Author Archives: Robin

Morris Off…

It is with great regret that we announce this will be the last season East Surrey Morris Men will be dancing. 

The Side began at a time when Cecil Sharp was still alive. He took a personal hand in training some of our dancers before they began East Surrey Morris Men, who went on to be one of the founding Sides of the Morris Ring in 1934. In 1958 we held the first of what was to be a truly memorable annual event with a weekend of dancing around the Kent and Sussex borders. Over the years we have also danced as guests in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, and countless beautiful, characterful places in our ‘patch’ and nationwide. 

With decades of happy memories, dedicated dancing, momentous music, fecund hilarity, animated arguments (occasionally) and bloody-minded goodwill; not to mention oceans of distilled malt and fermented barley with a strong aroma of hops. We were hoping these riches would carry us through to celebrate 100 years as a side in 2026. Sadly, the combination of failing health, folk moving away and sad loss has meant the Side no longer has sufficient numbers to see us beyond the end of this season. 

We dance out this season with much pride and a determination to do our best to reflect to the last the traditions within the dances and the customs in our Side. We will strive to honour the memories of those we have lost. And the many friends we have made over the years: we value you. Please come and see us on what will be our Farewell Year. Fill our ears with your memories, our hearts with your warmth and our tankards with a beer. And with your help we will dance out to the sound of laughter! 

We are confident of this though, that when East Surrey Morris Men have danced their last, the dance will continue… Morris On!

Majestic Morris!

When ESMM began in 1926 King George V was on the throne. We danced through one of the shortest reigning monarchs (Edward VIII) and have been dancing through the entire reign of the longest reigning monarch in British history (Elizabeth II). The story of all these feats of feet is available on our history pages website which you are welcome to browse as you wait for the coronation to start and we welcome our new King Charles III. 

And in a way, the link between Morris and Monarchy is metaphor. If there is no meaning in the majesty, no mystery in the history, nothing symbolic or significant about the events at Westminster Cathedral… if all you see is a man having a hat put on his head at considerable public expense, then it will seem at best ridiculous and at worst infuriating. In the same way, if all you see in Morris dancing is a bunch of guys waving hankies and do not see the link to a past that goes back to Shakespeare, if you miss the spirit that celebrates the human ability to turn from productivity and celebrate the gift of life, joy and community just for the sake of it, if you miss the faith that some things will endure despite the uncertainty in certain change, then Morris will always be a bit baffling, I suppose. 

The name Charles, of course, contains a reminder of the historical attempt to remove the king from the kingdom: there’s always someone ready to fill the gap. It is hard to imagine Cromwell as a Morris dancer and equally hard not to think it would have done him – not to mention the people of Eire – the world of good if he had been. 

We have no idea how much of what passes today for Morris would be recognised by  Shakespeare: honesty and humility require us to admit it is probably not much. But the ability and necessity of dancing for joy instead of labouring for the Economy or the home has never changed. Dancing may find many expressions, but few are as simple, unadorned, non-competitive and rooted in the land as Morris. Or, in the memorable words of Richard Thompson:

It was in my father’s father’s day they knew a rolling air

And the Albion boys will show you how, they sang it everywhere

And if you come along with us you’re numbered as a friend

And the faded flower of England will rise and bloom again

Long live the King! 

Morris On!


The last picture I took before lockdown.
(Can’t think why they didn’t let us out again for two years: we all look so normal…!)

All the dates we are hoping to dance are now available through the links on this website. Hard core devotees (or wives who want to know where their men are) can follow the links to find out exactly what is going on.

If there are any questions, please contact the bagman at the email address on the website, or get in touch through our Facebook page.

It has been a long and lonely road through COVID, we have missed being out and about in this beautiful countryside. We have missed the dancing, the music and the laughs. And we have missed seeing all our friends. We hope as many as possible will come to join us and say hello again through the year. Look forward to seeing you!

And this, my friends, is Morris.

“…to help those who may be disposed to restore a vigorous and native custom to its lapsed pre-eminence.”

The above quote, from the inestimable pen of Cecil Sharp himself, surely sums up where we are right now.

There was a time last year when the phrase F-Day (Freedom Day) was bandied about like an inebriate novice wielding a stick in Balance The Straw. And the response of many was, “What the Eff…?” The truth of our emergence from this long isolation is less dramatic, more cautious and with low hopes of permanence. Nevertheless, we have been secretly and quietly practicing as soon as we could. And even have a new dance under our baldrics to unleash on an unsuspecting public.

Yes, we are pleased now to be able to announce that not only are practices resumed, but we are planning for a program of events later this year. And, indeed, we can now welcome newcomers to join us as we do our best to, “Restore a vigorous and native custom to its lapsed pre-eminence.”

We like to think Mr Sharp would be proud of us. And we’d like to think he, too, would be welcome to join us. If his upright capers were solid enough, of course.

If you think Morris is for you. And why wouldn’t you? Please get in touch and we will welcome you… well, if not with open arms at least with hand sanitiser and an LFT (we are not completely out the proverbial thicket yet!).

I can only end this joyous news with the cheer-filled words of Sydney Carter:

They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.

New Update: Coronavirus

It is with great sadness that we announce that due to the Coronavirus East Surrey Morris Men have cancelled all further practices and performances until further notice. 

In a time of global anxiety our personal sorrows may seem very small, but they are for all that, heartfelt. As ever, we pass on our unceasing gratitude to all our friends and supporters. We shall strive to hold onto all the happy memories, fond recollections and boyish aspirations that kept us endeavouring something our longevity never quite let us achieve. And we pass on our best wishes to you, to your loved ones, and even (the times require it) to those you sometimes thought you could quite well do without but wouldn’t wish any serious harm.

Peter Brunton

For those who knew Peter, here is a transcript of the eulogy given by Phil Butlin, our Bagman.

We are already missing Peter tremendously and will do throughout the season and beyond. We send our warmest and best wishes to the family for whom the gap he has left will be even larger.

We have donated £100 from the side to the charity Peter and his family supported: South East Cancer Help Centre. If anyone wants to make a personal donation here is the link

While my concertina gently weeps…

A Salute to our Concertina Player

It is with no small amount of sadness that we announce the passing of long-term side stalwart, Peter Brunton. Peter joined our side nearly twenty years ago, having danced with Greensleeves Morris Men before that. His gentle, perceptive wit and observations along with his warm conversation will be missed as much as his consistent, supportive manner, deep knowledge and skilful playing. To watch those great hands draw music from the tiny buttons on the concertina was a poetry as rich as the music, colourfully punctuated by the odd glance at the heavens if one of the buttons put itself in the wrong place under his fingers! Among his many contributions to the side, he organised our annual Carol singing which grew every year in popularity and in amounts of money raised for charity. He was a great man and a great friend who will be greatly missed in the side; and by his family, to whom we send our deepest condolences.

Peter Brunton

Troll the ancient Christmas carol…

Yes, Fellows of Festivity, it is that time of year again. East Surrey Morris Men are out trolling… no, not making vicious cyber comments or sporting inordinately long multi-coloured hairstyles. See…?

Troll: From Middle English trollen, trollin (“to walk, wander”). Cognate with Low German trullen (“to troll”).

As ever, expect lots of tradition, loss of inhibition and plenty of laughter and noise – some of which may even be tuneful.

This coming Monday, 23rd December 2019 we shall be at:

8pm The Chequers, Walton-on-the-Hill

9pm The Well House, Mugs-well

10pm The Woodman, Woodmansterne

Come and join us at any one of the stops for some ancient Christmas men singing ancient Christmas carols with the help of some ancient hop beverages. Or, indeed, come and troll to all three with us… (the trolling will not be ancient – we travel by car…!)

Beginners Workshop

In 1599 when Shakespeare was building the Globe and writing Hamlet, William Kemp danced nine days of wonder, doing Morris Dancing from London to Norwich. 

In 1899 Morris Dancers entranced Cecil Sharp and changed the direction of his life and English folk traditions forever. 

Morris Still Lives.

  • Despite the peregrinations of our national story,
  • the vicissitudes of our relationship with the rest of the continent,
  • and even the egregious periodic infestations of sesquipedalians

Oh, come on… as Dame Edna said to Mr Archer: “I always say, if you can’t laugh at yourself, Jeffrey, you’re missing the joke of the century.”

Morris Lives On. Why has it survived…? What do people see in it…? 

This is your chance to find out… at our Beginners Workshop, Monday 7th October at Christ Church Hall, Sutton 20:00. Full details about the venue on the Join Us page of the website…

But don’t come alone – bring a friend! 

Bob Davies: 1st September 1930 – 19th July 2019

If, as C.S. Lewis suggested, there is a joy too deep for laughter perhaps there is also a grief too large for tears. You might think so if you were watching the large crowd who gathered on a wet August Wednesday at the North East Surrey Crematorium as they moved back and forth between happiness to sorrow while gathering to say a final farewell to former Squire, Bagman and formidable Foreman Bob Davies. There was an irrepressible gladness at being among those family and friends that Bob had attracted around him over his long, rich life; and that mingled with the painful awareness of the great loss at the centre of the gathering. 

Among the strong turnout from East Surrey Morris Men – which included no less than eight who held or had held the title Squire – were those who had never known Bob during his dancing days, whose respect was based on his reputation both within the side and among other sides we have danced with over the years. Part of this has been communicated through the on-going commitment the side maintained to regular visits to see Bob in the years after his stroke. Also present was a strong contingent from Greensleeves Morris Men and Winchester Morris Men, a representative from Chalice Morris Men in Somerset, a former Treasurer of the Morris Ring from Ravensbourne Morris Men and a former Ring Bagman from Bedford Morris Men. Apologies were received from sides even further away.

The wicker coffin was borne into the chapel on the shoulders of six senior members of the side. If this seemed a physical demonstration of the burden of grief all carried, none bore it more so than Bob’s wife Pam who sat in the front row with their son, Ian and their daughter, Sue who was accompanied by her husband Roy and daughter Phoebe. But it would have been a poor reflection of our former Squire for the occasion to be marked only by solemnity. So it was an inspired choice by the family to play a recording of him singing The Farmer’s Boy which he had sung so frequently over the years that it will be forever associated with him. In true Bob style it caught the brief dispute with his larynx at the start over just where to pitch it, but once that was settled it was carried on without hesitation or ornamentation to completion. The assembly being provided with words, we all joined in from the second verse. A memory associated with Bob’s rendition of this traditional song was of the particular Rye weekend where, full of the local brewer’s cheer, he was observed steadying himself by holding one of the overhead low-ceiling beams. The side, which had often reminded him of the occasion by parodying the raised hand as he sang it, continued that tradition during the last verse in good-willed tribute to the rich repository of memories he has left us.  

After a moving summary of Bob’s life, which can be read here: Bob’s Story, the assembled mourners left to music played by the East Surrey Morris Men musicians. The specially chosen selection were songs Bob frequently sung over the years: The German Clockwinder, Spanish Ladies and Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire. The musicians continued to play a selection of Morris tunes as they led the crowd back outside into the rain. A symbol that the journey goes on, accompanied by song, for those of us left behind. 

And as if to confirm this, after the formal farewell the gathering transferred to the Jolly Coopers, a local pub in Epsom, where the family had arranged a fabulous spread for the assembled horde of well-wishers, mourners and supporters. And although the unrelenting rain prevented any outdoors dancing, there was music and singing a-plenty to celebrate Bob’s life. 

So perhaps we could leave the final words to the man whose ‘Immortal Memory’ is commemorated by Morris Men everywhere. Cecil Sharp, of course, passed away 6 years before Bob was even born, but to read his words it is difficult not to wonder if – in some way – he saw him coming…

The Morris Dance is essentially a manifestation of vigour rather than of grace… arising out of the life of man, as it is lived by men who hold much speculation upon the mystery of our whence and whither to be unprofitable; by men of meagre fancy, but of great kindness to the weak: by men who fight their quarrels on the spot… drink together when the fight is done, and forget it, or, if they remember, then the memory is a friendly one. It is the dance of folk who are slow to anger, but of great obstinacy—forthright of act and speech… The Morris dance, in short, is a perfect expression… of the English character.” Farewell Bob, a friend, a legend, an inspiration, and a fine English character. 

And if, as there ought to be, there is a gathering where we meet on the ledge, it would be only appropriate if Cecil himself were one of those who would welcome Bob to the Heavenly Ale. I would be the last to deprive you of any comfort you might find in the scene; but what I would caution, is that if a discussion arose between them about, say, exactly how Fieldtown Uprights should be performed… well, I wouldn’t be too quick to put money on who will be forced to concede they were wrong!