History of the Morris revival and Cambridge Morris Men

Cecil Sharp
The first attempt to write the dances down was made by Cecil Sharp who, having seen the Headington men on Boxing Day 1899, started to visit other villages and to meet old dancers. Sharp published several books on Morris Dancing. He encouraged revival of the morris via teacher training colleges and hence schools, also via the English Folk Dance Society.

Mary Neal
Mary Neal was a voluntary social worker, helping impoverished girls working in factories in East London. She founded the Esperance Club and introduced English culture including folk song and Morris Dancing. She arranged for William Kimber of Headington Quarry to teach the Esperance club directly, bypassing Sharp’s published versions. Young women from the Esperance club taught Morris dance widely; their skill gained them recognition in marked contrast to their social origins. Following this success, Mary Neal conducted and published original research, interviewing old morris dancers and collecting the dances that they remembered.

Early Morris in Cambridge
In 1911 Caldwell Cook started teaching the boys at the Perse School some of the Headington dances and jigs and also the Kirby and Flamborough sword-dances. At about the same time The Revd. S. Senior taught the boys at St. John’s College Choir School.

A men’s side danced in 1913, being taught by Alice Kerley, and in the following spring a society called the Cambridge Folk Dancers was formed. In the summer of that year William Wells came from Bampton to fiddle and dance at a private garden party. He signed Mrs Stewart’s visitors’ book, adding a bar of the tune Constant Billy; the club has a copy of the record.

Morris dancing in Cambridge, as elsewhere, was interrupted by the First World War. On 14th May 1919 Cecil Sharp gave a lecture at the Cambridge Guildhall. John Burnaby restarted practices for men in a lecture room at Trinity College, but after a few weeks these were moved to the Music Room at Malting House (Mrs Stewart’s home) and were thrown open for any man to attend. In the early days Alec Hunter came over from Letchworth, where he had started morris dancing. Since then practices have been held throughout each winter. The first recorded show was given in Nevile’s Court of Trinity College in the presence of the Prince of Wales on 31st May 1921, and similar shows, given in private gardens or to invited audiences, followed.

The Travelling Morrice
The young men wanted to dance for a wider audience and to visit the traditional villages, so in June 1924 Arthur Heffer, who had been taught at the Perse by Caldwell Cook and had returned to Cambridge from Oxford University, with Rolf Gardiner, who had taken a team of English dancers to Germany in 1922, arranged for the first tour of the Travelling Morrice to the Cotswolds. There they danced in the traditional Morris villages, met many old dancers and were taught different dances by them. The tour was a great success and spurred men such as Kenworthy Schofield to collect more dances. It was on the last day of this tour, 24th June, that Cecil Sharp died; the circle of the revival was now complete. Each year since then, with the exception of the War years, there have been one or two TM tours in England or abroad.

Formation of CMM
At the suggestion of Kenworthy Schofield, a club called The Cambridge Morris Men was founded primarily to maintain contact between Cambridge men who had gone down and those still in Cambridge. Initially CMM was an exclusive dining club. The first public show was not given until August 1934 in the Cambridgeshire village of Bourn where, by coincidence, the alehouse was kept by a man from Chipping Campden “who understood the morris”. Since then we have given shows on most summer Friday evenings in Cambridge or the surrounding villages.

The Morris Ring
By 1933 the men had got to know many dancers belonging to various clubs and, on the initiative of Joseph Needham and Arthur Peck, six of these clubs were approached in order to form an association of clubs. At the Tenth Annual Feast of the C.M.M. on 14th April 1934 the Squire announced the clubs’ agreement and declared the Morris Ring instituted. On 2nd June at the well established morris weekend in Thaxted, the Ring was duly constituted and the inaugural meeting was held at Cecil Sharp House on 20th October, when Alec Hunter was elected Squire with Walter Abson, a member of the C.M.M., as Bagman. CMM has provided several Ring officers and has continued to support the development of the Ring.

The War Years
During WW2 practices continued but neither village shows nor tours could be given; however a few men went over to Thaxted so that Bank Holiday dancing could continue and on at least one occasion the men helped Bampton to make up a full side for Whit Monday.

The first post-war Travelling Morrice Tour was in August 1945 and covered much the same ground as that of 1924; it was very successful and our Cotswold friends said “ We feel that the war is really over, now that the Morris Men are out again.”

Recent Developments
In Cambridge the weekly Friday evening shows have continued and since 1955 we have toured the surrounding villages on a Spring Day of Dance. Chipping Campden and Winster have joined us on this or similar tours over the years and in addition the Club has arranged three full Ring Meetings and a day to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Morris Ring.

In 1977, at the instigation of Russell Wortley and Cyril Papworth, the club revived the Cambridgeshire Molly dances Since then we have danced the Molly in many villages on Plough Monday (first Monday after twelfth night). In the evening we visit Balsham as guest of The Plough Boys; for the first two or three years we danced the Molly there too, but now we change back to Cotswold morris for the evening.

Travelling Morrice tours have continued each year with the Cotswolds as a frequent venue. A joint show and evening with the Chipping Campden dancers has been a splendid feature of every tour in the central Cotswolds.

Since 1989, mainly at the instigation of Harry Kitchener, there have been five tours to Ireland, two to the Channel Islands and also tours to several European countries.

In 2014 we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the club by arranging a national day of Morris dance in the city centre on behalf of the Joint Morris Organisations.  About 800 performers from 60 Morris sides took part.  The sun shone in Cambridge while the rest of East Anglia was drenched.

 Posted by at 4:30 pm