See it on video: Century-old Sheffield sword dance

IT WAS a tradition that would have been as familiar as the changing seasons in many Yorkshire communities.

But by the early years of the last century society was changing quickly and that meant the longsword dances that had been a central part of Yorkshire life for centuries were on the point of being forgotten.

One man who recognised that a significant part of the county's heritage was about to be lost was music teacher Cecil Sharp and he set about documenting what remained and today it is exactly 100 years since he visited Sheffield's Grenoside team to watch them dance and record the details for a book he later published.

While virtually all teams eventually faded away, Grenoside is one of only four to defy the march of time and to have survived without interruption.

To mark the anniversary, current dancers will perform the same routine their predecessors demonstrated for Sharp – at Hill Top farm, in a cruck barn that provided the backdrop then.

Today's Grenoside team features two members who had relatives in the historic 1910 line-up.

Sheffield has the distinction of being home to two of the four remaining longsword teams, with another at Handsworth.

The others are in Flamborough and Goathland, where it is believed the dance emerged as a result of Viking influence.

Grenoside is on an ancient salt route, so it is possible the village's own dance grew from the influence of such visitors.

Verbal references to the team existed as long ago as 1750 but documents relating to the team start later, with the first known photograph dating from 1885.

Steve Mettam, 44, is a relative newcomer to the team and has been a member since 2005.

But his family is steeped in the Grenoside longsword tradition, which he can trace back through five generations of his family.

His grandfather used the association to gain the hand of his wife, who's father was then team captain.

"He saw the dance first in 1936 and he wrote that he could not court my grandmother unless he learned the dance," said Mr Mettam. "Her father was the captain."

Mr Mettam's predecessors were in the team which had their routine recorded for posterity a century ago.

"The only way to join the team would have been to be a Grenosider or to marry into a family," he said.

His own involvement emerged after years of persuasion from other members.

He said: "I used to watch my grandfather dance and was asked to join. I didn't, but in 2005 was asked to learn the dance and then I danced out. Now I feel it is not quite a duty, but you do look at what it meant and it was basically survival in some respects."

In the postwar years the team thrived, probably because of close-knit family connections, and expanded to include the Haymakers, who performed summer country dances.

Events would see Grenoside's Main Street filled with followers, but after a couple of decades support waned.

"Those people's sons and daughters were not interested in carrying it on," he said, and that saw a change with a move to recruit members who were students at Sheffield University.

Today the team's membership remains healthy: "Every two or three years we put an appeal out for new members and each time we get one or two," he said.

The Lottery helped several years ago with a 10,000 grant for new uniforms, provided in collaboration with the Crucible theatre in Sheffield.

In a previous era the longsword team would have visited the country houses in the area to perform, a way of obtaining money when times were hard for the majority of workers.

Even in the 1960s those involved could expect to make up to 35 shillings from their endeavours between Christmas and early January, a substantial sum at the time.

More recently that had shrunk to performing the team's only dance, which celebrates the end of the old year and the start of a new agricultural season, outside one pub.

But for the last few years the longer walks have been re-instated and it appears the long-standing tradition has a healthy future.

Teacher who preserved past

Cecil Sharp was a music teacher who is credited with reviving interest in England's traditional song and dance in the early years of the 20th century.

His interest was ignited by watching Morris dancers perform and his work took him around the country, documenting songs which were largely passed down the generations and details of traditional dances.

In some cases he was too late. Although it is believed about 100 Yorkshire communities had longsword teams, details of the dances they performed died with the last members.

However, Mr Sharp's work has meant that revivalist teams, many formed in the 1970s, have a catalogue of material to draw upon.