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Reviving the Morris at Kingston-on-Thames - 1911 style

G. Frampton

Morris Matters, Vol 7(1), p10-11, 1984


1911 was, or ought to have been, a very important year in the Cotswold Morris revival.  The year witnessed the Coronation of King George the fifth and Queen Mary, an occasion which beckoned all the pageantry the nation could muster.  The background behind the pageantry can be drawn from three sources.  The first of these is the May Revels fostered by John Ruskin and the Whitelands Training Collage for teachers at Chelsea at about 1888, which has been identified with the 'revival' of May Queens and Maypole dancing.  The second is the folk-dance revival movement accidentally begun by Cecil Sharp on Boxing Day 1899 when he saw the Headington Quarry morris team dance outside the house where he was staying, and the subsequent capitalisation by Sharp and Mary Neal's Esperance Girls club in collecting, collating and teaching traditional dances from old dancers which is now familiar history to most readers. The last category I can only describe as the influence of well-meaning but misinformed 'Merry Englanders' who 'revived the old dances' with varying degrees of research, usually based on Frances Douce's 'Illustration of Shakespeare' - himself a possible candidate in this bracket.

The History of the Morris at Kingston-on-Thames was ultimately researched by Dr. William Evelyn St. Lawrence Finny, J.P., M.D, F.S.A., a physician of Irish descent born at Gotham in Derbyshire in 1864.  Hs findings were delivered in an address to the South-eastern Union of Scientific Societies at their congress in 1932, and published in 'the South-eastern Naturalist & Antiquary' (1932) and later in 'Surrey Archaeological Collections' (1936).  In it, he reports a sixteenth-century scenario of May games, Kyngham games, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, based on churchwardens' accounts.  Finny then discovered people still living in Kingston who could remember 'the maypole being carried through the Market Place and put up for May Day in the Apple Market had a man with them that played a pipe and beat a drum, while they danced around the maypole, and did jerky dances which people called 'gigs''.  Another informant recalled how he and seven others, with the 'Jack in Green' and a piper who also beat a drum, dressed themselves up and went about the town giggling on May Day' when a boy.  From the ages of Finny's sources, this must have taken place around 1860-70.

Finny soon became a much respected citizen at Kingston after establishing his practice in the 1890's.  In 1911, he was on the town council as Deputy Mayor, and was soon to become mayor six times before his death in 1952.  Finny was a lover of pageantry.  When mayor, it was said, he 'induced the members of the corporation to wear gowns at council meetings and all public functions', and organised and carried out a number of pageants in which he held a prominent place'.  He was given the task of organising a children's pageant in Kingston to celebrate the Coronation, using a great deal of artistic licence!

About 6,700 children took part in the procession from the Fairfield to Home Park, drawn from all the local schools with whom he liaised to cast the different roles.  Finny himself was dressed as a beadle.  The troupe of morris dancers comprised girls in 'pretty old-fashioned dresses with green sashes and sun bonnets' and boys in 'smock frocks and slouch hats’ who all jingled as they marched with bells on their ankles and clothes.  These dancers were drawn from Bonner Hills schools and were trained by a Mrs. Jackson and her staff.  There were three groups of maypole dancers, again drawn from separate schools, and a separate group of country dancers, all wearing various coloured sashes.  Finny used his imagination on the may games character front, and had a full retinue of Jester, Hobby horse, Jack in Green, pages, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, May Queen and Sherwood foresters.

'On entering Home Park, a flourish of trumpeters heralded the commencement of the programme with a Grand Ceremonial March to the music of the East surrey Regiment.  Three maypoles with their many coloured ribbons were standing down the middle of the enclosure and on the far side was a platform on which stood the May Queen's throne'. On arrival, 'the march gave place to the music of 'Come Lasses and Lads' as the Maids of Honour in dainty dresses and carrying garlanded hoops with joyous steps cane dancing across...'.  The May Queen was drawn in her carriage by the Merrie men and 'gallantly handed to her throne by her brave Robin Hood' where 'the Maids of Honour and the Merrie men engaged in a bright Coronation country dance before her’.   The May Queen was then crowned by a ‘grave’ Friar Tuck, after which more ‘country dancing’ took place, followed by maypole dancing.  Later, ‘the trumpets sounded again as the Morris dancers, 64 in number, took possession of the field.  Their exquisite dancing was accompanied by the jingle of bells on their garments.’

What any of these dances comprised is unknown, although we do know ‘Come Lasses and Lads’ did form some vague processional tune.  Sgt. Wyatt’s pupils, who were dressed as Sherwood foresters, at some time performed a sword dance; perhaps the Flamborough sword dance taught to the Esperance Club, we don’t know.

No photographs are available of the scene, except for a group of maypole dancers.  When Cecil Sharps’ classes supplanted Mary Neal’s and more became known about the true nature of Morris dancing in general, Finny’s one-off pageant in 1911 could never be repeated.  Today, two (Cotswold) morris sides share Kingston-upon-Thames as their territory, Thames Valley Morris and Spring Grove, and only one dance I have seen ‘Seven Saxon’ distinguishes them from many other clubs.

We are left with on epitaph to Finny, which can never be seen inside the Kingston Heritage centre, and that is a replica of the Betley Window, from which he took his Robin Hood characters.  Underneath is the inscription ‘This window (founded on a Sixteenth-century window) was unveiled by Alderman George Huckle, J. P., Mayor, to commemorate the coronation of King George the fifth and Queen May and the Revival on that occasion of the old Kingston-upon-Thames may-pole and morris dances’.  Indeed!



Finny, W.E.St.L, 'Mediaeval Games and Gaderyngs at Kingston-upon-Thames', in Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol 44, pp 102-136 (1936)

Surrey Comet, 17-Jun-1911; 24-Jun-1911; 11-Oct-1952; 15-Oct-1952

Surrey Advertiser, 24-jun-1911

George E. Frampton, Saturday 25th February, 1984



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