NEFA - The North East Folklore Archive

The John Murdoch Henderson Collection


A Companion to the Ball Room
Thomas Wilson 1816 (3rd edition).

ballroom picture

From "A Companion the the Ballroom" 3rd Edition, engraved by J. Shury

"A Choice Collection of the most Original and Admired Country Dances, Reels, Hornpipes and Quadrilles with the appropriate Figures to Each. Containing upwards of Three Hundred Celebrated Scotch, English and Irish, Country Dances, Reels and Hornpipes" by Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master from the King's Theatre Opera House, London.

The following extract is taken from Wilson's lengthy dissertation:


Ball Room Musicians

"The Author has availed himself of this opportunity of saying something respecting Ball Room Musicians, on the opinion in which they are held, and their general treatment by the public. That they are a useful class of persons will not be doubted; for whatever opinion there has been, there is no dancing without them for the Music must always guide the dancer. From the number of Public Balls and Assemblies at which the author has been present he has good and frequent opportunities of observing the contemptuous manner in which Musicians are in general treated by their Employers and by the Company. They are frequently treated worse than servants and never, or seldom, spoken to, but in an imperious haughty manner, generally addressing them as fiddlers and plying them with liquor in order to make them drunk, being with those persons a common opinion that nothing is so amusing as a drunken fiddler.

That these persons should occasionally drink is no wonder, from the dust arising from the room and great exertions in playing long dances; but more should not be forced on them than is needful.

Another thing that requires remark is that musicians are seldom paid for their playing without their employers complaining of the high price of their labour; yet these employers never think that the musicians cannot find employment for more than five or six months of the year and that generally in the winter season, when the weather is bad, and their employment being principally at night, from leaving warm rooms and being exposed afterwards to the bad effects of night air, and consequently severe colds, together with want of rest, in a few years their constitutions are destroyed or ruined and they are rendered totally unfit for business.

It is true, that there may be many found amongst them, whose talent will not entitle them to the name of musicians; yet, notwithstanding the majority are men of talent, men of the greatest respectability both in manners and appearance."

listen hereThe Mason's Apron, a tune as popular today as it was in the 19th century. From Wilson's 3rd Edition, 1816

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