The Haughley Hoofers are an enthusiastic group of clog dancers based in the picturesque village of Haughley, near Stowmarket. The side was started by Heather Bexon who originally set up a clog stepping group in the autumn of 1983 saying that she had no plans to start a North West Morris side. By the end of the following summer so many people had said that they would join if she started one, she thought that she had better ‘go with the flow’ so practices began in the autumn of 1984. (This group included several members of Bury Fair Women’s Morris, itself an offshoot of Hageneth Morris Men.) Originally the Hoofers were to be a mixed side, but few men showed any sustained interest in dancing and it became, and remains, a women’s side but with male and female musicians.
Our first booking was at a barbecue celebrating the opening of The Old Piggery Pottery in Needham Market. At that stage, we hadn’t finished designing our kit, we had our red corduroy pinafore dresses but hadn’t really thought through what we were going to wear underneath so had a interesting array of Laura Ashley blouses and jumble sale antique Victorian bloomers complete with ‘convenience’ trap doors! (The kit wouldn’t have suited men anyway!) The Victorian undies being a bit delicate – or indelicate – they were later replaced by specially made blue and white striped ones – our ‘Andy Pandy suits’.
Most of our dances are danced in the style of the North West Morris. These dances were processional dances from the villages and towns of Lancashire and Cheshire whose names they bear and were originally danced by workers in the textile mills at such events as May festivals and carnivals. They were also danced at rush bearing festivals when the old rushes lining the floors of the churches in former times were renewed.
We dance in clogs (the traditional footwear of the millworkers) and in our dances use original bobbins from the mills, decorated with ribbons and bells. The clogs are individually made for each dancer and are surprisingly comfortable to wear.
We also perform dances from the Isle of Man and the Hebridean Islands and some are new, but choreographed by members of the side in the North West style. One is ‘Abbeygate’, named with the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds in mind and our namesake dance is, of course, ‘Haughley’.
True to tradition, over the years we have danced at various local events from street fairs to W I evenings as well as folk festivals and days of dance all over England. You may have seen us at the traditional dance day as part of the Bury Festival in May or September. We have made friends with other dance sides and have danced in some beautiful parts of the country. The prize for the longest procession though must go to the Sowerby Rushbearing Festival when we felt as though we danced over most of Yorkshire (about 10 miles over 2 days)! Great hospitality and lovely views though lads!
I think our first foreign trip was to a festival near Mons in Belgium – a weekend which was hilarious with lots of dancing: dancing to drummers, disco dancing on the boat – oh, and clogging! Later, with Hageneth Morris Men, we arranged a dance exchange with ‘La Compagnie Marc Leclerc’ – a French dance group from Angers. We visited them again in 2003 and in September 2004 we had a very successful trip with Hageneth to Kamen-Heeren, near Dortmund, as guests of ‘Singekreis’ – a German choir whom we met the previous year in Angers. In 2005 Hoofers and Hageneth went off to France again to visit a couple of ex-pat members and their new (French) dance group in Anthé.
The side has always had very strong links with Hageneth Morris men. Many of Hageneth have had partners who have joined the Hoofers, but we have also had Hageneth/Hoofer weddings, one Hoofer even designing her dress so that she could dance with the side on her wedding day!
After a dip in membership, numbers of both dancers and musicians are rising again. To judge by the laughter, our new members seem to enjoy the dancing and music as much as the rest of us always have and are looking forward to another great summer season.