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About Thames Valley Morris
It all began in 1952, when the Claygate Flower Show asked the Thames Valley branch of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) to organise some Morris dancing for the Flower Show on July 19th. A group of local men with help from friends learned and performed four dances (the Abram Bush dance, 29th of May, Fool’s Jig and Beaux of London City). They enjoyed it so much that they met up again in October at The Foley Arms, Claygate for the first of several practice sessions, with the provisional name of Mid Surrey Men’s Morris.
The first formal meeting of the club took place on May 1st 1953, when the name was changed to Thames Valley Morris Men (Thames Valley being the name of the local EFDSS branch). The first public appearance of TVMM was on Saturday May 9th at the Twilight Homes, Staines.
The original side was composed of ex-members of Curfew Morris (a Chertsey-based side which had last danced in the 1930s), and local EFDSS members. The side became part of the Morris Ring, the national organization of Morris Men, in 1955 and is still a member.
TVMM have been dancing in Claygate, in Surrey and further afield continuously since 1952 and still perform at the annual Claygate Flower Show. Since 1954 we have also danced around all the pubs in Claygate on Boxing Day.
Thames Valley Morris Men Now
We practice on Tuesday evenings throughout the winter and emerge to dance in public from May until September. A lot of our dancing is done at pubs, for schools, charities and events in Surrey, but we also dance further afield in the UK and in Continental Europe. Since 1970 we have spent the August Bank Holiday weekend at Withington, near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, dancing there and at neighbouring villages. More recently we have been spending a weekend in the autumn at Cinderford in the Forest of Dean. Foreign visits have included several trips to festivals at Krov on the Mosel, and Rueil-Malmaision on the outskirts of Paris, and to other festivals in Holland and France.
We are a relaxed side with a reasonably wide spread of ages, not out to prove much, but with an interest in dancing well, preserving the Morris tradition, pleasing the crowd, and enjoying ourselves. We like to dance close to the audience, so that we can talk as well as dance to them, rather than on a stage. On a typical tour we will field 8 or 10 dancers and one or two musicians, but we have around 20 active dancers and musicians (depending on your definition of 'active') and a total of 50 or so on the mailing list, which includes occasional dancers and country members.
TVMM mostly dance Cotswold Morris dances as collected by Cecil Sharp in Cotswold villages in the early 20th century and notated by Lionel Bacon. Each of the villages had its own dancing style and, in some cases, over the last 50 years we have modified some of the traditional styles. We also like to experiment by devising new dances in the style of the old traditions.
The main traditions we dance are from the villages of Bampton, Oddington, Fieldtown, Sherborne and Adderbury, but we also perform dances from Headington, Ilmington, Bledington, Moulton, Bucknell and Upton upon Severn. And that’s not the end of the list!
Some of the new dances devised by TVMM members past and present and performed by us include John Glaister's Glaister's Gambol, Tim Langston's Over the Hills (The Gay Dance), both in the style of Bampton; John Walsh’s Dives and Lazarus (Fieldtown); and Lester Bailey’s Blue Streak (Moulton).
The Oddington Tradition
Roy Dommett, one of the seminal figures in the Morris Dancing world, came across Clive Carey’s notes in the Cambridge University Library on the Oddington dancing tradition, which had died out in the early 20th Century and decided to revive the lost tradition. In 1963 he asked Thames Valley, which was known as a prominent Morris Ring side with a long pedigree, to act as a test bed for the project. TVMM, under its squire, the late Siward Glaister, interpreted the side dances and Jim Brooks the jigs. John Glaister interpreted the music with his own subtle and restrained style of melodeon playing, eventually recording the tunes for the Morris Ring. The Oddington dances entered Thames Valley’s repertoire and we have been dancing them ever since.
Currently, there are different styles of Oddington in the Morris world, so different from each other that they might be different dances. The Thames Valley style is brisk and vigorous, left footed, and danced with subdued aggression. The arm movements are forceful, the hand being driven from the hip to the front of the face with a punchy movement.
TVMM met up with Roy Dommett many times over the years, including at the funeral of one of our founder members, Jim Brooks in 2002, when Roy showed us a new Oddington-style dance which we now perform as “Jimmy Brooks” to the tune of the Lord of the Dance (Simple Gifts).
TVMM dance in white shirt and trousers, with medium blue baldricks edged with yellow piping and blue and yellow rosettes. We wear straw hats, decked with blue and yellow ribbon. Bellpads are made from blue canvas cross-hatched and trimmed with blue and yellow ribbons.
A distinguishing feature of the side is that full members, those who have danced a solo jig in public, receive a waistcoat on the back of which they embroider their own choice of motifs, which must include a 'tree of life' (a dancing tree) but may also include individual decoration reflecting the dancer’s interests and enthusiasms.
Animals and Characters
A number of animals, and characters sometimes choose to dance with Thames Valley. How they behave (or not) depends on who is in them. A character or beast does not 'belong' to one dancer. The chief accompanists are The Hobby Horse, The Goat, The Fool, The Jester, The Announcer (Master of Ceremonies), The Betty and The Cake Bearer, who, on Boxing Day and some other days distributes cake (and with it good luck and fertility) from a cake impaled on a sword decorated with flowers.
Without music and musicians there would be no Morris. Thames Valley has a history of brilliant musicians performing mostly on melodeons, concertinas and accordions, but also on violins, whistles and even brass instruments.
Last updated on 9th of September 2020