East Yorkshire Local History Society

Morris dancing

Saturday, 25th September 2010

A revolutionary project recording the activities of a unique local morris team over the year 2009 - 2010, supported by the Nottinghamshire CC Arts Fund.
Dear Members of East Yorkshire History Society
Rattlejag Morris, who practice in Retford, are unique to this region in that their dance and music are based on detailed historical research into vernacular (i.e "traditional") dance in the Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire rural areas.  Chris Rose, the "squire" of the side, has done extensive research into local papers and collections, including the Helm collection.  OUr intial starting point was research done by Paul Davenport, particularly into the Hessle area, published as "The Forgotten Morris".  This past year we have received support from Nottinghamshire Arts to preserve and promote our morris side in special ways and we would llike to invite you to help us further in this.
1.  We have been gathering together paper material, photographs, videos etc over the year September 2009 - September 2010 (which is a morris team's calendar year) to put together into AN ARCHIVE BOX to go down in the Bassetlaw Museum archives as an historical resource (www.bassetlawmuseum.org.uk).  We have had an archivist since our inception in 2002, but focussing on this year as a typical organisational year for us provides a record of us as a special side, but also as typical of and active participants in the contemporary manifestation of morris dancing in the early 21st century - a way of life that has been found (and shared) across England particularly through the second half of the C20th to now yet little recorded in this way.  
2. EXHIBITION AT BASSETLAW MUSEUM, RETFORD - 11th Sept - 6th Oct.  We have put together an exhibition to celebrate our project: who we are, how we came about and what we have done and achieved over the last year.  It includes details of the historical research that Chris has studied, with many fascinating quotes on display, as well as further historical and current information on morris and traditional dance.  We would like to invite your members to visit this as a "living history" project and as an example of how contemporary events can be recorded to provide information for the future.
3. Further than this, we would like to recruit your members' help, please.  Information on local traditional dance and music is very sketchy - indeed our dances are created in the spirit of our information rather than the detail:  

  • we know more about court cases for morris dancers defying the law in the region than what they danced, for example!
  • we have sourced and use music from a Lincolnshire collection, but although we know that Nottinghamshire hornpipes (dance tunes)  were renowned and even commented on by Dr Johnson on his visit to Newstead Abbey, we have failed to find out more on Nottinghamshire dance/traditional music.  You can listen to our music and find the notation and dance details on our website (or via our new CD!) at http://www.rattlejagmorris.org.uk/music-dances
  • the terms "morris" and "mumming" are rather interchangeable in this region, and recorders assume an understanding of both in their contemporary audience which we no longer have - references to these can be misleading re dance, but are still of interest (see Dr Peter Millington's research at http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm)
  • we have found records of morris, bacca pipes, sword, and clog dance across the region and have recreated those, but would love to find out more  (videos available on our web site!)
If any of your members have come across mention of morris or other dance forms in the community, or know of pictorial representations or sources which we could access, we would really love to hear from them.  You can check out the finer details of Chris' research on our web site: http://www.rattlejagmorris.org.uk/local-morris-research 
Dance has always been socially and culturally relevant, but has often been poorly recorded - we hope our project shows it need not be so.
Thank you - and I hope we have interested you!
Kind regards
Moira Ruff, M.A.
Rattlejag Project
Tel: 01777 711601
Please visit our website: www.rattlejagmorris.org.uk