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Kingston RM Brochure

Kingston Ring Meeting Brochure
Brochure written for the 1957 Ring Meeting, held on 21st September in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, UK

The Morris Dance


 Item for garteryng of IIII dozen bellys                                    IIId.
 Item for IIII plytes and a quarter of laun for ye mores garmentes      IIs. XId.
 Item payd for mete and drynke for the mores dancers on the fayre day     XIIIId.
 Item for bellys for ye dauncers                                            XIId.

 These are entries in the Kingston Parish Church Churchwardens' Accounts Book for the years 1507 to 1509

 Morris dancing was in those days very popular in the Royal Borough.  At the dancing and also at the local mysterious Kyngham game it was the custom to make 'gaderings' or collections of money to pay for food and drink.  Also from this money, payments were made to the Churchwardens for the repair and upkeep of the nave of the church, a responsibility of the congregation.

The Morris is England's traditional men's dance.  Its origins are lost in the mists of antiquity. The dance and the three characters associated with it - the Fool, the Hobby Horse and the Man-Woman - are relics of customs in these islands before Christianity reached us.  By the Middle Ages this dancing had become associated with religious holidays, particularly Whitsuntide.  It later formed part of the secular games such as the May Game and the Robin Hood Game which were the main entertainment of the people in those days of little or no education or relaxation.  At Kingston-on-Thames, Hocktide, the second Monday after Easter, was the chief festival of the year.

The heyday of Morris dancing was the Tudor period when it was practiced all over the Midlands and from Surrey to Cornwall.  Some of the earliest references, if not the earliest actual record of the Morris dance being performed, are mentioned above.  With the growth of Puritanism the games fell into disfavour and at Kingston there is no record of the games or dancing after 1579.

The Industrial Revolution caused changes in conditions which adversely affected the Morris and by the beginning of this century it had all but died out.  There were one or two villages in the Cotswolds where it was kept up.  Cecil Sharp, by chance, encountered the Headington team dancing at Christmas time in 1899. He was very interested and at once set about collecting details of the dances and the music.  It is largely due to his efforts that we know as much as we do about Morris dancing today.

Why 'Morris' dancing?  There is no certain answer.  It is thought that early dancers used the simplest disguise, blacked faces, to hide their identity and so were called Moors or Blackamoors.  Hence the dancing was described as Moorish.  It has been said that 'The faces were not blacked because the dancers represented Moors but rather the dancers were thought to represent Morris because their faces were blackened'.

Today the Morris is back in the Thames Valley.  The Thames Valley Morris Men, the local team, is one of a hundred clubs dancing throughout the country.  They dance the Morris because they enjoy doing so.  In watching them, you are taking part in the dance and they hope thereby some of their own pleasure will be conveyed to you.

 Bagman: C. D. Smith, 55 Hare Lane, Claygate, Surrey