Meeting at St. Albans - 1949
The Twenty-ninth meeting of the Morris Ring was held at St. Albans during the week-end of 9th to 11th September, 1949. About 110 Morris Men were present, representing the following clubs: Abingdon, Beaux of London City, Bedford, Cambridge, East Surrey, Greensleeves, Headington Quarry, Letchworth, London Pride, Midland, Morley, Oxford, Ravensbourne, Rugby, St. Albans, Thaxted and Whitchurch.
The arrangements for the meeting had been made by the St. Albans club and a detailed programme prepared and circulated to the clubs in advance. A copy of the programme is appended to these minutes, and it is recorded with gratitude that the cost of printing was defrayed by the gift of an anonymous Morris Man.
The proceedings opened with a show by the St. Albans men in the Market Place, and a goodly crowd of citizens had assembled when punctually at 6pm. John Coales led his men forth from The Wellington to Kenworthy Schofield's piping of the Wheatley Processional. The show proceeded successfully to its Bonny Green Garters, by which time men from other clubs had made their appearance, notably the Squire of the Ring and other Cambridge stalwarts.
About 50 men took supper at the Abbey Restaurant and rather more were present for the ensuing Ale at the Peahen. This was voted on several occasions to have been a very good ale without any particular reason being stated - perhaps the choice of dances, or the music, or the fact that it was a prelude to an exceedingly happy week-end, or simply the Ale itself which was McMullens.
On dispersing for the night, men found their way to the various lodgings appointed for them, the dormitories of St. Columba's College, or the hospitality of John Coales, or bedrooms in other houses private or public.
On Saturday the company was divided into seven parties each of which toured the neighbouring villages in the morning and early afternoon. Some men radiated from St. Albans and others travelled direct from home to the village of their first performance. Fortunes naturally varied with time and place, and the acme of success was achieved by the party who danced at Church Green, Harpenden, to a large crowd of people who had just completed their Saturday morning's shopping. With the glorious weather which prevailed throughout the weekend, every party fared happily, successfully and profitably, the smallest collection taken being in excess of £2.
It was when the parties converged on St. Albans School Hall for tea that the full strength of 110 became apparent, with happy greetings of reunion and interchange of experiences on tour.
The whole company then repaired to the Pageant site at Verulamium for a combined performance interspersed with team displays. The massed dances were predominantly of the Headington tradition so that full scope was given for accompaniment by Bill Kimber who delighted those present, whether dancers or spectators, by his presence as the musician of the Headington Quarry men. It was a matter of regret to all that Richard Callender's inability to be present necessitated the cancellation of the item "The new Squire dances himself in", but all the clubs gave a good account of themselves and there was a simply terrific finish with Bonny Green Garters producing long and enthusiastic applause from the large crowd of spectators.
The start of the Feast at the Town Hall was marred by the week-end's only hitch - Bill Kimber was missing. Great consternation prevailed, and increased when it was found that transport sent to recover him from Verulamium had returned unable to find him. Just as a further search party had been despatched he reappeared, to be greeted by tremendous cheers.
After the toasts of the King and the Honourable Memory of Cecil Sharp had been duly observed the Squire proposed the health of Bill Kimber who in reply referred to the assembled company as "all my Morris sons", a phrase which he was sure would have pleased Cecil Sharp.
John Strange proposed the toast of the Morris Ring, referring to the presence of Bill Kimber and the exceptional size of the gathering: Cecil Sharp would indeed have been happy could he have been present. A tribute to the St. Albans club and the organisation of the meeting was received with acclamation. In coupling the toast with the name of the present Squire, the speaker lauded the efforts of Arthur Peck to get the Morris back on the streets, particularly through the Travelling Morrice, and reminded the members of his work as the Recorder of the Ring.
The Squire in reply described the present occasion as one of the most notable in the history of the Ring. He thanked the St. Albans men for the arrangements made, mentioning in particular John Coales as Squire, Humphrey Moreton as the Bagman on whom the principal burden had fallen, and Donald Cassels for deputising for the Bagman of the Ring. It was 50 years since Sharp first saw the Morris, and 25 since his death, and most of us owed our knowledge of the Morris to Cecil Sharp. To mark the date a brochure, which he described as a record of enthusiasm, had been prepared and was available to Morris men at the price of 2 shillings. After calling to mind the work of Alfred Cobb, Arthur Heffer, and Rolf Gardner, the Squire expressed his confidence in the future success of the Ring which was strengthened by its success on this occasion.
Walter Abson gave the toast of St. Albans and the St. Albans Morris Men and thanked not only the club but the City generally for hospitality and interest. Dancing had just taken place on the Roman site, "lumpy fields with all sorts of things buried underneath". The Romans too had danced, and the tag "Nune est bibendum" which he remembered from his schooldays surely indicated that 1800 years ago there must have been occasions like the present. So the St. Albans Club could regard themselves as the legitimate descendants of those who has felt happiness in their dancing throughout the centuries: they were a flourishing club, twenty years of age and running a junior side, and their organisation of the present gathering was a remarkable effort.
John Coales conveyed an apology for absence from the Mayor of St. Albans, whom he was therefore obliged to represent, though he felt greater similarity with the Corporation. St. Albans was much honoured by this visit from the Ring which he hoped would be repeated before long. He welcomed the Ring to St. Albans and expressed thanks for the remarks made about organisation, modestly attributing the success of the weekend to the weather, the model evolved at Thaxted, and the inherent suitability of St. Albans as a place for dancing in the open air.
The acting bagman read a letter from Bob Ross, Bagman of the Ring, apologising for his unavoidable absence for family reasons, wishing the gathering all success, and thanking the St. Albans men, particularly Humphrey Moreton, for their work in arranging the meeting.
The minutes of the last meeting at Thaxted were then read and signed as a correct record.
After Kenworthy Schofield had conveyed greetings from Alec Hunter the men dragged themselves away to bed.
The meeting of club representatives was started at 9.30, adjourning at 10.30, and resumed at 2.30.
The following motion, formulated at the previous meeting, was considered:
"At the meeting at Cecil Sharp House each year there shall be a competition between the clubs. The order of merit shall be decided by a ballot of the men present. The Squire, in consultation with the ex-Squires, shall arrange for criticism of the standard of dancing."
After a long discussion the motion was reject. It was decided, however, that the Squire be requested to arrange for criticism of club displays at any meeting of the Morris Ring to be given at the request of the club concerned. Further, that the programme of display dances be pre-arranged and that two (or even more) display dances from each club be permitted subject to the reasonable length of the programme.
The following motion, also formulated at Thaxted, was then considered:
"Sword dances shall be acceptable as display dances by clubs at meetings of the Morris Ring."
This motion was carried, with the addition of the words "subject to the discretion of the organisers of the meeting concerned", the added words being designed to safeguard the proportion of the programme.
It was decided to make a presentation to William Kimber to mark the jubilee of his meeting with Cecil Sharp on Boxing Day 1899, the collection to be made through the clubs without the suggestion of any fixed individual subscription; the present to take the form of a suitably inscribed tankard and a cheque, and to be given during the Headington meeting on 26th November. The inscription on the tankard to include the words "his Morris sons". It was decided that the signatures of all subscribers should be obtained, clubs being supplied with uniform sheets of paper which could be bound to form a book when completed, the presentation of the book of signatures to be deferred, should it be impossible to have it ready for 26th November.
The question of a fee to William Kimber for playing at this gathering was considered, and it was decided that although everything would be done to welcome William Kimber at any meeting he could attend, it was not in accordance with the traditions of the Ring to pay a fee to its musicians.
The acting Bagman reported that the St. Albans men had been invited to appear again in Picture Page of Television in connection with what the BBC described as the "25th anniversary of Cecil Sharp's Morris Dance Movement". The St. Albans club considered it right that the first refusal of this offer should be given to the Headington Quarry men who were understood to be likely to accept it. The meeting concurred, appreciated the proper spirit of St. Albans, and asked the acting Bagman to put the BBC in touch with Headington Quarry, to correct the BBC in regard to the occasion to be celebrated, to send them a copy of the current brochure, and to explain the existence and connection of the Morris Ring.
With regard to future meetings, it was noted that Cecil Sharp House might be in the hands of the builders on 25th March 1950. It was decided that the representatives should meet from 3 to 4.30 with general dancing taking place at the same time; that club displays should be given after tea, taking precedence over general dancing during this period, and that the Feast should be kept short and followed by an Ale.
The Thaxted gathering was fixed for the weekend 19th-21st May 1950, and an offer from Bedford to accommodate the autumn 1950 meeting was accepted with thanks and appreciation, the exact date being left to the discretion of Bedford.
The date of admission of the new Squire was considered and after discussion it was decided to request Arthur Peck to continue in office as Squire until a further meeting of representatives had been held.
The meeting terminated with a request to the acting Bagman to convey greetings to Bob Ross and congratulations on the successful arrival of his most recent infant.
Sixty men walked in procession from the Abbey Gateway to St. Peter's Churchyard and then joined with the choir in procession into church for the 11 o'clock morning service. The Vicar, the Rev. A.M.Fergusson, himself a Morris man, had permitted the Ring to choose the hymns, psalm, and lessons and to provide the reader of the lessons and the preacher. The lessons were read by Gordon Neil (who artfully contrived to read two on end) and John Coales, and the address was given by Arthur Peck as Squire of the Ring. He gave thanks to the men who had handed down the Morris from generation to generation and particularly for Cecil Sharp who had saved it from extinction, and reminded us that thanksgiving can only be complete in the Holy Communion.
During the service the Squires' staves were laid on the Altar.
After church, several of the clubs gave a display dance in the roadway immediately outside the churchyard, encouraged by a large number of the congregation.
Lunch was in the garden of the Nell Gwynn Restaurant at St. Michael's, a somewhat protracted affair. Its intervals were lightened by Robert Robins who superimposed his 6½ feet on about 10½ feet of crumbling wall, and with cameras of all shapes and sizes proceeded to take photograph after photograph of upturned faces, tops of heads and partly consumed pudding. After lunch, the representatives completed their meeting while Kenworthy Schofield organised and accompanied dancing for the other men in the garden of St. Gerwains on the opposite side of the road. Dispersal was gradual during the afternoon, some men having the time to visit the Abbey and Roman remains before leaving St. Albans.
Collections were taken at all the public performances during the weekend and amounted in the aggregate to £45-8-8.
March 25th 1950