Winchester Morris Men came into existence on 11th March 1953 at the Eclipse Inn, The Square, Winchester; our dances and style of costume broadly reflect those seen in the Cotswolds during the nineteenth century.

The Morris Dance is one of the oldest continuing traditions of rural England, and in its origins, was thought by some to welcome the spring and to ensure the fertility of the year’s crops. Few dancers in the 21st century would seriously ascribe such reasons to their performance of the morris – they do it because they enjoy it, rather than for some mystical or pseudo-religious purpose.

Morris dancing is distinguished from the English country dance by its movements based upon circles and processions and, traditionally, exclusively male performers. No-one knows where it came from – there are probably as many theories as dancers! All that can be said is that it is ancient and has had many influences over the centuries.

References to the dance extend back six hundred years, and by the time of Elizabeth I it was performed throughout the country. Agricultural change and the drift to the cities led to a decline in morris dancing in the nineteenth century, by the end of which few village teams or “sides” survived with an unbroken dancing history.

Some of these sides still flourish today but much of our knowledge of the dance is attributable to Cecil Sharp and other folk lore collectors who, in 1899, started to retrieve details of the dance from the oral tradition. Their work has been continued by many others, and distinct variants of the dance have been preserved from the Cotswolds, the Welsh borders, East Anglia, and the North West and North East of England, together with new dances, often in the style of those collected a century ago.

No Hampshire dances have survived, although there are records of 4d being paid to “Morys Players” at Crondall, near Fleet, in 1555 and 3s 4d paid to “morris dannsers” at Southampton in 1562. But in 1585 Bishop Cooper of Winchester instructed his clergy to “suffer not any Church Ales, Moris dances or Riflings within theire parishes”, a reference to the pre-reformation practice of morris dancing often being an element of church fund raising activities.

However, times have changed and the current Winchester Morris Men are noted for their decorum and sobriety and the clergy may watch them without apprehension.

Winchester Morris Men are members of the Morris Ring, which was founded in 1934 by six revival sides. It is a confederation of morris and sword dance clubs, the aims of which are to encourage morris dancing and to preserve its traditions. It maintains an archive of photographs and dance related documents, and also sponsors historical research.

Winchester Morris Men are fortunate in having provided two Squires of the Morris Ring, Lionel Bacon (1962-64) and Geoff Jerram (1986-88) from amongst their members.

Although mindful of the long history of the morris, as with all things, our repertoire has evolved over the years, and a number of our dances have been devised by present and past members in the style of those collected in the early part of the 20th century.

Lionel Bacon M.D. was one of the founding members of Winchester Morris Men, having previously joined the Cambridge Morris Men (in 1932), the Travelling Morrice, London Pride Morris Men and the Whitchurch Morris Men.

Lionel is chiefly remembered amongst morris dancers for his compilation of “A Handbook of Morris Dances” which he described as an aide memoire, rather than a morris dancing primer.

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