Yateley Morris Men and the Eynsham Morris Tradition
by Ross Healey
Eynsham Dances – fast, furious and energetic !
Yateley Morris Men have always enjoyed this tradition and this article has been produced to share that pleasure by explaining a bit more about the Eynsham tradition. The Eynsham dances have very distinctive hand and arm movements which give the dancers a very upright dancing stance. It is made up almost entirely of sidesteps. It is one of our most vigorous traditions and is showy, loud and flamboyant – much like the dancers! The tradition does not have a great complexity in foot or hand movement, is relatively easy to learn and thus is a good beginners tradition. The renowned folklore collector Cecil Sharp was also much impressed by them for his account of a meeting with Eynsham Morris Men see below. The music for Eynsham really helps the dancers and adds immensely to the flamboyance of the tradition. Marches fit the style of dancing very well. Add this to the upright stance and crisp movements and you have an almost military flavour in the dance.The picture shows YMM doing the figure eight figure in ‘figure eight’……All well off the ground and in full flow!
The Eynsham morris tradition is very much alive and well today in Eynsham. We have enjoyed many good evenings dancing and singing with Eynsham and we know then to be very good company. If you are fortunate enough to see them perform, you will notice plenty of differences in the way Yateley and Eynsham have interpreted the dance tradition. Such diversity is good, it ensures that the morris tradition will continue to adapt and grow.
Eynsham today and …….. a few years ago
Yateley Morris Men have provided their own unique contributions to the Eynsham tradition. The dance ‘Feathers’ (named after ‘Feathers’ Russell – the cool gent on the right) has been completely re-designed and now only shares the name and the music with the original. It is, I say most immodestly, a cracker and Yateley have taken it to their heart. To be honest, I lost the notation to the original dance and had to remember (very badly!) what the original was like……..and wonderfully we ended up with a new dance!
The dance ‘20th September’ was created from scratch. The dance has a number of new figures and a nice showy central figure. The music ‘Heights Of Alma’ is a piece of pure 19th century jingoism picked up from an old Donovan LP that fits the Eynsham style excellently. It commemorates the battle of the Alma in the Crimean War which took place on the 20th September.
Closer to Home
A lot closer to home, the date is also personally significant to Yateley Morris Men. It was on this day that a member of Yateley Morris Men died suddenly and we often remember him when we perform this particular dance. I do hope that this brief article has whetted your appetite to see and appreciate this tradition. Want to know more ? Come and see and ask !! Ross is the name and I’m the one with the hat!
Cecil Sharp’s Account Of a Meeting With Eynsham Morris in 1908
Eynsham is in Oxfordshire, and is an important village about eight miles west of Oxford. In days gone by it supported a Morris side of its own which danced regularly year by year in Whitsun week. As an annual event, however, the dancing ceased many years ago, though happily Morris dancing has never entirely been given up in the village and there is even now, I believe, a well-constituted Morris Side which will on occasion don their ribbons and dance in public.
It was this “scratch” side that I saw in 1908 under conditions, however, which were far from ideal. The dancers met me, I remember, one dull, wet afternoon in mid-winter, in an ill-lighted upper-room of a wayside inn. They came straight from the fields in their working clothes, sodden with rain, and danced in boots heavily weighted with mud to the music of a mouth-organ, very indifferently played. The depression which not unnaturally lay heavily upon us all at the start was, however, as by a miracle dispelled immediately the dance began, and they gave me as fine an exhibition of Morris dancing as it has every been my good fortune to see.
I shall not readily forget the spirit they put into the opening figures nor the extreme delicacy and restraint with which they danced the succeeding corner-movements, their delightful swaggering gait in Whole-rounds, nor the tense, gathering excitement of the concluding ring-figures when they gradually closed in upon the “victim” (if this is the right interpretation), seized him in their arms and with a barbaric shout threw him up into the air. I wish those who question the ability of the English peasant to dance had been with me that afternoon to be cured of their scepticism. I found that this dance was their only one, although for variety’s sake they performed it to several tunes – Brighton Camp, The Nutting Girl, Constant Billy, Cock of the North etc. If the dances they have forgotten were as fine as the one that has survived, it is not difficult to understand the reputation which in the old days the Eynsham Morris won and which is still locally accorded to it.
The traditional costume consists of a short smock of white holland down to the hips, with pleated front and broad turned-down collar; high hat, breeches, blue-gray stockings, ribbons tied round the upper arm and wrist and affixed to various parts of the smock, a rosette on the outside of each knee and a bell-pad of eighteen bells on each leg. The Fool* – known as “Feathers” – wore a short smock, a large hat covered with flowers and feathers, and odd-coloured stockings. The dance is remarkable not only for the great beauty of its movements and the unusual and effective from of its construction, but also and from the historical point of view perhaps chiefly, for its climax, the sacrifice of the victim, which, though common enough in the Sword dance, is not so far as I know to be found in any Morris dance other than this.