Morris dancing is a regular feature of Lymm life and Lymm Morris dancers and other Morris sides can regularly be seen performing at the Lymm May Queen Festival, the Rushbearing and Dickensian Festival. Although there are many theories about the origins of Morris dancing, the only certainty is that it has been a feature of English life for a long time, with the earliest written reference to it being from 1448.
As noted in the article on Rushbearing Morris dancing was taking place in Lymm as early as 1817. Morris dancers appeared in the village at Rushbearing time throughout the Victorian era even though the Wakes week celebrations were largely replaced by trips to the seaside. In 1890 two troupes of dancers turned up on the Saturday when Tom Holt led his troupe from Sandy Lane with Tom Brooks at the head of his troupe from Booths Hill and later in the 1890s there were three troupes parading in the village on the same day. Many of the dancers were fustian cutters and, instead of handkerchiefs, they used large pieces of fustian to create a 'crack' sound with their hand movements. Despite the decline of the Rushbearing, Morris dancers continued to turn out until 1915 when it was noted in the Runcorn Examiner that,' all the dancers are now at the front, even “the old 'woman' with the spoon and bell”!
Lymm has its own unique Morris dance. This was collected in the village in 1938 by renowned collector Maud Karpeles but her notation of the dance was not accurate. Further research of this dance as performed by a boys' team at Statham in 1923 was carried out by Geoff Bibby of Thelwall Morris in the 1970s and in 1980 the Thelwall side revived the old dance which Lymm Morris continue to dance each year, though rarely outside Lymm.
Regions of the country developed different styles of Morris dancing. The style that many people would probably recognise as Morris dancing is Cotswold Morris from the South Midlands, where dancers dance with handkerchiefs and sticks. Thelwall Morris and the Earl of Stamford's Morris can often be seen dancing in the locality dancing in this style. Border Morris dances come from the counties that border on Wales. The dancers wear rag jackets, have painted faces and dance with sticks. Bollin Morris , which practices at the Spread Eagle in the village, dance in this tradition. The term North West Morris is used for the dances, like Lymm, collected in Cheshire and Lancashire. These were closely associated with rushbearing in many places but, towards the end of the nineteenth century, began to play a prominent part in the May Queen and Rose Queen Festivals and carnivals where the Morris dancers paraded and danced in the processions and took part in Morris dancing competitions. This competitive aspect has evolved into Girls' Carnival Morris which is very popular and is currently represented in the village by Lymm Adivas. East Anglia has its Molly dances, Yorkshire has its Longsword dances and the North East has Rapper sword dancing.
For further information about the Lymm dance and its place within the Rushbearing and May Queen Festival
For pictures of costumes of the various styles of Morris
For further information about Morris dancing
We are grateful to Richard Nelson of Thelwall Morris who has distilled his knowledge of local Morris dancing into this article.
Detail from a re-imagining of how the Morris troupe may have looked, leading the Rushbearing in mid-Victorian Lymm: from an oleograph held by Castle Museum York.
Note the "old woman" with the collecting ladle. You will find her in the next two photographs too.
Outside Pel Ardern's on Eagle Brow. A re-creation of one of the hats is on display at Lymm Heritage Centre.
Lining up on Maltmans Road for Rushbearing- probably pre WW1. The days of the four grey horses are long gone: replaced by the mule from the cornmill led by Sydney Linley.
"Border Morris dances come from the counties that border on Wales. The dancers wear rag jackets, have painted faces and dance with sticks." Photo Sean Nolan.