I’d like to introduce this engaging little dancing chap. He’s a jig doll, his name is Sailor Jan, and he was made by Harry Price, who was a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy.
Born in 1877, Price lived until 1965, and made his home for many years at Fingle Bridge, near Drewsteignton in Devon.
The young man in the video is noted Dartmoor-style melodeon player Mark Bazeley, who is the grandson of the legendary local dance musician and caller Bob Cann.
I’d just like to drop a name, if I may – I met Bob once or twice in music sessions in the 1970s, and as well as great player I must say he was a most charming and kind gentleman.
I should also add that the music here comes from banjo whizz Rob Murch, and Matt and Dan Quinn. (Everyone involved has given me permission to put this up, by the way.)
Here’s how Mark tells the story:
‘The doll was given to my grandfather at least 30 years ago, probably more, by Harry’s family. Bob always said it was around 100 years old.
‘We later heard from someone else that it was carved from wood from the old de-commissioned ship HMS Warspite. I’ve not been able to confirm this though.’
According to the Wikipedia, there have been quite a few vessels with the name HMS Warspite, but I’d like to think the ship in question was this one, and I wonder whether little Jan was made from a piece of furniture – perhaps a table – that came from one of the messes.
Alternatively, it may have come from one of the two HMS Warspites that were destroyed by fire. However, I gather that a family joke has it that HMS Warspite’s days came to an end because someone cut a hole in her planking that just happened to be the size and shape of a jig doll just like Sailor Jan himself. Of course that couldn’t possibly be true – or could it?