptials took place on the Rocks, at which a numerous group of congratulants assembled to greet the enamoured TOUCHSTONE and his beloved AUDREY.

Compliments at an end, the circling planet of the board was briskly courted, and a fiddler with his merry crowd, received a universal welcome: the merry dance commenced, and the fair bride led down the Country Bumpkin, which was performed in character. The Cheshire rounds and the Irish trot were also gone through with equal success, after which a contest for the BREECHES ensued, but was determined in favour of Madam Beatrice, and the ladies at parting, withdrew in triumph.

On Monday evening a grand serenade of CULINARY instruments waited on the new-married pair, which in harmony came little short of marrow-bones and cleavers. The musicians demanded a fee, imposed by custom, and which being complied with, the YOUNG couple were left to their QUIET.

Sydney Gazette, Sunday, May 15, 1803

Annoucement of the wedding of Catharine Rourke to Henry Simpson. Sydney Gazette, 15 May 1803.

The last page of the paper carries the official announcement and provides further details about the matrimonial couple. The wedding was held at The Rocks, one of the first areas settled in Sydney, which ‘was associated with those who had arrived as convicts from the beginning of white settlement’.  It was populated by a cross-section of the lower orders: labourers, convicts, maritime workers, tradesmen and women as well as attracting visiting seamen. Regarded as the rude, uncultured end of town,  popular culture thrived here, especially in the many public houses – music, dancing and singing as well as drinking, brawling and gambling.

This was a Catholic wedding with an Irish element. Historian Grace Karskens in The Rocks.  Life in Early Sydney states, “The glimpses we have of official weddings suggest that couples opened their homes to their friends for all-night celebrations…. Irish couples seem to have gathered Irish friends together for celebrations of drinking, singing and dancing which lasted three days.”

This celebration continued from Saturday to Monday, culminating with “‘a grand serenade of CULINARY instruments’, clanging and bashing pots, pans, spoons and basins outside the house of the newlyweds, the din described as ‘harmony little short of marrow-banes and cleavers’.  In accordance with ‘custom’ they refused to go away until a ‘fee’ was paid ‘which being complied with the YOUNG couple were left to their domestic QUIET’.”

In 1974 when Shirley Andrews, the pioneer of Australian dance research, published Take Your Partners she selected an 1809 version of the dance. This was not a traditional rendering but rather an attempt by the English dancing master, Thomas Wilson, to create something new. Wilson, in The Treasures of the Terpischore, delighted in updating old dances – not always successfully: in his new version of the Cheshire Rounds the “rounds” were completely removed and it bears little resemblance to the original dance. Without the excellent resources now available to researchers, it was this later version which Shirley Andrews selected when writing Take Your Partners and although it may have been danced in the colony at a later date, it would not be the version recorded in the 1803 Sydney Gazette.

The lower orders held on to older, popular dances rather than the latest society dances.


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