Origins of Morris

The origins of Morris dancing are uncertain but it is believed that the dances derive from pre-Christian pagan rituals held in honour of Mother Earth to ensure prosperity, fertility and good luck to the community. The derivation of the word Morris is just as unsure. One theory is that the dances were brought back from Spain and North Africa at the time of the Crusades and that the word is a corruption of “Moorish”. Another popular theory is that the word originated from “mores”, Latin for “custom”, which would indicate that the dance was traditional in Roman times. It is clear from contemporary accounts in 15th Century England that, at that time, Morris dancing was considered an ancient and primitive activity.

By the 19th Century the dances had developed into the form we know today. A lot of the Cotswold villages had a side dancing their own subtle variations and it was Cecil Sharp who collected many of these dances around the turn of the century, before the drastic social changes of the early 1900’s could sweep away the traditions. It was the work of Cecil Sharp undoubtedly which led to the great revival of the Morris.

Traditionally, the dances are performed by all-male teams, each being identified by its own distinctive costume. Apart from the dancers and musicians, most teams are accompanied by at least one Fool or other character. The leader of the team is the Squire; the officer performing the role of secretary and treasurer is called the Bagman.

The East Surrey Morris side was formed in 1926 and was one of the six sides that founded the Morris Ring in 1934. Since then, gatherings of Morris men, known as Ring Meetings, have been held annually in all parts of the country and the Morris Ring now comprises over 300 individual clubs.

That’s an overview of the history of Morris – for a more detailed history of East Surrey Morris Men, please check out the links on the right of this page.

In recent times women have taken up Morris Dancing and there are now a number of sides around the country that consist entirely of ladies and even more teams that are “mixed” sides i.e. they include both sexes as dancers and/or musicians. However, East Surrey Morris Men have made a conscious decision to remain an all male side and maintain this unique aspect of the tradition which was recognised by the two ladies who were so influential in the establishment and survival of our side (see our “History” pages).