21st Century

The first decade

The new millennium started well for East Surrey. Plans for the 2001 Ring Meeting that we were to host (to celebrate ESMM’s 75th anniversary) were well under way, thanks primarily to the efforts of Alan Vaughan. We also managed to maintain our usual full programme during the year. In addition to all our normal local tours, we had a grand evening with Chantonbury Ring MM (for extracts of pub session music click here………..or here), we performed at Crawley Folk Festival, had a great day’s tour on Ron’s narrow boat and spent two excellent weekends with Greensleeves MM and Bedford MM. A new departure for ESMM saw us dancing at the City of London Lord Mayor’s Show in November. The weather was atrocious (cold and wet) but, hardy souls that we are, we resolved to “do it again” in 2001. (In the event – we didn’t!!) As a bonus in 2000, we gained four new members.

We performed another full dancing programme in 2001 joining up during the summer for tours with Hammersmith MM, Winchester MM and Chanctonbury Ring MM. A potentially disastrous Youngs Dray Tour – torrential rain for much of the time – was saved by Ray Fuller’s forward thinking in bringing with him a huge tarpaulin which was rigged up as a temporary roof over the Dray. The poor horse and driver got soaked to the bone!

In the middle of 2006, Youngs & Co brewing operations were merged with Charles Wells and the brewing operation at Ram Brewery in Wandsworth was closed and moved to Bedford. In June of 2006 ESMM were lucky enough to be able to be transported on our final “dray tour” from the brewery. A sad occasion really as the historic Victorian stables have since been demolished along with all the other old brewing paraphernalia. Many thanks to John Young, the Chairman of Youngs & Co. (who died in early 2006), for so graciously allowing us the use of their facilities.

2001 Ring Meeting

The Squire for this meeting was Derek Stewart  and the meeting bagman was Alan Vaughan.

The weekend was intermittently wet and, unfortunately, the massed display in Reigate Priory Park had to be somewhat shortened because of a downpour. The highlight of the weekend (if that is the correct description), however, was the fire alarm being set off in the small hours of an extremely wet Sunday morning. The majority of the men therefore had very little sleep that night which resulted in the Sunday’s activities being somewhat muted – or was it the hangovers? ESMM danced during the Church service and luckily the rain held off for our dancing outside the Church. Many thanks are due to Epsom College who provided the accommodation and food for the weekend. The venue was absolutely ideal and the setting magnificent.

New Membership

It is not unusual in Morris circles for existing Morris dancers to introduce their sons to the art. It is however, quite unusual for sons to introduce their dads, but this is exactly what Lee Evans did!! Lee joined us in 2000 and brought his mum and dad, Graham, out to watch us on our 2001 tours. With a bit of cajoling from Lee and even more from the rest of the side, Graham joined us for our 2001/02 practice season and immediately became immersed in our mystical pursuits!

Another, more “unusual”, recruit in 2000 was our first Anglo-Indian member, Clayton Francis, whose long term love of English folk music drew him to ESMM. Clayton has been a very active member of the side and, since 2007, has been the side’s Bagman, taking over from Bob Davies. On one of our Chipperfield weekend tours, Clayton was “spotted” by a journalist who interviewed him on behalf of “The Gulf Times”. The resultant article can be seen here.

Other men to join us in these years included a policeman (Nick Cozens) and two Andy’s, specifically Meldrum and Brown. Andy M. joined from one of our advertising campaigns, Andy B. joined from his contact with Dave Stewart, both of whom were ex-members of Cup Hill MM – all very valuable dancers and new assets of the side.

Other changes

As one door opens, however, another closes. It was Ron Nunn who once noted that the problem with getting older was that it meant the more funerals one had to attend. So it was that we said goodbye to:

  • Ira Butler (2009) A lovely chap, an effortless dancer, teacher and mentor to many novice Morris men. He was the side’s main archivist/historian and wrote most of this history of the side (up to 1986). He was also Kenneth Constable’s interviewer – this is the link to the notes Ira made of that interview.
  • Tony Cottle (2010) A beautiful dancer who joined ESMM from Wandle Valley boys’ team in the early 1960s. He left us temporarily when he moved to Essex in the early ’70s, but he returned in the early 1980s and, in spite of his ill-health, he continued to dance with the side whenever he could. He was a full supporter of the side right up to his premature death.
  • Martin Garvey (2011)Former Bagman of ESMM, he was primarily responsible for ESMM’s increasingly outward-looking approach to Morris Ring activities. With Martin as Bagman, ESMM started attending more Ring meetings and, although only an active member of the side until 1998, during his tenure ESMM started accepting many more dance invitations from other teams.
  • Alf Bloxsome (2012) Former ESMM Squire and much loved member of the team. Although perhaps not the most athletic dancer in the side, he had an effortless silky dancing style and could be relied upon to perform any dance in the repertoire to perfection. Alf was also a great raconteur and wit which would ensure that there was never a dull moment on our dance tours or AGMs. ESMM attended Alf’s funeral in numbers, and the musicians, (Dave Shires, Dick Larque and Bob Hobley) played a medley of dance tunes at the end of the service.

Other, less final, losses in this decade included Derek Stewart (ex Squire) whose  job took him to Kuala Lumpur in 2004 and subsequently to Houston, Texas – a major depletion to the strength of ESMM. At the end of the decade, we also lost Alan Vaughan and Lee Evans who moved to Eastbourne and Bournemouth respectively, but continue to support ESMM on our Rye weekend tours.

Rye weekend Golden anniversary

2008, ESMM hosted our 50th tour of Kent and Sussex, stoically organised by Graham Evans. Greensleeves MM joined us, as usual, and we also had the company of [???name of other guest side???.]

In the days that the Rye weekend was organised by Dan Rothenberg and Bob Davies, everything went so smoothly that it seemed almost to run itself (it didn’t, of course!). Since those times however, the task has been undertaken by numerous different men and it has been far from straightforward. Problems have included changes to the landlords at The Cock Inn in Peasmarsh, enforced changes to our camping arrangements and the catering arrangements for the Sunday and Monday lunches, changes to our dancing sites – often caused by pub closures, lack of audiences or “policy” changes at some of the stops, e.g. Rye Church and Bodiam Castle, organising coaches and Saturday evening Barn Dances etc. The fact that the weekends still run so seamlessly makes the work of the more recent organisers (including Derek Stewart, Clayton Francis, Graham Evans and Andy Meldrum) even more laudable. The side are very grateful for their efforts.

The second decade

Bob Davies

In January 2011 Bob Davies suffered a stroke which hospitalised him for many months and has subsequently left him wheelchair-bound. Bob is the longest serving continuous member of ESMM, having joined the side in 1950. He has acted as an officer (Squire, Bagman and/or Foreman) for 43 of those years – a remarkable achievement! Bob was a great ambassador for ESMM and the Morris in general. His range of songs and his delivery thereof were unequalled.

Bob Davies, "at rest", on a Winchester walking tour with Bob Hobley on his right and Dick Larque on his left.

In particular, Bob’s rendition of “A Farmer’s Boy” – and East Surrey’s affectionate and spontaneous response to the chorus – has become legendary and has been adopted by a lot of other Morris sides, On many coach tours, Bob’s impromptu singing of “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem” has royally entertained his (captive) fellow passengers during their journey. His straight-faced rendition of “Lady Jane” had listeners crying with laughter, but Bob made sure, in advance, that there were no ladies in the audience for this one!

Bob’s personality and strength of character gave ESMM its direction during the 1950s and 1960s. Importantly, he also moulded much of the side’s ethos during its expansion through to the 1980s. Also, and not incidentally, Bob was an exceptionally accomplished and knowledgeable dancer within the side: this came into very good use when he became Foreman (teacher) of the side in 1976.

In his time as Foreman, Bob had the appropriate word for every situation. His vision of the way that a dance should be performed was unshakeable. Anyone conforming to a different vision was quickly disabused of this, (sometimes with “expletives not deleted”) and told, in no uncertain terms, what was required – all part of Bob’s rich, respected and much-loved tapestry.

Bob had many (private, but very funny) tales to recount of his time, as a post-war conscript, in the Navy. He also had numerous tales to tell of his early days with ESMM and his struggles to “modernise” its approach to its presentation of the dance (see “Post War” history).

Bob attended most ARMs (“Annual Reps Meetings”) up to 2009 and twice stood, unsuccessfully, for Squire of the Ring. He would probably have made an extremely good Ring Squire, promoting the Ring’s aims and activities but, in the event, he was probably happier to be less in the limelight and politics of the organisation at that time.

Comings and Goings

The first part of the second decade has proved to be unproductive for new recruits. We have had a number of new men come along to practice evenings, but – as is so often the case – none have stuck to it! During the 2010/11 practice season however, we had 6 or 7 of the younger men from the local church attend a particular practice evening en-masse. Only one of them came back to further practices though, and after 6 weeks, even he had “called it a day”.

In recent years we have advertised specific “recruitment” events and “Give it a Go” evenings to encourage novices to try “The Morris”. Unfortunately, these have met with less than complete success although, in 2011, the musician with our local team of clog dancers (Ian “Brick” Brock) joined us as a dancer/musician, so I suppose that one out of a hundred or so should be welcomed!!

Dancing in this decade

Despite dwindling numbers, we have continued to dance a full summer programme each year.

These programmes have included attending the Castleford MM Ring Meeting in Yorkshire (2010), the Thaxted Ring Meeting (2011) to celebrate Thaxted MM’s centenary year, and evenings of dance with other more “local” sides. These included Chanctonbury Ring MM (in 2010 and 2013), Westminster MM (2010 and 2012) – with Westminster on the 2010 evening tour were our old friends the Adelaide MM from Australia – giving this memorable evening an international flavour! We’ve also met up with Spring Grove MM, Winchester MM, Greensleeves MM, Long Man MM and L’Aubade Du Quercy (a folk dance group from France) for joint tours.

We have also continued to accept numerous invitations to give dancing displays at local private and public events

The decade continues and will hopefully provide us with as full and enjoyable dancing opportunities.