The Round History - bits and pieces


On December 9th 1925 the Cambridge Morris Men held their first public display and they organised a formal dinner that evening to celebrate. Following the dinner they held a meeting to discuss this and that. (A later note in the minute book records the blindingly obvious point that holding a business meeting in such circumstances is a bad idea.) One of the results was that as an experiment John Barker was deputed to organise Country Dance Parties. He organised two in the Lent term and the minutes of a meeting on March 11th 1926 record that it was generally agreed that they had been a very great success.

John Coales was admited to the CMM in April 1928
Robert Saunders was something significant in EFDS 1928ish

Something about a Newnham-based group.


Dunno what the Round did to start off with. 1951 records that it was Grace North's 21st year of playing for the Round, which implies that from 1930 they had Grace North playing a piano (she retired from playing for the Round in 1966).
The Round was certainly buying records before then, so I assume they played them sometimes.
The Round moved to the Friends Meeting House in 1966, when it had a piano; the piano vanished from there in about 1985 when the room was refurbished. In the early eighties Philip Smither occasionally visited the Round, and would sometimes play the piano.
At some stage the Round acquired a record player, then went to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, then (1979) to a cassette player. In 1994 when the Round moved to the Wesley Hall (with no cupboard to store the tape player) we started to use a ghetto blaster supplied by the hall (along with a caller's microphone). In 1998 (with money from the Societies Syndicate) we bought a Round ghetto blaster modified to have variable speed tape and CD players.
The Round bought the EFDSS Playford records in 1978. It bought some CDs (Bare Necessities and Hold the Mustard) in 1994. It was donated a few cassettes in the meantime.

Singing evenings

When the Round was founded folk song was a much stronger part of the folk dance culture than it is now. Early Round programmes frequently included singing. In the early 50's we used to sing on Sunday evenings in the upper room of a pub ("New Spring says John IV -- I expect he means "Old Spring") which was also used by the Morris Men for practice. Basically we worked through "English Folk Songs" by Cecil Sharp. Later these singing evenings moved to wherever someone could be persuaded admit a Round horde to their rooms; frequently Arthur Peck's rooms or William Palmer's house.

Sword Dancing

For 1948-52 the Round organised Sword Dance sessions, but struggled to get enough numbers. In 1997 Beryl Courtney presented The Round with a set of Rapper Swords her late husband had made, (and we actually had some goes at using them.)

Post-Meeting Activity

In the Fifties people would adjourn to local coffee shops, but this became harder as they closed so in 1964 we switched to going back to various students' rooms instead. In 1994 we changed to adjourning to a local pub. In 1959 people started collecting fish and chips and then eating them in some victim's room after the Saturday afternoon sessions, though this custom died out a few years later.


When the Round was founded is was conventional for men to dance in white shirts, flannels and gym shoes, with baldricks if dancing for displays. There was much angst in the 1940s when we moved meetings to the Masonic Hall over the problems of the men finding a changing room wherein to change their trousers. Does anyone know when this dress code faded out? In the 1940s we had a stock of Round Dresses; these had a reasonably close-fitting top with flowing skirts and were in Cambridge Blue with Round logos sewn into the sides of the skirts. They were noteworthy enough that women attending meetings in them had a star recorded against their names.

In the fifties ladies wore flowers in their hair for parties.

In about 1984 (anyone want to claim the credit?) the Round made half a dozen wrap-roound skirts of a greenish small patchwork print. Later Round women have universally condemmed their design so they linger on in pristine condition in the archives.

Punt Party

For many years (???-???) we organised a punt party to coincide with the madrigals on the river in June. The Round would head up towards Grantchester, dance on the riverside fields and then return for the evening madrigals.

In 1984 we started having a punt party on the Sunday after the Playford ball as a way of eating up the left-overs from the evening before.


The Round originally started holding Parties once a term, with a Class a few days before. The classes were usually in St Columba's Hall, and the parties in the Central Labour Hall (now known as the Alex Wood hall) in Norfolk Street, or the Masonic Hall (since demolished) in Corn Exchange Street.

When we started having regular meetings we used some hall (in Fitzroy Street??). In about 1946 we moved to the Technical College Gym. (This was eventually demolished and turned into CCAT / Anglia Polytechnic / whatever it's called now; the gym was off Collier Road -- the current back entrance.) A combination of falling attendance and a three year period of threatened demolition led to us moving to the Friends Meeting House in 1966. There was a period about 10 years later when rising attendance nearly forced a move again, but it was not until 1994 that we moved to the larger Wesley Church Hall, more in (justified) optimism that we would need the space than because we were desparately cramped.

Parties have been held in a variety of halls over the years. They rather died out in the late seventies (though we did start having an annual Anglo-Scottish evening with the Scottish Society) when the last meeting of Term was usually decreed to be a party, but held in the usual hall. In 1994 the Round started organising Ceilidhs as a (not very successful) recruiting campaign, but they continue because people enjoy them even if they do not deliver many new menbers.

Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival

In the early days the Round had little to do with IVFDF; the usual excuses being that it was a long way away, we heard about it too late, or the problems of keeping nights. However 3 people did go in 1955 to Birmingham (the Round paying for their 6/- tickets). In the Seventies the Round started going to IVFDF regularly, and in 1997 many members of the Round were responsible for organising IVFDF in Cambridge (though based at Anglia University rather than Cambridge University). Another IVFDF was organised in Cambridge in 2001, again led by a Round chairman, but involving other dance clubs as well, this time it was held at the Manor Community College, Arbury Road.

Kentucky Running Set

When the Round was founded KRS was in the standard dance repertoire. In the Fifties people began to realise that the Cecil Sharp style was not authentic Appalachian tradition (he used jigs instead of unphrased reels and it was generally done at an outrageously breakneck speed). There was a certain amount of debate at the Round as to the correct style, but generally the senior members won out, mostly by waiting for undergraduates to graduate and leave. In 1976 the Round displayed KRS at IVFDF in London and got moaned at by Nibs Matthews (the then EFDSS director) for not dancing in traditional style so they invited him to come to Cambridge run an evening. He did one half of standard Playford dances and the other of Big Set KRS in traditional Appalachian style; at the end William Palmer thanked him with words along the lines of "that was very interesting, but I think we will stick to our traditional style".

Cecil Sharp Society, Oxford

Although we could not manage to get to IVFDF in the Fifties we had a running series of visits to and from Oxford. These were generally day trips where the visitors would join in an afternoon's dancing, be taken somewhere for tea and then turned loose to go home. ??? dunno when these started and/or stopped ???

The Cecil Sharp Club folded in about 1985 (wasn't Alison Greenwood something to do with it?). It is worth noting that their equivalent of the Old Round still survives.

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