Friday, 12 September 2014

Morris Dancing in Dartmouth

May I start for apologising for the fact that I just did not find the time to reply to you comments last week. Must try and do better!

Many years ago, I found myself working alongside a chap called Ken Hudson. His spare time seemed to be divided by two very different activities. He refereed football matches (and there are few sports more popular than soccer in this country) and he was a member of the Dartington Morris Men – a Morris Side that is (as the name suggests) based in Dartington – (and there can be few activities less popular than Morris dancing in this country).

My friend Ken Hudson, left, with Robin Springett with the Royal Castle in the background.
After a while we both moved on as people do and we lost touch. That was about twenty-five years ago. Then, a week or so back we received a lovely surprise: a letter from him. Ken is still a member of the Dartington side but I have yet to ask whether he still referees the odd soccer match. I will next time I see him.

Adam Garland
Nobody really knows when Morris dancing as it is now practised started but there are written records dating back to the 1400's which mention them and then there is this from the mouth of another member of the Dartington side, Christopher Farr.

'According to hear-say in the Cotswold village where I was brought up (Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire) Morris Dancing first came to England in 1367 when the dance was brought back by troops in John of Gaunt's army after the battle of Najera, which is in Northern Spain.'.

This could well be the case (and some say the name derives from 'Moorish dancing' – Spain had been occupied by the Moors from about 700 ad until the mid-1700's and their influence is evident to this day both in architecture and culture. However it started, it is a tradition with a history of over five hundred years.

The Dartington Morris Men follow the Cotswold tradition (there are other slightly different traditions who practice different but similar dances) and so are member of The Morris Ring which is an association of the sides that follow the Cotswold way. The boss man in Morris Dancing is known as the 'Squire' and so it is that the top man in the Morris Ring carries that title. The Squire of the Ring serves for two years and then hands over to someone else over two events. The first is a feast during which the old Squire gives his successor the Chain of Office and the Badge. The second is a ritual during which the outgoing Squire dances himself out, the incoming Squire dances himself in and then receives the Staff from his predecessor.
On the left a retired rocket scientist (Jim Gailer) with a retired tree surgeon (Peter Metcalf). And what do they have in common?
They are both members of the Wessex Morris Men
Now it happens that Ken is the Squire of the Dartington side and another member of that side, Robin Springett, was the Squire of the Ring and his two year term was up last week-end. The Morris Ring members descended on Dartmouth for the week end: the feast was held on the Saturday evening and the second part of the ritual – the hand over to Adam Garland from the East Suffiolk Morris Men – took place on Sunday in the Royal Avenue Gardens.

Marcia and I toddled off down to Dartmouth to watch the proceedings and to enable me to take some video. Click here if you want to see that video.

Most countries have some form of traditional culture and most treasure it – but in England it is far from treasured. During one of the lulls, Marcia was chatting to Anthony Frost, a cabinet maker from Sherborne who belongs to the Wessex Morris Men, and they were wondering why that should be the case. In Ireland, Scotland and Wales the old traditions are being kept very firmly alive and it would be nice to think it was the same in England: perhaps it will become so once again.

Marcia with Anthony Frost
Final thought: everything comes out in a book sooner or later. I will leave you to brood on that.

Two dogs for the price of one this week. Please note: these are not just any old blog dogs - they are Morris Men Blog Dogs.