The Morris Dancers

 

Article by Mrs D Warren

YARDLEY MORRIS

A very significant item in the May Day’s programme was the Yardley Morris. An annual Morris Dance was held regularly between 1880 and 1920. The dance was performed by a team of eight with a Robin Hood, Maid Marion (a man) and a Hobby Horse, the music being provided by two flautists with the occasional addition of fiddle and side drum.

Yardley’s Hobby Horse, which still survives in the Museum in Northampton, is most unusual, having been uniquely adapted by a lady. Originally the Hobby Horse consisted of two men under a blanket, but this was hot and uncomfortable. Mrs Leach came up with an alternative. Making a hole in the bottom of a wicker laundry basket, she attached a “skirt”, then fixed a realistic head and tail. It could then be “ stepped into” and worn around a man’s middle. The man to play this part was often “simple minded” and enjoyed galloping about, running at onlookers.Thomas Cadd introduced Morris Dancing to Yardley Gobion where he lived for over 50 years. His reputation as a dancer was well known and he was always Robin Hood, heading the procession in costume of green velvet jacket, red woollen shorts, gaily coloured hose and a fur hat. To complete his outfit he carried a stick painted in national colours, attached to which was a bullocks bladder which he used to “attack” the hobby horse and anyone else who stood in the way of this ancient procession through the village. Thomas made himself responsible for the training of the troupe, teaching his team their steps during the winter months in readiness for the coming festival. He refused to have men in his troupe because experience had shown him that the first performance of the day created such a thirst, which was so thoroughly assuaged by the men, that the second performance left something to be desired! His troupe therefore consisted of young men. Some of the dances, still in existence today, though not in the village, are “Loddenham Bunches”, “Bean Setting”, and “Yankee Doodle”. The team costumes were usually made up by the Yardley women.

Thomas (or Tommy as he was known locally) was a skilled general labourer who later worked at Wolverton Carriage Works, but for many years was employed at the Wharf. His employer was Daniel Warren, whose son Ted played the fiddle for the Morris Dance on occasions. Thomas Cadd lived with his family in a thatched cottage, since destroyed by fire, which stood in Moorend Road. He died in 1947.

After the 1914 -18 War, in which many of the teams’ participants lost their lives, the Morris never seems to have regained its original vitality, and indeed ceased altogether some years before the May Festival itself declined.

And so, for a brief period, the Morris Dance was an important part of Yardley village life. All that remains now are a few memories and the hobby horse.

Morris dancers in action with Tommy alongside

 

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Brenda Pittam

This article appeared in the journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society dated July 1955 and appears with their permission.

THE YARDLEY GOBION MORRIS

A NOTE BY E. D. MACKERNESS

From Fox Strangeways’ life of Cecil Sharp we learn that Sharp himself and George Butterworth succeeded in collecting songs and dances in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northants. It does not appear to have been placed on record, however, that in the village of Yardley Gobion in the last named county, an annual Morris dance was given regularly between the years 1880 and 1920. That this should have escaped notice is not surprising when one considers the disintegration of village life that has been going on throughout the country since that time.

Before the First World War, and for a long time after it, Yardley Gobion (a place about ten miles south of Northampton) boasted an ambitious May Day festival in which a very large number of villagers took part. The Morris dance was only one of the many attractions presented on that occasion; and it was usually given as part of the evening’s programme. A printed schedule describing the proceedings for May 7th 1910, for example, shows that the Morris was timed to come on at 6.30 p.m., the event as a whole having begun at 1.30. The dance was performed by a team of eight, with Maid Marian and a Hobby Horse, the music being provided by two flautists. The leader of the dancing was none other than Thomas Cadd, a splendid dancer, who died in 1947 at the age of eighty-seven.

Thomas Cadd introduced Morris dancing to Yardley Gobion, and made himself responsible for training the dancers. His plan was usually to assemble a team of young boys and teach them the steps during the winter months in readiness for the coming festival. Mr. Cadd himself was a native of Preston Bissett in Bucks; he was an enthusiastic Morris man and appears to have learned the dance at the time he was living in Lancashire. By trade he was a skilled general labourer (later a moulder at the Wolverton Railway Carriage Works) and for many years was employed at the Yardley Gobion Wharfe on the Grand Union Canal, his employer being Daniel Warren whose son Ted Warren played the fiddle for the Morris dance on many occasions. Altogether, Thomas Cadd lived for over fifty years at Yardley Gobion: he was a man of fine physique and commanding appearance, and his versatility as a dancer was well known in the district around. An obituary notice of him in the ’ Wolverton Express’ for August 29th, 1947, said of him, that “Tom Cadd was always a popular figure with the May Day festivals at this South Northants village. He always headed the procession in costume complete with a stick painted in national colours to which was attached to which was a bullock’s bladder which he used upon anyone who stood in the way of this ancient procession through the village”.

Photographs of the Yardley Gobion Morris team taken before the First World War show the dancers in their white costumes, with red and white handkerchiefs tucked in their belts, and wearing tasselled caps; they all have small bells on their legs and are holding staves over their shoulders. In the larger photograph Thomas Cadd is seen wearing his fur cap, green velvet coat, red woollen trousers and gaily coloured hose: in his hand is a long staff with the bladder at the end of it.   In the photograph of the group, a flute-player is also shown; but the music was not invariably supplied him, as a violinist was sometimes called in together with other instrumentalists (one of the pictures, for instance, shows a side-drum in use). According to the programme for 1910, the figures danced were “Loddenham Bunches”, “Bean setting”, “Zig-Zag” and a Round Dance; the tunes used included variants on “Yankee Doodle” and “Here’s to the Maiden of bashful Fifteen”. The costumes mentioned here, incidentally, were made up by Yardley women; and the whole venture was “sponsored” by members of a leading village family who gave liberal help to the organizers of the May festival every year.

There are very few people in Yardley Gobion to-day who remember the Morris dancing there in any great detail. After the 1914-18 War (in which several of its participants lost their lives) it never appears to have regained its original vitality. It ceased altogether some years before the May festival itself declined; and attempts to revive it have not been successful. Even so, it is worth recalling the dance itself and the instigators of it. We have here an interesting example of a Morris imported into a locality where it was not previously performed (so far as is known) as a matter of custom. How far the steps used were in the sense of the word “traditional” is, perhaps a matter for dispute. So few of the members of Thomas Cadd’s original team are now living that it is impossible to trace back the kind of performance they engaged in. Yet this is surely a matter of comparatively small consequence. The main point is that the Morris dance was for a brief period an important part of Yardley Gobion village life. All that remains of it now are a few faint memories and (more tangible) the Hobby Horse, which has recently been deposited in Northampton Town Museum.

Mrs Warren’s comments on the above article (her brother-in-law Ted played the fiddle on occasions with the Morris).

 

Tommy Cadd learned to dance with the Brackley Morris.

 

The Morris dance took part in the May Day festivals from 1893 to at least 1925 (*1), had ceased before 1931 when festival came to an end.

 

On Tommy Cadd’s physique, – He was short, bandy but very strong.

 

*1 (We have a photo see above & programme from this date. B. Pittam )

 

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