The National Association of Men's Morris & Sword Dance Clubs

Morris Dancing From The Welsh Borders

Silurian Morris Men dancing in the main show at the Thaxted Ring Meeting in 1987 The Welsh border counties are Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. The dances were often performed at Christmas, rather than Whitsun.

At one time it was believed that the dances collected in the villages of the Welsh border counties were simplified versions of the Cotswold dances, but now it is thought that they are simply older variants of the Morris. There are records of dancers in the seventeenth century. The dancers form sides of four, six, eight or twelve men. Black faces are a common feature - not to imitate Moors - but to confer anonymity on the dancer. They wear “rags” - white shirts or old clothes covered with brightly coloured ribbons and dark trousers. Clothing was much more fanciful than Cotswold dress, one report is of a costume totally covered in bells, another with rags all over. Soft hats covered with rags and bowlers covered heads, the pheasant feathers we now see in groups such as the Shropshire Bedlams on some, even a tropical helmet! The stepping and figures are very simple and vigorous, and many of the dances involve stick clashing with short sticks. They also have handerchief dances.

Pipe and tabor was the old form of accompanyment, with two musicians. There also was more percussion than found in the Cotswold morris, apart from that a plethora of instruments: fiddle, accordion, melodeon, concertina, tambourines, bones, drums, whistles. The tunes were much less characteristic of the dances than for Cotswold morris. Not For Joes (Sheepskins), Grand Old Duke of York, Keel Row are examples. See the comments on Brimfield, Much Wenlock and Upton On Severn in the Tunes section of this site.

Read Dave Jones's remarkable little book on Border Morris, The Roots Of Welsh Border Morris, Ref: Bibliography, and still available from the Morris Shop, see the "books section".

On the web, see Roy Dommett's "Border and Other Dance Notes"

Below, The Shropshire Bedlams: a border side based on Bishops Castle in Shropshire, 'photo 1999 by JM. Far from being simple, the Bedlams (and their sister-side Martha Rhodans Tuppenny Disk), have developed many complex dances, even for odd numbers of dancers. The groups were formed in the 1970s by John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris. Like the Silurian Morris Men they have a large band of musicians.

 Shropshire Bedlams in Bishops Castle in 1999