EFDS Origins of the Manchester Morris Men
[extracted in 1985 from the minutes of the Manchester District of the EFDSS, by W.G. Chadband (MMM member and EFDSS Committee member), and reproduced here with his permission (Oct 2005)]
Although one or two may prefer their origins to remain a little shrouded in the mists of time past, most of us I suspect have an urge to know how things began. Recently amongst the Manchester Men have been heard murmerings of 'Golden Jubilee’ and these have stirred others to look a little closer at the origins of the Manchester Morris Men.
The Men have always had strong connections with the Manchester District of the EFDSS and this is not surprising when one realizes that the Men have their roots in the District (or Manchester Branch as it then was). The past Minutes of meetings of the Branch provide useful insights into Morris Dancing in Manchester in the past.
The most pertinent Minutes are those from meetings held on 9/12/35, 3/2/36 & 24/2/1936:
'Mr Heath read a letter from Alec Hunter, Squire of the Ring, asking the Branch to recommend a candidate for a free place at a Christmas school. The Committee decided to recommend one of the following; S. Hiley, Mr Knox, Mr B.J. Bentley.
'Referring to the free places offered to Morris Men at the Christmas school, the secretary read a letter from the Squire of the Morris Ring. It was decided that the Men's Morris Side should affiliate with the Ring, the Branch paying the Annual Subscriptions and that Mr Hiley should be asked to be the Correspondent.'
'Mr Hiley had consented to act as correspondent for the Morris Side, which was now affiliated to the Morris Ring.'
These minutes establish the existence of the Men’s Morris side in 1935 and the close relationship with the Branch. The Branch minutes show that principal members of the Morris Side were also active members of the Branch committee. This close relationship has continued up to the present day.
The minutes quoted above refer to the Morris 'side' but in general both before and after this time the practices are more usually referred to as 'classes'. The whole thrust of the Society in these early days was to reintroduce people to the range of English Folk Dance via classes organised for this purpose. Folk progressed through the stages Elementary, and Intermediate to Advanced and examinations were held to ensure standards.
Manchester District Minutes go back to 1926.However a minute from the meeting of Tuesday 13 July 1926 records the resignation of Miss Vinicombe after having taught for the Branch for fourteen years. The same Minute records the decision to ask Miss Ledger to take the Advanced Classes. (Gladys Ledger died on February 3rd 1981--- her obituary appears on p.28 of English Dance & Song Vol. 43 No. 2: 1981
The first reference to Morris in the Minutes comes from the first meeting (of which we have records) held 22/1/26:
'in the past years students who had begun to study Morris during the Spring session found great difficulty in making progress and often gave up. It was agreed that new students for the Spring session be advised not to take Morris unless they already knew something about it’....
A further minute of the same meeting reveals that :-
‘… secretary reported that other EFDS branches remarked on Manchester's lack of interest in Festivals because of the fact that we took no part in the competitions. It was decided that the classes be told of coming Festivals and that if they wished to enter for the competitions they ask the instructor to help them'
This obviously had the desired effect. A minute of 31/3/28 :-
"With regard to Competitions it was decided that the entrance fees for the Alderley and Buxton Festivals be paid by the Branch’
After this the Branch regularly entered teams for the Alderley Edge Festival. Forty nine certificates are preserved in the Branch records for the period 1928-1939.
The AGM of Fri 28/9/28 agreed to '… additional classes for Morris if the numbers justified it'
Whilst the meeting of 12/7/29 records :-
Mr Butterworth proposed that some of the money be used to provide additional equipment -- Steel swords, Adderbury sticks etc. Agreed.'
The Men's Morris at this time appears to have been led by a Mr Heath.
'With regard to the Men's class on Wednesday evenings Miss Emmett suggested that in the absence of Mr Heath, Miss Ledger might be asked to take the Morris hour, so that it would be a lesson rather than a practice'
‘The Mens Morris Class was discussed and it was decided ….. to allow them to make their own arrangements for this term, Mr Duffy kindly offering the use of his Scout Room for the classes and also for the demonstration practices.
Interestingly the Manchester Men appear to have practiced in rooms provided for derivatives of Mr Duffy's Scouts for much of the time since. Mr Duffy, of course is the man after whom the Duffy Mem are named. It is recorded elsewhere (see John Tallis) that in 1925 a short course for Scouters was taken by one of the teachers of the Manchester Branch, as a result of which Mr Duffy (and Major Pilkington ) joined the classes.
'Liverpool Festival. The organising secretary was authorized to enter an advanced Country and Advanced Women's Morris Team for the Festival. The question of whether to enter a Men's Morris team was discussed and it was decided that Mr Heath should discuss the matter with the men at the next Friday class.’
'The organising secretary reported that at the Liverpool Festival on 29 Nov. the Manchester Branch teams were awarded Distinction Certificates in each of the classes they entered viz. Womens Morris, Mens Morris and Advanced Country.
(Mr Heath in the Chair) 'Miss Mackie raised a question about the Men's Morris class, as to whether it was worthwhile carrying on with a special class with so few members. It was agreed that a class for men alone was valuable to the Branch and that it should be carried on as long as possible. Mr Heath promised to have a talk with the men at the next class to see if the attendance could be improved.'
A letter was read from Miss Fisher regarding a Men's Morris and Sword Team for a demonstration in Preston in March. Expenses to be paid. Committee agreed that Mr Heath should approach the Men to see if a side could be raised'
In connection with the Men's Morris other teams are referred to in the Minutes.
'A couples evening was fixed for 29 November, when the Men's Morris Class will do some dances and Mr Duffy's boys be asked to help with the demonstrations.'
'Arrangements for the 21st Birthday Party were discussed and it was decided to make the Branch Party on Dec. 10th a suitable celebration with a Birthday cake, and a demonstration of the Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance (by Abb. Br. team)’
Stretford U.D. Council has asked for a Folk Dance afternoon at Longford Park on June 17th, undertaking to provide a rehearsal room and the services of the Pendleton Town Band.'
Belle Vue Morris Contest. It was suggested that Mr Butterworth, who has had considerable experience, should be asked to judge on June 24th. Members of the committee know that some orthodox teams had entered and felt that they should be protected by an approved Judge.
'the secretary was instructed to order the Royton Dance music from H.Q. and to add to the agenda of the next meeting the suggestion that one of the Royton team be asked to instruct the advanced class in the steps next term.
The secretary read a notice from H.Q. about the All-England Festival. It was agreed that it was impossible for the Manchester team to go because of the difficulty of getting the men there on time. Miss Emmett was requested to get into communication with one of the Royton team as soon as possible in order to provide the advanced class with instructions in the dance. It was decided that dancers could make their own slings'
Miss Emmett asked the committee its opinion on the fee due to Miss Ledger during the times when Mr McDermott of the Royton Team was teaching.
Mr Butterworths suggestion of a Branch subsidy to support a junior Royton Team was discussed at length. Owing to the present lack of cohesion in the Senior team it was decided that the branch could take no steps until a definite application for help was received.
Miss Ledger suggested that Mr McDermott should give a course of Royton lessons apart from the Fri. Classes.'
Mens Side affiliates with the Morris Ring.
‘Branch in favour of having the Royton Men at Liverpool but not a junior team. Bacup Men suggested as an alternative.'
Proposed that a Man's Morris Class be held on Friday evenings next term taught by a Manchester Morris Man.
It was decided to accept the offer of a demonstration at the March Party by scouts who were reviving the Staley Wood Morris Dance, their expenses to be paid and a collection taken for their costumes.
Mr Hiley reported that he had found sticks end swords distributed as follows:-
- Cavandish Street 80 short sticks; 36 long sticks; 35 wooden swords, 8 steel Flamborough swords, 10 Rapper swords
- Dover St 11 wooden swords, 16 short sticks
The Men's Morris Class. Mr Duffy to be asked to take the class, or alternatively Mr Bentley'
Classes Secretary said... a small room over the new gym at Dover St. would be available for the Mens Morris class if required. It was decided to ask a violinist to accompany the Men's Morris. Mr Duffy's letter stating his inability to take the class was read and on being pressed Mr B.J. Bentley agreed to have a crack at it.'
Political situation It was agreed that in view of the present state of war all next terms activities be cancelled.
© Manchester District EFDSS 1985
Note (Nov 2004) Following the disbanding of the EFDSS Manchester District (in appr.1996) the minutes, certificates, etc (referred to in the above text) have been lodged with Greater Manchester County Record Office.