The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Skippety

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 46

June - July 1987

The Lenton Skippety
by Cliff Voisey

Readers of The Lenton Listener may have heard of the Lenton Skippety Country Dance and perhaps have seen it being performed. There would have been no recent performances of the dance but for the enthusiasm and awareness of Reg Meakin in the days of his youth. Our story of the Lenton Skippety starts on Gregory Street in about 1920 as Reg Meakin recalls.

Photograph by Paul Bexon - Lenton Listener No. 46

Pupils from Dunkirk Primary School in 1987 performing the Lenton Skippety.

I would have been eleven or twelve when first saw the music at No.8 Gregory Street, the home of Miss Elizabeth and Miss Eliza Greetham. Miss Eliza Greetham had caught me leaning over the garden wall of Chestnut Cottage (No.2/2A Gregory Street). She wondered if I was up to some sort of mischief, but I explained that I was looking at the crocuses which were growing in hundreds beneath the boughs of a horse chestnut tree - long since gone. She seemed to think it rather odd but eventually said that if I liked crocuses I could come and look at hers, and took me down her garden where there were hundreds of them growing under some apple trees. (The site of her house is now covered by the new part of Arnesby Road). I met her sister Elizabeth and they invited me to go for tea on the following Sunday, which I did. That was the beginning of a rather unusual friendship between us, the ladies being so old and very prim and proper. I think they were very lonely and got on one another's nerves, as they frequently quarrelled, which was rather embarrassing for me.

The Verses Composed By Reg Meakin For The Lenton Skippety

The other side of the Priory,
Against the silver Leen,
There stands a Fairy Palace,
Built for the Fairy Queen.

Its walls are made of marble,
Its doors are made of gold,
And round its Fairy Fountains,
The fairy wares are sold.

The goblins, elves and fairies
All live together there,
A more contented family
You won't find anywhere.

At eventide they have their games
Upon the village green,
And sail about in little boats
Upon the River Leen.

'Twas they who brought the crocuses
Which paint the meadows blue
When Winter's gone, and bring delight
To folk like me and you.

So here's to Lenton's fairies,
For all the good they do,
And here's to the Priory Brownie Pack,
Cubs, Scouts and Girl Guides, too!

I told them I was learning to play the piano and they had some old copies of music, which they said I could look at. One was a book, minus its covers and outer pages, of old country dances. It was painted in faded black or dark brown ink and one of the tunes called 'The Statice Skip' was the tune, they said, of the Skippety Dance which their great grandmother used to dance when she was a young girl in Lenton. The book had once belonged to their great grandmother.

As all the tunes looked easy to play I asked if I could borrow it. (My mother was teaching me to play, using Gurlitt's Piano Tutor, which only contained dull exercises - there were no fancy pieces to play like there were in Henry Farmer's Tutor, which most of my friends were using). The sisters agreed to lend it to me provided I took great care of it. I kept it for so long that they had to insist that I return it, so my father copied out my favourites including the 'Statice Skip' - alias the Skippety - on to music manuscript paper. It was printed in the key of E flat. The book was then duly returned. I had no idea, nor was the slightest bit interested at that time, in how the dance was performed, and I doubt whether the sisters knew either. I was only interested in the easy-to-play music. Eventually Miss Elizabeth became very ill and infirm, and my visits gradually ceased.

My father worked at Fould's Music shop, then on Chapel Bar. In 1927, I think, they held a sale of music in order to clear 'dead' stock, which had been on their shelves for many years - some from before the First World War. I went along to look for bargains, and bought several copies at 3d or 6d each, and also a book entitled 'Dances of the Olden Time' (published in 1912) for which I paid a shilling. Alfred Moffat had arranged the tunes and Frank Kitson provided instructions for performing the dances. Nellie Chaplin who was Charlie Chaplin's aunt, and who had a School of Country Dancing in London, supplied photographs of her students performing some of the dances. Among the dances was a Country Dance tune called 'The Ball', dated 1786, which was identical with that of the Greetham's 'Statice Skip' - otherwise the Lenton Skippety except that it was written in the key of A. It seemed a remarkable quirk of fate that it should fall into my hands. It became, and still is, my most treasured possession. I don't know what happened to the Greetham's copy when their house was cleared. I expect it was just thrown away.

As a young man Reg Meakin became interested in the history of the Great Priory Church in Lenton. His work with the scouts, cubs, and brownies inspired him to compose some verse of words, which would accompany the Lenton Skippety. After a few public performances, it lay forgotten until about ten years ago when the Lenton Local History Society learned about the dance from Reg (then Chairman of the Society) and decided to produce some copies of it complete with the tune, words and dance instructions. At about this time the Priory Church of St. Anthony was holding a Summer Flower Festival and children from Dunkirk Primary School were invited to do some dancing as part of the Festival, and it was suggested that they include the Skippety in their programme. Their teacher, Mrs. Grant, took up the invitation and this country-dance has been performed and sung quite regularly ever since, so much so that it is now quite famous.

Copies of the single sheet giving the music, dance routine and the words are available from the Secretary of the Lenton Local History Society price 20p.

The first of these photographs was actually used as the illustration to accompany the article. The other seven images were taken at the same time but it is only now [2015] that they have been made available on the website.

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

Photograph by Paul Bexon

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