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Miss Mabel Pemberton’s Knutsford Prize Tambourine Dancers 1922

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

A post card showing Knutsford Prize Tambourine Dancers posing with their tambourines outside the Knutsford entrance to Tatton Park in 1922 has prompted an enquiry to find out more about the troupe. The intriguing aspect is that the girls in the photograph are wearing what can only be described as Cheshire-style morris outfits. They are all wearing a headscarf and each girl has a light-coloured overskirt with bells attached to the points, over her dark, knee-length dress. 1922 is the same year that Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers danced at Knutsford Royal May Day.

The obvious question is, did these girls also perform as Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers or are they an entirely different entity?

A list of the Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers who took part alongside Over Peover Morris Dancers in the Knutsford May Day of 1922 was printed on page 3 of the Alderley & Wilmslow Advertiser, 05 May 1922, the only year around this period in which this troupe danced. Mabel Pemberton, who taught the Knutsford dance to Mobberley from where it reached the Bensonian troupe in Altrincham, appears amongst those named as the Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers. However, neither were the names of the tambourine dancers listed in any of the newspaper reports nor has a photograph of the Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers of 1922 been located for comparison.

Knutsford Girl Morris Dancers, 1922 (Alderley & Wilmslow Advertiser, 5 May 1922, p.3),

There had been a troupe of Tambourine Dancers at Knutsford May Day 1920 and the only common name between the two troops is Margaret/Maggie Richardson, if inddeed these are the same person.

Knutsford Tambourine Dancers 1920 (Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 7 May 1920, p.4)

The Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser did not publish its usual detailed report of Knutsford May Day in 1921, so it hasn’t been possible to ascertain whether the tambourine troupe participated that year.

The second question is, what is known about this troupe?

The Tambourine Dancers did not feature in the procession and were not mentioned in the report of Knutsford Royal May Day in 1922. Indeed, as can be seen above, their trainer, Mabel Pemberton, was dancing in the procession as one of the girl Morris dancers.

The troupe took third prize at Wilmslow Carnival in July 1922 behind Miss Dean’s Dutch Dancers and Mr Lea’s Sweet Pea Dancers from Sandbach. This is presumably the prize referred to in the legend on the photograph above. The Tambourine troupe on this occasion were trained by Miss Pemberton, though wrongly attributed to Miss Wilkinson in the Carnival report in the Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser of 7th July, which prompted a correction the following week.

Two weeks later the troupe gained a second place at Alderley Edge Carnival in the open competition for Best Troupe of Dancers (not less than 12 performers). They were trained by Miss Mabel Pemberton and were beaten by Miss Dean’s Knutsford Dutch Dancers, with Alderley Edge Junior Lady Morris Dancers taking third (Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 21 Jul 1922, p.6).

They enjoyed a spell of activity in the early autumn of 1922. At St Vincent’s Knutsford Garden Fete and Sports Gala, ‘At intervals during the sports excellent dancing displays were given by Knutsford Prize Dutch Girls and Tambourine dancers.’ (Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 1 Sep 1922, p.8). At Bramhall Horticultural Show ‘The Knutsford Dutch and tambourine dancers, who have won many prizes this season, performed in the afternoon and evening.’ (Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 9 Sep 1922, p.10). At Whitchurch Carnival they were awarded a special prize in the Adult Dancers’ category (Crewe Chronicle, 16 Sep 1922, p.5).

1923 saw a performance of a tambourine dance by Cranford Prize Troupe at Knutsford Carnival and Fete, held in Tatton Park in aid of Knutsford War Memorial Cottage Hospital, an event at which the Cranford troupe danced morris and other dances (Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 14 Sep 1923, p.8). This may be a clue as to the links between the Cranford Morris Dancers and the Tambourine troupe in the photograph above in addition to the role that Mabel Pemberton played in the two troupes.

Duncan Broomhead has informed me that Tambourine dancers at Knutsford May Day 1928 can be seen briefly on this British Pathé film from 1928 of Crowning The May Queen at Knutsford.

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