The Origins of Morris Dancing

The earliest authenticated references to Morris Dancing date back to 1448. The first is an inventory at Caistor Castle, Norfolk which mentions a tapestry (no longer in existence) depicting a “morysk Daunce”.

The second, more intriguing, reference is to a payment made to “the Morrysh daunsers” for a performance on 19th May 1448. This payment was made by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London. It is possible that the Morris was a well established pastime already by this stage. Certainly Shakespeare makes mention of it in several of his plays and one of his clowns, William Kemp, was a
noted dancer.

The survival of morris dancing much beyond the end of the 19th century is due largely to the work of Cecil Sharp. He saw the Headlington Quarry Morris Men perform on Boxing Day 1899 and resolved to research and collect the dances. His work proved invaluable in assisting later folk revivals.

Each dancer you see performing with North Wood plays his part in continuing this iconic English tradition.

Morris traditions come from various parts of the country but in particular the Cotswolds, Staffordshire and the Welsh border. From Lancashire and Durham comes North West Morris a processional form of Morris danced in clogs. Sword dancing comes from the Yorkshire and Tyneside area and Molly Dancing from East Anglia.

Special traditions still exist such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the Helston Furry Dance, the Padstow ‘Obby Oss’ and the Bacup Coconut Dance.