The Legend of Mr. Fox
Unveil It is told that there was a great drought ...
... in the West Riding of Yorkshire,
at which the multitude of lakes, meres and ponds, for which that region
is known, began to diminish and dry up. The squire of the manor of Langsett, Sir Rufus Fox, appointed a week of prayers, to be offered by
all his tenants and their families, while processing around Langsett
Lake. On the third day of these prayers, an oaken chest was seen in the
mire where the lake had formerly been. A rope having been obtained, the
chest was drawn out, and, its hasp being struck off, it was found to
contain an ancient tome, calling itself the Liber Rufus Clivuslongi,
that is, the Red Book of Langsett. It should not astonish us that Sir
Rufus took this striking concurrence, between his own name and that of
the venerable book, as a mark of a special Providence.
Unveil That gentleman having returned to his hall, ...
... he set himself to read the book.
It was written in Latin - demonstrating itself, by its lack of
elegance, to have been committed to paper (so it would appear) by a
priest, of little learning, in the reign of king Henry. It described,
in some detail, the wonted sports of the villages of Langsett, Midhope,
Hazlehead, and Fulshaw. These included the Hobby Horse, which would
visit the houses and taverns at All Hallows' Eve; a giant and giantess
which were carried in the Corpus Christi procession which visited all
those villages; and Saint John's Eve, when young men would build great
fires, and parade around them, disguised as devils, with bullroarers
and swung fire, to be chased off by the young women of the village,
carrying branches of greenery.
Unveil The drought having ended, Sir Rufus ...
... set himself to translating this work into the common tongue, in the
hope of restoring some of these former practices. Sadly his project was
brought to a sudden end by disaster visited on his family through his
younger brother, Guido Fox (known to infamy as Guy Fawkes). Sir Rufus,
although innocent of the conspiracy, was forced to flee England for the
Low Countries, where we hear no more of him.
Unveil The estate was taken on by his cousin, ...
... Sir Russell, whose loyalty to the crown was
beyond question. The Red Book, alas, was lost during this time. All
that remains are the fragmentary translations made by Sir Rufus. These
describe the Langsett and Midhope morris dances (regrettably lost to us
are the Fulshaw dances, which were renowned in their day as both
dashing and elegant) and the Langsett fire dances. These latter were
formerly performed by the young men and women of the area, in leather
masks, and robed and bearing fire with them, on the night of the St.
Crispin Fair (famous for its shoes and leatherwork); but, latterly,
when the fair was no longer held, were to be seen about the time of the
full moon nearest in time to St. Crispin's Day.
Unveil Possibly because of the masks worn by the ...
... dancers, or perhaps in tribute to Sir
Rufus, the dances are now known as the Fox Dance, and their captain,
the lord of their revels, is known as Mister Fox.
Unveil The morris pages translated by Sir Rufus ...
... are now in the possession of Sheffield
City Morris Men, who keep alive the Midhope and Langsett dances. Contrary to
the opinion of some scholars, there is no evidence that the Fulshaw morris
has been preserved by the William Morris side from Sheffield,
though their energy and style are indeed widely admired. The Fox
Dance is performed at Langsett to this very day, on the Saturday
nearest the full moon before the Fifth of November; it is not known
whether those pages are still held by the dancers, as the folk who take
part are close, and will not even declare who is and who is not of
their number, nor the true name of their Mister Fox.