JOHN PLAYFORD

So who was John Playford and how come he has this page to himself? Well, he’s the man who documented English country dances and his 1651 publication “The English Dancing Master” is the source material for the music and dance of The Vale Islanders. That’s a pretty good reason for his prominance on our website.

John Playford was born in 1632 in Norwich and died in London in 1686. He was a publisher and bookseller by profession, starting out as an apprentice to John Benson of Fleet Street in London. He then obtained the tenancy of a shop in the porch of Temple Church, also in London.

The 1st edition of The English Dancing Master contained 105 dances and was published in 1651 and he went on to publish another 6 editions. His son Henry published a further 5 editions and then John Young published the final 6 editions, the last one appearing in 1728 (bringing the total to 17 editions with over 1000 dances). After the 1st edition the title became simply The Dancing Master. It seems highly unlikely that John Playford wrote any of the content himself – he was more of an editor/compiler. Dances from The Dancing Master were re-published by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century.

He and his family were Royalists. It was certainly a difficult time in history to be Royalist as King Charles I was under arrest and beheaded in January 1649; Royalists were actively persecuted. Not only was there political unrest, but the plague was threatening London. Maybe a spot of country dancing provided some much needed relief from the troubles of the time.