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Nobody is quite sure when and where Morris Dancing originated but it is thought to have begun life in the 13th and 14th centuries maybe as part of an English Summer Game - an array of entertainment from those lower down on the social scale. The first real evidence of Morris Dancing was in 1448 in London, an entry in the accounts of The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, 7 shillings to the Moryssh Dancers. It became popular in the royal courts of Europe and also in England (and Scotland) later on in the 15th century as entertainment for royalty and for those of high ranking nobility. It is unlikely that there was any connection as has been commonly thought with pagan or fertility rights, or with the Moors, or with the English army bringing it with them on their return from Spain. The dance became known in England as the Moorish or Morisco dance, based on one convenient theory that it came from North Africa, dancers looking Moorish with black faces and bells, or another that it was a Spanish celebration dance of freedom from Moslem rule. It fell out of fashion in higher social circles during the 16th century but was taken up by civic authorities who included Morris dances in their processions and pageants. The Church could also see the fund raising potential of the spectacle of Morris dancing with the annual Whitsun Ale celebrations.

By the start of the 17th century Morris dancing was in decline. The Puritans condemned it because of the associated rowdy behaviour and drunkenness. The Morris never really recovered and was left to obscurity in mainly rural communities were no records were kept of its activities. It went further into decline with the industrial revolution and migration from the country to the towns and cities and the accompanying new and less demanding forms of entertainment available there. The First World War appeared to have ended any hope of its continued existence.

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Bampton Morris Men Bampton Morris Men 1897

Much Wenlock Westwood Border Morris August 1949
(the link will take you to the Morris Ring website)
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