Origins, Musicians, Dancers, Kit,
Traditions, Venues, The Statham Dance,
Thelwall Awards, Milestones, The Guinness Tours,
Brian, Thelwall Mummers, Future
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.
Brief history of TMM by Jim Berry
Secret history of the early months by Chris Maple
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.
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.
List of dancers with TMM
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)
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.
The Thelwall dances by Andrew J White
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.
Part of the the old Lymm side and the 'new' Statham Side (i.e. Thelwall)
|(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.
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
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).
The Bagman's Awards by Steve Guest
Thelwall award winners
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.
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.
Memories of a trip to Mallow by Pete Jackson
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.
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!)
Thelwall Mummers by Gordon Gilmore
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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