Each year you can, if you lurk around the steps to Macclesfield Town Hall on the correct date, spot ladies and gentlemen from a time long past.

Ladies clad in empire-line gowns are escorted by gentlemen in knee breeches as they make their way into the very beautiful space that is the Town Hall’s Assembly Room, with its glorious, vaulted ceiling and grand chandelier. They are here for the annual Spring Ball, hosted by Adlington Folk Dance Club, but a fixture on the dance card of couples from around the country who love to pretend, if just for an evening, they have stepped into the pages of a Jane Austen novel.

Many of the attendees are members of the Adlington Folk Dance Club, who meet each Wednesday to dance, socialise and maintain a connection with English country dance, an art form they fear is rapidly being lost.

Great British Life: Club President Reg Battle has been a member of the folk dancing club since 1961. Photo: Peter MottramClub President Reg Battle has been a member of the folk dancing club since 1961. Photo: Peter Mottram

Reg Battle, club president, Poynton

The Adlington Folk Dance Club was founded in 1955 as a section of the Adlington WI, in hopes that the husbands of its members might enjoy a regular social occasion.

They did manage to get some husbands along, but they got invaded by young farmers and their girlfriends, and it became very much a youth dance group. When I went for the first time in August 1961 it was very crowded with young people, mostly home from university or boarding school. There was rather an excess of young men, which is very unusual for a dance club.

In 1964, the lady who founded it left the area, so it passed from the auspices of the WI to become an independent club. Every week there is a caller who decides on the dances and calls the steps. In 1964, I stepped in as the caller.

Back in the early days there were a limited number of dances we could do. The music was all on 78s, one on each side. Then we moved to 45s, with about four dances on, and then of course the LPs came in with up to 16 on. So, as we moved through the 1970s and ‘80s things changed and we went off on training courses and bought books to learn the dances. Now of course it’s all different; we’re still using CDs, but I know some clubs have it all on their computers and use YouTube to find and learn new dances. We do dances from the first book of dances, published in 1651, called The Dancing Master, by John Playford, right up to very recently devised dances. Dancers dance a mix of Playford dances, ceilidh dances, American style contras (or square dances) and anything else the callers fancy.

The ball first ran in 2000. People come from all over – Northumberland, The Lake District, North Wales and the Midlands – as well as closer to home. Sadly, we had relatively low numbers this year, but in previous years it’s been a sell-out. We keep it to around 70 people, to allow room for the dances.

I would love to see new people joining the club. It’s a social life and really helps with health and wellbeing. We’re not a dance class, we’re a place to dance. Come along, make new friends, get some exercise and mental stimulation.

Great British Life: Alan and Joan Lowe have been members of the AFDC since 1976. Photo: Peter MottramAlan and Joan Lowe have been members of the AFDC since 1976. Photo: Peter Mottram

Joan Lowe, Heaton Mersey

My husband, Alan, and I have been members of the AFDC since 1976, and I joined the ball committee in 1999, having decided it would be nice to have a Millenium Ball, which has been going ever since. In 1993 Reg founded the Adlington Folk Dancers, a group of club members who travelled to dance festivals all over Europe.

In 1995 when the BBC screened Pride and Prejudice, we thought the costumes we devised costumes for visiting the festivals to be as close to those they would have worn in Regency times. A lot of us had Regency costumes in 2000 for that first ball.

We encourage but don’t insist people wear Regency costume, or even period dress, for the Adlington Ball. People come from across the country to dance and it’s a range of costumes from 1651 up to Victorian, and modern dinner jackets and evening dresses.

Some ladies make their own and some hire. Some men like to go in military uniform of the time.

We get so much from it. It’s wonderful music, the steps fit the music and you can tell you’re moving in time. Most of the Regency dances are very elegant and we just love the movement and the music. We have made lots of friends through the club and all around the country.

Great British Life: Mike and Kay Wesley have a passion for Regency era literature, fashion and dance. Photo: Peter MottramMike and Kay Wesley have a passion for Regency era literature, fashion and dance. Photo: Peter Mottram

Kay Wesley, Congleton

We aren’t members of AFDC, but my husband Mike and I regularly attend ceilidhs and went to our first Adlington Spring Ball in 2005.

We’re very much into that period; we love the literature, and we watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice every year. In fact, the dance they do in the adaptation is called Mr Beveridge’s Maggot, which is from Playford’s 1651 book, and it’s one we do quite often at the Adlington Ball. The same dance and music is used in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, with Keira Knightly.

With ceilidh you just gallop about and swing your partner around, but the Playford dances are much more complex; you certainly only have one glass of wine when you’re there. It tends to be keen dancers who go, the callers know they’re dealing with people with a bit more experience, so they only call the steps the first time around and then you’re expected to remember it for the rest, which I admit we’re not very good at.

In Regency times John Playford’s book was the dance bible. This was ‘society’ dancing. There’s a lot of courtship in the Playford dances, a lot of siding, where you walk around your partner looking them in the eye. It was really the only time men and women could get close together in those days and the moves are quite elegant and romantic, so they’re really fun dances to do.

It’s a shame they don’t attract a younger crowd. Ceilidhs do, they’re huge. I think people would love the Playford balls if they just knew they existed and perhaps catered a little more for the less experienced.

It's good exercise, it’s very sociable, it gets you out and doing something a little bit different. It’s good exercise for the brain too – you really have to pay attention, and we all laugh when we get it wrong.

Great British Life: Catherine and Peter cite their regular dance evenings for their continued health and fitness. Photo: Peter MottramCatherine and Peter cite their regular dance evenings for their continued health and fitness. Photo: Peter Mottram

Peter Mottram, Wilmslow

My wife Catherine is Scottish, and I got involved in Scottish country dancing in the 1960s, when I went on a geology course and they laid on a hoolie in the evening, which I really enjoyed, so on my return I joined a local club. In 2019 we joined AFDC, knowing English country dancing is a little more sedate, and as we have both had knee replacements and I have had a hip replacement, we’re a little more sedate too, certainly more so than a lot of the younger people who come along. We can get away with most dances as we’re familiar with the calling and the steps.

We believe the dancing is what keeps us moving. Use it or lose it, Catherine says, and with country dancing it’s both mind and body we exercise and we want to keep it going as long as we can.

We attended our first Adlington Spring Ball in 2022, and we choose to wear evening dress rather than a costume, which is quite a commitment for one occasion a year. It’s a lovely occasion with friends, and the dancing is wonderful.

Great British Life: Anne Stopford attended her first Adlington Ball this year. Photo: Peter MottramAnne Stopford attended her first Adlington Ball this year. Photo: Peter Mottram

Anne Stopford, Ashton-Under-Lyne

I decided to join AFDC and go along regularly after Covid, when Reg Battle reached out and asked me to come along as they had a surfeit of men and needed more women, which was very usual for a dance club. I had been salsa dancing up till then but switched over.

I have been in local dancing clubs for eight years, and for me dancing always brings great joy. With country dancing it’s not as if you have to remember all the dances; there’s a caller who tells you the steps, and there’s a huge variety of dances going back hundreds of years.

This year was my first Adlington Ball, and being dressed up really made me feel as I imagine people would have felt in those days. It was really special to be in costume. I was making a dress to wear but ran out of time. I was lucky enough that a friend gave me a gown. I am really interested in period costume and have now finished the dress I was making for myself, ready for next year’s ball.

I'm hooked now. As well as the dancing, there’s the socialising and being with friends. You get past 60 and suddenly feel really old but I am one of the youngest there, which is sad as I’m sure much younger people would find it as much fun as we older ones do.

Great British Life: Ken and Joan Clifford have found friends across the country through their country dancing. Photo: Peter MottramKen and Joan Clifford have found friends across the country through their country dancing. Photo: Peter Mottram

Joan Clifford, Bramhall

We have been members for nearly 20 years, and my husband Ken, was treasurer for 19 of those years.

In 1982 we moved from the North West to Watford and didn’t know anybody, so we joined a local folk dance club. When we moved back to Stockport we’d been away 40 years, so it was like starting again, and we joined AFDC and quickly found a new network of friends.

The Poynton Ceilidh has a much young crowd, but for us that’s perhaps a little too much. Dancing is good for anybody. We’ve been dancing 40 years, and now at 79 and 82 we’re generally fitter than most of our generation. We’re members of clubs in Hale Barns, Rode Heath and Marple, too. We would encourage everybody to join a dance club – we may be old, but we’re fit.

We attended our first Adlington Ball in 2004 and have been every year since. I partially made my dress myself, but struggled with the square neckline, so brought in a professional to finish it. Ken wears modern evening wear. It’s not a requirement to wear costume but we do encourage evening wear – at least a collar and tie for the gentleman. It can be a bit contagious, however, at least for the ladies. It’s a lovely feeling to be all dressed up.

Adlington Folk Dance Club meets each Wednesday evening at Adlington Village Hall, from 8pm-10pm