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The College Hornpipe

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The College Hornpipe

Source: W. E. F. MacMillan re Thomas Hardy; published in E.F.D.S. News, No. 12, September 1926
Formation: Longways; Proper; Triple Minor

A1 Circle Left; Circle Right
A2 Double Cast to Home, holding one hand
B1 #1s & #2s Lead/Gallop Down & Back
B2 #1s & (#2s & #3s acting as a unit) Full Poussette Anti-Clockwise
but on the last four steps #1s move in between the other two couples to end in second place

The "College Hornpipe" tune was first printed in 1797 or 1798 by J. Dale of London, but occurs in manuscripts going back to at least 1770.

The tune is obviously well known as Charles Dickens mentions it in two of his novels "Dombey and Son" and "David Copperfield".

The common practice around 1800 was for someone to be chosen to "call" the next dance. That person would tell the musicians what music they wanted and then, with their partner, would take the top position in the line. The top couple would then dance a sequence of figures that they had chosen. Everyone else would learn by watching and join in as the top couple reached them. Although documents of the period refer to calling it was not what we know as calling. Learning was done by watching, not listening.

It didn't always work! In "The Treasures of Terpsichore" in 1816, Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master, describes this:
"At this instant we were interrupted by a clamour which proceeded from the orchestra. A stripling of nineteen was brandishing a fiddle-stick over the head of its owner, a decent looking man of forty-five who with a spirit that should ever characterise the human soul, snatched the catgut weapon from the lily lingers of this puny little lord, and shook him so heartily, that his quizzing glass flew from his neck and broke in a thousand pieces; he was here rescued from the enraged musician by his friends, who finding the company more disposed to censure than applaud his conduct, contented themselves only with calling the fiddler a presumptuous scoundrel, and obliging him to quit the orchestra.

"On enquiry I found this fracas to proceed from the following circumstance:--This little conceited ape of nobility had called a dance, which was instantly played, but he, after several attempts to set a figure to it without success, began to accuse the musicians. The man he threatened to chastise had the audacity to answer him, in defence of himself and colleagues."

Asa Willcox - 1793
The first reference I can find for a dance to the tune of The College Hornpipe is in a 1793 manuscript by Asa Willcox of Connecticut. His "book of Figures" has this:

The College Hornpipe

It is likely that Asa, in order to avoid the situation described above, wrote notes about sets of figures that he liked to lead, that worked well with the specified tunes. It does not mean that this was a well known dance that always went with that tune, or that anyone else ever "called" the dance like that.

If we add a few words to Asa's description we might get:

Formation: Longways; Proper; Triple Minor

A1 Top four: right hands across (Star), go around and back again with the left
A2 First & third couples: full anti-clockwise poussette around the second couple
B1 Top couple: cross over, cast down past one couple, two hand turn 1 & 1/2
B2 Top four: four changes of rights & lefts

This interpretation is taken from Regency Dance Org; though they show it with what we now call a "draw poussette" (where the couples rotate around each other). The word "draw" was used in that period to mean "poussette" (see Wilon's manuals); when Wilson said "draw" he meant a normal poussette: straight back and straight forward with no rotation. There is little evidence for the modern "Draw Poussette" existing before the 20th century, but who knows what Asa really meant?

The two-hand turn is a logical addition to fill the music and get the first couple back to their own side.

Thomas Wilson - 1816
The next reference I have to a dance called "College Hornpipe" is in "The Treasures of Terpsichore; or, A companion for the ball-room. Being a collection of all the most popular English country dances, arranged alphabetically, with proper figures to each dance." by T. Wilson, Dancing Master, Second Edition 1816:

The College Hornpipe

In his preface Wilson states, "it contains all the good old Dances that have stood the test of time, such as "The College Hornpipe" and "Haste to the Wedding"".

But, as you can see, he provides two completely different versions of the dance! So which one is the one that has stood the test of time?

Providing multiple sets of figures for a tune was a common practice during this period. Tunes were not linked directly to dances, and Wilson usually gave two or three different sets of figures for each tune. These manuals were intended to help someone who wanted to lead a dance, by providing figures that would work for that tune.

The first version Wilson provides is very similar to Hardy's version, but it appears to be a 16-bar dance. Apparently 16-bar triple minor dances were very popular at the time; Wilson says that anything longer that 16 bars of figures "is damned at its announcement" as it "appears now, in fashionable life, a crime to attempt anything that requires a capacity beyond what the more sagacious brutes are endowed with". Wilson is not happy with this situation!

This version also seems to cram the Double Cast into four bars, while, in his later manual, he defines the Promenade (Three Couple Double Cast) as requiring eight bars!

Formation: Longways; Proper; Triple Minor

A1 All Six: Circle Left; Circle Right
B1 All Six: Double Cast to Place
Top Two Couples: Anti-Clockwise Half Poussette to progress

Or it could be a 32-bar dance:

Formation: Longways; Proper; Triple Minor

A1 All Six: Circle Left (16)
A2 All Six: Circle Right (16)
B1 All Six: Double Cast to Place
A2 Top Two Couples: Anti-Clockwise Poussette 1 & 1/2 to progress

In Wilson's 1820 manual "The Complete System of English Country Dancing" he defines a "Whole Pousette" as what we now call a 1 & 1/2 Anti-Clockwise Poussette and he uses it for progression. His "Half Pousette" is what we now call a Full Poussette.

I like the second dance he gives:

Formation: Longways; Proper; Triple Minor

A1 #1s Allemande Right 1/2, Pull By & Cast Down one place on own side (#2s Move Up)
#1s Allemande Left
A2 #2s Allemande Right 1/2, Pull By & Cast Down one place on own side (#1s Move Up)
#2s Allemande Left
B1 #1s Full Figure Eight on your own side - start Down the Middle
B2 Top Two Couples: Anti-Clockwise Poussette 1 & 1/2 to progress

I have been using it as a Triplet (Three Couple Dance) with B2 changed to move the top couple to the bottom:

B2 #1s & (#2s & #3) Poussette 1 & 1/2 Anti-Clockwise

Under "Half Pousstte" Wilson says, "This Figure and whole pousette may be performed with the second and third couples." It works well. #2s and #3s need to get close together and act as a single unit performing the poussette with the #1s.

Based on Wilson's manual I have interpreted "Swing with right hands around the second couple" as "#1s Allemande Right 1/2, Pull By & Cast Down one place on own side". You could do a full allemande and finish facing your partner, then cast down, but "full allemande, cast down, full allemande" can be a little rushed in 16 beats. I prefer half an allemande then go straight across to your own side. The words above are an easy way to get people to follow this path.

Thomas Wilson - 1820
Thomas Wilson's 1820 edition of "A Companion to the Ballroom" contains three more versions!

The College Hornpipe

Single Figure = 16 bar dance; Double Figure = 32 bar dance.

So, another three completely different versions of this dance that has "stood the test if time". I guess Wilson really means that the tune has stood the test of time! I'll leave you to analyse these versions if you wish.

Thomas Hardy - 1860s
So, finally we get to the 1860s and Hardy's remembered version. This is shown at the top of the page, and the original EFDSS article below. It has lots in common with one of the 1816 versions, and hopefully you can now understand my interpretation of Hardy's "The three couples whole poussette leaving second couple at the top".

Community Dance Manual- 20th Century
Coming into the 20th century, there is a version in the Community Dance Manual, which is almost identical to Hardy's. It switches Hardy's B1 and B2 around and for a new B1, instead of the poussette to provide the progression, it has:

B1 Top Two Couples: Swing & Change WHILE #3s Swing on the spot

There is evidence that "poussette" was used more loosely in the late 19th century, and could mean "polka round the other couple", so this evolution is not surprising.

Scottish Version
And then, of course, there is the Scottish version. A1 and A2 are the the same as in Hardy's version and Wilson's first 1816 version, but the rest is competely different. You can see it here.

Original pages from English Dance & Song, September 1926

The College Hornpipe
The College Hornpipe
The College Hornpipe

W. E. F. M was W. E. F. MacMillan; the Editor was N.O.M. Cameron

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