The January meeting of the Biddenham History Society was both informative and fun. Our speaker, Dr Anne Daye, is an expert on historical dance. She began by giving us an overview of aspects of dance as a source of entertainment as it would have been in a village like Biddenham from about 1750 to about 1850. Dances were one of the main means of meeting new people or renewing social connections. Dances were held in private houses – floor space was cleared – and in public venues, Assembly Rooms. There were  Assembly Rooms in Bedford in 1834.

The style of dancing changed considerably during this period. In the late eighteenth century, the minuet was still in vogue. Attention was focused on the performing couple: others stood around and watched.  Gradually other dances were introduced that involved all those present. These were country dances with their long sets and most shocking of all, the waltz, which necessitated close contact with a partner.

The new dances required instruction as it was too difficult to learn them at the ball. Dancing masters, they were generally men, were employed by wealthy families. Anne told us about Queen Victoria’s dancing master who travelled to Windsor and Balmoral when required. He sometimes taught the ladies-in-waiting and other times, the young royals. If there was no need for his services that day, he went fishing. In Bedford, the dancing masters were based in the Crescent and taught families like the Russells and St Johns.

Once we had some background information, Anne took on the role of dancing master, so that we could try out a couple of the Country Dances. One of them was regularly danced by a 14 year old girl in the  nineteenth century, but we soon realized that the young can learn moves and remember them faster than older people! We did try valiantly to remember where to go and when and Anne was very patient with us. We had plenty of laughter as well as gentle exercise!  Thank you Anne for being such a good teacher as well as lecturer!

After the meeting, we looked at an aerial photograph of the village taken in about 1960, that belongs to the Gardeners’ Association. Paula had brought it along for everyone to see. Three ponds were clearly visible in the centre of the village as well as the old farm buildings for Grove Farm.

The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday, April 29th at 8pm in the Church Barn. Our speaker will be Jean Fullerton who will tell us about Victorian Medicine. Jean has been a nurse and lecturer in
nursing. She is now a published novelist and a regular lecturer on cruise ships. I hope you will be able to come and hear her.

Kathy Fricker

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