A Brief History


Back in July 1954, the English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS), on Eileen Phelan’s suggestion, decided that Sidmouth was a perfect addition to their existing and established folk dance festival in Stratford, offering the added attractions of the seaside and the Devon countryside. The EFDSS at the time were, according to Derek Schofield, festival archivist and author of The First Week In August – Fifty Years Of The Sidmouth Festival, imbued with “a missionary zeal to encourage more people to take part in folk dance.”

The first publicity leaflet for the 1955 event announced performances in Connaught Gardens and dances on the Ham and in Blackmore Gardens. Directed by Nibs Matthews and Margaret Grant, the first event ran from Saturday 30th July to 6th August, setting an early precedent for the festival week always including the first Monday in August. It was a great success. Les Barclay, a first festival “survivor” remembers his “legs aching with all the dancing” by the middle of the week!

Sidmouth quickly became “a ‘must’ in the folk dancers’ calendars” A folk festival has been firmly established in the town ever since and 2024 sees the 70th Sidmouth Folk Festival.

Watch some 1970 Festival footage from the Knowle arena. 

The First Week in August: Fifty Years of the Sidmouth Festival was written by Derek Schofield for the 50th Festival in 2004.

The First Week in August