A Short History of Thelwall Morris Men

Contents:
Origins, Musicians, Dancers, Kit,
Traditions, Venues, The Statham Dance,
Thelwall Awards, Milestones, The Guinness Tours,
Brian, Thelwall Mummers, Future

Morris Man

Origins

The side originated within the folk club based at the Pickering Arms in Thelwall, just outside Warrington and not a million miles from, although not directly underneath, the notorious M6 Thelwall Viaduct. In 1973 a group of regulars, enthused by seeing a team at a folk festival at Keele University, placed a small advertisement in a folk review magazine for a foreman. Chris Maple, then newly arrived in the northwest, had danced with Blackmoor MM and helped found Chelmsford MM and applied for the 'job' and became our first Foreman and Squire. Although much has changed since, traditions have come and gone from the repertoire and subsequent Foremen have imposed their own ideas, our Bampton still bears the distinctive Maple style still shared, I suspect, with only Blackmoor.
See also:
Brief history of TMM by Jim Berry
Secret history of the early months by Chris Maple

Musicians

Music proved a problem. Although the father of the club organiser played accordion, his jolly busking style wasn't terribly appropriate for the Morris. The side was saved when the sickeningly talented Steve Burgess appeared, with the intention of learning to dance. Some chance! Steve played for us for many years, with some breaks due to working away. Thelwall have been fortunate in their musicians. In addition to Steve, Ian 'Smiler' Goodier, Mick 'Amos' Price, Derek Bradburne and, currently, Derek "Del" Britch have also played excellently for Thelwall on a regular basis, with a true 'feel' for the Morris.

Dancers

The dancers were originally all members of the folk club and lived over a wide area. In fact, we have never had more that one member at a time who actually lived in Thelwall. Chris Maple lived on the Wirrall and several men lived in and around Manchester. From time to time territorial friction resulted when pubs local to one of the 'outliers' was danced, though this is rarely true these days as we often share a mid-week pub slot with neighbouring sides, such as Earl of Stamford, Bollin, Mersey, Adlington, Kinnerton and Ringheye.

See also:
List of dancers with TMM

Kit

The kit, black breeches and shoes, white socks and shirts with baldricks of pale blue and claret (not, in spite of what one of our men might say, chosen in deference to Aston Villa nor West Ham or Burnley) with a badge which includes the wall of thells, or stakes, from which Thelwall, England's smallest city*, derived its name in Anglo-Saxon times. (Explanations based upon the 'T' on the badge representing the Thelwall Viaduct and the blue representing the River Mersey etc. are reserved for particularly gullible members of the public and other teams!)

* Currently carved on the gable of the Pickering Arms is the following: ' In the year 923 King Edward the Elder founded a cyty here and he called it Thelwall'. (See image)

Dance Traditions

Thelwall have always danced a variety of traditions - although it has to be admitted that it took a year or two before we really appreciated that there were differences! Initially the staples were Bampton, Adderbury, Headington and Bledington with Jockey and Hinton Laudnum Bunches thrown in for good measure. Almost from their invention the Moulton dances have been danced by Thelwall, and still are. (Indeed, at the present time we feel as if we are one of the guardians of the Moulton tradition.)

Over the years other traditions have being assimilated, Lichfield, Fieldtown, Oddington and Bidford in particular and the resulting large repertoire (50+ dances) has had to be trimmed by dropping old favourites. Near mutiny resulted when Bampton was dropped by one particular foreman who still bears the scars.
See also:
The Thelwall dances by Andrew J White

Venues

Our association with the Pickering Arms ended with a change of landlord and a complete refurbishment. (for which read 'removal of atmosphere'.) The original shed in which Thelwall practiced has been demolished and the area paved. It has to be said that it is now a much more satisfactory space to dance. After a sojourn at the Bull's Head in Warrington the side returned to Thelwall to practice at the Thelwall and Grappenhall British Legion. After several years here the team were ousted from this venue by the Legion's desire to have line dancing and after an appeal in the Warrington Guardian the side moved to Toucher's Bowling Club in Lovely Lane who very kindly offered the room at no charge.
Following a period at the Star Inn at Statham, the side finally managed to return to Thelwall and now has an established base in the Parish Hall.

The Statham Dance

Part of the the old Lymm side and the 'new' Statham Side (i.e. Thelwall)

Old LymmRevived Team
(Left to Right): Rob Pracy, Geoff Bibby, Gordon Gilmore, Steve Guest Derek Bradburne, Jim Berry, Peter (Jasper) Robinson, Phil Pimentil, Andrew White

In the late seventies a past Foreman and Squire, Geoff Bibby, completed some work left unfinished by Maud Karpeles when she 'collected' (using the word loosely) part of the Lymm Dance (see Geoff Bibby's diaries up to 1980). Geoff managed to contact most of the last dancers, who were young boys in 1922, and reconstructed a large part of the dance. This, which we now regard as the Statham Dance, reflecting its migration from Lymm, (Statham lies between Thelwall and Lymm) is now part of the Thelwall repertoire. As current custodians, we have extended it, adding an extra figure and creating a processional version.

Some years ago (so long ago that it's now traditional) Rob Pracy invented the Walking Tour of Thelwall and Statham. On this,the August Bank Holiday, we dance solely for the people of Thelwall (and Statham), we don't collect, we dance for the hell of it. It was on such a Walking Tour in 1980 that the Statham Dance was first danced out in Statham after a break of over half a century. The feeling when an old lady passing by said 'I remember seeing that dance when I was a girl.' can't be described. The final walking tour took place on 30th August 2004.

Thelwall Awards

Over the years a number of awards have been instituted to recognise achievements within the side. Two of these, The Dull Bugger and The Silver Shoes are fine ceramic pieces scuplted by Geoff Bibby.

The Bagman's Medal
In actual fact this is Ernie Whalley's Father-in-Law's WW1 campaign medal. It is awarded for activities significantly enhancing Thelwall Morris in some way.
The Dull Bugger
An award presented for singular idiocy during the preceding year.
The Silver Shoes
Otherwise known as the Two Left Feet Award - two rather fine ceramic left shoes painted (or is it glazed) silver awarded for impressive cock-ups.
The Slippery Ferret
A framed picture of a downtrodden peasant with a large basket on his back. The legend says 'And when you've done that you can shampoo the ferret!' Awarded for the best/most implausible/ridiculous excuse for not turning up for dancing out. (The reference to the ferret is an in-joke.)
The Slippery Gullet
A hospital bed pan awarded to the most impressive display of throwing up
The Thelwall Morris Men's Morris Man Award
A fine hand carved leather "picture" of a Thelwall Morris Man (see 2000 AGM). 
At the AGM, members present vote for their Thelwall Morris Man of the Year. First awarded in 2001, the first recipient was Kevin Farrell

One-off awards have been made in the past to John Groper (The Mounted Swede - for promoting International relationships) and to one particular foreman who consistently said 'Right' when he meant 'Left' (The Golden Gob).
See also:
The Bagman's Awards by Steve Guest
Thelwall award winners

Milestones

Thelwall's maiden outing was at the Pickering Arms in August 1974 before a sceptical audience of wives and girlfriends. They attended their first Ring Meeting in 1976 (Thaxted) and took their staff at the Ledbury Ring Meeting in 1980 singing themselves in with an impressive rendition of Tarporley Hunt - a local song, now almost the Thelwall anthem.

They regularly attend Ring Meetings and Days of Dance organised by other sides, not to mention the local events, Thelwall Rose Queen, Bradshaw Fun Day, and the like, where they are regarded as fixtures.

In 1978 Thelwall organized their first Day of Dance. This became an annual event until the late '80s when enthusiasm waned. 1995 saw a new Thelwall initiative - an International Festival of Dance. Although this ended up being rather more limited than we had hoped - neither the Majorcan nor ourselves could scratch up enough funding to pay for their air fair. Nevertheless, the Ballyphehane Step Dancers, Moulton MM, Mersey MM and ourselves had a splendid weekend (with many of the young ladies from Ballyphehane going home with dreams of fertility sparked by the young lads from Moulton).

The Day of Dance has now, under the guidance of our current Squire, Henry Addison, once again become a regular annual event with sides joining us in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The Guinness Tours

International excursions have been limited to Ireland, merely by opportunity (Hint to foreign readers!) but all four trips have met with approval by Thelwall and the host Irish. At the Cobh International Dance Festival we are regarded as the visitors who cause the least problems, solve the most and shift the most Guiness!

The Guinness Tour was resurrected with the team visiting Galway in July 2013 to coincide with their Arts Festival. 9 intrepid team members (Henry, David, Andrew, Geoff, Steve, Kevin, Alex, Rick and Jasper as our musician) made the arduous trip by road, sea and air (supported by sponsorship from Thelwall & Grappenhall and Lymm Parish Councils). 
Our Morris dancing was received to great acclaim (something of a novelty to the Irish). We also went down well in the Barr an Chaladh pub where we danced alongside the Sean Nos dancers who accepted an invite to our Day of Dance.
See also:
Memories of a trip to Mallow by Pete Jackson

Fools and Animals

Somewhere along the line we picked up a stray hobby - Brian the Lion. Brian hasn't made many appearances of late. 
For many years Alan Pool took the occasional role of donning the lion’s outfit and was very popular with 50% of the children of Warrington (the other 50% running away in terror). Following Alan's retirement, Brian was stored in Kevin Farrell’s loft and then mysteriously disappeared following a house move – perhaps a suitable epitaph as he was looking decidedly lacklustre and mildewed (Brian, not Kevin)
One, possibly last appearance, was made in the Mumming Play one year that the dragon could not be found, by replacing the line ‘Soon I’ll have you dragon on the ground’ with ‘Soon I’ll have you lion on the ground’.) However, after a long absence a NEW Brian has emerged and made his first, regal appearance at the Croft Carnival 2013..

In 1978 Thelwall appointed (if that is the correct term) Pete Jackson as Fool. His term was short lived and he relinquished position using emigration to Australia as excuse. Fooling was taken over by Gordon Gilmore in 1981. Following Gordon’s retirement in 1996, fooling was ably taken over by Kevin Farrel who continues to this day.

Thelwall Mummers

Somewhere in the 20-odd years Ernie Whalley, then the bagman, was asked by the landlord of the Bells of Peover if he knew where he could find someone to do a Mummers Play at Christmas. Conveniently forgetting all about the Antrobus men, Ernie volunteered the services of Thelwall and the Ancient Cyty of Thelwall Mummers were born.

Every year since they have performed the Traditional Carrington Moss Mummers Play during the two weeks before Christmas. (To be fair to avid collectors of Mummers Plays - Ernie wrote ours - using traditional models of course!)
See also:
Thelwall Mummers by Gordon Gilmore

Future

Like all Morris teams Thelwall is aging. The folk revival wheel, which originally spun off Thelwall, has turned and new, especially young dancers are few and far between. We feel it is important to keep the flag flying (perhaps keep the bells jingling would be more appropriate), keep the side dancing and wait for the wheel to turn.

Gordon Gilmore (Fool - so, whether you believe all this is up to you!)

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© Thelwall Morris Men
Authors: Gordon Gilmore and Andrew White
Thelwall Morris Men's Web pages are managed by Andrew White
Last updated 08 August 2013