The Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dances
The first dances taught to the Spring Grove Morris Men were from Bidford and these still form the core of each and every performance we give, because of this we have a great affection for the Bidford tradition and its history.
In the pesent day, the Shakespeare Morris Men, who have a special connection with the nearby village of Bidford-on-Avon are considered keepers of the Bidford-upon-Avon tradition.  The tradition has been extensively researched since 1965 by Phillip Taylor, SMM's musician for many years, assisted by Tony Parsons, the great grandson of Edwin Salisbury, the foreman of the 1886 Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dancers.  A rather nice slide show of historic pictures can be found [here].
The current Bidford dances were created under the auspices of Ernest Richard D'Arcy Ferris [1], a Victorian pageant organiser.  The side at Bidford had died out around 1860, D'Arcy Ferris created a new side in 1885 to be a professional entertainment.  The dances were not a revival of the dances from the 1860's side, but new dances; it is thought that many ideas were borrowed from the nearby Ilmington and Idbury dancers.  Certainly the Bidford musician, John Robbins, was sent by D'Arcy Ferris to study with the Ilmington musician [2], and there is a connection with the Idbury dancer William Trotman.
"At that time the traditional "side" and been disbanded and Mr Ferrers reconstructed the dances from the little that remained in the memories of one or two old men.  He also taught them the tune of Arbeau's Morris dance which they used as "Morris Off", and to which they invented a dance which is quite in keeping with other traditional dances." [3]
The side created by D'Arcy Ferris was publicised as The Shakespearean Bidford Morris and toured through 1886.  D'Arcy Ferris seems to have lost interest after 1886 and the side settled down to a more normal existence.
Roy Dommett wrote of the significance of D'Arcy Ferris to Morris Dancing:
"...without him realising the possibilities inherent in the growing antiquarian interest in folk lore there might not have been a Revival (of Morris Dancing)."
for the relevant text from the 1979 lecture click [Roy Dommett - Bidford notes 1979].
In 1905 Mary Neal's Esperance Girls learnt and displayed some Headington Morris dances:
"Later in 1906, Lady Isabel Margesson interested herself in the [Bidford] dancers, and invited Mr Cecil Sharp and Mr H. C.

Bidford Archive 1890-1907

MacIlwaine to Foxlydiat House Redditch, where they took down the tunes and dances which were published in their first Morris Book.  The Bidford dances were also collected by Mr John Graham" [3]
Here are some pictures from 1880s and from Sharp's visit to Bidford to research the dances on 2nd June 1906.  Sharp's description of the fool and hobby horse is unusually colourful:
"The Bidford man, whom we saw at his really funny antics, had a fox's mask for headgear, the muzzle lying on the man's forehead, the brush hanging down his back. His face was raddled like a clown's; he had a vest of cowhide, with red sleeves; stockings and breeches much like the dancers', and he wore his bells, not on a shin-pad like them, but in a row all round the boot-top. He carried a bladder on the end of a stick, and with it he freely whacked the hobby-horse man and occasionally members of the audience.
The hobby-horse man of the same company was dressed like a jockey; and, while the dancers had a rest, he and the fool carried on innumerable capers, sometimes backing in amongst the audience, occasionally overturning a few, and now and then chasing any maid that could be started on the run. If this pair be typical of the olden time, we can answer for it that their fun was uproarious and perfectly wholesome."

The first published notes are by John Graham in 1907 [4] followed by Cecil Sharp [5].  Sharp's The Morris Book is available in many locations on the internet so the here are the [Bidford related edited highlights] , but Graham's Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dances is harder to come by, so the pages have been scanned and uploaded to picasa and are available through the embedded link below.  We are particularly grateful to John Graham for Bidford as Mary Neal continues:

"In a recent edition of his Morris Book, Mr Cecil Sharp has omitted these Bidford dances, or retaken them from the Ilmington men, from whom they are believed to have originally been learnt."[3]

The Bidford Morris Dances by John Graham - 2nd Ed 1907

Were it not for John Graham, the canon of Bidford dances might have been lost and their existence recorded only as a mere copy of Ilmington rather that as a living tradition in their own right.

Here are the scanned images of John Graham's Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dances, clicking on the slide show will take you to picasa for a larger more useful view.  If you wish to download any pages then select download within picasa.

[1] D'Arcy Ferris and the Bidford Morris, Roy Judge, Folk Music Journal, Vol. 4, No. 5 (1984), pp. 443-480 
[2] John Robbins of Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire (1868 - 1948), Keith Chandler, (2006) No 16 in a series of short essays on Musicians in 19th Century Southern England
[3] English Folk-Song and Dance, Frank Kidson & Mary Neal, 1915, pp159
[4] Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dances, John Graham, J. Curwen & Sons Ltd, 1907
[5] The Morris Book, Cecil J. Sharp and Herbert C. Macilwaine, 1907
Shakespearean Bidford Morris Dances
Walk into the quaint little Plough Inn at Bidford and order refreshment, and it will be served in a jug which bears a punning rhyme of Shakespeare on one side and a picture of the Falcon Inn on the other.  The Falcon has sadly deteriorated, and affords now a a poor shelter for several villagers.  The story is current and may as well be told, that Shakespeare came on day from Stratford-upon-Avon, six miles distant, to this riverside village to challenge the Bidford Society of Tipplers to a drink bout.   The tipplers were not at home, having a prior engagement with Welford of bibulous renown, but the village had a second team called the sippers who appear to have won the day, for the Stratford party departed with as steady steps as they could and only got as far as a certain crab-tree whose successor is shown to visitors.  There Shakespeare rested and when he awoke he wrote a verse that hits off all the villages round about.  With these he vowed he would drink no more.  One was "Piping Pepworth", which refers to the prowess of the village with pipe and tabor, the instruments used to accompany the Morris dances.  "Papist Wixford" in his doggerel rhymes with "Drunken Bidford."  Whether the term is considered complementary or not depends upon whether you look through twentieth century of sixteenth century glasses.  The Falcon heavy drinking has gone, and we are not anxious to see its successor.  the Morris dances disappeared for a long time, but we are glad to think that the quaint old English custom has been revived.  About twenty-five years ago, several old men of the village, some of them hailing form Oxfordshire, determined to try to perpetuate the merry scenes which they loved in their youth.
In their view the world has degenerated, the annual fair on Dover's Hill was given up to wrestling, not quite so bad as the Norwegian wrestling with daggers, but kicking with big nailed boots, a very rough game which often resulted in maiming the participants.  They got together some of the younger men, and, by dint of several month's practise, taught them a number of the Morris dances.  the tunes were played on a small pipe, having only three holes.  One hole on the under side was closed by the thumb, and two holes on the top were closed by the first and second fingers.  This was held in the left hand, and from the little finger a tabor was hung, and a stick carried in the right hand to beat the time.  This pipe and "dub dub" accompaniment, though spirited, was not loud enough for open-air work, and the player, who still accompanies the party, learnt the violin, which makes an admirable accompaniment.  Our informant is probably the only survivor in the kingdom who plays the pipe and tabor.  The people at first regarded the dances as an opportunity for horseplay, just as they had done in the wrestling, and the leader protected himself with a short staff which had a length of catgut at the end on which two wooden balls were mounted.  This formidable weapon kept the larrikins at a distance, and by and by, the staff was left at home.  The fiddler was dressed in knicker-bockers like the dancers, a green tunic with white facings, and a silk beaver like a billycock hat.  There was still a place found for the time honoured characters call the hobby-horse and tomfool.  The hobby-horse was made of wicker-work in the shape of the body of a horse, the head and neck were covered in American cloth on which the eyes, nose and mouth were painted, and bridle and reins were attached.  Sawdust bags were strapped on to the side of the basket to represent human legs, the performer appeared to ride the horse, and was at times useful in keeping a crowd out of the way in the street.  The tomfool wore a calf-skin waistcoat, and carried a staff, having at one end a calf's tail, and at the other a string with an inflated bladder on it.  For his cap he had a fox's head, with the brush behind.  He cut as merry capers as he knew, hit passers by with the bladder, got business out of his friend the hobby-horse, led it where it shouldn't go. sometime sang songs, did not forget to carry a collecting box, and most important of all, filled up the interludes between the dances, for the Morris men make warm work, and need frequent rests, if not refreshment.  Another character was called the robdog, who was a kind of property man.  He carried the sticks and clothes and took cart that they were not stolen.  All this sounds very old fashioned, but it may be witnessed at Bidford at the very present day.  Twenty years ago the party toured around the country, under the direction of Mr. D'Arcy Ferris, with great success.  For a number of years the troupe took part in the annual Shakespearean festival at Stratford-on-Avon.  They have also taught the dances to other villages.  Many eminent photographers have sought to immortalize them by means of pictures.  Several articles have been written about their performances.  The present writer has gone further, and has ventured to note down in shorthand during the performances a description of the figures and steps, so that persons like-minded may go and emulate their example on village greens, in school halls, at garden parties, open-air fetes, pastoral plays, May-day revels, and wherever the delightful way of our dear old forefathers are likely to have a sympathetic audience, even on a modern Bank holiday or Boxing-day.  The music was taken down in the form of short-hand, the Tonic Sol-fa notation, so as to fit in with the movements, and especially to make portions which must be taken slower or faster that the normal rate.  This was done by means of a metronome.  The choice of keys was rather restricted, but the actual keys played were noted.  the most workable number of dancers was found to be six.  these, with the musician, tomfool, and hobby-horse, complete the "nine men's morris."  With a larger number, longer tunes would be required, owing to the threading, crossing and ring movements.  On a large platform, however, two or more sets of six dancers might perform independently to the same accompaniment.  There is no definate consecution of tunes; certain figures are associated with certain tunes, and there is a kind of coda or exit movement called "Morris off".
Nothing has been said about the antiquity of the Morris (or Morrice) dance.  It is said to be older than Christianity in Britain, and may, indeed, be pagan, but it was certainly largely followed in the middle ages.  The present writer is more concerned with its practical value in brightening the lives of ourselves and our neighbours.  In these strenuous days we have to be up-to-date, but we are not so busy that we cannot turn aside to spend a merry half-hour in song and dance.  The Morris dance is English heritage.  There is now no danger of our losing it, and the more people there are who care to share it, the more it will be prized
The hobby-horse and the tomfool are not essential features.  Without them there is plenty of enjoyment in the vivacious rhythmic movements, and the merry old English tunes.  There is something to be said in favour of the picturesque costumes adopted.  Even without dressing up, village folk may spend many a pleasant hour in dancing in this fashion.  Some of the men at Bidford have kept up the practice for twenty-five years and are still enthusiastic.  How the rafters of the low long room at the Plough Inn trembled, owing to the heavy tread of these strong agricultural labourers.  There is no singing.  Fiddle and "figures" are all in all.  A few hours after our visit, they were all at work in the fields, in the driving wind and rain.  The pleasures of our evening together helped make the common round of life endurable.  The fiddle is put away, the rows of bells are taken off the legs of the dancers, the prosaic garb of the twentieth century is resumed, every man steps out from the lighted room into the wet, dark night, the village is silent and gloomy, but the hearts of the dancers have quickened their movement, and the men separate the happier and the better in health and spirits for their hour with the Bidford Morris Dancers.