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

Back to Dance Index

I'd love to hear from you if you know anything more about this dance, its composer, its style, or its history..

Feedback is very welcome on any aspect of these dances or Web pages.

Please contact John Sweeney with your comments.


Below is the text from the ED&S page. It is a duplicate of the information in the scanned page(s) above. It's purposes is to make the text available to search engines. Thanks to Alain Williams for his help with this. This text was created using various tools which may not have generated completely accurate text! THIS PAGE IS A TEST.
IN Under the Greenwood Tree.

Readers of “Under the Greenwood Tree” will recall the merry
party at the tranter’s house on Christmas night, and the country
dances which formed its concluding phase when the hour of midnight
had struck.

The programme began, it will be remembered, with The Triumph,
in which Dick Dewy had Fancy Day for his partner, and, in the
progress of the dance, his rival Mr. Shiner, “according to the
interesting rule laid down, deserted his own partner, and made off
down the middle with this fair one of Dick’s . . . Then they
turned and came back, when Dick grew most rigid around his
mouth, and blushed with ingenuous ardour as he joined hands with
the rival and formed the arch over his lady’s head; relinquishing
her again at setting to partners.”

No other dance is mentioned by name, and I had long been
curious as to the identity of some of the others, of which there is
sufficient description to give material for a guess. The next dance
described after The Triumph was the one in which Mr. Shiner, now
dancing with Fancy, failed to cast off, and, on Dick’s pointing out
that casting off was in the dance, replied “I don’t like casting off:
then very well; I cast off for no dance-maker that ever lived.” It
is indicated that the dance contained the figures of hands-across,
a swing, and leading up the middle, which suggested to me that it
might have been Bonnets so Blue. The dance described at the
beginning of the next chapter, “that most delightful of country dances,
beginning with six-hands-round,” especially excited my
curiosity, as none of the traditional dances in Cecil Sharp’s collection
includes a six-hands-round. I therefore wrote to Mr. Hardy
a few months ago, and asked him about these two dances, sending
a copy of the Country Dance Book, Part I, to show the figures of our
Bonnets so Blue, and mentioning the fact that The Triumph is
frequently danced at our parties. I received in reply a letter
which, with Mr. Hardy’s permission, I quote nearly in extenso.

“IT am interested to hear that you have been attracted by the
old English dances, which gave me much pleasure when I was a
boy. The dance I was thinking of in ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’
must have been The College Hornpipe, as that is the only one I
remember beginning with six-hands-round. I am sending you the
figure as nearly as I can recall it sixty years after I last danced in it.
This and other such figures have been revived on the stage here
by ‘The Hardy Players’ (as they call themselves) since they began
making plays out of my stories. Only very old country people
remember the dances now. I have many such figures in old music

“These ‘Country dances’ were not the same as ‘folk-dances,’
though usually considered to be. They superseded and extinguished
the latter from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago,
as being more ‘genteel,’ though sometimes the folk-dances were
done within my memory, the motions being more boisterous than
in the Country dance, a distinguishing mark of them being the
crossing of one leg over the knee of the other, and putting the hands
on the hips.

“The history of the Country dance is puzzling. If it was the
dance of the country people, how comes it that new figures and tunes
are first heard of in London ball-rooms (see London magazines and
musical publications throughout the eighteenth century), whence
they gradually spread into the rural districts? I for one cannot
explain, and incline to the belief that the now discredited opinion
on the origin of the name (‘contre-danse’) may be after all the
truth of the matter; and this would accord with the fact that these
dancers displaced the simpler folk-dance.

“Many thanks for the ‘Country Dance Book’; also for the two
numbers of E.F.D.S. News . . . The figure called Bonnets so
Blue was called Hands across here, and was probably the one I had
in mind when Shiner would not cast off. But it was mostly danced
to a tune called ‘Enrico.’

“I found a copy, or rather a leaf or two, of the original edition
of The Triumph (to which you allude) among my grandfather’s old
music. The page is entitled ‘New Dances for the year 1793,’ so
that seems to be when it came out.”

I append the notation of the College Hornpipe, referred to in Mr.
Hardy’s letter.

As formerly danced in Wessex.

(First strain). Top three couples six hands half-round and back
again to places.

(First strain repeated). The same three couples, one hand joined of
each, promenade full round to places.

(Second strain). Two top couples down the middle and up again,
to places.

(Second strain repeated). The three couples whole poussette (both
hands joined) leaving second couple at the top. (Tune ends).

(Tune begins again). The original top couple, being now in the
second place, dance six hands round with the original third and
fourth couples and so on through the figure as above, leaving
original third couple above them. (Tune ends).

(Tune begins again). The original top couple being now in the third
place, do the same with the original fourth and fifth couple.
(Tune ends, the original top couple being in the original fourth
couple’s place).

(Tune begins again). At the same time that the original top couple
starts the figure again with the original fifth and sixth couples,
the original second couple, which has been idle at the top,
starts the same figure with the original third and fourth couples
standing below them, so that the figure is now going on in two
places, and later, if the line is a long one, in as many places as
there is room for.

The original top couple at last finds itself breathless at the
bottom of the dance; but gradually works up to the top as
succeeding couples dance down and take places below.


Note. The “contre-danse” controversy cannot really be proved either way,
but the O.E.D. is strongly in favour of the view that the English term is the
original. The appearance of new figures and tunes in London publications
can, we suggest, be accounted for in two ways: country people might evolve
new forms but would not put them in print, and the people of the town would
be quicker to invent—also much quicker to discard and therefore to want
fresh novelties.

The Dorset tradition seems to have differed from that of Warwickshire and
the Midlands, where the dances in Part I of The Country Dance Book were
collected. We wonder if in Dorset there was any stepping in position, which
we have so far understood to be absent from English Country dances, or to
have disappeared as figures developed.

It is, of course, especially interesting and valuable to receive information
from such an authority as Mr. Hardy: his recollections must not only command
our respect, but will also, we hope, stimulate further discussion.—Editor.