A brief history of Thelwall Morris Men

Jim Berry

Thelwall Morris Men were formed in October 1973, the nucleus of the side being a group of regulars from the Thelwall Folk Club at the Pickering Arms, which was run by Maggie and Rod Goodall.

All of these men were absolute beginners. Some had seen morris dancing at Keele University Folk Festival earlier in the year and fancied trying it. The only trouble was how to get started?

The answer proved to be a small ad in Folk Review magazine, asking for someone to come and teach the dance. Around this time, Chris Maple, who became the side’s first squire and foreman had arrived in the North West to take up a job in Liverpool. Chris proved well equal to the task of getting his raw recruits off on the right foot (or in our case, the left).

The side’s first musician was Fred Horrobin (Maggie’s dad) who busked on accordion for a couple of weeks until someone unearthed the exceptionally talented Steve Burgess from downtown Stockton Heath. Under Chris’s tuition, the side learned an assortment of Cotswold dances, mainly Bampton and Adderbury to begin with. The first public performance took place, without baldricks and badges, at the Pickering Arms in August 1974 before a sceptical audience of wives and girlfriends and members of the folk club.

By 1975 the side had acquired it’s kit. Black breeches and shoes, white shirt and socks, with baldricks of pale blue and claret surmounted by a distinctive badge representing the wall of “Thells” or stakes from which Thelwall, England’s smallest city, derived its name in Anglo-Saxon times.

The side’s first invitation to a day of dance was from Southport Swords in May 1975, and the inexperienced side made a favourable impression. The following year they attended their first Ring Meeting at Thaxted and have attended a Ring Meeting almost every year since then.

In 1977, the side visited Ireland for the Cobh festival, quickly followed, in 1979, by an invitation to Mallow, Ireland. The following year (1980) the side made their second visit to Cobh and, in 1993, Thelwall made their fourth trip to Ireland. Not many sides have danced inside the keep of Blarney Castle.

Thelwall took their staff at the Ledbury Ring Meeting in 1980, singing their way in with a rousing, yet disciplined version of Tarporley Hunt, a Cheshire song unearthed by Geoff Bibby. The song has become a sort of unofficial Thelwall anthem. The side’s hobby is a lion (Brian), constructed by Geoff Bibby, and taken from the Pickering coat of arms.

The repertoire of dances has remained broadly Cotswold, though during Rob Pracy’s period as foreman, the side developed a strong feeling for the Lichfield tradition which it retains to this day.
In addition, through the painstaking research of Geoff Bibby, the side dances the Statham dance (Statham is the next village to Thelwall). This dance was last performed by a young side in the 1920’s.

An unusual aspect of the Thelwall side is that they were recruited from a very wide area, coming from as far away as the Manchester suburbs, the Wirral, one member, Jeremy, travelled from Sevenoaks, Kent on a regular basis, while Jasper often found time to travel from Brussels to Ring Meetings. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the side’s continuity - if you travel those sort of distances you have to be keen.

Over the last 25 years, Thelwall have had several bases. The first being the Pickering Arms, where we started for just over three years before moving to the Bull’s Head in Warrington, where we stayed for about 15 years. Subsequent practice venues included the British Legion in Thelwall, Toucher’s Bowling Club in Warrington, a marquee at the back of the Star in Statham and upstairs at the Ring O’ Bells in Warrington. Fortunately the side now has an established base back in Thelwall in the Parish Hall..

These days, however, most of the side live in the Warrington area, and only one man lives in Thelwall. Unfortunately only one members of the original dancers, Geoff Bibby is still with the side at the present time. 
Geoff has held the positions of Squire and Foreman on several occasions over the years.

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Last updated 08 August 2013