Harry Robinson

When the contests for the Northumberland and Durham Championships were revived in 1935, much of the organisation of competition was undertaken by Harry Robinson of Stanley.

Perhaps aggravated by the fact that Harry Robinson had, at one time, been a pupil of his, Jimmy Ellwood was concerned about the organisational details lacked clarity! He felt constrained to commit his questions to paper and write about his concerns to the local press. He first inquired whether the:

… shuffle off the toe has to be after dancing the full ten steps, and whether it has to be a double, single or treble shuffle. (Unidentified cutting in IRT Collection)

Whatever reply he got he was evidently not satisfied and later wrote:

Is this a clog dancing championship to be held at Stanley in March a revival of stage dancing, or a set of surprises? In the first place Mr Robinson says all the competitors are to dance on a three feet square pedestal with a glass top. This is pedestal dancing. Why not put the competitors on the open stage as was done at the Queen’s Theatre, Gateshead, in 1908? Why the illumination? The audience will neither see the judges nor the dancers. Where is the going to be to judge the carriage of the dancer? And what about the hornpipe? The management should send all the competitors a piano copy of the orchestra score. Then they would know what they were training for. (Unidentified cutting in IRT collection)

Jimmy Ellwood. Unknown Newspaper, 1935.

The above letter seems to be a result of information regarding the competition being given out by the organisers. How this was effected is a mystery. It does not seem to have been through the local press.

The reply he received from Harry Robinson was somewhat caustic:

In reply to Mr. Jim Ellwoods’s queries on the clog dancing championship, the “pedestal” that he asks about is not a pedestal, but a small miniature stage with a glass top instead of a wooden one and if a three feet square platform is not considered big enough for Mr Ellwood and others, I feel sure the proprietors will empower me to add another foot, making it four feet which is the same size used in the world’s championship at London, Hull and Manchester. A one foot high platform will not in any way obscure the audience’s view or any one of the three judges, or they must be of the pygmy size. These gentlemen will have a full view of both the audience and competitors as the referee, Mr McIntosh, will be seated behind the competitor and a judge on each side. As to the hornpipe being sent to all competitors, it has never to my knowledge been customary in any championship contest to do so, and I cannot break the rule. (Newcastle Evening Chronicle, undated cutting in IRT collection)

In any event when the competition eventually took place Jimmy did not fare particularly well although this was perhaps hardly surprising given his age at the time (he was 66). His first appearance was on Tuesday 25th June 1935 when he won his heat, beating his son Tom Ellwood and a Mr M. Smith of Stanley. He did not do so well in the semi-finals however being knocked out on 28th June 1935. He was eventually awarded 6th place, although two of his pupils were awarded 2nd and 3rd places. immy was clearly most dissatisfied with the result and wrote to the press about his misfortunes:

The veteran clog dancer, Jim Ellwood, has written to me from 14 Duke Street, Whitley Bay – and is in a challenging mood. ‘Please allow me’, he writes, to challenge T. Pritchard of Stocksfield, to dance again for the fifth prize medal he received in the clog dancing championship contest at Stanley on June 29th. A sporting gentleman is prepared to deposit £S for a side stake on my behalf to dance in any theatre or hall.’ Conditions suggested are that the proprietor of the hall or theatre shall appoint the judge, each dancer to choose his own musicians, and to dance on the same conditions as in the championship contest. ‘If Mr Pritchard accepts this challenge’, the veteran stipulates, ‘it must be before the 8th, 9th or 10th of August as after that I am booked up. (Newcastle Evening Chronicle 17/7/1935, p6 col 6)

The Mr Pritchard in question, initially seems to have been willing to dance, but not on Jim’s terms:

Mr T. Pritchard of Stocksfield, who has accepted Mr ‘Jim’ Ellwood’s challenge to a clog dancing contest for £5 or more a-side, but not for the medal which was awarded to Mr Pritchard at the Stanley championship contest wishes me to make clear the reason why he will not dance for the medal. ‘I am not prepared to dance again for the medal’, he explains, ‘because to do so would imply that I doubted the fairness of the judging – which I do not.’ As he has previously stated, leaving the medal out of the question he is prepared to dance against Mr Ellwood ‘anywhere at any time under the conditions stipulated’. (Newcastle Evening Chronicle 1/8/1935, p6 col 6).

The correspondence continued with Jim’s riposte:

The veteran clog dancer Mr Jim Ellwood, has written to me from Whitley bay, indicating his willingness to dance Mr T. Pritchard, of Stocksfield, for £5 a-side – and leaving out of the contest any question of the medal awarded to the latter at the Stanley championship contest. Various stipulations are made in regard to the steps to be danced, the hall and the judges. It is not possible for me to enter into all these conditions here, and so I have sent Mr Ellwood’s letter on to Mr Pritchard and must leave it to the principals personally to discuss conditions. Mr George Macintosh, the World’s champion dancer, has written to me from 64 Leazes Park Rd, Newcastle, offering to give a silver cup if the match is arranged – ‘with the proviso that they dance for £5 a-side and select theIr own judges.’ The selection of the referee is to be left to someone else. (Newcastle Evening Chronicle 9/8/1935, p8 col 4).

Hulme Collection H29/2

The event seems eventually to have fallen through however as in a later, unpublished, letter Jimmy makes it clear that he will compete no more:

In answer to Mr T. Pritchard of Stocksfield I cannot Stand the Idea of allowing a Pupil of mine in Harry Robinson to stand has judge in Dancing I also object to Mr Dicky Ferrell has he said I was due to the 5th Prize Medal in the Clog Dancing Championship held at West Stanley on june 29th Mr Will Percival Winner of 8 medals and Holder of Dan Leno and Tom Ward Belt has wrote to me saying I was Due to the 5th Prize Mr Warren Doyle late Champion Clog Dancer of North of England says I am due to 5th PrizeWm McSparron Jack Astor and other Competitors say I am due to 5th Prize So I am writing to say I did my best to try an revive the old time clog Dancing but from now I will not Dance in no more Competitions or Matches I had 8 Pupils in the last Contest beside myself and I am Proud to think I had 2nd and 3rd Prize Winners in the Final. I might say I learned them Steps I could not do myself in the Semi Final I had to fall back on the easy 10 steps and Shuffle It is a coincedense for me to win my first Dancing Contest in Fosters Concert Room in the Stanley Hotel Stanley in 1888 a Purse of Silver 12 Threepenny Pieces and now to Dance my last Contest in the Vic Cinema Stanley 1935. So if Mr T. Pritchard wishes to choose his own Judge has he says in his challenge I cannot I cannot see where I will get a chance to win so I will [ …. ] out of all contests in the Future and let the [young?] Dancers have their Fling. (Photocopy letter in Hulme Collection H29/2)