This summer will have seen audiences at country fairs and festivals learn more about an intriguing chapter in the history of Rufford Abbey Country Park – thanks to Morris dancers.
The Retford-based Rattlejag Morris team have researched local history and immortalised the infamous Rufford Park Poachers fight into a display being performed at various events this year, including the recent Nottinghamshire County Show.
The dance recreates the devastating night-time altercation between 40 poachers and 10 gamekeepers at Rufford Park in 1851 which later left one gamekeeper dead from a fractured skull sustained in the incident.
The Morris group’s Rufford Poacher dance features stick striking representing the fight between poachers and gamekeepers.
And it includes a chorus from the popular ballad Rufford Park Poachers, which appears in the Lincolnshire Posy, a musical masterpiece produced in the 1900s by Percy Grainger, the composer best known for In An English Country Garden.
Sam Millard, the Rattlejag Morris group’s foreman, is pictured with some of the documents that have helped with his research.
These include an old newspaper report which read: “In 1851, a gang of 40 or so poachers assembled in Rufford Park as a mass action against what was perceived to be the unfair monopolising of game-hunting rights by wealthy landowners.
“The poachers were attacked by 10 gamekeepers and in the ensuing battle, one of the gamekeepers was badly injured and later died of a fractured skull.”
Amid the Luddite era, the case made national news as several men said to be poaching that night were later sentenced to various terms in jail for manslaughter – George Bowskill, George Dunlop, Samuel Sims and John Moaks – with Moaks deported to Australia to serve his term of penal servitude.
Rattlejag Morris dancers have a unique way of bringing history to life to entertain us today.
And we are very pleased that this infamous incident involving poachers and Rufford gamekeepers has now been adapted into a Morris dance which will bring this tragic tale to new audiences this year.
Read more about the group:www.rattlejagmorris.org.uk and the group are next set to perform on Saturday, June 11 and Sunday, June 12, with continuous performances at the Southwell Folk Festival.
Other events are also planned later in the year at different venues across the county.