The History of Leeds Morris Men


Leeds Morris Men were founded by a group of Leeds University lecturers and research students in 1950 as part of the University Folk Dance Club. For the first 20 years membership was largely restricted to members of the University. Since 1971 however, the club has operated an open membership policy. The side still has links with the University.

Leeds Morris Men First Public Performance

The club's founder was Ted Purver who arrived in Leeds in 1949 to take up a lecturing post at Leeds University. He had danced with Cambridge Morris Men and was disappointed to find that there was at the time no Morris in Leeds. He quickly found two others who were keen to take part in the Morris: Clifford Barstow and Norman Peacock. Norman writes in the Club's first Log: "During the summer of 1950 these three men discussed the plans which were to lead to the formation of the club but it was agreed that nothing could be done until the 'new year' began in October. In the meantime other men were asked and some seemed quite keen" The club was duly established with Ted as its squire (1950-51) and was ready to undertake its first public performance at the inaugural Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival which, it so happened, was held in Leeds in February 1951. Bill Barrett PipingThe second squire was Cliff Barstow, a research student at the university (1951-52) and he was succeeded by Bill Barrett who had joined the club from Oxford University Morris Men and who was squire from 1952 - 72. In the early part of this period Norman Peacock was the Captain of Sword and Bagman.Norman Peacock

Early years

In the early days most performances were at Inter Varsity Folk Festival events and EFDSS events. In 1953 the club's annual Whitsun Yorkshire Dales Tour was held for the first time, the men moving from show to show on bicycles. In spite of what some of the older men would like us to believe, this only happened once, and in subsequent years coaches or cars were used to cover the distances involved and to ensure that there was both time and energy for dancing. Later that year, the men undertook their first tour in the Leeds area, to Bramhope, Arthington and Otley, all of which were reached on bicycles. The club became a member of the Morris Ring in 1956. In the early years the club divided its time and energies equally between Cotswold Morris and Longsword and Rapper. Ted Purver and Norman Peacock were responsible for researching the Kirkby Malzeard sword dance, for collecting significant additional information about it and for reviving its regular presentation for the first time for many years. Headrow LeedsNorman also collected the Greatham dance which the club learned and presented at the National Gathering of the EFDSS in 1956. Early in its existence the club turned to Rapper Sword dancing and learned and performed figures from Walbottle, Newbiggin, EarsdonWinlaton and High Spen. In 1953, led by Cliff Barstow some Leeds men, wishing to form a non-University side, formed White Rose Morris Men, then based in Leeds but since 1971 in Huddersfield. Close co-operation continued with the new club, however, resulting in the joint hosting of the 53rd Morris Ring Meeting in Leeds in 1956. The two sides' very close links enabled them to share members and support each other's practices when numbers were short during the 1960's and early 1970's. The club is still in contact with two of its founder members, one of whom who continues to attend the Yorkshire Dales tour.

Difficult Times

Ellis Fooling in 1965A key moment in the club's history came in 1959 when Norman Peacock secured a post in Glasgow. He had been the driving force behind most of our activities and his departure proved to be the start of a lean time for Morris in Leeds. The club did organise a Ring Meeting in 1961 - an instructional attended by some 40 men on 15th April - but after that there was little activity and no new members for some years. The side was very short of members, and in some years no practices could be held. The club however continued to organise and take part in the annual Tour of the Yorkshire Dales which then took place at Whitsuntide. The Dales tour thus became an annual reunion between the few members still in Leeds and the greater number who had moved away. Through these lean years the club owed much to Bill Barrett, Norman Peacock and Ellis Tinsley who kept in touch with former members and ensured that the Dales Tour maintained its unbroken run.


Allan Jarvis Fooling

There were several attempts to re-start club activities during these years but numbers were never sufficient to sustain a programme of public performances, nor for practices to be held regularly. However a further fresh start was made in October 1970 and this proved successful. John Schwarzenbach, then club Bagman, a lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering department at the University, secured a lecture theatre in his department for practices, several undergraduates and recent graduates were persuaded to attend and Bill Barrett resumed his teaching of the men. Moss Ambrose FoolingShortly after this a successful recruitment drive amongst the enthusiasts of the folk revival greatly increased numbers. Ken Barker and Allan Jarvis of our current active side were amongst those who joined the club at this time. Bill Barrett took the opportunity in 1972 to step down from the office of Squire, which he had held continuously for 20 years, although he continued to teach and play for the men. Others also began to contribute to the teaching and although there is no rule regarding this, since then Squires have held office for one, two or, at most, three years and have usually appointed one or more foremen to undertake the teaching of the dances.Since this successful revival the club has been continuously active. Under the encouragement of David Henthorn, the club introduced regular weekly shows in the summer of 1972 and since then the side has had enough members to dance out regularly through each summer. In 1983 the club was joined by Moss Ambrose who soon revived the role of Fool, which (apart from the Dales Tour when Ellis and latterly Allan Jarvis took it on) had been in abeyance since before the lean years. Moss quickly turned this role into a key element of the club's relationship with the public.

Up to the present

Once firmly re-established, the club went on to build up close and enduring links with others, most notably Whitchurch Morris Men and Forest of Dean Morris Men. The club has occasionally experimented with Longsword and Rapper in the years since the revival (see Our Dances) but these days prefers to concentrate on Cotswold Morris with an especial fondness for the dances from Fieldtown, Bledington and Sherborne. The highlight of the club year remains the much-loved annual tour of the Yorkshire Dales, which has in fact taken place every year without a break from 1953 until the present, a reduced version being held in 2001 due to foot and mouth disease. Nowadays it is a family and camping weekend, based for many years in Burnsall, although bases in Threshfield, Linton, Appletreewick, Buckden, Kilnsey and Kettlewell have also been used in the past. The Rose from Fieldtown at the DalesThe Saturday tour has always been based mainly in Airedale and Malhamdale, but the focus of the Monday tour has shifted over the years from Wharfedale alone to include Wensleydale as well. The Monday tour always begins at 10.00 am in Kettlewell, and the first dance is always The Rose from Field Town. Nowadays this dance is performed in remembrance of our founding members, most of whom have sadly passed on.

In 1988 the club was invited to be one of the resident sides at Whitby Folk Week and to conduct the beginners' Cotswold Morris workshops. A second such invitation was received in 1991. Both these residencies were very enjoyable and both resulted in the recruitment of new members amongst whom was Brian Willimott our principal musician. Other memorable events have included participation at many Ring Meetings and a number of trips abroad. In 1989 a side visited Dortmund as part of a cultural exchange between the cities. The present decade has seen a number of trips to Bruges, Lille etc.. In 1999 we enjoyed a two day tour of the Cotswolds, taking in Sherborne, Bledington, Leafield and Adderbury amongst others. This was repeated (less successfully because of flooding) in June 2007. In 2000 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the club. The event was marked by performing 50 dances on the Horsforth Mile (see 50th Anniversary Celebration). The 50th anniversary of the first public performance occurred on February 17th 2001, and to mark it we danced outside the University. Young Members dancing at the Oakworth Day of Dance 20122002 saw the 50th Dales Tour, marked by champagne at the Kettlewell show. 2010 saw our "diamond jubilee" and to mark it the club produced a commemorative booklet. At the present time (2013) the club is flourishing with more than 20 active members ranging in age from pre-teen to 75. The club frequently has two sides up at practices.

In 2012 Leeds Morris Men held their Diamond Jubilee Tour. With 5 coaches transporting over 200 morris dancers across the Yorkshire Dales, it was a massive undertaking. Unfortunately Norman could not be here for this year, which was one of the few years over the past 60 that he couldn't make it. This was a great time to get as many members together as possible, both active and country members, and to take a mass team photo.