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“Morris Dancing and Pageants in Britain 1885-2022″ a new MF digital publication by David Milner

We have a new online publication for you – Morris Dancing and Pageants in Britain 1885-2022 by David Milner, of Frome Valley Morris and Downes-on-Tour Morris, published in May 2023.

To whet your appetite, here is the introduction:

thumbnail of MorrisDancingAndPageantsinBritain1885-2022DavidMilner2023“Pageants are as much a part of the English scene as a May morning, the Pytchley [Hunt] in full cry, the flag of St George on a village church, the hawthorn blossom in a Hertfordshire garden. They stir the most saturnine among us, because they are apt to hold the drabness of the present up to the picked moments of the past – moments that have stirred the blood and quickened the senses.”
Evening Post September 1946.

“The central idea of Mr Parker’s production was that a pageant is essentially a local affair, presenting the historic life of that locality, as far as possible amidst its own surroundings. The players are local residents who give their services voluntarily and, when they can, make their own uniforms and dresses. Pageants, as Mr Parker viewed them, were to be held in the open air, without artificial scenery or any of the ordinary accompaniments of a stage. They differed from older displays like the Lord Mayor’s procession in that, in place of being in dumb show, they were presented more ambitiously with music, dialogue and dramatic movement.” F A Mackenzie: Wonderful Britain: Its Highways, Byways and Historic Places ed. J A Hammerton 1930

This article deals with the pageants that occurred in Britain from the late 19th century and into the 21st. (For the Republic of Ireland see Appendix E). These pageants were largely focused on national historical themes and events or those related to the town where they took place. They contained theatrical re-enactments of a selection of episodes from local and national history, processions, plays, tableaux, songs, dancing, mock-fighting, and accompanying events. Their purposes included education, entertainment, and/or an endorsement of civic or national pride. They involved months of planning, sometimes hundreds or thousands of performers, building of grandstands and often huge audiences plus associated events such as dinners, church services, dances, shows, or exhibitions.

The locations were nearly always outdoors, including parks, fields, old castles, abbeys, and other open spaces. They were organised by planning committees – many with a paid pageant master who provided the outline ideas and often the scripts – and the oversight of the organisation and volunteers who made the shows happen. They sometimes purported to refer to earlier activities, specifically the local medieval civic processions and mystery/miracle plays.

Morris dancing was included in many of them, though it is not now certain what form this dancing took. This article considers the pageants that featured morris dancing and begins to explore the role it played in perceptions of British life, as well as analysing its appearances in pageants. It also draws conclusions relating to the perception and performance of morris dancing in the 21st century.

This article draws heavily on the Kings College London project: The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain 1905–2016. The open access website contains a database of pageants with descriptions of each episode, lists of organisers, attendance, costs and participants, and much else. There are links to sources of evidence, articles, and publications dealing with pageants and their antecedents.


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