Close this search box.

“The Ancient Festival of Abram, called the Morris Dance” – a talk by Peter Bearon

Review of the talk presented by Peter Bearon on 25th March 2023 via Zoom.

Jameson Wooders of Berkshire Bedlam Morris, Hammersmith Morris, The Rumworth Morris, and Tyler’s Men writes:

Abram-morris-peter-bearon-talk-screenshot“Some years ago, in celebration of our forthcoming marriage, Emma and I had the honour of being invited by the Abram Morris Dancers to be their ‘Queen’ and ‘King’ for the day.  We had a most enjoyable time, perambulating around the streets and pubs of the township, stopping periodically to stand at the centre of the circle of dancers as they performed their figures around us.  We were thus very interested to hear of the recent Morris Federation talk ‘The Ancient Festival of Abram, called the Morris Dance’ by Peter Bearon.

“Peter has been a friend and co-member of The Rumworth Morris for many years.  In addition to Rumworth, Peter currently plays melodeon for the Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers and for the Lymm Morris, as well as either playing or dancing for The Abram Morris Dancers on their annual circuit.  Peter has published previous meticulous research on the Bacup Coconut Dance, demonstrating fairly conclusively that the dance originated as a comic interlude in a theatrical act, whilst the current talk was based on another paper originally published in the EFDSS Folk Music Journal in 2021.  Peter and his partner Alison Whitaker have also attended many continental calendar customs and festivals and their films of these regularly appear on various morris-related Facebook pages.

Miss West, Queen of Abram Morris Dance 1880
Miss West, Queen of Abram Morris Dance 1880

“Peter’s talk detailed the known history of the Abram Morris Dance.  The dance (also variously known as the ‘Abram Circle Dance’) is now very widespread but Peter stressed it is very unlike other dances in the various Lancashire traditions (identified as ‘Pennine’, ‘Lancashire Plain’ and ‘Carnival’).  The Abram dancers were accompanied by a King and Queen, two clowns, and an attendant holding the garland.  The Abram Morris Dance was published by Maud Karpeles in 1932, but had last been performed traditionally in 1901, and before that in 1880.  However, by painstaking detective work in local newspapers (only some of which had been digitized, entailing visits to archives to trawl through original sources), Peter had been able to locate an earlier reference in July 1850, which in turn suggested that the dance could be traced back at least as far as the 1790s.

“Peter also traced the history of the ‘Morris Dancers’ Ground’ adjacent to the nearby Maypole Farm and Colliery, upon which the dance was traditionally performed.  This small parcel of land was supposedly granted to the dancers on condition that the dance was performed there every 21 years.  The plot was first identified as such on an 1849 Ordnance Survey map, but Peter had found that it had previously been recorded as ‘Lodge’ in the 1845 Tithe Map.  Peter had then managed (overcoming considerable difficulties in identification due to differences between statute and local acreages on the way) to trace the land back further to around 1700, mainly in the ownership of the local Chadwick family although it had been tenanted from around the mid-eighteenth century onwards.  Peter linked the use of the land for recreation to this change from direct ownership to tenancy, although records show that bonfires had taken place there on 5th November back into the 1730s.

Abram Morris Maypole Top“The Abram Morris Dance was revived in May 1984 by Geoff Hughes.  Geoff was already an experienced morris dancer who knew the Abram dance, and he decided that it should be performed locally when he moved north from London.  The Morris Dancers’ Ground itself was in a terrible state by the 1990s (as evidenced by the video of an early performance in front of burnt-out cars!), but the dancers funded its restoration in 2003.  The Abram Morris Dance now takes place there each year on the last Saturday in June.  A token performance took place during Lockdown in 2020, so the occasion is now approaching its 40th anniversary.

“If anyone is interested in joining the team and carrying on the tradition of “The Ancient Festival of Abram, called the Morris Dance”, please see the Abram Morris Dancers website for more information.

by Jameson Wooders of Berkshire Bedlam Morris, Hammersmith Morris, The Rumworth Morris, and Tyler’s Men.

Video Recording

The video recording is now publicly available on the MF YouTube channel (1hr 18 mins):

Join the Abram Morris Dancers

Abram Morris is looking for new dancers to perform the dance several times on one day only per year.

Saturday 24th June 2023 will be the 40th annual performance since the revival, starting at the Morris Dancers’ Ground, Park Lane, Abram at 11:00.

Practices will be held on Sunday 14th May 11:00-14:00, and also Tuesday evenings 30th May, 6th, 13th and 20th June.  Contact for more details.

Also, to revive an old part of the tradition from 1850, they are considering having a second garland made of evergreens, so will need a volunteer to carry it around on the day.

About Peter Bearon

Peter Bearon has been a morris dancer since 1972.  He was a founder member of The Rumworth Morris in 1976.  He currently plays melodeon for The Rumworth Morris, Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers and The Lymm Morris.  Once a year he is to be found either playing or dancing for The Abram Morris Dancers.

Peter had a paper published in the 2021 issue of the EFDSS Folk Music Journal on “The Abram Morris Dance and the Abram Morris Dancers’ Ground”, which this talk was based on.

Don't miss out

Get The Morris Federation's News

Subscribe for news about The Morris Federation and morris related activities. Available for all.