Stansted Morris Men at Hartley Green in 1937

THE STANSTED MORRIS MEN

This is how it all started

The year 1934 does not feature prominently in history books, since very little happened which was worthy of note - on the surface, at any rate. King George V was still on the throne of a Britain which really was Great, ruling an Empire over which the sun never set. There were rumblings in Germany, of course. Behind the scenes, however, two meetings were held and two new organisations founded which were to have a profound effect on the lives of a considerable number of people, most of who were as yet unborn.

The first of these took place at 8pm in the evening of Saturday, 2nd. June, in the front room of Mrs. King's house in Newbiggin Street, Thaxted, when representatives of six of the early "revival" teams met to discuss the feasibility of forming a federation of Morris Clubs from all over the country, to be known as the Morris Ring. It was duly agreed to go ahead, and the Inaugural Meeting was held at Cecil Sharp House on September 20th. of that year.

The second of the two significant meetings took place in the barn of Goodmans Farm in Tumblefield Road, Stansted - a few hundred yards up the road from the Black Horse. Mrs. Ethel Hunt, who was the owner at that time, was a keen folk dancer, and she had a small barn standing empty which she thought would make an ideal practice site. Accordingly, she invited other interested parties from the Stansted and Fairseat district to discuss the formation of a local country dance group, and so it was that the Fairseat Folk Dance Society (F.F.D.S.) came into being in the Summer of 1934.



If the villagers in remote villages wanted entertainment, they had to make it for themselves. Dancing was one obvious solution to the problem, and country dancing was increasing in popularity at that time. As a result, folk dance clubs sprang up all over the place, sometimes in most unlikely locations. They were run by women, and most of the members were local women who knew one another socially through other village activities. Often they wore a distinctive Club dress the Fairseat ladies wore emerald green dresses with red, yellow & blue braid on the sleeves and skirt. As we shall see later on, it was this combination of four colours which was eventually to determine the kit of the Stansted Morris Men. On practice nights, any men present wore ordinary clothes, but for parties and special events white shirts, trousers and socks were the norm, with the inevitable white plimsolls!



As I have already said, the backbone of these early folk dance clubs was always provided by the local village women, but there were occasional visitors - mainly from nearby towns where folk dance clubs, if they existed at all, tended to be rather formal and academic, lacking the spontaneous gaiety of the village groups.

One of the F.F.D.S regular visitors was a Mr. H. Bentley Thorne, an experienced Morris Man who was a member of Douglas Kennedy's E.F.D.S.S. display side. He lived at Bromley, which really was in Kent at that time. In the Autumn of 1934 he met some of the younger men of the village at a country dance party given by Mr. & Mrs. Hunt in Goodmans Barn, and persuaded them to take up the Morris. Mrs. Hunt willingly offered the use of the oast house which was adjacent to the barn for this purpose



 
 

So the Stansted Morris Men came to be formed in the Winter of 1934/5. One or two older men helped to complete the side. Practices were held every week in the Goodmans Farm Oast House, and once a month Mr. Thorne would make the somewhat arduous journey from Bromley to teach them new dances. In the intervening weeks, the men would practice the dances they had learnt to date under the Foremanship of Stanley Chapman, the verger of Stansted Church. When Mr. Thorne visited Stansted, he would usually bring his own musician with him, an E.F.D.S.S. violinist named Willy Ganiford. He was an excellent musician, but not really a Morris "fiddler". For special events and on day tours
the pair of them would accompany the Stansted Men, but on all other occasions the music was provided by their own musician, Robert Dixon, who played the fiddle.
 
 
 

 
Stansted Morris Dancing in Wrotham Square

  
They concentrated on the Adderbury and Headington Quarry traditions, and occasionally performed Quarry jigs in massed display form. By the end of the following Summer such good progress had been made that on a Saturday afternoon in September the Club was able to undertake a tour round the neighbouring villages.

Their kit consisted of white shirts,trousers & shoes and green baldricks with a red & yellow rosette in the middle. The bell pads had the green, red, yellow & blue colours of the F.F.D.S. and they wore no hats. The Stansted bell pads modelled here by a man in Hartley shoes are from the Percy Sephton collection. Since the Club was an integral part of the F.F.D.S. it had no finances of its own, and therefore had no need of a Bagman.

The activities of the side were limited mainly to local fetes and shows, and to public displays in conjunction with the F.F.D.S. at various functions organised by the E.F.D.S.S. These were held fairly regularly during the summer months at such places as Allington Castle and Tonbridge Castle Lawns. On these occasions the whole Club would be transported in the back of a lorry driven by a Mrs. Butcher, whose father owned a transport firm in Wrotham. The side would also occasionally go on tour by themselves around nearby villages, but not basing their stands on the local pubs as we do today.

    
 

They were encouraged by Mr. Thorne to take an active interest in Morris Ring events. The Club regularly attended the various London gatherings. They applied for full Ring membership in 1936 and were formally admitted at a meeting held at Cecil Sharp House on March 13th. 1937, together with Cheltenham and Springhead. Thereby bringing the total number of Member Clubs at that time up to 28.

Two years later, however, the outbreak of the second World War put an end to the Stansted Morris’ Men's activities, as it did to almost all Men's Sides throughout the country. The changed circumstances after the war made it impractical for it to re-form.


               
During the four years of its active existence, men known    
to have danced with the Stansted Morris Men include,

Bentley Thorne (Squire),
Stan Chapman (Foreman),
Percy Sephton* (Fool),
Alf Burkin*,
George Crouch*,
Fred Walters,
Bert Stephens,
George Blake,
Mr. Martin,
Mr. Marchant
and his two sons Dennis and Charlie.


Musicians
Robert Dixon, fiddle.
Willy Ganiford, Violin (Visitor)

 * Later to become founder members of
Hartley Morris Men
 
 
          Stan Chapman & Alf Burkin
 

This article was written and researched by Bob Tatman. 
It was edited for the web by Tony Tomlin
Any further information or photographs of Stansted Morris would be most welcome