Towards the end of the nineteenth century so much had been lost of the Morris tradition that a few collectors were inspired to save what they could before it was too late. Amongst these collectors, Percy Manning and Thomas Carter from Oxford, persuaded some members of the old Headington dancers to start dancing again. The result was a public performance of the Morris on the 15th March 1899 at the Oxford Corn Exchange. All of this revived the dancers enthusiasm, especially since they could earn some money via their dancing. So it was that Cecil Sharp chanced upon the Headington Quarry side dancing in 1899. This was a momentous occasion, both in changing the course of Sharp’s life, and for English folk dance and especially the Morris. You can find more about Cecil Sharp here.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century, one woman, Mary Neal, helped generate a huge revival in folk dancing and singing when she sought out songs and dances for working girls in a deprived area of London. In 1905 she contacted Cecil Sharp for songs and Morris dances that her girls could use. At first she worked closely with Cecil Sharp, but the two were soon to fall out. He, wanting to keep to the rigid tradition of the dance as he saw it and she having a far looser approach. Lucy Neal, her Great-Great-Niece and the co-founder of the London International Festival of Theatre, has decided that Mary’s papers should be kept in Cecil Sharp House. She explains why in this article about Mary Neal published in the Guardian on February 7, 2009.
The Yateley ‘Fool’…….”It’s Not A Frock, It’s A Manly Smock!”
The shape of a smock is not unlike that of the Roman ‘tunica’ which was still worn in Saxon times in England. Illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages depict labourers working in loose fitting garments reaching to their knees, very similar to the 18th and 19th century smocks that have survived. From the 17th century, illustrations of smocks, as protective over-garments worn usually by men, became more common. A playing card of 1676 shows a wagoner whose smock is described as ‘straight and rather full, worn to just below; the opening (at the neck) reaches almost to the waist and there is a small turned down collar; there is no smocking or decoration.’ Smocks were worn as overalls and were the usual outdoor clothing of rural workers especially shepherds and wagoners who were exposed to the full force of the British climate.
In Wessex they were made of bleached linen or coarser cotton twill, but in other parts of the country they were sometimes dyed, blue in the Midlands, olive green in East Anglia. Some smocks were oiled to make them almost waterproof, and most had several layers of material over the shoulders and a wide thick collar like a cape for extra protection. The delicately embroidered decorations on the front panels of country smocks were thought to distinguish the occupations of the wearers; shepherds’ smocks for instance were thought to bear emblems of crooks, sheep and hurdles, while carters’ smocks had wheels, whips and reins.
Much of the needlework on a smock is purely decorative, however where the material is gathered at the chest, back and wrists the smock becomes very flexible, comfortable and practical. The current wearer can testify to that! The gathers can be performed in a number of ways and many smocks (including the smock currently worn by the Yateley Fool) display different gathering styles. It goes without saying that making a good quality smock is technically demanding and very labour intensive.
Thomas Hardy, in his play “Under the Greenwood Tree”, describes the rural scene in which ‘stalwart ruddy men and boys were dressed mainly in snow-white smock-frocks, embroidered upon the shoulders and chest with ornamental forms of hearts, diamonds and zig-zags’. It is likely that these specially decorated smocks were far too good for practical use in heavy agricultural labour but were for Sunday best, perhaps made as love-tokens.
In 1874 Hardy noted that the ’long smocked frocks and the harvest home…nearly disappeared’. Smocks continued to be used until the 1920s on remote farms. Today most surviving smocks are found packed away in tissue paper in regional museums.
The Yateley Fool’s Smock
It is still possible, though, to see a smock in action by joining Yateley Morris Men in one of their public displays of dance. The smock currently in use by the Yateley Fool was made by a former Yateley dancer (John Irwin), specifically for a past Yateley Fool (the memorable John Farrant). See if you can guess his occupation from the designs on the smock!
John Farrant was dancing at Thaxted one year and an American was in the crowd who followed the Yateley Morris Men most of the day. He was fascinated by the smock and during the afternoon approached John and asked to buy it, offering a very large amount of money. Many people do not believe that it could have been made by a man and John Farrant had great difficulty in convincing people!
Sadly John Irwin died at an early age. His quart pewter tankard was presented to Yateley Morris Men by his widow, Sue. It is now presented by the squire to the Yateley Morris Man of The Year and is beautifully engraved. I am sure that John would be pleased to know that both his tankard and one of his wonderful smocks are in active use every week.
SMOCKING DISASTER PREVENTED! HERRIARD RESIDENT TO THE RESCUE!
Tuesday 8th May 2007 was a dark, wet and windy night in Herriard, Hampshire. The bleakness of the evening was only lifted by the warmly welcoming interior of the excellent ‘Fur and Feathers’ and the unbridled vivacity of the dancers. One knowledgeable group showed particular interest in the Fool’s manly smock and an informed discussion followed.
Mention was made by the Fool of the ‘trivial’ wear and tear sustained to the smock over 25 years of energetic use. The Fool was aghast to learn that the damage was far from trivial and that he might need to learn to wield needle and thread! Many of the ‘gathers’ were failing, unkind (but probably accurate) suggestions as to the increasing girth of the fool being the cause were brushed aside.
Over more excellent Fuller’s beer and more red wine, Barbara Jeremiah (our needlework expert) very kindly offered her expertise to undertake some restoration work and prevent the Fool and smock from literally unravelling. The offer was very quickly and very gratefully accepted. The smock was then borne away in to Herriard’s dark night……..
Gathers re-gathered, buttons re-buttoned, stitches re-stitched and cuffs re-cuffed (?!) the smock was quickly back into use. The restoration work and further wise words from Barbara on smock care should ensure another 25 years are required before another smock MOT is due.
We are really very grateful to Barbara for her work on the smock which, it transpired, was far less straightforward than originally thought. It’s a pleasure to be able to acknowledge our thanks publicly. At the Fool’s insistence, Barbara has added a new thing to the smock to mark the works of her expert hands. See if you can find the monogram ‘B’ on the smock!
We have had very few honorary members over the years, we are very proud of the few we have honoured in this way.
Peter de Courcy
As a side, we have granted Peter De Courcy honorary membership of YMM, acknowledging our long, warm friendship with him and his wider service to the morris world.
Peter has been a good friend to the side and has joined us in Kennet Morris Men kit frequently & successfully at lots of events, particularly Oxford and Boxing Day, adding to the performance. He is also a local Yateley lad, joining us at the Dog & Partridge on winter Tuesdays where he fits in really well!
He has also been a real workhorse in the The Morris Ring, looking after our interests and doing a good job with the website and all sorts of other comms / background jobs – A real servant of the Morris.
Morris was the Squire of the Ring when we joined in the 1970s and was very supportive and helpful.
I remember when his wife was guest of Honour at YMM 25yrs (I think) anniversary dinner. Morris had previously died.
She was giving out Rosemary cuttings from Morris’s own bush, as it was his custom to always have a sprig in his lapel or hat. She did ask all recipients to plant them as they will grow, prolifically, in his memory.
I was taking pics and later said to her that I’d missed out….she produced ten cuttings from her bag and gave them to me. I must have upset Morris as he looked down from above, as they all died, despite my greatest care. I wonder if anybody has a cutting from that day that flourished….I’d love another try! Mike Musgrove
Father Kenneth Loveless
Also a Squire of the Ring
Some personal reflections and his obituary follow.
I think I have already mentioned that the Boys side performed for Rev Ken at his home in Clothworkers Cottages in Islington on the day that I gave my presentation at Cecil Sharpe House & that the Mummers also performed our play for him at that venue on the night we performed at the Barbican. Dave Bates & Caroline, his girlfriend at that time, met us in London & I remember him offering her a seat in his lounge by patting a place on his sofa – when the plume of dust had settled, she gracefully accepted! Afterwards he
offered drinks all round, rum was served in generous portions either in our
tankards or half pint tumblers!
It was either for one of our DoD’s or the Ring Meeting that I offered to
host him for the weekend when I was living in Cranford Park Avenue in
Yateley. This involved driving him down from Islington & ensuring that I had
2 pints of best Jersey cream milk available in house for him which I guess
was his cure for a hangover each morning. On establishing him in residence
upstairs in the spare bed room on the Friday night there was an almighty
crash from that room & my first thought, as I dashed upstairs, was that he
had collapsed on the floor, that fear was not alleviated by the fact that he
lay on the floor the other side of the door making it’s opening doubly
difficult. Indeed he had fallen over but fortunately not in his last death
He was keen on a drink & one morris side tells of a visit to Broadstairs
Folk Festival when they had to carry him back to his hotel collapsed
paralytic on flat packed deck chair. When they were accosted by a local PC
enquiring who he was, they said he was the Rural Dean of Hackney. ‘Best
carry on then’ was the PC’s reply!
At our Ring Meeting he gave the address in the church service in St Peter’s
on the Sunday morning. He always said it was his honour and duty to bring
God into our lives on these occasions. He also mentioned the fact that that
some churches advertised the name of the preacher each week. He did not
agree with this practice ‘You come to church for God not for the preacher.
You could have the silliest nincompoop as the preacher(& some of you may
think you have today. . . Hmmmm?) but you don’t come to church for the
preacher, you come for God… . Hmmmmm?’
You may also remember that YMM danced into the Ring Meeting at Thaxted in
1977(?) in the church on Sunday morning. On a later occasion Father Ken was
also giving the address from the pulpit in Exeter cathedral during their
Ring Meeting & apparently the powers to be there had specifically requested
that there be no dancing in the church on the Sunday morning. Father Ken,
not adverse to a bit of controversy, referred to it by saying during his
sermon that if it was good enough for Spanish altar boys to dance on the
altar at the Holy Roman Cathedral in St St Sebastian, then a morris dance
in Exeter cathedral should also be allowed . . . .Hmmm?
Many stories which it has been a pleasure to recollect but one of my
proudest moments with YMM was to dance the Princess Royal (Fieldtown) jig to
the playing of Father Ken on William Kimber’s concertina. Can’t remember if
it was at an Ale or at the Ring meeting but it was definitely in the Drama
Studio at Yateley Comprehensive School.
Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce,
Having read the bit on father KEN…….I am pretty sure that it was YMM that gave the placard..,,”God is watching”….Keith Barker or Paul or Rod will know more than I remember about it.
Ref Father Ken’s grace and Favour cottage in Islington…….one year we all travelled to it wearing our mummers kit…yes…including on the Tube. We performed in the courtyard and then sqeeeeezed into the cramped front room………….my goodness…there were tables everywhere and each loaded with exotic knick knacks from his lifetime of travels. Each of us turned carefully and picked our way about for fear of knocking something over. The walls had shelves full of stuff and pictures hung everwhere.
The real jaw dropper……we looked at his very steep stair case and each stair was stacked with books from the step to the ceiling…there must have been at least a thousand books.
OBITUARY : The Rev Kenneth Loveless
Tuesday 23 May 1995
Kenneth Loveless was born of a generation that expected many of its clergy to be eccentric. He lived up to that expectation with flair. Looking through his wardrobe gave a hint of the kaleidoscopic life of this colourful man. So many different uniforms and costumes (all with accompanying headgear): his Morris Men’s outfit, his naval uniform, a three-cornered hat, priestly cassock and vestments; and his scouting uniforms. Each had a story to tell.
Studies finished, Loveless joined the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant- commander. When, for a second time he found himself floating in the cold sea after being torpedoed, he made a vow that if he was saved he would serve the people of east London as a priest, which he did for 45 years. Two curacies prepared him for the task of becoming vicar, in 1954, of the war-ravaged Anglo Catholic Shrine of Holy Trinity, Hoxton. He took no heed of the warning that he would not be able to “run his parish like he ran his ship”. He made up for his smallness of stature by a largeness of personality which he used to the full.
Loveless could make people work for him. Many curates became entranced by his spell, as did a grateful set of parishioners who found his sparkle so refreshing. Scouting and guiding flourished in the parish – despite the fact that he could not put up a tent himself. His liturgical flair was right on target: a plaque in his house reads, “God is watching so give Him a good show.” He was offered the Bishopric of Nassau and the Bahamas but feared the way of life might be too tempting to a man who loved a drink.
He loved possessions: he had a prodigious collection of records (over 10,000); his walls were covered with coffin handles – death, funerals and cemeteries were all fascinating to him. He had such a collection of books that the gas cooker was used to store the overflow. Loveless never made a hot meal at home and boasted that he had never served a cup of coffee or tea to any of his many guests.
In the early years, Loveless became involved with the English music and dancing tradition. He was a member of 58 Morris sides and finally Squire of the Ring in 1980. He was appointed MBE for services to Morris dancing in 1990.
Loveless was much in demand as a concertina player. He had also been an inspiration for the “voice of God” in Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and his voice was still hail and hearty when he sang his last hymn in church: a favourite, Sydney Carter’s “The Lord of the Dance”.
After doing a very effective job as Area Dean of Hackney, he retired in 1976 to a little cottage in Islington. The handsome figure of early years became a mellow, bearded and ruddy-faced old man. He smoked his pipes with relish, his cigars with a flair and took his snuff with a superior snort.
Latterly, Loveless looked out with a sad eye on the church he had tried to serve so faithfully and at an England to which he had given so much. He was particularly upset and angry with the proposed closure of Bart’s Hospital, London, where he had been brought back from death’s door.
Kenneth Loveless had wanted to be buried off the Nab Tower at Portsmouth, in English water and by Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. In fact, with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing’s export licence in hand, in international water and in the tugmaster’s boat from Newhaven, he returned to the sea that he twice cheated. He knew England wasn’t what it was, so he will understand.
Kenneth Norman Joseph Loveless, priest, dancer: born 1 August 1911; deacon 1949, priest 1950; vicar, Holy Trinity with St Mary 1954-68; Area Dean of Hackney 1968-76; MBE 1990; died 19 March 1995.