About Martlet Sword and Morris
We are a Traditional Men Only Morris side, dancing in and around the Chichester area
Keeping English traditions and customs alive over the centuries: the Martlet Morris Men perform dances from the Cotswold are of England (Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and environs).
In the 1950’s there was a lot of folk dance activity in West Sussex, with many folk enthusiasts living in the Arundel and Chichester area.
A Men’s Sword Dance Team had previously been established in Arundel, and in 1953 the Martlet Sword and Morris Men were formed with the older team as its nucleus. In 1956 the Martlets were admitted as full members of The Morris Ring at the Abingdon Ring Meeting.
During 2013 the club celebrated its 60th year and to mark the occasion we held a meeting of the Morris Ring which was attended by 200 Morris dancers from all over England.
The Club shows the Morris every Wednesday evening during the summer in towns and villages of West Sussex. The Club also attends meetings of the Morris Ring held in various locations throughout England, and has taken part in many folk festivals in Europe. By doing so, it has helped to keep alive this uniquely English tradition, a part of our heritage that can be traced back through Chichester’s archives to an account of Morris Dancers in North Street in 1618.
The men enjoy the dancing and the fellowship of the club. New members are always welcome, and anyone who is interested in having a go, should contact the Bagman/secretary (by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01243 263829). Following our season of summer displays weekly winter practice evenings are on Wednesdays at the Southbourne Club, New Road, Southbourne, Emsworth PO10 8JX. Please see the Programme page for details.
Nobody really knows how Morris Dancing originated, but it seems likely that it stems from pagan fertility rites to ensure a good harvest. There are no written records of the earlier Morris, but it is clear that even by the time of Shakespeare it was already regarded as an ancient custom. These traditions were handed down from generation to generation. However, many local customs were lost in the drift from country to the towns during the Industrial Revolution. Had it not been for the dedication of a few collectors, notably Cecil Sharp, some 110 years ago, Morris Dancing might have been lost forever.
The oldest record of Morris Dancing found in West Sussex comes from an entry in the accounts of the church wardens of the West Tarring Church (Worthing) in 1561, which refers to the purchase of Morris Bells for five shillings.
What is most commonly recognised as the Morris, comes from the Cotswolds area, involving a ‘set’ of six dancers waving handkerchiefs or clashing sticks. Certain tunes and dance names were common across the Cotswolds, but each village adopted their own particular dance style and variation of the tunes.
In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, the ‘Cotswold Morris’ gives way to ‘Border Morris’. Here, sets of at least eight dancers have blackened faces, wear rag coats and perform simpler dances.
In Cheshire and Lancashire, the Morris takes on a more processional style, with sets of at least eight dancers who wear clogs, brightly coloured ribbons, sashes and large flower bedecked hats.
In Yorkshire, there are Longsword Dances performed by six or eight dancers linked with rigid steel or wooden swords. In the North East faster Rapper Sword dances are performed, usually by five dancers using shorter, flexible swords with handles at each end.
All the Morris has its own distinctive music, traditionally performed on pipe and tabor or violin, and more recently on concertina, melodeon, accordion and other instruments.