Croydon Branch History I

History of RSCDS Croydon & District Branch
Part I
The First Twenty-five years – 1953 – 1978

Prior to the formation of the RSCDS Branch, Scottish Dance Clubs existed in the area catering for Scottish dancing in conjunction with adult evening classes operated by the Surrey and Kent Adult Education Authorities. Clubs such as, Croydon Country Dance Club, (formed 1948), Wallington Scottish Association, West Wickham SCD Club (formed 1952), Caterham SCD Group, Epsom Caledonian Society, to name but a few.

In December 1953, members of Croydon Country Dance Club along with similar minded groups from Sanderstead, West Wickham, and Upper Norwood, arranged a meeting at Purley Oaks School, South Croydon. This meeting was attended by approximately 150 people, was chaired by Mr W Robertson (Chairman of the Croydon classes SCD Clubs) with Miss Milligan representing the RSCDS. The meeting decided to form a new Branch of the RSCDS to be titled the;
“East Surrey, West Kent Branch of the RSCDS”.
Hence on Wednesday, 9th December 1953 the Branch was inaugurated with the following committee chosen:
Chairman Mrs Sandison
Secretary Miss T Ockenden
plus representatives from Sanderstead, West Wickham, Upper Norwood, and Croydon.

The name was eventually changed in 1969 to reflect more accurately the geographical area of the membership to,
“Croydon and District Branch”

Purley Oaks School remained the main venue for meetings, dances, classes and Day School’s through to 1976 when the Branch’s long association with the school came to a close.

The first Annual General Meeting was convened on 5th January 1954 when Sir J. Henderson-Stewart, MP Under Secretary of State for Scotland was elected as the first Branch President (a position held for 10 years) and Mr Chessel, (Organisation of Adult Education in Croydon), as Vice-President.
At the subsequent AGM the following were agreed:
That the dance classes would continue under the auspices of the local Adult Education Authorities, with the Branch assisting in providing qualified teachers,
That Committee members make a loan to the club, (Sanderstead also made a major financial contribution),
The Croydon Dance Club would be dissolved with their assets and members transferring to the Branch,
The RSCDS Rules be adopted by the Branch

Throughout the Branch’s early life it assisted in setting up classes in different locations such as Reigate, Oxted, Horley, Beckenham, to name a few along with providing qualified teachers until local ones became available. In addition, several children’s classes, out with the schools, were operated ensuring a supply of upcoming dancers. The children provided demonstrations as well as entering competitions in which they were highly successful.

Demonstrations formed an essential part of the Branch in these early years. The advanced class incorporated the demonstration class. Great importance was placed on these to demonstrate dances also, a means of promoting dancing and the RSCDS. Demonstrations were regularly provided at functions and charitable events throughout the years. Competitions entered such as the Sevenoaks Art Festival where they regularly won the Rose Bowl and Ladies Cup (note this cup was presented by the Branch to the Festival), as well as at various Highland Games at Richmond and Clapham Common, where success was also achieved. The demonstration team eventually fell by the wayside due to the dwindling number of dancers attending the advanced class.

Classes held their own dances to the piano for which they provided the catering. The main mode of music for teaching and dances was the piano until the availability of records and taped music. The piano’s popularity for social dancing waned primarily due to its lack of volume in the larger halls, availability of pianists and the cost of functions. Occasionally a piper played for some of the dances at the Socials. To encourage dancing, a Day School was instituted in 1955 and, with the exception of a couple of years, continued through to 1976 when the Branch weekend became the popular alternative. Many well known teachers have taught at the Branch Day School, Miss Milligan, Mary Stoker, Bill Ireland, Andrew Gillies, May Yarker, to name a few.

The social dances were supplemented by formal dances to a band throughout the season with a ceilidh at Hogmanay. These being held at venues in the area such as, Purley Oaks School, Streatham Baths Hall, Croydon Baths Hall, Croydon YMCA Hall, St Peter’s Hall, and Streatham Assembly Rooms. Gradually, due to their unavailability or cost, dances moved to alternative venues at St. John’s Church Hall Selsdon, Sanderstead URC, Shirley Parish Hall and Monks Hill Gymnasium. The bands of the sixties were; Skinners, McBains, Stan Watts, Reg Flowers, Louis Davidson, McNalty’s and The Blue Bonnets whilst those of the seventies were McBains, Caberfae, The Caledonian Country Band, The White Cockade, Brian Hamilton, Frank Reid, Trossachs and Robin Ellis. A number of who still play at our dances to day.

Open air dancing was popular in the summer months with functions originally held at Merstham and in the Croydon Parks. These proved very popular and were well attended. They also assisted the Branch spread the joys of Scottish Country Dancing to the general public.

Over the years, the membership has remained healthy though not without a lot of hard work by Committee members and teachers over the years. The Branch evolved with 86 members at their first Annual General Meeting in 1954 swelling to 140 during that year. During these first twenty-five years, the membership has seesawed between these figures and still to day remains within these limits.

Throughout, the Branch has been an active participant of the RSCDS, attending meeting, participating on various committees and where considered necessary, proposing changes and constructive suggestions to further the Society’s aims.

The seventies was a time of change in several ways. . Since the Adult Education Authority classes began to wane partly due to their cost and to new evening school topics gaining popularity, the Branch took on a greater responsibility for the classes; recorded music replaced the piano, the development of other recreational activities and off course spiralling costs. The local classes were taught by, Andrew Gillies, Sylvia Ede, Sheila Muir, Adrian Conrad and Mr Leslie. This period also saw the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at which the Branch contributed to the Croydon Jubilee festival with a decorated float in the parade followed by dance performances in Ashburton Park. Later that year (9th December, 1978), our own Silver Jubilee Bal was held at Wallington Public Hall with dancing to Robin Ellis & The Caledonians. 110 dancers attended with representation from local RSCDS Branches and Clubs and Duncan McLeod, representing the RSCDS, having taken over the Chair on the passing of Dr. Jean Milligan earlier in the year (28th July 1978).

The Ball Programme was:
Hooper’s Jig, Reel of the 51st Division, Lea Rig, Miss Hadden’s Reel, Dashing White Sergeant, Madge Wildfires, Petronella, Jubilee Jig, Strathglass House, None So Pretty, Round Reel of Eight, INTERVAL 19th December, Bonnie Anne, Balmoral Strathspey, New Rigged Ship, Hollin Buss, Sugar Candie, Machine Without Horses, Mrs Stewart of Fasnacloich, Miss Milligan’s Strathspey, Montgomeries’ Rant, Duke of Perth.

In the words used by Arthur McMillan, 1973 Chairman, in his September letter:
“On with the dance; let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.”

Happy days and good dancing.

George Ferrier
The Branch Archivist