Cecil J. Sharp.

The Morris Book, Part 1 A History of Morris Dancing, With a Description of Eleven Dances as Performed by the Morris-Men of England online

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for use and ornament in the dance were used to break heads with. We are
grown vastly more delicate and refined since then, it is supposed.

Before we go on to note some leading features in the dress and
paraphernalia of the Morris-men, one more memory of the days that are
gone - maybe in some fashion to return, maybe not - tempts to quotation.
It is from the church-wardens' accounts of the parish of
Kingston-upon-Thames, and in our prejudiced eyes has a dignity, and
somehow a promise, all its own. It is from Lysons' "Environs of London,"
vol. i., 1792, p. 226, and runs: -

For paynting of the mores garments and £ s. d.
for sarten gret leveres 0 2 4

For 4 plyts and ½ of lawn for the mores
garments 0 2 11

For orseden for the same 0 0 10

For bellys for the dawnsars 0 0 12

For silver paper for the mores dawnsars 0 0 7

Shoes for the mores dawnsars, the frere and
mayde Maryan at 7d. the payre 0 5 4

8 yerds of fustyan for the mores dawnsars
coats 0 6 0

A dosyn of gold skynnes for the morres 0 0 10

5 hats and 4 porses for the dawnsars 0 0 4½

As a conclusion to this imperfect sketch we would point once more to the
warranty of its imperfections and sketchiness offered in the beginning.
We hope for it no more than that it may serve to direct those inclined to
bestow upon the Morris a closer study, to at least the beginnings of an
enthralling subject. So much for the origin and history of the art. As
for its living practitioners: of the men, for instance, of
Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Lancashire, Northumberland - the last-named of
whom danced the other day before the King at Alnwick Castle under the
name of Guisards - and elsewhere, we offer no precise information. It may
be that one day we shall be privileged to do so. But for the tunes we
have set down, and for the dances belonging thereto we have attempted to
describe, we do claim that in these we have tried most faithfully to pass
on to others what the Morris-men gave to us.


In earliest days of the Morris, music was made by a simple pipe, by pipe
and tabour, or the bagpipe. Of these the bagpipe was apparently the
original. An old madrigal, printed in 1660, runs thus:

Harke, harke, I hear the dancing
And a nimble morris prancing;
The bagpipe and the morris bells
That they are not farre hence us tells;
Come let us goe thither,
And dance like friends together.

Since the disappearance of the bagpipe, pipe and tabour (called whittle
and dub) have been, even within the memory of living men, the accepted
instruments wherewith to make music and beat time for the Morris. They
are now fallen into disuse. The pipe or whittle was of wood, really an
early form of the flageolet, over a foot long; sometimes it had a metal
tongue in the mouthpiece; two finger-holes and a thumb-hole to vary the
note, and was played with the left hand. From the left thumb the tabour,
or dub, was suspended by a loop: the dub was a miniature drum,
elaborately made, and was beaten by a stick held in the right hand. Pipe
and tabour were sometimes played by separate men.

At the present time the music is generally played on a fiddle; though
here, again, having no complete knowledge of all the traditional dancers
still left among us, we offer no precise statement as to the instruments
still in use. One Morris-man we knew made music on a concertina. _See_
plate opp. p. 22.


In the matter of dress, old-time accounts prove that the Morris-men
indulged in considerable variety; and even amongst present-day inheritors
of the tradition there are many differences. Still, certain features may
be regarded as common, and the dress of Mr. Salisbury (plate opp. p.
21), leader of the Bidford men, may be cited as typical. The tall hat,
though not universal, is the most popular and general headgear; and this
dancer and his men wore a broad band of plaited ribbons on their hats
some two-and-a-half inches wide, in red, green and white. The elaborately
frilled and pleated white shirt is also typical; this was tied at wrist
and elbow with blue ribbons, the ends left hanging. The breeches were of
fawn-shaded corduroy, with braces of white webbing; on the braces were
pinned, in front and at the back, level with the breast, rosettes of red,
white and blue ribbons, the ends left hanging. The tie was of the same
blue ribbon as that in the rosettes, also with the ends long and loose.
The boots, as befitted the sturdy work they had to do, were substantial;
the stockings of rough grey wool, which showed between the boots and



(FIDDLER in foreground, to the right; HOBBY-HORSE - left, and
FOOL - centre, beyond Dancers.)]

In the case of Mr. Kimber, leader of the Headington men (plate opp. p.
22), the dress, it will be noticed, was simpler. A white sweater took the
place of the pleated shirt; ribbons of red, white and blue were crossed
upon the chest; the trousers were of white flannel.

Some notes on the bells and on the manner of fixing them will be found
under the heading "Bells."

The fool's dress would seem to be designed to-day, as in the olden time,
upon no particular plan, but to follow the fancy of the individual
wearer. 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.


To the wearing of bells, stitched upon thongs and tied to the shin, there
would seem to be no exception amongst the Morris-folk, even from the
earliest times. The celebrated Kemp, who danced the Morris all the way
from London to Norwich in 1599, and whose picture we reproduce, wore his
bells in the traditional manner.

The records show that, even in recent times, both treble and tenor bells
were worn, each carried by the opposite files of dancers. There are
accounts also of bells with four different tones. But nowadays certainly
the rule is that bells all of a kind are worn by all the dancers - latten
bells, if that be still the correct name for the kind of bell to be found
upon the harness that children use when they play at horses. The shin-pad
that carries the bells varies to some extent in the details of its
construction; the number of bells also varies. Sometimes the vertical
strips and lateral ties of the pad are of ribbon or braid; maybe oftener
of leather. Sometimes the bells are stitched upon the lateral ties, top
and bottom; it is more usual, however, to fasten them on the
perpendicular strips. The whole bell-pad is some seven inches square, and
is worn midway between knee and ankle. Kimber, as will be seen (plate
opposite), wears twelve bells on each leg, in three perpendicular rows of
four each.


Some dancers carry a white handkerchief - the middle finger thrust through
a hole in one corner - in all their dances; we have, elsewhere, described
the dances as we have seen them performed, with and without the



The stick, or staff, used in some dances, and the manner of using it, are
described elsewhere. Sometimes a bunch of ribbons is tied to the butt;
sometimes it is left unadorned.


As to the fool's properties, he always carries, after the time-honoured
fashion of the clown, a bladder swinging on the end of a stick, or ladle;
in some parts, even to-day, he is observing custom if he has a cow's tail
on the other end: this to be used also to whack the unsuspecting

The hobby-horse is, fundamentally, of wicker or some stout fabric stayed
with wood, having a hole from which its rider, or footman, emerges to the
waist, and is slung upon his shoulders in the familiar manner. The
horse's head and tail, a pair of stockings stuffed and shod - and
ludicrously disproportionate to the bulk of the horseman; the bit and
bridle and caparison, may all be fashioned according to the horseman's

* * * * *

"Illustrations of Shakespeare and of ancient manners." Two vols. London,
1807. Francis Douce.

"Glig-Gamena Angel-Deod, or The Sports and Pastimes of the People of
England." London, 1801. Joseph Strutt.

"Observations on Popular Antiquities." Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1777. John

"Orchesographie, et traicte en forme de dialogue, par lequel toutes
personnes peuvent facilement apprendre et practiquer l'honneste exercise
des dances." Lengres, 1588 (since reprinted and edited by Laure Fonta,
Paris, 1888). Thoinot Arbeau (i.e., Jehan Tabourot).

"Shakespeare and his Times." Two vols. London, 1817. Dr. Nathan Drake.

"Robin Hood Ballads." London, 2nd edition, 1832. Joseph Ritson.

"The Environs of London." Four vols., 1792-96. Daniel Lysons.

"History of Music." Five vols., 1776. Reprinted, Novello, Ewer and Co.,
1853, two vols. Sir John Hawkins.

"Popular Music of the Olden Time." Two vols. London, 1855-59. William

"Shakespeare and Music." London, Dent and Co., 1896. Edward W. Naylor,
M.A., Mus. Bac.

"Kemp's Nine Daies wonder, performed on a journey from London to
Norwich." Edited from original. Privately printed, Edinburgh, 1884. E.

"The Literature of National Music." London, Novello, Ewer and Co., 1879.
Carl Engel.

"The Abbot." (Note to chap. 14.) Sir Walter Scott.

"The Fair Maid of Perth." (Note to chap. 20.) Sir Walter Scott.

"Shakespeare." (Note to Henry IV., Part I.) Steevens.

"Notes and Queries."

"Dictionary of Music and Musicians." Four vols. London, Macmillan and
Co., 1879-1899. Edited by Sir George Grove.

"The Transactions of the Folk-Lore Society." Vol. 8, 1897.

"A Treatise on the art of dancing." By Giovanni-Andrea Gallini. London,

"Dancing in all Ages." London, 1879. Edward Scott.

"A Lytell geste of Robin Hode, &c." Two vols. London, Longmans, 1847.


There is not much information about Morris tunes to be gathered from
books. Chappell, for instance, in his "Popular Music of the Olden Time,"
I., pp. 125 and 130, gives but two Morris dance-tunes, "The Staines
Morris Tune" and "Trip and Go"; while Mr. Edward Naylor, in the appendix
to his "Shakespeare and Music," only prints the same number - "An English
Morris, 1650" (a variant of Chappell's "Staines Morris Tune"), and an
Italian Moresca by Claudio Monteverde, 1608. In Grove's "Dictionary of
Music" (old ed.), II., p. 369, three Morris tunes are recorded: Arbeau's
"Morris Off," a Yorkshire melody founded on that of "The Literary
Dustman," and a Cheshire Morris to words beginning: -

Morris Dance is a very pretty tune,
I can dance in my new shoon;

In an interesting and most instructive paper on "Morris-dancing in
Oxfordshire," read by Mr. Percy Manning before the Folk-Lore Society, and
printed in their "Transactions" for December, 1897, five tunes are given:
"Green Garters," "Constant Billy," "Willow Tree," "Maid of the Mill," and
"Bob and Joan." Mr. Manning also quotes the names only of the following
Morris dances and songs: "Handsome John," "Highland Mary," "Green
Sleeves," "Trunk Hose," "Cockey Brown," "The Old Road," "Moll o' the
Whad," "The Cuckoo," "The Cuckoo's Nest," "White Jock," and "Hey Morris."
The first three of these, as well as the tunes previously mentioned, were
sung or danced by the men of Bampton; the remainder by the Morris men of
Field Assarts.

Our own investigations enable us to add very materially to existing
knowledge of this branch of the subject. We have noted down between
twenty and thirty Morris tunes, and have collected the names of several
others, which no doubt we shall eventually acquire as well. The list
given below consists almost entirely of tunes which are still in constant
use by Morris-men in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, and

The figures in brackets record the number of times we have collected the
same tune, or variants of it, from different Morris sides.

Laudnum Bunches.
Bean Setting.
Constant Billy (3).
Blue-Eyed Stranger.
The Rigs o' Marlow (2).
Old Mother Oxford.
The old Woman tossed up in a blanket (2).
Jockie to the Fair.
How d'ye do?
Trunkles (4).
Country Gardens.
Brighton Camp (The Girl I've left behind me) (2).
Shepherd's Hey (3).
Bluff King Hal.
We won't go home till morning.
Princess Royal (2).
Heel and Toe.
Morris Off.
Green Sleeves.
Hey Morris.
The Cuckoo's Nest.
Swag and Boney.
The Gallant Hussars.
The British Grenadiers.
The Vicar of Bray.
The Sherborne Jig.
Belle Isle's March.
Two Derbyshire tunes ("This is it, and That is it.")

It must be remembered that our investigations have up to the present been
confined within a limited area, and that we have not yet attempted to
deal with the northern counties of England. The experience, however, that
we have already acquired is enough to prove that there are a much larger
number of traditional Morris tunes still to be found in country districts
than most people would imagine. Unfortunately, many Morris sides have
been disbanded within the last two or three decades, and our field of
work is therefore becoming more and more restricted; for it is difficult,
and in many cases impossible, to acquire accurate information unless the
Morris side is actually in being. We intend, however, to continue our
inquiries without pause, in order that we may collect all the existing
tunes and other information upon this most interesting subject before it
is too late.

We append some notes on the tunes which we are publishing in connection
with this volume, with the exception of "Bean Setting," "Trunkles," and
"Laudnum Bunches," about which we know nothing.



Compare "Blowzabella, my bouncing Doxie," in d'Urfey's "Pills to purge
melancholy," I., p. 190 (Ed. 1719).


This air is printed in Burke Thumoth's collection of Irish Airs (1720),
in Holden's "Old Irish Tunes" (1806), and in "Songs of Ireland," p. 164

T. Crofton Croker quotes the words of the original song in "The Popular
Songs of Ireland" (1839), of which the first verse is as follows: -

AIR - "Sandy lent the man his Mull."
Beauing, belling, dancing, drinking,
Breaking windows, damning, sinking,
Ever raking, never thinking,
Live the rakes of Mallow.

Mr. Kimber, the leader of the Headington Morris, could only give us the
first verse of their song, which, however, is quite different from the
Irish words: -

When I go to Marlow Fair
With the ribbons in my hair,
All the boys and girls declare,
Here comes the rigs o' Marlow.

Mallow is in County Cork and was a fashionable watering-place in the
eighteenth century, when it was known as the "Irish Bath." Croker says
that the young men of that fashionable water-drinking town were
proverbially called "the rakes of Mallow," and he adds: "A set of pretty
pickles they were, if the song descriptive of their mode of life, here
recorded after the most delicate oral testimony, is not very much

Neither the Oxfordshire nor the Gloucestershire Morris-men, from both of
whom we recovered this tune, had probably heard of "Mallow"; it was
natural enough, therefore, to substitute "Marlow," which, of course, they
know very well.


This is the prototype of "The Vicar of Bray," and Mr. Kidson tells us
that he has it in an old book of airs under the more ancient title. It is
also called "The Country Garden" in Playford's "Dancing Master," and in
Chappell's "National English Airs," Nos. 25 and 26. Chappell gives it in
3-4 time, and remarks that it then becomes "a plaintive love ditty
instead of a sturdy and bold air."


This air bears some resemblance to "The Faithful Shepherd" in Thompson's
"Complete Collection of Country Dances" (_circa_ 1775), which is
reprinted in Mr. Kidson's "Old English Country Dances," p. 10.


This is a variant of the "Constant Billy" printed in Playford's "Dancing
Master" (1726), p. 170, and also in one of Walsh's dancing books. It is
also in Gay's "Beggars' Opera," where it is set to the words, "Cease your
funning." Mr. Kidson tells us that the air is known in old books as "Over
hills and lofty mountains" or "Lofty mountains."

The well-known Welsh air "The Ash Grove" is but another version of the
same tune; but whether the Welsh derived the air from England or _vice
versa_ is a moot point. The matter is discussed, at some length, in
Chappell's "Popular Music of the Olden Time," p. 665, to which the reader
is referred.

The air that we print is as the Headington Morris-men played it; but we
also recovered a variant of it from the Bidford dancers. The "Constant
Billy" of the Bampton men, already mentioned, is yet another variant, but
in the Æolian mode.

The words of the first verse of the Headington version were as follows:

O Constant Billy,
Shall I go with 'ee?
O when shall I see
My Billy again?

The Bampton words were different:

O my Billy, my constant Billy,
When shall I see my Billy again?
When the fishes flies over the mountains
Then you will see your Billy again.


Mr. Kidson tells us that this is a variant of "The Mill, Mill, O" in
"Orpheus Caledonius," I., p. 40 (1725). It has also some points in common
with "Just as the tide was a-flowing" in "Folk-Songs from Somerset," II.,
No. 37 (and note).


This is a version in the major mode of "The Staines Morris Tune,"
published in the first edition of Playford's "Dancing Master," and
reprinted in Chappell's "Popular Music of the Olden Time," I., p. 126.
How it has come to be christened "Bluff King Hal" we do not know unless,
as Mr. Kidson suggests, the Bidford Morris men have taken the name from
some modern collection of old English dances.


As has already been stated, this tune, which was given us by the Bidford
Morris dancers, is printed in Thoinot Arbeau's "Orchesographie," p. 94. A
Dutch version of the same air is included in a collection of dance-tunes
by Tielman Susato (Antwerp, 1551); and is reprinted in Carl Engel's
"Literature of National Music," p. 56. See also Grove's "Dictionary of
Music" (old ed.) II., 369.


The Morris Dance is essentially a manifestation of vigour rather than of
grace. This is probably true of all country dances: it is pre-eminently
true of the Morris dance. It is, in spirit, the organized, traditional
expression of virility, sound health and animal spirits. It smacks of
cudgel-play, of quarter-staff, of wrestling, of honest fisticuffs. There
is nothing sinuous in it, nothing dreamy; nothing whatever is left to the
imagination. It is a formula based upon and arising out of the life of
man, as it is lived by men who hold much speculation upon the mystery of
our whence and whither to be unprofitable; by men of meagre fancy, but of
great kindness to the weak: by men who fight their quarrels on the spot
with naked hands, drink together when the fight is done, and forget it,
or, if they remember, then the memory is a friendly one. It is the dance
of folk who are slow to anger, but of great obstinacy - forthright of act
and speech: to watch it in its thumping sturdiness is to hold such things
as poinards and stilettos, the swordsman with the domino, the man who
stabs in the back - as unimaginable things.

The Morris dance, in short, is a perfect expression in rhythm and
movement of the English character.


As we have told already, the Morris dance is a bodily manifestation of
vigour and rude health, and not at all of sinuous grace or dreaminess.
This will be obvious at a glance to anyone who watches the traditional
Morris dancer at his evolutions. The first step, therefore, towards
acquiring the true art of the Morris-man is to put away all thought and
remembrance of the ballroom manner - really to unlearn, so far as
possible, the lessons of the dancing-master and all his exhortations upon
and exhibitions of glide, pirouette, _chassez_; the pointed toe, the
gently swaying body, the elegant waving and posturing such as become the
finished performer of round and square dances in the drawing-room. To
say, put away for a while these methods is to put no slight upon them, or
to offer a word of criticism: it is requisite and necessary, even as one
should advise a change of clothing to somebody about to quit the ballroom
for some rough-and-tumble pastime in the open fields.

Firstly, as to the manner of the steps. The Morris-men wear bells
strapped to their shins; the bells are there that they may ring their
music - and a fine wholesome music it is, too: to ring, they must be well
shaken; to be shaken, the leg they are strapped to must be kicked and
stamped. Get that principle into your head, and that practice into your
legs, and you make the first long stride towards acquisition of the art
of Morris dancing. Strap a set of bells to your shins, get out upon a
grass-plot or the King's highway; never mind elegance or the criticism of
the emasculate modern: kick and stamp upon the earth in such a manner as
to make your bells ring their loudest, and ring all together. You will
see pretty soon that, to do so, you must, when you jump, let the heels
come solidly to earth, immediately following the toes - no man, even an
old-time Morris-man, may jump and alight upon his heels alone, with the
spine held rigidly above them (_see_ p. 33). You will find also that, in
stepping it, whether to advance or retire, or to step rhythmically in one
place, to make your bells ring the true _fortissimo_ you must _kick_, and
kick hard.

Half an hour's experiment of this kind will do more to instil into the
would-be dancer the spirit that presides at Morris revels than chapters
of exhortation. It is a robust and friendly spirit, and will set the
learner's steps - given that he be of English blood, or even of
Anglo-Saxon sympathy - a-thumping to its solid downrightness.

Once possessed of the spirit, the form of the Morris step needs little
explanation and description, for the steps are few and simple. With an
eye upon the foregoing notes and, it is hoped, a personal memory of the
experiment as recommended, the learner will readily grasp the description
that follows here.

Roughly, the Morris step is alike throughout all the dances; it varies
only in force, length (i.e., the length of the stride varies more or
less), and height (i.e., the foot is lifted more or less).

The foot, when lifted, is never drawn back, but always thrust forward.
The toe is never pointed in line with the leg, but held at a right-angle
to it, as in the standing position. The foot, therefore, the forward or
stepping foot, is lifted as in walking, as if to step forward, then the
leg is vigorously straightened to a kick, so as to make the bells ring.
At the same instant that the forward leg is straightened, a hop is made
on the rear foot; the dancer alights upon the toe, but lets the heel
follow immediately and firmly, so that he stands upon the flat foot. A
good snap-shot photograph of one in the act of walking, when the forward
foot has made about three-fourths of its stride, gives a perfect
illustration of the Morris dancer's step.

As with the step, so also with the jump, which in so many cases begins

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Online LibraryCecil J. SharpThe Morris Book, Part 1 A History of Morris Dancing, With a Description of Eleven Dances as Performed by the Morris-Men of England → online text (page 2 of 6)