East Anglian Traditional Music Trust
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Jig Doll Appeal
Big Jig event
Big Jig photographs
An older model, known as a “poupee a la planchette’ was operated by a string attached to musician’s leg, on a board placed on the ground. This is well documented in historical illustrations and appears to have been popular in Europe as well.
A typical jig doll is between 20cm and 30cm in height, although there are examples from Suffolk of both smaller and larger ones, and has jointed arms, hips and knees, and also in some cases, ankles, allowing a movement which mimics step-dancing.
They were not designed to be children’s toys, and in the past were owned by adults, and used for their own entertainment in pubs etc, and sometimes for grandchildren, nieces and nephews to watch. During a musical evening, they would be brought out if there was some live music, in much the same way that a live stepdancer would contribute to the proceedings. They were also popular with street musicians and buskers, as their great visual appeal invariably attracts a fascinated audience.
They are usually three dimensional and carved or painted as a particular character – sailors being the most popular, and several soldiers and clowns have also been found. In the Bethnal Green Toy Museum, there is one modelled as a First World War soldier – ‘Tommy Atkins’, said to have been made in the trenches.
One model was made commercially in the early 20th century, and is known as Mr. Jollyboy. There is a story that an employee of the Strangers Hall Museum in Norwich found a cardboard box containing one of these jig dolls on top of a dustbin and removed it to the Museum: this doll was displayed at the Big Jig exhibition in 2004 (see photograph below).
Jig doll appeal
have a dancing doll, please let us know, and send us a photograph. After the Big Jig exhibition at the Traditional Music Day
in 2004, we are collating information on dancing dolls,
and are collaborating with Pat Pickles on a new book in the future.
Jig dolls have been made for centuries, usually in garden sheds and on back-doorsteps, and used for entertainment at home, in pubs, on board ships and on the street. They are wooden dolls with jointed arms and legs, and a stick protruding from the back which is held and the doll 'jigged' up and down on a narrow board of flexible wood. Each doll is decorated differently, sometimes just painted, sometimes with fabric and additions such as 'segs' to the shoes, which create a dramatic clattering sound. They are a great visual attraction, and in skilled hands they also provide percussive rhythmic accompaniment.
If you've got one, or know of someone who has, please do get in touch.
Big Jig event
During the Traditional Music Day on 4th September 2004, a unique exhibition was on display. (See photographs below.) It featured nearly a hundred different examples of dancing dolls. A dancing doll, or jig doll, is a home-made puppet designed to step-dance on a narrow wooden board, and operated by holding a stick in the back and bouncing the board lightly. Pat Pickles, author of the only book on the subject, brought her collection of over 60 items, and many individuals brought along their own jig dolls for the day as well. Amongst the collection were historical dolls such as the Harry Lauder look-alike and the primitive sailor figures made in Stowmarket, as well as more contemporary designs including one of ex-Prime Minister John Major stepping all over an image of Maggie Thatcher on his board! There were also dolls which had belonged to Harry Cox and Fred Whiting, well-known traditional singers from the region, and photographs of some examples which were not able to be actually displayed.
The East Anglian Traditional Music Trust has also commissioned a collection of jig dolls, for use with community projects and schools work. These have proved very popular since we've been taking them out.
Pat visited us again at the 2011 Traditional Music Day - click here to read about her experiences there - and she will be back again in 2012 - click here for full details of Traditional Music Day 2012.
Photographs from the Big Jig exhibition, September 2004
Click on the thumbnail images below to see a bigger picture.
Left to right:
Walter Pardon, from Knapton, Norfolk, with a doll he made himself. (Photo courtesy of Jim Carroll & Pat MacKenzie)
Two unusual dolls brought in on the day: the one on the left is made by Fred Whiting of Kenton, Suffolk.
Modern Jolly Jack, made by Goff Evans of Worcester.
George Monger, with a dancing John Major, made by John Crane and loaned by Pete Coe. In the background are drawings by some of the many children involved in the Big Jig project.
Lenny Whiting with Harry Lauder figure, from Suffolk.
Harry Cox's (Catfield, Norfolk) home-made doll.
Unusual style of doll, found in Beccles, Suffolk.
John Barber (Southwold, Suffolk) with his distinctive profile design of dancing dolls, which he remembers from his childhood.
John Barber chats to Pat Pickles from Yorkshire, with part of Pat's wonderful collection of jig dolls in the cabinet behind her.
Part of the Big Jig collection of dolls, which are available for community events - send us an email if you'd be interested in having a Big Jig visit to your school, residential home, fete etc. They'll raise a smile from all who have a go, or who watch them!
An original, early twentieth-century Mr Jollyboy doll, loaned by the Norfolk Museums Service for the Big Jig exhibition.
Two sailor dolls, made by Ben Southgate, Stowmarket, Suffolk.
Bill Cunnold of Stowmarket, Suffolk with his home-made doll.
'Sailor Jan', made by Bob Cann, Dartmoor, Devon, and now owned by his grandson Mark Bazeley.
Pat & Rennie Pickles' seminal book on jig dolls, 'The Brightest of Entertainers' is available from our online shop.
We are currently engaged in writing up the fruits of our research from 2004 onwards together with Pat Pickles. For the latest news on this and other matters, you can sign up to receive our email newsletters around four times a year: please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Click here to read about Pat's experiences at Traditional Music Day 2011.
We are always interested to add to this list and invite other makers to get in touch with us.
Two makers in the eastern region, who may have stock in hand or be prepared to take commissions:
Chris Harvey www.jigdolls.co.uk
What are the musical traditions of East Anglia?
Traditional Music Day Melodeons & More Workshops, classes & schools Community Projects
Traditional musicians Jig Dolls Dulcimers Stepdancing Vaughan Williams in the East
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