The six-man dances referred to as the
Cotswold Morris were originally associated with Spring or Whitsuntide. They were
called "Cotswold" by the early collectors such as Cecil Sharp because
they were discovered mostly in the South-Midlands/Cotswold region. Dances
were recorded as far apart as Abingdon, Brackley and Chipping Camden, with most
around Oxford, Stow-on-the-Wold and Witney. It is very likely that this form of
Morris was originally more widespread and its survival in the Cotswolds was
probably due to the region's comparative isolation.
Traditional sides, which have a relatively
unbroken dancing history, survive in a few places such as Headington Quarry,
where the revival began, and Bampton-in-the-Bush, where written records reach
back over three hundred years. Bampton still dance during the day and Headington
in the evening of Spring Bank Holiday Monday, the old Whit Monday. Other
places with traditional sides include Abingdon, where they elect the mock
"Mayor of Ock Street" and also that most beautiful of old towns,
Since 1945 the Bedford Men have been
particularly interested in the dances from Brackley (Northamptonshire) and its
nearby hamlet of Hinton-in-the Hedges, principally because of research work done
by Fred Hamer, one of our past Squires (Leader).
The dances from the village of Sherborne,
near Burford (Gloucestershire) are more intricate. This tradition has
complicated leg and foot movements called "capers" and
"galleys". The Bedford Men dance this tradition slightly
differently to other sides as a result of research by David Welti (another past
Squire of the side) into Cecil Sharp's manuscripts, taken with the opinion of
the late Russell Wortley of Cambridge.
We also perform dances from Bledington and
Oddington, near Stow-on-the-Wold (Gloucestershire), Ducklington, near Witney (Oxfordshire)
Bedford generally "dance on" to
the Wheatley (Oxford) processional dance adapted to the local Bromham May-carol
tune at the beginning of a show, and "dance off" to the Bampton-in-the-Bush
tune "Bonny Green Garters", after an introductory song from the men
about the aforementioned garters.
Another Bampton dance is associated with
one of the side's own traditions. Arthur Walmesly, a Squire of the side in
the 1950's, so enjoyed dancing "The Quaker", that he insisted on
dancing it before the finish of each day. The idea developed until
"The Quaker" became the customary last dance of the day. If you
see this dance performed, you will witness the men removing their bells and
baldricks as part of the tradition, immediately the dance is over....
The music is an integral part of the
Cotswold Morris. Each tune is associated with, and gives its name to, a
particular dance and the rhythms tell the dancers what steps to use. The
same tune often occurs in different villages in different forms. This
could well have been caused either by the type of instrument in use or simply
vagaries of the musician's memory. Traditionally the music was supplied by
a single musician playing a pipe and tabor, that is, a three-holed pipe and a
small drum. The early Bedford musicians played the mouth-organ but subsequently
fiddles, concertinas, melodeons and accordions have been introduced. For
the marches, reels and jigs of the
Morris a variety of drums are added to the melodic instruments to form a
Each Cotswold Morris side had its own
unique dress, a custom which has been continued by today's revival sides.
The old costumes were mainly white, with coloured sashes, ribbons, baldricks and
rosettes. The Bedford costume consists of blue breeches, white shirts and
socks, a blue "Puritan" hat, blue baldricks adorned with orange
rosettes and ribbons, bell-pads decorated with orange and blue ribbons and black
The basic costume is modified for the North-West Morris to include floral hats,
broad diagonal and waist sashes adorned with the "Eagle and Castle"
badge, and beads. The clogs are trimmed with brass and bells: bells are
not worn at the knee.
It was once said that a Cotswold Morris
side was made of "Six fools and one dancer!" The inference here was
that the Fool was actually the best dancer. Indeed in some cases he
was the Squire or leader of the side. The fool is the most important
character surviving in the Cotswold morris. He prepares the dancing site
by "sweeping it" with a heifer's tail that symbolises purity, and he
berates the dancers and audience alike with a sow's bladder that represents
fertility. These activities supplement the dancers' white handkerchiefs
and bells which are supposed to frighten away evil spirits. The fool is
the link between the dancers and the audience. The Bedford fool wears a
traditional Warwickshire shepherd's smock made by a lady in Wootton.
While Hobby Horses are often associated with the Cotswold Morris, and important
Hobby Horse tradition was found right across England, from the wooden horse of
Kent to the larger and more grotesque Horses of Padstow and Minehead. The
Bedford men possess a Hobby Horse called "Noddy" which is now only
used on very few occasions.
We also have "Beaky" that is
representative of the Bedford Eagle and whose shape is more like that of a
"Hooden Horse" and who has an insatiable appetite for coin of the
Another character in the Cotswold Morris
was the Man/woman or Maid Marian. Bedford only use a Man/woman
"Bessie or Betsy" as "the Lady" in the
The Bedford Men follow an old Bampton
tradition of offering round a cake pierced with a sword. .Buying a small piece
of this cake brings good luck and placing a piece under the pillow will bring
dreams of a lover.....