Review: An afternoon of Early Wellington Dances

A unique experience of our Scottish Country Dancing history

A lively crowd of close to 60 dancers from clubs across the Wellington Region along with Auckland tutor Katharine Hoskyn and a visitor from the UK, gathered at St John’s Anglican Church Hall in Johnsonville on Saturday 29 April for an afternoon of trying out dances from our past.

As part of the RSCDS Centenary Events, this special occasion celebrated the role of the extended RSCDS Wellington Region as the well-spring of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand.

Over the afternoon, four long-time tutors from the Region—Iain Boyd, Romaine Butterfield, Edith Campbell and Elaine Laidlaw[1]—taught dances from the early days of Scottish Country Dancing in the lower North Island.

Our tutors: Elaine Laidlaw, Edith Campbell, Romaine Butterfield and Iain Boyd

The tutors selected dances from The Morison’s Bush Collection (published in 1978 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Wellington/Hawke’s Bay Association of Scottish Country Dance Clubs), The Harbour City Collection (published by the Wellington Region in 1986), Silver Threads (published for the RSCDS New Zealand Branch 25th Anniversary in 1993) and The Linden Collection (dances devised by Wellington Region tutor Ian Simmonds).

To set the scene, tartan bunting and historical photos decorated the walls of the hall along with posters containing brief summaries of the tutors’ contributions to Scottish Country Dancing and photos of them MC’ing noteworthy events in the Region.

Tartan bunting and historical posters and photos set the scene
The hall at Morison’s Bush, thought to have been the Church of England Institute at Featherston Military Camp in 1916-1921. Moved to Morison’s Bush circa 1922. It burnt down on 14 Oct 1989. Photo: TH Daniell. Masterton District Council Archives

To add to this unique experience, The Cranberry Tarts—Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral—provided music for the afternoon from the original tunes and arrangements used by Peter Elmes[2].

The Cranberry Tarts – Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral

A sizeable number of tutors from clubs in the Region from Carterton in the Wairarapa to Waikanae on the Kāpiti Coast attended the event.

Wellington Region Tutors at the event: Iain Boyd, Melva Waite, Rod Downey, Edith Campbell, Diane Bradshaw, Romaine Butterfield, Jeanette Watson, Elaine Lethbridge, Elaine Laidlaw, Barbara Gill, Elizabeth Ferguson, Michael Laidlaw

Welcoming everyone to the occasion, event organiser Rod Downey explained the event was a celebration of the extended region as the ‘cradle of Scottish Country Dancing’ in New Zealand.[3]

He emphasised the stars of the afternoon were the old dances, with the stellar group being the well-regarded tutors.

Programme organiser Iain Boyd introduced the teacher for each dance, mentioning many of the dances have special music with arrangements by Peter Elmes.

Download the programme

We took to the floor for Elaine Laidlaw’s first dance, Mirth’s Welcome (The Morison’s Bush Collection), devised by her husband Michael Laidlaw[4] for Mirth Smallwood[5], a long-time tutor of Kelburn Club. Mirth went away to Rarotonga for a time and Michael took over teaching Kelburn during that period. He devised the dance for her return in June 1969, and also composed the music.

Elaine Laidlaw teaching Mirth’s Welcome (with videographer John Patterson at the rear)
Dancers filled the hall for the first dance, Mirth’s Welcome

Watch this video of Mirth’s Welcome (first two times through, followed by the final time through)

After a brief break to regain our breath, Edith Campbell taught her dance To Ane An’ A’ (The Harbour City Collection). She explained we celebrate the arrival of a new year at Hogmanay by singing the traditional Scottish song A Guid New Year (which she sang to us). She thought a celebratory dance was also needed, so devised To Ane An’ A’ as a Round-the-Room dance to encourage dancers to wish a good new year to ‘one and all’. Tom Barnes[6], a Wellington accordionist in the 1980s, arranged the music.

Edith Campbell singing us the traditional Scottish song A Guid New Year
Enjoying the dance To Ane An’ A’

Watch this video of To Ane An’ A’

Iain Boyd took us through Under A Shady Tree (Silver Threads) devised by his wife, Wellington tutor Noeline O’Connor. This dance is connected to summer dancing in the past on the Puriri Lawn in Wellington Botanic Garden where a seat around a large puriri tree provided respite for the dancers from the sun. The music is traditional.

Puriri tree with seat at the Wellington Botanic Garden
Dancing Under A Shady Tree

Watch this video of Under a Shady Tree (final time through)

Ian Simmond’s[7] dance Percy Reserve (The Linden Collection) commemorates the many years summer dancing was held at Percy Scenic Reserve in Lower Hutt. Romaine Butterfield described how hordes of dancers met on the lawn near the duck pond on balmy summer nights. She said it was essential to “watch out for low-flying ducks” when dancing! Peter Elmes composed the tune Dancing on the Lawn.

Romaine Butterfield teaching Percy Reserve
1955: Summer Dancing in Percy Reserve, Wellington Evening Post Scottish Country Dancers at Percy Scenic Reserve, Korokoro, Lower Hutt. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1955/2562-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22736027
Enjoying the dance Percy Reserve

Watch this video of Percy Reserve (two times through)

After four energetic dances, people chatted about the programme being rather exhausting, both physically and mentally. Before tackling Govandale Reel, (a 48-bar jig!), Rod shared a brief pertinent comment from our distant past:

”It is perhaps significant that these dances, from completely different sources, all show a tendency which could be characteristic of dancing in our vigorous young country.”

1958 New Zealand Scottish Country Dancer, p6

The room erupted with laughter!

Govandale Reel (The Morison’s Bush Collection) was devised by Jim Lean, who played the records for many years at Lower Hutt Club. Edith gave us a brief history of Govan, a district on the River Clyde in Glasgow. Charlie Jemmett, a well-known accordionist from Christchurch, composed the music.

Dancing Govandale Reel

Watch this video of Govandale Reel (first time through)

Following a well-earned break for afternoon tea, Romaine taught her dance Joy Be Wi’ You (The Morison’s Bush Collection), a 5-couple dance with marvellous traditional music. She hoped the “joy would be with us” throughout the dance. Indeed, plenty of smiles and laughter from the dancers lit up the floor.

Smiles and laughter while balancing in line in Joy Be Wi’ You

Watch this video of Joy Be Wi’ You (first two times through)

Elaine returned to the floor to teach Feshiebridge devised by long-time tutor Gary Morris[8] in Edinburgh in 1962. The beautiful Feshiebridge crosses the River Feshie in the Cairngorms, conveniently located near a distillery! Gary also composed the music which was recorded by Peter Elmes, John Smith and Lynne Scott on the Scottish Country Dancing CD Thistle Hall.

Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms. Photo: Lovecairngorms
Leading down the middle in Feshiebridge

Watch this video of Feshiebridge (two times through)

Iain taught the last dance of the afternoon, Kelburn’s Reel (The Morison’s Bush Collection) devised by long-time tutor Betty Redfearn[9] for the 10th Anniversary of Kelburn Club in 1969. This cheerful and social Round-the-Room dance was a perfect ending to a superb afternoon of dancing, listening to Peter Elmes’ arrangements of tunes and socialising.

Iain Boyd teaching Kelburn’s Reel
Dancing Kelburn’s Reel with Iain Boyd at the right

Watch this video of Kelburn’s Reel

Considerable work is needed to make sure an event like this is a success. Thanks so much to Region President Rod Downey for organising the afternoon, Iain Boyd for organising the programme, Kristin Downey and the Johnsonville team for the hall decorations, Elaine Lethbridge for hall-setup and preparing the delicious afternoon tea, Kevin Lethbridge for hall-setup and on the door, Loralee Hyde for promotion, communications and photography, and John Patterson for videography.

Videographer John Patterson and photographer Loralee Hyde. Photo: Désirée Patterson

A special thank you to the four tutors, Iain Boyd, Romaine Butterfield, Edith Campbell and Elaine Laidlaw, for the time they took to select, research and teach their chosen dances. We very much appreciated their knowledge, expertise and insights into the Scottish Country Dancing history of our region.

Thank you also to the Cranberry Tarts, Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral, for their marvellous playing, bringing back so many memories of Peter Elmes’ fine arrangements of tunes.

This special afternoon is one to remember.

Click here to see all of Loralee’s photos and download if you wish

Loralee Hyde
5 May 2023

Photos by Loralee Hyde except where noted
Videos by John Patterson and Pat Reesby

[1] See more about the tutors for this special occasion of Early Wellington Dances

[2] Tributes to Peter Elmes following his retirement from playing his accordion for 60 years in Wellington Region and throughout New Zealand, Harbour City Happenings, Volume 21 No. 3, December 2018

[3] The Foreword of The Morison’s Bush Collection says “For Country Dancers in the Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay area it [Morison’s Bush] was for many years the centre of social life and dances there were not to be missed.”

[4] Michael Laidlaw RSCDS New Zealand Branch Award his contributions to the Branch and Wellington Region in Harbour City Happenings, Volume 26, No. 1, March 2023

[5] A tribute to Mirth Smallwood Harbour City Happenings, Volume 7, No.5, November 2004

[6] Wellington Scottish Country Dance musicians John Foden and Tom Barnes Harbour City Happenings Volume 24 No. 4, December 2021

[7] Ian Simmonds retires after 52 years of teaching Linden Club, Harbour City Happenings, Volume 14, No. 2, July 2011

[8] Gary Morris Extract from Sociable Carefree Delightful A History of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand 1995 p150-151

[9] Tributes to Betty Redfearn Harbour City Happenings, Volume 20 No. 1, June 2017