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“Carnivals, Contests and Coronations” – a talk by Richard Nelson

Review of the talk presented by Richard Nelson on 25th February 2023 via Zoom.

Ruth Bibby of Rivington Morris (Bolton, Greater Manchester), Lancashire Wallopers, and Camden Clog (London), writes:

Bollington Sale Carnival 1926
Bollington Sale Carnival 1926

“I very much enjoyed Richard Nelson’s online talk about his research on Morris Dancing in Trafford. His research helps us to understand the origins of Morris in Trafford, to consider the context of Morris in this area in the 1920s and 1930s and to look at the different ways that Morris developed in Altrincham and Stretford, two different areas of Trafford. The talk was illustrated by plenty of photographs and other images of Morris dancers.

“Richard started by looking at the roots of Morris dancing in the area and the what he’s found out about dancing and events before the First World War. What I found particularly interesting about this was that, while there is evidence of pre-war dancing in areas around Trafford, there is scant evidence for pre-20th Century dancing in Trafford itself and a lack of carnivals in Trafford pre-war, though Trafford did have Rose Queens, May Queens, galas, etc. which raised money for local causes. Richard then went on to talk about post-First World War dancing and carnivals in Trafford and how these were influenced by large carnivals such as those in Knutsford and Crewe.

Ashfield Black and White Pony dancers
Ashfield Black and White Pony dancers

“We then heard about the roles of Morris in these carnivals, the different dance prizes on offer, the different types of dancing that were performed (much of it influenced by Music Hall entertainments – the existence in carnivals of ‘pony dancing’, influenced by Tiller’s ‘Pony Ballet’, was new to me) and how the competitions influenced the development of Morris dancing. We learned that competitions were most common in Cheshire and Staffordshire, and also existed in Derbyshire, Lancashire and coastal towns in North Wales. Footage of the Sale and Ashton carnival procession in 1927 gave us an idea of how numerous and varied the carnival entertainments were.

“Richard then compared the troupes in Stretford, Lancashire to the troupes in Altrincham, Cheshire, talked about the specific features of the various teams (e.g. styles of dancing, ages and genders of dancers, attire, communities/industries that the dancers came from, origins of the dances) and gave us information about a few of the individuals who taught Morris dancing to some of the troupes in the area.

Gorse Hill Morris Dancers probably 1913
Gorse Hill Morris Dancers probably 1913

“I found it particularly interesting to hear that there were recognisable Cheshire and Pennine styles of Morris dancing and that Richard’s research suggests a gradual transition from the 1920s onwards from these styles to the carnival style that we recognise today, influenced by the Morris competitions. We were treated to two videos of versions of the Mobberley dance, one of Mobberley Morris Dancers in 2016 and one of Gorse Hill Morris Dancers in 1935, showing striking similarity. It was also interesting to learn that at one time, all of the teams in Altrincham danced their own version of the Mobberley dance, which was itself derived from Knutsford.

“I came away from the talk feeling that I had learned a lot about the specifics of Morris development in Trafford and also about the development of Morris in the wider area. I recommend Richard’s book Carnivals, Contests and Coronations: A Social History of Morris Dancing in Trafford before the Second World War which features much more information than there was time for in this talk. Richard ended by saying that there is still much that can be researched and recorded about Morris dancing in the North West in the second half of the 20th Century and that he intends to continue his research about Morris in Trafford. I thoroughly look forward to any future publications from him!

by Ruth Bibby of Rivington Morris in Greater Manchester, Lancashire Wallopers, and Camden Clog in London

Video Recording

The video recording is now publicly available on the MF YouTube channel (note that some photos and videos had to be removed because of copyright restrictions):

Carnivals Contests and Coronations book coverBuy the Book

If the review and the talk has whetted your appetite, you can purchase a copy of his book at ‘Carnivals, Contests and Coronations: A Social History of Morris Dancing in Trafford before the Second World War’ or by visiting Richard’s website where blog posts will keep you up to date with any additional research.

About Richard Nelson

Although raised in the South, Richard has lived in Altrincham, Cheshire for the past thirty-five years. He has been interested in folk music since a teenager and for many years has played in the trio Nelson Peach in folk clubs around the North Cheshire area and further afield at the occasional festival, as well as for ceilidhs. He was seduced from that world into morris dancing in the current century and dances Cotswold with Thelwall Morris, Border with Bollin Morris, and is one of a small band who continue the tradition of performing the unique Lymm Morris dance. He volunteers as a researcher at Trafford Local Studies where he has contributed to a book and to blogs on local history topics.

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