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 ~ Bedford Morris Men ~

" Founded 1932....Part of England's living heritage "

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Cotswold Morris

BMM Cotswold MorrisThe 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, Chipping Camden.

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) and Bampton.

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....

Music

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 North-West Morris a variety of drums are added to the melodic instruments to form a band.

Costumes

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 shoes.

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.

Characters

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 realm! 

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 Plough Play.

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.....