Morris Dancing, a Threat?

Morris dancers in Stretton on Dunsmore, 1967.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH(N)212/56/3. Part of a photographic survey of Warwickshire parishes conducted by the Women's Institute.

It dawned on me that I hadn’t seen the traditional Morris dancers in the village where I grew up lately – funny the things you miss that you took for granted.

Anyway, I then found in the Women’s Institute survey a picture of the Morris dancing in Stretton, in 1967. After chatting to my family I then found out that  the Morris dancer with glasses is Frank Scotford – a former teacher at Henry VIII school in Coventry.

A contested tradition

Morris dancing is a traditional form of folk dance that has featured in the local landscape for a number of centuries. It wasn’t always seen as a quaint anachronism however, and sometimes it found itself as part of the political and religious battles of the time. In the Easter 1655 Quarter Sessions can be found an order suppressing maypoles at Henley in Arden. Here, Morris dancing is considered a “heathenish and unlawful custom… the observation whereof tendeth to draw together a great concourse of loose people and consequently to the hazard of public peace besides other evil consequences.”1 This is most certainly not the impression I had of the custom growing up in Stretton!

In context

Forrest2 sets this in context, and points out that it was not specifically Morris dancing that was the issue. The ban was part of a Puritan clampdown on such customs as a whole – them being seen as the work of the devil, and pagan in origin. As such, as part of the Puritans’ struggle for control of the church, the custom should be banned. The sinister, dangerous association of folk customs with Paganism has been played upon successfully even to the present day, with films such as The Wicker Man (1973) reinforcing this impression.

To me, however, the lasting memory is of men jumping over the brook in the village on a sunny day!

Do Morris dancers still come to your town or village? What do you think of the custom? Let us know!

1 Ratcliff and Flower (eds 1937) Warwick County Records vol. III Quarter Sessions Order Book Easter 1650, to Epiphany 1657. Warwick, pp. 272-273.2 Forrest, J (1999). The History of Morris Dancing, 1458-1750. Cambridge, pp 3-4.

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