The Morris Men of Little Egypt.
A short history of the last 25 years by Neville Parry
The side (Morris teams are called sides) was first formed in June 1988. The then Rector at St Mary’s Church – Adrian Mason – wanted some Morris dancers at the Church Fete, which was always held in the Rectory gardens back then. He couldn't locate a Morris side (at least not a side he could afford!) and so a request went out via members of the fete committee for volunteers to form a Glemsford Morris side as a one-off for the fete.
Frederick Sanders (who then lived at Five Gables Cottage on Plum St) heard the cry for help and was an ex-dancer and musician with Belchamp Morris Men. He enlisted the help of John Aldous, who also lived (and still does) in the village and was also an ex-member of Belchamp Morris. News spread by word of mouth and the likes of Peter Ford, Paul Jaques, David Irvine, Steve Clarke, Derek Richards and Chris Britton were recruited from the village. I had just moved to Glemsford in January 1988 and knew Frederick through work and I was also persuaded to join.
We practised for a few weeks in the Church Hall and managed, eventually, to learn four dances in time for the Church Fete. Our wives managed to produce some make-shift regalia, Bell Pads, Baldrics etc and we all purchased white decorators trousers and white shirts and we were ready for the big day. We danced our three dances (twice each I recall) and with accompaniment from Frederick on Melodeon received a tremendous reception from the gathered hordes at the fete – mostly partners and friends of the dancers who couldn't wait to heckle from the sidelines and watch us strut our stuff. And that was it; we disbanded after several well-earned pints at the Black Lion.
Then, early in 1992 we were approached again by the organising committee of the Church Fete and asked if we would like to do a repeat performance for that year's Fete. I recall we were enticed with the promise of free beer, and so it was that most of the men, together with some new ‘volunteers’ got back together for another one-off performance at the Church Fete on 11th July. We danced at both the Church and at the Black Lion. I can also recall that the Rector, Adrian, turned up dressed as a ‘Hobby Horse’ (although that may have been the next year! He was certainly a very good sport)
This time after the Fete was over, and we were reflecting upon our glorious performance over several more pints in the Black Lion, someone had the bright idea of keeping the side going and it just seemed like a good idea at the time!
So that was it. The side was named The Morris Men of Little Egypt*, new uniforms were created and I was elected Squire – a position that I have been privileged to hold for the past 25 years. Initially we had a rule that the side was to comprise only of men who lived within the Parish of Glemsford. This was maintained until we started to struggle with getting musicians and dancers. The rule was then relaxed to allow musicians from outside the parish and then dancers. We still uphold the tradition of a ‘Men Only’ Morris side but we do have (and are very thankful for) lady musicians.
We now have members that regularly travel from all over Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex as well as France and Belgium to dance with us – such is the appeal of our side.
We have danced all over England and had numerous trips to Europe,notably Germany, France and Ireland where we have always been extremely well received by the unsuspecting locals.
In the summer months commencing at dawn on 1st May we wear our original ‘Cotswold’ kit – white trousers, shirts, rush hats and Baldrics. After October and through to 30th April we wear our ‘Horkey’ kit which comprises loosely of 19th century agricultural wear – collarless shirts, boots and heavy trousers. The styles of dances that we perform draw heavily from the Cotswold and Welsh Border traditions but over the years we have also developed our own unique style of Morris – with some dances that we have made ourselves from scratch – most celebrate the bucolic nature of our village heritage. The Morris sticks that we use in our dances, the longest of any Morris side, are winter-cut hazel which we take from a secret coppice within the Parish boundary. Our white handkerchiefs are woven from the finest Irish linen and are always perfumed with lavender and essential oils.
Our summer months are filled with dancing at pubs, fetes, festivals and events, but we also dance during the winter period at selected events, notably on Boxing Day at the Angel Inn which has now become a staple of Glemsford village life. This is also the occasion when we unleash our traditional Mummers Play on an unsuspecting audience. Based around the age old struggle of good against evil, we now weave in appropriate tales and anecdotes from the year in our village.
If anyone is interested in joining us, you can contact us by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We practice most Tuesdays at the Methodist Church Hall, followed by a ‘theory session’
at the Angel Inn with refreshment after the rigorous practice session!
Neville Parry, Squire,
The Morris Men of Little Egypt
*I am sure that some of you will already know the origin of the colloquial name for Glemsford but if you have a spare hour, and for a couple of pints, any member of the side will tell you how the name ‘Little Egypt’ came about!