Fartown Morris Tradition

In 1942 Hubert Pennington noted some dances in the Fartown area of Huddersfield. White Rose have started on the work of reconstructing this tradition. Below is a transcription of the text, followed by some of the tunes used.

About the morris

Quoting Seabright Morris and Sword:


These are the things we really know about Morris dancing:
  • It is either 200 years old, 600 years old, or 3,000 years old (or it's not).
  • It originally developed in England (unless it didn't).
  • It was a fertility rite danced in the springtime (or just a festive dance, performed anytime).
  • It was danced exclusively by men (except when women danced, too).

An Introductory talk by Robert Campbell

[This is the text of an address given by Robert during White Rose's Beginners' Workshop on 14th December, 2013 - and it includes asides which are particular to that event.]

Hi. Welcome to you all. For those who don’t know who we are. Where have you been all your lives? Those that do know us: well done for plucking up the courage to attend despite that.

I am Robert and I am the squire of White Rose Morris Men in this our 60th year. Those that you see round you dressed in white are members of the side and in particular I would like to introduce you to the world famous (well he’s well known in parts of West Yorkshire) Will who will be teaching you the dances today. While I am on the introductions this is the moment for talking about the structure of this side. The basic administration of the side is divided into three: the squire, the foreman and the bagman. I am the squire, as I have said. That means that I am the public face of the side and direct performances once we are out. Behind the scenes, however, I defer to Will as the foreman who teaches the dances at practice nights and shouts at us when we get it wrong and show him up. The most onerous task is that of bagman. He is the secretary and treasurer. Recognising that, we have split the job between those two roles. Welcome Richard and Harvey.

Before I go any further I should mention the procedure in case of emergency. The exits are there and there. The sensible course of action is to proceed in an orderly manner to one of the exits. Your gut instinct is of course to run like hell. Do not do this because I will be very cross. During the day we will be involved in physical exercise. Please also be aware of any limitations that you have. This is supposed to be fun and I really do not want to cope with the paperwork should one of you die. If you have any medical conditions please let me know before you start any exercise and we can talk about what is sensible for you. However I am not medically qualified and my advice will always be that you should listen to your body. If what you are doing gives you grief, stop.

The purpose of today is to give an introduction to our style of Cotswold Morris dancing and to see whether there is an appetite for the formation of a sister side. The more astute among you will have noticed that all the White Rose members here are male in greater or lesser stages of decrepitude. This is not a statistical fluke. We make no apologies for the fact that this is a male only dance side. And that brings me to the question of dancing. Dance has two natures. One is social. If you go to the local disco or a tea dance or a ceilidh, the purpose is co-operative. You wish to dance with others (often of the opposite gender). However, if you go to the ballet or watch a street dancer or “Strictly”, that is display dancing. To put it bluntly, it is showing off. In what we do we feel that it is better that the side is all male or all female. Men and women move differently and on average, have different strengths and abilities. Anything more than that and I will appear sexist but the bottom line is that while women have expressed interest in joining White Rose and while we are great admirers (in every sense of the word) of some female morris dancers, we do not believe that a mixed side is an option.

Let me dispose of one myth immediately. Morris dancing is not inherently male. There is a long and distinguished history of women in the dance though to hear some talk, you would not believe it. Mary Neal and the Esperance Morris did not simply appear out of nowhere, much as Cecil Sharp may have wanted to sustain his own view of the origins and practice of morris as the one true vision. I remember being in a pub where there were old photos of morris dancers on the walls. The landlord was a member of the fundamentalist wing of the Morris Ring and was proud that his photo archive showed the exclusively male history of morris until we pointed out a woman in the picture of Upton on Severn Morris. I would not have chosen to pick a fight with her but she was a woman.

So what is morris dancing? At this point I confess that I am a technophobe and so I have a man to deal with the visuals on my behalf. Please welcome White Rose’s version of Debbie McGee to my Paul Daniels: Adrian. With our uncanny empathy and mutual understanding, you’ll be lucky if the words and pictures have more than a passing relationship one to another.

Morris dancing comes in many forms and those are distributed across the country after this fashion. The type of dancing that we perform has its home in the Cotswold region of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. This is the handkerchiefs and bells style that most think of as morris. The first known reference to morris dancing is in a will from 1458 (just before three o’clock for those who know I can never resist corn) and many depictions of dancers from then on are recognisably doing something akin to today’s dances.

We like to think that Cotswold Morris is the oldest form of the dance but to be honest sword dancing from Yorkshire would probably give it a close run or predate it. Sword dancing is quite possibly a separate tradition together with its faster and flashier younger brother Rapper dancing from the north-east. In particular sword dancing makes the link with ritualised combat clear. It also has links through to mumming and ideas of the turning of the seasons that are not explicit in the Cotswold tradition. If anyone does not know anything of mumming then join the club. Even those who perform it seem not to know they are involved when you ask them. I can recommend locally that you look out for the Long Company between Christmas and New Year.

More closely allied to Cotswold Morris are Border and Molly dancing. They come respectively from the border with Wales and the border with reality otherwise known as East Anglia. They are both more basic in many ways than Cotswold Morris although Molly is being reinvented. The problem in each case may have been that it was not collected until it was too late. The collection of folk dances began in earnest at the end of the nineteenth century and after Cecil Sharp founded the EFDS there was a slight interruption later referred to as the First World War. As an example, of the six dancers in the EFDS team, four died on the Somme. However, as I have said, the traditions are being regenerated and many sides across the country are putting on splendid performances.

Also related to Cotswold (in the case of White Rose, largely by marriage) is North-West dancing. This is performed in clogs and concentrates on geometric patterns that are possible with a larger number of dancers. It is sometimes difficult to draw the boundaries between the two. The dances of Lichfield are claimed by Cotswold dancers but could easily be viewed as an offshoot of North-West. In the same region one can find Fluffy or Festival Morris. This is where you might see links into more modern forms of performance dance. It is generally female and has the same concentration on precision and figures as North-West but is not danced in clogs.

Finally and enigmatically we have the Coconut Dancers from Bacup. I quote from the Guardian which said “nothing prepares you for the Coconut Dancers”. I agree. I will leave you to go and see them at Easter. In fact please do go next year as they are having a run in with the local Council as to policing the event and could do with well-behaved support.

There are many other traditions, more or less related to morris dancing. I have not mentioned hobby horses (damn I just did) and many others but can I just mention the derivation of the word “morris”? I am fairly sure, having once read a book, that early references linked back to the Spanish “mouresco” or Moorish. I personally like the link to the Latin “mores” or customs but that may be a false etymology. The short answer is that nobody knows where it comes from. One can imagine a primitive man making a noise repeatedly and his friends realising that they could predict the next time that he would hit the tree trunk or whatever, so was born rhythm perhaps. From there it is a short step (pun intended) to dance. At what point is that first referred to as Morris Dancing? Nobody knows and, quite frankly, who cares?

Finally can I just read a small extract from an early description of display dancing. It may even be morris dancing of a sort.

Thank you.