So, this Morris dancing, where does it come from? There is surprisingly little documented and several diverse theories. The earliest references are mid 15th Century to early 16th century where church records list “a silver cup sculpted with Morris Dance” (1458) or “ silver for the Mores Dauncers- 7d” (1510). In Tudor times – particularly at the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I Morris dancing was regularly performed and valued. Even then it was known as an “ancient” tradition! In Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ the Morris Tradition of dancing at Whitsun appears to be known by the French royalty. Also, a play [‘The Two Nobel Kinsmen’ –by Fletcher] performed at Drury Lane, for Elizabeth I, contained a central theme of Morris Dancing, performed by teams of both men and women.
The time of Civil war and Puritans caused the demise of drinking and many festivities, including Morris, in many communities. However, it was also at this time that the first edition of the English Dancing Master appeared and grew in popularity-especially amongst the ruling class. So at the start of the Restoration, it is not surprising to read that Charles II was greeted by several teams of Morris dancers on his way into London. Within just a few years, Cotswold style Morris is documented as a key element of springtime festivals associated with May 1st and/or Whitsun. E.g. ‘The Lamb Ale’ in Kirtlington, Oxfordshire (http://www.kirtlington-morris.org.uk/)
The 17th and 18th Centuries appear to be a time of growth and evolution of regional styles and traditions, danced by both men and women. For reasons which remain unclear, there appears to be a cessation of these danced traditions in many parts of the country by the late Victorian period. However, after a few years, some villages revived the activities and developed these ‘lost’ traditions. E.g. in 1899 ,the Headington ( nr Oxford) Morris Men decided to dance on Boxing Day… an unexplained departure from the traditional link with Springtime!. Cecil Sharp happened to be holidaying in Headington that Christmas and so sparked his interest and the subsequent seminal collection of music and dances. A contemporary of Sharp, Mary Neal, also collected and published books on Morris Dancing and brought the dance form to her Esperance Club for women.
Although there are obvious roots to Morris dancing on May 1st, it is only from 1923 that we have evidence of any Morris Side dancing in the dawn of May 1st. This first occasion arose when the Oxford Morris Men joined in with the other, established May Dawn activities a Magdelen College.
So as the seasons change and the weather warms up, you will find us out and about on Wednesdays and at various garden fetes between May and September (the full programme is available on our website). May 1st will see Festus Derriman Morris gathered on the Stone Pier, Weymouth, at @ 5:15am.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl4juA5BirY will take you to a Hong Kong News Magazine programme from 1994 that adds a little more detail. Spot Festus' whistle player!