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Morris Mysteries

Some words you might hear in the wonderful world of morris
morris men sticks

Sticks, bells and hankies - for Cotswold Morris. Some think that morris dances date from pre-history, and sticks, bells and hankies were used to frighten off evil spirits, but there is no evidence for this.

Sticks come in three forms - long, short and broken. Broken long sticks may be recycled into short sticks, or possibly matchsticks.


The bells (twelve or so per leg) are sewn on to leather pads, along with ribbons, and strapped on under the knee. They jingle as we walk along, so that people can suddenly remember they should be somewhere else.

Clogs - for North-West Morris The women wear traditional clogs, as were worn in the mills in Lancashire. For work and everyday use they were hardwearing and protective, but for dancing they also make a percussive noise to accompany the dancing. These are still made by hand, by a small number of craftsmen. We have clogs in many colours, to suit our rainbow-stripe socks.

morris ladies clogs

Ladies? Why are they called Ladies? When they were founded, in 1979, it was the custom to refer to 'Ladies' Morris'. Today, no-one knows how this rowdy crowd could ever be called Ladies.

Squire - our elected leader.

Bagman - originally the person who held the money (in the bag), but now the person who shuffles paper and complains about missing dancers.

morris flowers hat

Up - The front of the dance, usually where the musicians stand. Listen for the cry of 'Where's Up?' as the musicians try to be less confused.

Caper, Galley, Rant

All types of step designed by physiotherapists to bring in more business.

A brief history of morris dancing

The origins of the Morris are unknown, but some think that it originates in pre-Christian rituals, while historical researchers think that it has a more recent origin in the ‘Morisco’ dances of the medieval courts of Europe. At one time morris dancing was widespread over rural England, but urban and industrial development led to a decline, leaving pockets of quite distinct dances in certain regions.

Morris dancing could have died out if it had not been for a chance encounter in 1899 between a folklorist, Cecil Sharp, and one of the last sides still dancing, the men from Headington Quarry near Oxford. Sharp set out to record the dances and the music, and noted the recollections of the surviving dancers and musicians. The publication of work by Sharp and other researchers led to a renewed interest in folk dance and song and has resulted in the Morris becoming a regular spectacle throughout England.

The clog dances of Lancashire and Cheshire, and the wilder dances of the Welsh border have been researched in more recent times.

morris tradition
morris richmond

When Philip Stubbs wrote his account of the Lord of Misrule in the late sixteenth century, it was an intrinsic part of the celebration of Christmas in the countryside. The Lord of Misrule had twelve days of sovereignty. The tradition was strongly maintained in England until finally suppressed by Victorian 'Political Correctness'.

“This king [the Lord of Misrule] annoynted , chooseth forth twentie, fourty, threescore, or an hundred lustie guttes, like to himself, to waite upon his lordly majesty, and to guarde his noble person. Then every one of these men he investeth with his liveries of greene, yellow, or some other light wanton colour, and as though they were not gawdy ynough, they bedecke themselves with scarffes, ribbons, and laces, hanged all over with gold ringes, pretious stones, and other jewels.

This done, they tie aboute either legge twentie or fourtie belles, with riche handkerchiefes in their handes. Then march this heathen company towards the church, their pypers pyping, their drummers thundring, their stumpes dauncing, their belles jyngling, their handkerchiefes fluttering aboute their heades like madde men, their hobbie horses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the throng.”


So no change there!

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