A new generation of the jig doll – the folk art puppet which has nearly becoming extinct – will populate Skipton Puppet Festival next month. “The Skipton Skippers”, created during workshops with year six and seven girls who will attend Skipton Girls’ High School in September, will be seen doing a mass jig at the festival hub site on the Coach Street car park.
The jig dolls are emerging slowly as the girls get to grips with traditional carving skills.
Rod Dyson, head of technology at the high school, said: “It’s really fantastic for the girls to have the chance to learn traditional skills with hand tools, such as woodcarving. They are really getting to grips with the task and I think that their puppets are going to look amazing.”
The project has been developed in collaboration with Skipton Puppet Festival, Skipton Extended Schools and the Skipton and Wharfedale Association for Decorative and Fine Arts. It is being led by jig doll expert, 80-year-old Ted Beresford, of Beresfords puppets.
Ted made his first puppets 50 years ago and has since served in the RAF and worked as a teacher and later as a puppeteer, carving, performing and teaching others puppet-related skills. Liz Lempen, director of the puppet festival, said: “It’s really a great chance for us all to learn from Ted. There aren’t many people around any more who know much about jig dolls or who have as much experience.”
Jig dolls have been around for hundreds of years, but nobody knows their exact origin. It is thought they have a strong Irish influence and may have been brought across about 200 to 250 years ago when the Irish navvies came to dig the canals.
A finished Skipton Skipper will be colourfully painted and will be seen with erratically frisking limbs dancing on a wooden board to traditional jigger tunes played on the accordion or fiddle. The Skippers can also be seen jigging over the weekend of September 26 and 27 at the puppet festival hub site at the canal basin and, when not performing, will be exhibited on the Kennet wide-beam barge.
To see more about Ted and the jiggers, visit the Craven Museum foyer in Skipton Town Hall where examples of Ted’s puppets are currently on display. Also visit his website beresfordspuppets.co.uk.