It is told that there was a great drought in the West Riding of Yorkshire, at which the multitude of lakes, meres and ponds, for which that region is known, began to diminish and dry up. The squire of the manor of Langsett, Sir Rufus Fox, appointed a week of prayers, to be offered by all his tenants and their families, while processing around Langsett Lake. On the third day of these prayers, an oaken chest was seen in the mire where the lake had formerly been. A rope having been obtained, the chest was drawn out, and, its hasp being struck off, it was found to contain an ancient tome, calling itself the Liber Rufus Clivuslongi, that is, the Red Book of Langsett. It should not astonish us that Sir Rufus took this striking concurrence, between his own name and that of the venerable book, as a mark of a special Providence.
That gentleman having returned to his hall, he set himself to read the book. It was written in Latin - demonstrating itself, by its lack of elegance, to have been committed to paper (so it would appear) by a priest, of little learning, in the reign of king Henry. It described, in some detail, the wonted sports of the villages of Langsett, Midhope, Hazlehead, and Fulshaw. These included the Hobby Horse, which would visit the houses and taverns at All Hallows' Eve; a giant and giantess which were carried in the Corpus Christi procession which visited all those villages; and Saint John's Eve, when young men would build great fires, and parade around them, disguised as devils, with bullroarers and swung fire, to be chased off by the young women of the village, carrying branches of greenery.
The drought having ended, Sir Rufus set himself to translating this work into the common tongue, in the hope of restoring some of these former practices. Sadly his project was brought to a sudden end by disaster visited on his family through his younger brother, Guido Fox (known to infamy as Guy Fawkes). Sir Rufus, although innocent of the conspiracy, was forced to flee England for the Low Countries, where we hear no more of him.
The estate was taken on by his cousin, Sir Russell, whose loyalty to the crown was beyond question. The Red Book, alas, was lost during this time. All that remains are the fragmentary translations made by Sir Rufus. These describe the Langsett and Midhope morris dances (regrettably lost to us are the Fulshaw dances, which were renowned in their day as both dashing and elegant) and the Langsett fire dances. These latter were formerly performed by the young men and women of the area, in leather masks, and robed and bearing fire with them, on the night of the St. Crispin Fair (famous for its shoes and leatherwork); but, latterly, when the fair was no longer held, were to be seen about the time of the full moon nearest in time to St. Crispin's Day.
Possibly because of the masks worn by the dancers, or perhaps in tribute to Sir Rufus, the dances are now known as the Fox Dance, and their captain, the lord of their revels, is known as Mister Fox.
The morris pages translated by Sir Rufus are now in the possession of Sheffield City Morris Men, who keep alive the Midhope and Langsett dances. Contrary to the opinion of some scholars, there is no evidence that the Fulshaw morris has been preserved by the William Morris side from Sheffield, though their energy and style are indeed widely admired. The Fox Dance is performed at Langsett to this very day, on the Saturday nearest the full moon before the Fifth of November; it is not known whether those pages are still held by the dancers, as the folk who take part are close, and will not even declare who is and who is not of their number, nor the true name of their Mister Fox.