BRMM logo  

Bourne River Morris Men

Bournemouth, Dorset: 52nd year of Morris Dancing

  The Morris Ring

The Amazing History of Bourne River Morris Men

Written by John Cannell, the Bagman at the time, in 1973

It would be nice to claim that the history of Bourne River goes back a full sixty years to the days of Cecil Sharp. It would not be true - however, there is a connection which I will explain later.

About six years ago some of the members of the Wessex Traditional Folk Song Club went down to Sidmouth, and saw Morris and Rapper dancing and thought "We could do this." In the usual efficient, go-ahead fashion of the WTFSC they returned to Bournemouth at the end of the week and began practising - the emphasis initially being on Rapper. (This could lead into the tale of how Fred was nearly crippled for life but I'll leave that for another time).

Peter Dashwood was the EFDSS area organiser at the time and he persuaded the budding dance team to switch to Morris - and this is where Cecil Sharp came in fifty odd years earlier, (I'm told he was riding a large bicycle and wearing a tail coat), to Miss Marjorie Mayne of Chideock.

Miss Mayne was converted to folk dancing, initially country, by Cecil Sharp and later founded a Morris side at Chideock, whose hats, loosely based on Bampton hats, were presented to the newly formed Bourne River Morris Men. After a dress rehearsal in November 1967 at the EFDSS area election at Bournemouth College, B.R.M. gave their first public performance at Miss Mayne's birthday ceilidh in 1968 and have danced at this event every year since (this year March 27th).

Incidentally, Miss Mayne taught Morris to the troops during the first World War - this conjures up a delightful picture of heavily armed, spike helmeted "huns" being attacked with sticks by enraged morrismen.

Bourne River have for some time now been an entirely separate entity from the song club - although still good friends. As the original members developed family commitments, a dance and drink outdoors in the daylight became more acceptable than a sing and a drink indoors in semi-darkness,and a Saturday afternoon session in the summer now regularly produces as many wives and children as dancers. The new generation, led by four year old Danny Short, is already practising.

In winter the side practises every Thursday at the Pembroke Arms, West Hill Road, Bournemouth, in the song club's room, and the song club still provides a steady trickle of recruits. The faces of some of the Pembroke's bar customers are worth seeing as they sit quietly, thankful it's not Friday, and are then faced with various shapes and sizes of sweaty men, trailing grubby practice handkerchiefs, and demanding beer.

Francis Clayton is the present squire (for the uninitiated that means ‘boss' and dance leader) and he was also the original squire. In between the squires have been Robin Plowman and Clive Short. Robin is widely recognised now as an excellent dancer but one of the men (no names) said to me rather gloomily "He was slow when he started and I was better than he was - but he's improved and I haven't!" Music was provided initially by Cathy Upton and later by Graham Lang, Tony Gibbons, Ian Ferguson and Pat Cannell (in no particular order).

We are also honoured with the presence in the side of Ernie Hales, a member of the original "Travelling Morrice", back in the twenties. Ernie now plays fiddle and offers regular advice and comments, sometimes caustic, on the side's dancing.

Bourne River Morris dance fairly regularly in the Bournemouth area during the summer and have also been seen at Garden fetes, Christchurch Festival and occasional all day tours of the area on summer Sundays, often together with other local sides. We've never been invited to Sidmouth though! For more information contact the Bagman (that's secretary, treasurer, roadie, historian and general dogsbody). (Of course, this article was written some 44 years ago, and the side no longer practice at the Pembroke Arms (currently known as the 'Goat and Tricycle') - please see our Winter Practice and the Contact Us pages if you want to contact the side)

A Dorset Dancing Side

"Folk on Tap" article from Winter 1989

This article, written by Lyn Colbeck, was published in 'Folk on Tap', number 41, Winter 1989.

A visit to the 1966 Sidmouth Folk Festival by members of the Bournemouth-based Wessex Folk Club resulted in the formation of a new dance team in the Dorset area. The Rapper Sword dancing displays had left a lasting impression on the members, and they returned to Dorset determined to have a go themselves. Two problems emerged from this venture: Their practice area (the beach at Shell Bay!) proved incompatible with the standard of stepping required, and because of the complex nature of the dance, they had a great deal of trouble maintaining a full side. The swords were soon traded in for handkerchiefs, sticks and bells, and they embarked upon a second career, this time in Morris Dancing! They contacted Peter Dashwood, the South Coast EFDSS representative, who agreed to help them on their way. He introduced them to their first musician, Kathy Upton, and the first tradition was firmly established: since that time the main musician for the side has always been female. The first Squire, Frank Clayton, was duly elected and the side was in business! In 1967 they went to the EFDSS AGM, where Peter Dashwood had requested an update on the Morris activities within the Bournemouth area. At this point, the side had no name, no kit, and a scanty knowledge of the finer points of Morris dancing, based on the only 3 dances they knew. So, a venture that was never intended to be serious became "BOURNE RIVER MORRIS MEN", a name suggested by John Whelan, and christened with a pint of beer a short time before the AGM.

Miss Marjorie Mayne of Chideock, Dorset Miss Marjorie Mayne of Chideock

Having solved the problem of naming the side, the subject of the kit was addressed. A certain Miss Marjorie Mayne from Chideock, Dorset, donated the kit that had once belonged to the Chideock Morris Men, a side taught and organised by her in the 1920's. Unfortunately, the kit had deteriorated over the years, and had to be replaced, but the side have retained the traditional bowler hats.

The men now wear blue and gold baldricks (the Bournemouth colours), with a central crest of two fishes above water awarded to members who attain a sufficient standard of dancing. The front of the baldrick is decorated with a horse brass, traditionally connected with the surname or trade of the wearer. One hopes there are no cobblers within the ranks.

The side soon embarked on their first "tour" - an appearance at the Fareham Professional Ladies Association, followed by a trip to the Fox and Hounds at Bursledon. In 1970, complete with doublet and hose, the men took to the Pavilion Theatre boards in a production of "MERRIE ENGLAND", staged by the Bournemouth Operatic Society.

Bourne River Morris Men, in 'Merrie England' At "Merrie England"

In 1972 the side joined the Morris Ring as associate members. They currently attend many different types of functions, including Days of Dance, Festivals, visits to Brittany and Cherbourg, and their own Thursday night Pub tours during the summer season. Their musician, Helen Woodall, whose husband is an ex-squire and the current foreman, has been playing for the side for the past 16 years. She is often joined by fellow musicians Alan Giles and Ian Ferguson (on the bagpipes), and together with a drummer they perform a memorable version of the Upton-upon-Severn stick dance. At present, the side is concentrating on Oddington and Bampton, but like to vary their choice of tradition each year. Although they once struggled to find 6 men for a side, they now have a healthy membership of 25, with a regular turn-out of 15 men. They meet for practice on Thursday evenings at the Brunswick Hotel, Bournemouth, and new members are always welcome to contact the Bagman. (Of course, this was written some 25 years ago, and the side returned to practice at the Brunswick in the Autumn of 2015 - please see our Winter Practice and the Contact Us pages if you want to contact the side)

I would like to thank Bourne River Morris Men for an enjoyable evening, and particularly John & Sylvia Whelan (the Keepers of the Scrapbook) for taking time out to talk about the side.

30 YEARS ON (1967 - 1997)

A Brief History Of A Dance Team

This reflection, dating from Bourne River's 30th anniversary in 1997, is the result of a conversation between Brian Bisp (Bourne River's Bagman at the time, and one of the founders of the Wimborne Folk Festival) and John Whelan who was a founder member of the 'Bourne River Morris Men'.

The team was formed in November 1967 and throughout the following 30 years have been the unsung ambassadors of Bournemouth. The team has performed at many festivals and functions throughout England, in addition to France and Germany, promoting both themselves and the town that has been their base.

It was back in 1967 when just a handful of local young men took up the Morris - in John's words "just for a laugh". Little did they know that in later years the team would become one of the foremost exponents of Cotswold Morris in the country.

John relates that he had no interest in folk music until a young man - Neil Standring, joined the company that John was apprentice to. John got on quite well with Neil but thought it odd that Neil would disappear into a corner and start singing strange songs with his finger in his ear. Finally Neil suggested that John may like to join him at a 'sing' - as he called it. John agreed and with Neil, attended the folk sing the following week at the Stock's Inn, Furzehill, Wimborne. John found the people there very friendly, and a very sociable evening was had by all. Following this, Neil asked, as John had enjoyed the evening, if he may like to join the local folk club at the Pembroke Arms in Bournemouth (Although the pub still exists it hasn't been called the Pembroke Arms for many years - currently known as the 'Goat and Tricycle').

By this time, John was 'hooked' and consequently agreed to go with the folk club to visit the annual Sidmouth Folk Festival. There, John had his first encounter with the Morris but, what really took his group's attention was the Rapper Sword Dancing. John remembers that Fred Ford who was a member of the Pembroke Club, had a set of Long Swords, (which incidentally, John still has). He remembers that initially, they used to practice on the sand at Studland - "a muckabout" he called it. They then decided that practising on a sandy beach in winter was not such a good idea after all and subsequently found that the club room at the Pembroke was available on a Thursday evening, so, transferred the Rapper practice there. John says that you really needed the same five people to dance in the same positions each time, and it became obvious that this was not going to work as often, team members could not make it to practise.

One of the team, Robin Plowman, suggested that they might have a go at the Morris, the trouble was that they did not have a teacher. Another problem concerned the number of people turning up for practise nights. They really needed a minimum of 6 people and were often short, so, wives and girlfriends were persuaded to fill the gaps. It was not long until they realised that they did not have a clue what they were doing. Robin remembered that Peter Dashwood, based in Bournemouth and who was strongly connected with the 'English Folk Dance and Song Society', would likely give them advice. Peter agreed to come along and teach them a few dances and brought along Cathy Upton to provide the music. After a while, due to Peter's commitments, Frank Clayton took his place to instruct the team. Frank lived locally and had been with the 'Wessex Morris Men' since a boy. He had also danced with 'Whitehorse Morris', so knew the Cotswold tradition well and was very qualified to teach them. Frank was, together with Bill Rutter, one of the founders of the Sidmouth Folk Festival. His mother Anne, taught country dance for a great many years in Bournemouth and in many areas in the South. Frank became Squire of the team for their first official engagement and although he no longer dances with the team, keeps in touch and is well respected for his efforts in the infancy of the team.

It was approaching November 1967 and Frank had been the teams instructor for a little while, when they were approached by Peter Dashwood who suggested that as the EFDSS AGM was being held in Bournemouth, that they may like to go along and dance to show the society members what else had been happening in the area. They had no kit to wear, but Peter told them to turn up and he would provide all that they needed to perform. He suggested that they should think of a name for the team and it was during a lull on the AGM day's proceedings, that they crossed the road from the Metropole (where the AGM was being held), to a transport cafe. It was whilst sat down to tea, that four of the team, after considerable deliberation, decided upon the name 'Bourne River', based upon the Bourne Stream that flows through the gardens in the town.

The costume that Peter bought along was in John's words "quite appalling" and consisted of, amongst other things - silk knickerbockers!. The Baldricks (cross braids), they wore, were like children used at school for team games. John thinks he still has some stashed away at home, together with the original hat ribbons. Topping this ungainly outfit, was a set of very beautiful bowler hats, all decorated with hand made silk flowers. It transpired that this was a kit that had belonged to the Chideock Morris Men, who disbanded in the early 1920's. The team had been formed by Miss Marjorie Maine of Chideock, who was responsible for forming the team and had stored the kit for all those years. Miss Maine had been taught country dancing by Cecil Sharpe, who was without doubt, together with several others responsible for collecting much of our country dance and song heritage, in particular, the Morris.

At the Ceilidh, Peter introduced for the first time the 'Bourne River Morris Men' and they proceeded to dance the only three dances that they knew - Constant Billy, The Rose Tree and Lads A Bunchem. It was obvious to the team that they could not use the kit loaned to them by Peter, so went on to decide upon what they ultimately wear now. They adopted the Bournemouth colours of gold on a blue background.

Whilst talking to John, the question arose concerning the motif worn by the team members on the back of the present baldricks. It was often thought that these were a copy from the town's coat of arms. John said that this is not so, there are four fish involved in the Bournemouth Arms, but they are quite small. So it was decided that a better ideal was to use two fish (salmon) similar to those of Christchurch. Christchurch had a team of its own formed before Bourne River called Twynham Morris, which, sadly, through lack of numbers disbanded, with some of the members coming to Bourne River, so in particular, these fish were a fitting link. They decided to retain the original bowler hats which was a mistake as it was not long before they fell apart, having been stored so long with Miss Maine. Team members have continued to wear bowler hats decorated with red, blue and gold ribbons as a link and in respect for Miss Maine, and are in fact one of the few Morris teams in the country to use this type of headgear, (bowler hats are now very difficult to obtain).

Some six months after Bourne River's formation, the team were invited down to Chideock to celebrate Miss Maine's 90th birthday and they thanked her for providing them with their first set of bowler hats. The team danced at the Ceilidh held in her honour and has been to this Dorset village in March every year since - a total of 29 years. When Miss Maine died, the team attended her funeral as pall-bearers. John remembers each year the team went down to have tea with her in her most delightful house and he particularly remembers the toilet, (quite why he should remember this leaves most of the side baffled). In actual fact the toilet was apparently set up in quite a big room on a pedestal on its own. John relates that it was a strange feeling sat up in the air in this huge room!

John goes on to say that the team has had four female musicians during Bourne River's history, but that in the early days, they had not realised the taboo associated with female connections within the Morris Ring (the main Morris organisation in the country), until the team's acceptance as associate members into the Ring in 1972. John says that the Ladies involved have always been reliable and a credit to the team.

Bourne River Morris Men have been involved in many events locally throughout the years, notably the Mayor's Christmas Appeal in Bournemouth, for which they have collected for since 1969 and more recently the Save the Children Appeal in Wimborne, to name but two.

As was mentioned earlier, the team has represented Bournemouth on many occasions at Festivals up and down the country - Rochester, Gorton in Greater Manchester, Chippenham, the Isle of Wight and of course locally at Wimborne to name just a few. In recent years, the team has visited Colditz Castle, St Lo in France for their 50th Anniversary celebrations and many more far too numerous to mention.

What of the future, well the team is still going strong albeit getting older. They are well aware of the difficulty of attracting younger members, these days there are many modern distractions, and realise that recruitment will not be easy, but members of the present team are very keen to ensure that the tradition of the Bourne River Morris Men carries on.

Page last updated: 9th  January 2017