A Brief History
Plymouth Morris Men on Plymouth Breakwater - August 2007
Morris Dancing is a tradition so ancient that the origins are uncertain and obscure. In 1386 John of Gaunt brought back a troupe of Moorish dancers from Spain, derived from the Moors of North Africa. Could Morris be derived from Moorish? No-one really knows.
The Plymouth Receivers' Accounts record a payment in 1482 for dancing in the streets of Plymouth - "dawnsyng money" which contributed 3.5% of the cost of building an aisle on the south part of St. Andrew's Church in Plymouth. This could be only the 3rd record of Morris Dancing in the entire history of England.
Plymouth Morris Men were first formed in 1965 by members of the Plymouth Folk Club, following a suggestion by Cyril and Rosemary Tawney. Cyril ran the Plymouth Folk Club for many years. Founder members were Lewis Johns, Tony Blake, Graham (Archie) Bonker, Miles Burton, Mike Endean, William (Billie) Chapple, Jo Burton and Dave Sharp, with musicians Mike Coyle and Robin Challons. However, the side disbanded soon afterwards and the current side re-formed in 1970. Plymouth Morris Men 'danced' into the Morris Ring at the Whitchurch Ring Meeting held in Wilstone in 1975.
On Friday 15th October 1982 the Deputy Lord Mayor, Mr Bob Bishop, made a presentation in pre-decimal currency (four half-crowns and two sixpences) to the Plymouth Morris Men on the 500th anniversary of the earlier event mentioned above. During the latter 1980s things looked a bit bleak when numbers dwindled and Morris dancing in Plymouth looked in danger of extinction. The dances are normally arranged for six men but during this period a set of four man dances were evolved. These have developed into a very distinctive Plymouth tradition: unique to the local side. The acquiring of a set of 8 steel cutlasses, in keeping with the Naval theme of the side, has added to this new tradition and further cutlass dances are still being developed.
On Wednesday 8th August 2007 Plymouth Morris Men danced on Plymouth Breakwater, 3 miles out to sea from Plymouth Hoe. The team also presented a cheque for £300 to Care and Repair, a local Home Improvement Agency, while they were there.
The traditional start of the Morris calendar is the welcome to summer. At 5am on May 1st each year the Plymouth Morris Men dance on Plymouth Hoe, close to Smeaton's Tower, to encourage the summer sun to rise over the Citadel. Only a few people rise from their beds to observe this tradition but everyone is welcome! Legend suggests that the more spectators there are present, the more spectacular is the resulting summer.
Morris Dancing seems to have a poor image in this country where the majority of people seem more interested in the traditions of other countries rather than their own heritage. Morris Dancing is great fun, good exercise and raises money for charity. Plymouth Morris Men would welcome any newcomers whether experienced or not, whether as a musician or as a dancer. We are especially keen to recruit a few younger men or teenagers to reduce the average age of the side! For details of how to contact us see our 'Contact Us' page via the link above. You too could soon be helping to keep alive one of England's oldest traditions for future generations to enjoy.... And some say it's just another excuse for a beer!