Mossley 7 of 17

The Mossley Morris Dance, as described to D. R. Howison by Mr. Levi Leech, 1957

Mr. Leech was unable to dance or to give more than a very perfunctory practical demonstration of the steps and movements, his descriptions were not always easy to follow, but he clearly knew (or had once known) what he was talking about.

He was born in 1885, and started dancing when he was 17 (1903), under Albert Oldfield. He later led the dancers for one season. Under Oldfield, he was the front dancer for some years. Oldfield had mentioned a man called Danner as having danced with their team, but Leech says he never did. He says Danner danced for the "Highland Laddie Boys", up by the football ground. (The Highland Laddie is a pub. DRH). These were a revival team, but Leech could give no dates. He claims that the dancers went to Blackpool three times a year (exaggeration?).


He described their costume as follows:

White shirt, velvet breeches, red on one side of the set, black on the other. Sash around the waist, hanging down on the outside. Blue sashes on one side of the set, yellow on the other. Bells on bottom of breeches. Coloured garters. Velvet caps. (Albert Oldfield, age 86, says that when he first started dancing they wore ladies' hats, straw, with flowers round them, but later changed to caps. Being rather senile, could give no idea when the change took place, but it must have been some time between 1880 and 1903 DRH). They had several strings of beads (pearl;) across the chest, fastened with brooches. Different coloured stockings on the two sides of the set. Tiddlers wound with red, white and blue ribbon. Clogs with very thin, light soles. He says they wore straw hats once at Ashton Bicycle Parade because their caps were not ready. He remembers the incident with a lifeboat.


He laid great emphasis on the fact that the leader did not call the various movements, but gave signs for them. Here are some of the signs (with his names for the figures); The sign would be preceded by a blast on the whistle.

"Step" - Small spiral or circles made with tiddler (in vertical plane) about 6 inches off the ground - rather like winding a car.

"Cross Mollies" - One hand waved laterally above the head, from one side to the other.

"Centre Partners" - As for "step", but done at waist level.

"Centre" - As for centre partners, but with the other arm held in the air.

"Corners" - Overarm diagonal sweep (much like Cross Mollies, but diagonal)

"Tickle our Martha" - no sign: simply a whistle-blast.

The Dance

Fall Back - facing "up the street", all fall back four walking steps, starting with the right foot, then forward again. Right, left, spring of the right foot, land on the left, with the right leg cocked up at about 45 degrees, and pointing slightly away from the body.

Hands - Left hand raised above the head while the right hand moves across the chest until it is on the left side of the body, at waist level. Tiddlers are agitated in the hands all this time. This movement takes the same time as the walking steps. Repeat with opposite hands. Repeat again on the first two forward steps. During the spring, both hands are swung up above the head and held there. This last movement (the spring off the right foot accompanied by the throwing up of the arms) is known as "throwing up", and occurs at intervals throughout the dance.


As far as I could make out you polka twice on the spot, then turn on the spot, then repeat. The hands are held above the head when turning, and twisted in an indeterminate way. This is plainly the movement Maud Karpeles calls "dance" but I was not able to note it accurately.

Cross Mollies

Cross with partner, turning single as you move across. Not the polka step - much slower and gentler. Actual step difficult to determine. As far as I could make out it was a kind of slip-step, or waltz step, (starting sideways across the set). I have seen Bob McDermott of Royton and Manley do a very similar step, and he always criticises the Manley dancers because they don't do it smoothly enough: they want, he says, to put too much spring into it. "Step" in partner's place. Then cross back, the same way as you went over, "step" in own place and "throw up".

Centre Partners

Turn partner with the right arm (elbow grip), the other arm in the air. "Step". Back with the left, "Step" and throw up.


Tiddlers crossed in the centre of each group of four dancers. Not holding hands. Round with right hands to centre, (left waved above head). "Step". Back with left, "step" and throw up.


Corners cross (Same step as for Cross Mollies - not polka)., Do not "step" on the other side. (This is the only figure except Tickle our Martha in which there is no "step" half way.) Cross back, throw up, then go into Tickle our Martha.

Tickle our Martha

It was difficult to see how this was meant to be done. As far as I could make out it was as follows.

Bar Movements
1 - 4 Stand facing partner. Mark time with feet while arms are moved out the semaphore N position (i.e. raised sideways 45deg.) and then crossed in front at waist level. Out and in four times.
5 - 6 Turn on the spot, hands above head.
7 - 8 Cross with partner exactly as in Cross Mollies.

Repeat in and out movement of arms in partner's place, return to own place and throw up. This ends the dance.

Half Turn and Full Turn

It will be noticed that there is no mention, in the above account, of the "insides" movement. I have, however, notes which seem to refer to two variants of this movement - one which the dancers end up facing in their original direction "up the street", and the other in which they end up (presumably by not turning when they reach the bottom of the set) facing in the opposite direction down the street as it were. All I have is the names of these movements and the signs given by the leader.

Half Turn - (in which the dancers end up facing down). The leader makes a beckoning gesture with one raised hand, finishing it with a loop to indicate the turn.

Full Turn - (in which the dancers end facing up the street). The same signal as for Half Turn, but done with both hands.

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