Lincolnshire Morris

The large county of Lincolnshire has always been regarded as an area where morris dancing if it did exist died out before any records could be recorded. In addition there has always been the problem of the use of the term ‘morris dancer'  which was widely used to refer to plough players.  Recently I have re-examined the evidence for morris dancing in Lincolnshire and have sifted through the many morris references.

Included below are  those references where I believe dancing is likely to have taken place starting  from the year 1750.

 Location Date   Description

Laceby (Lincs)

1750

Lincoln Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 6/1/1750‘...several morris dancers came thither from Grimsby; and after they had danced and played their tricks, they went towards Alesby, a little town not far off; but as they were going about five o' clock they felt two such terrible shocks of the earth that they had much ado to hold their feet, and thought the ground was ready to swallow them up whereupon thinking god was angry at them for playing the fool, they returned to Laceby in a great fright, and the next day home not daring to pursue their intended circuit and dancing.'

Revesby

1779

Brands Antiquities

‘the dancing ploughboys being decorated in ribbons, each carrying a sword'

M.J.Preston

Plough play and sword dance appear very much part of a common performance which also included a short dance called ‘Jack the brisk young drummer'. ‘then they dance the sword dance which is called Nelly's Gig, then they run under their swords, which is called running Battle; then three dancers dances with three swords and the foreman jumping over the swords...'

Threekingham (Lincs)

 

 

1795

Diary of John Cragg ...'a number of young men join together, and strip to their shirts, which they pin all over with ribbons...They are called Maurice or Morris dancers.'

Haxey and EpworthWhalpoleLincs

 

C 1810

Peck ; ‘...ceremony of dancing the morris recently discontinued.'

Whalpole Lincs

1820

(Not a direct reference but shows knowledge of -CR)On Monday night the 30th, between seven and eight o’clock, a man knocked oat the door of the widow Culy of Whalpole Fen-Ends, under the pretence of having a letter to deliver, no sooner was the door opened than in walked four men, masked, whom the inmates at first took to be morris dancers, but were soon undeceived by the marauders deliberately pulling out their hammers and chisels etc etc…..

Kirton Lindsey (Lincs)

1821

L/R/S/M. 22/1/1821   ....'magistrates have  determined to visit with exemplary severity the misconduct of persons who appear as morris dancers or Plough bullocks or under any other name of similar character. The excesses of these persons have arrived at such a pitch that it would be impossible to bear them any longer, and it would be well if the country and the farmers in particular, would second the endeavours of the magistrates.'

Crowland/ Deeping St JamesLincs

1831

A set of strolling vagabonds from Crowland calling themselves morris dancers, opened the door and entered a respectable persons dwelling in Deeping St james on Thursday evening the 15th inst, and began to perform sans ceromonie, which frightened a little girl, who ran to give an alarm: in the interim they purloined a new cap, just bought for a youth in the house, who had huing it on the pin for the first tim. One of the party called himself Fisher, but most probably it was Fish, and he will be caught in his own trammel.

Lincoln

1844

Stamford Mercury  12/1/1844

‘Two or three parties of morris-dancers were levying contributions on the public of Lincoln last Monday, for the purpose of closing the day's tomfoolery with drunkenness...'

Lincoln

1843

L/R/S/M. ‘the morris dancers amused the good folks of Lincoln with their tomfoolery on plough Monday and levied contributions on all who were silly enough to part with anything on such a call. The magistrates have forbidden the people to beg, and have placed strict injunctions with regard to ????? some of whom may beg from want, why ribbon-bedecked sword carrying buffoons and ruffians should not come within the bounds of the restrictions does not seem plain; they do not beg from necessity, but for the sake of getting money to spend in riot and excess.'

Washingborough/ Heighington/ Lincolon

1852

Plough Monday- This great annual feast-day was fully observed at Washingborough, Heighington and the neighbouring villages on Monday last and as usual a number of country lads levied contributions in Lincoln being bedecked with ribbons, veils, and portions of female attire. These poor silly ‘morris-dancers’ create much amusement in the city and are followed about from place to place by a troop of idle men and boys, who might have been much better employed. In many instances the fellows were most unfortunate in begging money, the sum realised in this way being devoted to a supper or some grand drinking ‘bout’ at the end of the feast.

Louth / Old Leake Lincs

1853

Louth Borough Police Dec 31, before S.Trought, Esq (mayor), Cornelius parker, and J.B Sharpley Esqs., Geo Wilson Of Old Leake, gardener, was charged with being drunk and disorderly, and causing an obstruction in the street. Prisoner stated that he had come to town as one of a party of morris-dancers and had so exhausted himself with dancing and drinking that he laid himself across the footway in order to take a little respose. Being Christmas-time, the bench fined him in the mitigated penalty of 6d, and the costs and in default three days to the treadmill.

Scothorne Lincs

1857

For mant years past, at this season, Richard Ellison Esq., of Sudbrooke Hall near Lincoln, has been in the habit of presenting the poor of the neighbourhood with coals; and on Thursday night last a wagon of these coals was standing by the edge of a brook running through the village of Scopthorne. Some fast ‘bunpkins’, who are in the habit of amusing themselves by going about the villages bedecked in tawdry habiliments and denominating themselves ‘morris dancers’ gratified their penchant for mischief by upsetting the wagon and its contents into the brook, as also an empty wagon belonging to Mr Olivant farmer of Scothorne. The members of this ‘night-jury’ are all known, and they assuredly will be called upon to answer for their foolery.

Timberland/ Metheringham

1864

Morris Dancers- John Elkington, John Pottern, Freeman Banks and Geo Elkington, all of Timberland, labourers, were charged with being drunk and disorderly at Metheringham on 22nd Inst –None of the defendants appeared. It seems the defendents formed part of a body of morris dancers and that in the evening in question they went to the house of the Rev Mr Barrnardiston, knocked at the door and on its being opened by the servant girl followed her down the passage. Their strange attire frightened her very much. The men were drunk.On the return of Mr Barnardiston the affair was reported to him and he sent for the police- sergeant Killington and gave him a description of the men. The following morning the men went to Mr Barnardiston’s house and expressed some sorrow for what they had done but he was determined to make an example of those who were drunk. Mr Barnardiston said every year a party of morris dancers from Timberland visit Metheringham, and the inhabitants are compelled to fasten their doors to keep them out.- Each of the defendants was fined 5s and 7s 6d costs.

Ingham Linccs

1864

The Morris Dancers again- a party of morris dancers named John Carter, John Vickers, John Bird, Joseph Williams, labourers of Ingham, were brought up on remand, charged with stealing. On 23rd ult, the propery of Mr Chas Needham………………………Witness asked him (Vickers0 what they were doing at Willingham, and he said they had been morris-dancing…………………………. They then dismissed the case ordering the defendants to pay the costs..

Helpringham (Lincs)

? mid C19th ?

M. W. Barley   ‘Mr Aram ....has stated that ‘the morris dancers went round with the plough boys; they used broomsticks to dance with'.'

C.H. Aram   ‘in addition to the play they trailed a plough and performed dances with brooms'.

C. H. Aram Nottinghamshire Countryside vol 7 no 3.

‘Brooms ‘borrowed' on the way were used for dancing;........the head of the broom was used to beat a rhythm on the floor, while the handle was tossed from hand to hand between the legs of the dancer.'

Old people to whom Mr Aram and Mr Kennedy spoke said that while performing the play they would carry sticks and at intervals jump over them.

Alkborough (Lincs)

Late C19th early c20th

M. W. Barley ‘all the time a rhythmic dance kept up to a fiddle or concertina.'

‘actors danced with each other or with the company'

Langwith (Lincs)

Langworth

mid C19th

E. Rudkin ‘..they were gaily dressed, danced, sang and acted the Mummer's play.

Mummers during Christmas time danced and acted a mummers play with a general dance for all at the end.

Ploughboys here also used to have a dance they performed where jumping over a broomstick was the chief feature.'

(Mr Howden Willoughton)

Barton-on-Humber

(Lincs)

1864

L/R/S/M 15/1/1864  ‘Ancient customs are all very well in their way, and so long as they are harmless in them selves and yet afford some little amusement and pleasure of association, let them survive; but some are indeed more honoured in the breach than the observance. During the last few days a party of morris dancers or plough-jarks, or both combined, have made Barton their head-quarters, whence to radiate into neighbouring villages, and a great ‘racket' they have made. In the evening the noise and uproar they made was a source of great annoyance, but they now appear to have brought the season to a close.'

Market Rasen (Lincs)

 

C1860-65

Watkinson ‘Recollections if a clay pipemakers son'

‘At Christmas morris dancers dressed in grotesque garb took possession for the time being.'

Winterton (Lincs)

 

1866

Stamford Mercury 5/1/1866

‘The Cattle Plague v Morris Dancers'

An application was made to the Winterton Magistrates on Wednesday last by several farmers, that they would stop the morris dancers from going round the different villages in their district. The magistrates requested Mr Supt Asling and his men to tell the morris dancers in their several beats that the magistrates wished them not to go about this year as they had been accustomed to do.'

Grimsby

1870

Christmas Eccentricities.- An application was made on Monday to the magistrates by a young man, on behalf of himself and five others, for permission to go about the town morris-dancing at Christmas tide. The bench had no objection, but the morris-dancers are to give in their names to Supt. Campbell, and were cautioned not to annoy people.

Lincoln

1870

As if to remind us how customs are passing away, a band of mummers or morris dancers visited the lower portion of the city on Saturday night. Their antics caused great amusement and no little surprise in the minds of the many who witnessed their dances at the several inns. Plough Monday is still commemorated in London, the lord mayor giving a dinner on that day to the members of his household and the Corporation officers.

Burgh le Marsh (Lincs)

 

1886

M.W.Barley   ‘Morris dancers made their last appearance at Christmas 1886.'

Barton upon Humber

1870

Stamford Mercury 14/1/1870

‘The ‘Plough Jacks', in their motley dress, mustered strongly at Barton on Plough Monday and paraded the streets, dancing in their uncouth fashion, accompanied by equally rude music. We imagine that if receipt of pence were separated from this ancient custom it would have been amongst the things that were long ago.'

Caistor (Lincs)

1878

Stamford mercury 4/1/1878

‘Morris-dancing is fast becoming a rarity, even in the rural districts of North Lincolnshire, but last week Caistor and the villages adjacent were visited by a full company of those rustic merrymen, the ‘Plough Jacks',.....

Frithville (Lincs)

C1880

....recounts ploughboys and morris dancers there. MWBP.

Brough on Bain

C1880

M. S. Carter ‘my brother once took part in morris dancing at Brough.'

Corringham Lincs

1880

George Booth, 17 years old, was charged with stealing a shaving brush, the property of Ward Baines, the blacksmith, of Corringham. Prisoner went to prosecutor’s house with a band of ‘morris dancers’ and took the shaving brush from the pantry. A fellow labourer warned him, but he took it to Northorpe, where he was apprehended. Prisoner said he took the brush without thinking. Discharged with a caution.

Messingham / New Brumby (Lincs)

!881

R/W/G 14/1/1881 Larceny by morris dancers.

‘On Thursday last four or five men came into the shop dressed as morris dancers and disguised.

Spilsby

1883

Despite the wet uncomfortable weather there was a large gathering of holiday people at Spilsby on Monday. A party of morris-dancers, fantastically dressed, visited the various inns during the day. Towards evening it was apparent, some of the visitors had imbibed a little too freely, and fights ensued. As a result summonses to some will issue.

Alford

1883

Alford new Year’s market on Tuesday was a busy one, and the attendance of farm servants and woman servants was large. A party of morris dancers in ludicrous attire paraded the streets. The day was pleasurably fine and sunshiny – more like spring than winter.

Spilsby

1884

The new-years market on Monday, although this year falling somewhat later, was largely attended. Being plough-Monday some grotesque ‘morris dancers’ visited the houses.

Willingham (Lincs)

C1885

(1954 E. Rudkin)

Mr Roberts aged 78, retired joiner, remembered seeing Morris Dancers here as a boy. He didn't know for certain if there was a Willingham team but he thought there was. The morris dancers were gaily dressed, and started going round about 5th November until Christmas. They were a team of eight and carried broomsticks and acted...in their play there was a fight and a man was killed. The doctor came in and gave him a dose that brought him to life again. The doctor had a tall hat with medicine bottles on the brim, ranged round the front of the hat.

On plough Monday the ploughjags came round and brought a plough with them, they ploughed up the doorstep if refused admittance or not given money. They do not seem to have acted a play, but were dressed up ‘ugly' quite the opposite of the morris dancers who were gaily dressed. The same team of men were both morris men and ploughjags.'

Lusby (Lincs)

Late

C19th

.dancing an integral part of play....E. Rudkin1933

1. The musician plays tune ‘Little Brown jug' and Tom Fool does a step dance.

2. Musician plays 'Pop Goes the Weasel' and they all join in the old country dance ‘Join hands across'.

3. Musician plays ‘Pop goes the Weasel' players arrange themselves in pairs and dance

Lincolnshire

Late C19th

M. W. Barley JEFDSS vol 7 no 4 1955 quoting from Mabel Peacock.

‘Twenty or more ploughmen, with ribbons in their hats , dragged a plough from house to house on Plough Monday, accompanied by a troop of morris dancers including Besom Bet. Some of them wore a bunch of corn ears on their hats.........the dance danced by the Plough Jags was a kind of Country dance.''

Moulton Seas End

Late

C19th

Mr T H Rower of Boston who is 84 (1953) is quite precise in remembering morris dancers there at Christmas and ploughboys playing on plough Monday.' MWBP

Digby (Lincs)

 

E. Rudkin 23/5/31

1. ‘Bloy, who took the part of Tom Fool............before the plough play came in they used to go round doing Morris Dancing.'

2. ... a broom dance performed by Charlie Summer (Bert Summer).

Hemswell

Late

C19th

from Mrs H (at Hemswell) collected by E. Rudkin. 1932.

‘morris dancers came round with a broom, also ploughjags'.

‘morris dancers used to come round the towns near. We used to look forward to them coming because we had some rare fun. Quickly they'd come down the street, all in gay clothes and hats trimmed with jewels. Yes quickly they'd come down the street and into the house afore anyone knew it stopped them. Once in the house the chief man amongst them said a long ditty, very witty it was and then they'd do the dancing.

We had our own morris dancers out of the village too, and they came in with a broom sweeping all before them. The plough lads came round on plough Monday with their play of course.'

Heapham and

Blyton (Lincs)

c1896

1. Morris dancers dressed in tatters and shreds with broomsticks. They danced very swift and one fell on the floor. They came from Blyton. They danced in the daytime.

            2. Mr Mumby senior, saw morris dancers on the pavement at Heapham, six of them dressed in tatters and shreds, with broomsticks and handkerchiefs. They danced with very swift action, one of them fell on the floor. When the dance was over they went away so far to the next village. The team that was dancing at Heapham had come from Blyton. They danced in the day time.

Mr Mumby senior Willoughton 1954.

Lincolnshire

Late C19

P. Herring  Nottinghamshire Guardian 9/1/1925

‘bessy rattled his box and the ploughmen dance whilst the country lads blew their bullocks horns.'

Barrow-on-Humber

1898

FTX-105 Folktrax

‘The plough lad's dance performed by 8 dancers, using wooden swords 4 foot long made of witch-elm, is similar to that collected by Cecil Sharpe at Flamborough head, except that it has two rhythms. The first tune is ‘So early in the morning' and the second is a dance version of ‘My father He left me an acre of land.'

Luke Stanley ‘they used to step dance, they used to sword dance, do the cobblers knock and dance the broomstaff' also refers to dance done with two long clay pipes crossed like swords.

Burton on Stather, Winterton and WestHalton (Lincs)

Late C19th early C20th

Burton on Stather  ...Osbourne Redhead..'Marched through the village and made our way to Thealby, playing, singing and dancing through the village........to Normanby hall.... Danced in the courtyard with girls from Burton who came to dance with us.'

Broom dance collected from Mr Redhead.

Using two different brooms began with ‘stepping' rather like ‘setting' in normal country dancing either side of the broom handle as it lay on the ground, this occupied first 8 bars of music.

The performer then lifted the broom handle, leaving the head on the ground and passed the handle under and over each leg alternatively in a figure eight. This occupied second eight bars of music. The third eight bars saw a variant of the ‘B' section.

Another version from Sid Holdridge of Winterton...performed by the west Halton team...consisted of the second half only of the Burton one but the head of the broom was kept moving in a semi circular movement so that the outer edge of the head touched the ground alternatively. (survived till 1914).

Sutton Bridge (Lincs)

C1910

Mrs Houghton remembers Morris dancers at Sutton Bridge....boys wore tall hats.

Burringham (Lincs)

Survival till 1934

Burringham (plough play survived till 1934) a broom dance performed to the accompaniment of melodeon and side drum although in earlier days a base drum used as well.

Performed by the recruiting sargeant.

 

 

E. Rudkin   Speaking at Cranwell and Dowsby. ‘Does anyone remember seeing a team of Morris dancers in the village? A team of eight men with tall hats, all covered all over with coloured tatters. They danced with broomsticks or handkerchiefs.'

‘History of the County of Lincoln' J Saunders Jnr 1834  reference to the Haxey Hood

‘the next day the plough bullocks or boggins go around the town...................they are dressed like morris dancers.'

 

So what can we infer from this limited evidence about the possible nature of morris dancing in Lincolnshire? Some ideas

  1. Morris as a dance form did exist in Lincolnshire but largely because of  its association with an older culture (see  ‘From Cock-Fighting to Chapel Building' by Rex Walford on changes in popular culture in C19 Lincolnshire) and the widespread hostility of the authorities it had largely died out by 1850 with remnants surviving into the second half of the C19th.
  2. The dancing was done by agricultural labourers usually in the wintertime.
  3. The actual dancing could take a variety of forms...dancing with broomsticks, dancing a type of ‘country dance', a processional dance, sword dancing.
  4. Their dress was shirts covered with tatters/ribbons with tall hats trimmed with jewels or covered with ribbons.
  5. A procession was sometimes led by ‘sweepers'.
  6. It may be possible to suggest that perhaps morris dancing in Lincolnshire was originally a much wider term than is normally perceived and referred to a performance that could include a variety of dance types and latter a play. Over time the dance elements became lost and the play only survived. This could explain the use of the term ‘morris dancer, for events with no dancing.
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