Kenneth Briggs Constable

Obituary as it appeared in the English Dance and Song magazine

Kenneth Briggs Constable who died on 18th June 1979 was one of the pioneer folk dancers who started with Cecil sharp himself. As a schoolboy at Winchester, Kenneth was one of a team of six athletes of the Sixth Book, to whom Sharp taught the figures of the Sword dance he had recently noted at Kirby Malzeard in Yorkshire. He was a personal friend of the then headmaster, Montague Rendall who was eager for the boys to learn dancing. The experiment was a success as far as Kenneth was concerned, for he continued to dance when he moved on to New College Oxford. Here he was quickly absorbed into the University Group, became a founder member of the O.U.M.M. and a friend of William Kimber who had earlier helped Sharp to record the Headington Morris. He was such a fine all-rounder that he was often called upon to join the travelling H.Q. team used by Sharp to illustrate his public lectures and to take part in the performances regularly given at the various vacation courses.

It was at one of these that Kenneth met Katherine Jacques, the girl who was to become his wife, and at the Cambridge Summer School of 1925 they conducted a whirlwind courtship that held all our attention. Kate was already an accomplished ballet dancer and for the rest of their lives they continued to exert a telling influence in each respective sphere. For some years after Sharp’s death, I continued his policy of using one elite team from H.Q. calling on both Ken and Kate whenever I could. But it was not only H.Q. he supported, for he adopted both the East Surrey branch with its leader Grace Meikle and identified himself with the East Surrey Morris Men, one of the founder clubs of the Morris Ring.

In most matters he shunned the limelight but for many years he selflessly served the Society as its Treasurer and took the stand at the Annual Meeting to present the accounts. This yearly task was made more than palatable by a speech so richly laced with quips and anecdotes that at the end, any anxieties the members may have had about the future of the Society’s finances were cheerfully diverted. We all looked forward to Kenneth’s annual speech, especially Kate whose delight in her husband’s performance was manifest to all.

After her death Kenneth’s own sparkle waned, for they had grown ever closer over the years. We shall remember both lives with gratitude. [Douglas Kennedy]

Grace Meikle

Obituary as it appeared in the English Dance and Song Magazine.

The death on 16th January 1982, of Grace Duff Meikle closed a chapter in the story of 20th century folk dance, song and music revival and presentation. Fired with enthusiasm by attending classes led by Cecil Sharp, Grace became a member of the EFDSS and came to East Surrey to found the District and to arouse interest and enthusiasm. Centred in Croydon, she founded clubs, ran classes and festivals, both for adults and children.

In the fifties she arranged the division of the District into the present day East Surrey and Kingston/Thames Valley Districts. On her retirement in 1966 she became President of the two Districts, and for the rest of her life kept her interest in their activities, attending many of their functions with dignity and grace. Her interest in the Dance was wide. Morris she loved, and with her great enthusiasm she threw herself into the Square Dance scene in the immediate post war years.

In 1966, the EFDSS awarded Grace their highest award, the Society’s Gold Badge. In honour of Grace and her friend and colleague Leonie Morris, Pat Shaw wrote the dance “Walpole Cottage”.

Can I ask you all to think of these two gracious ladies as you dance with grace and in the true Morris style. [Cecilia M. Muckelroy]

Martin Jolley

Martin Jolley died in March 1996. He was a much loved figure in the Morris with his music being enjoyed by all those fortunate enough to hear it and to dance to it.

Martin and Ron Nunn outside The Blue Ball, Walton on the Hill, c.1991

Martin and Ron Nunn outside The Blue Ball, Walton on the Hill, c.1991

His funeral was attended by his Morris friends from all over England, reflecting the esteem in which he was held and the universal affection for him. He came from a musical family with his father and three brothers being accomplished musicians in their own right; when they were children, their house rang to the sound of music. For the rest of his life, Martin brought music and joy into the lives of all those with whom he came into contact.

For more information about Martin and his contribution to ESMM go to “The Oldest Fiddler in the Morris Ring“.

Dan Rothenberg

Obituary from the Morris Ring “Circular”, Spring 1998.

Dan died suddenly on the morning of 6th December from a heart attack and East Surrey Morris Men lost its oldest member who had served the side faithfully for 44 years. He joined us from East Kent Morris Men, of which side he and Johnny Burke were founder members, and served us mainly as Betsie and collector – a talent in which he was (to the rest of the side’s relief) particularly gifted. He was also Bagman for our 1976 Ring Meeting and for 20 odd years was organiser of our Whitsun tour of the Rye area.

He had many other talents however, as he was able to speak 7 languages fluently and had good mastery of as many more. He was nearly 80 when he sat, and passed, an A level in Mandarin Chinese. He had also recently started to learn Erse and used his ability with languages to coax even more donations from foreigners. Dan was also actively interested in the National Union of Teachers, The English Schools Swimming Association, children’s charities, and was currently editor of the East Surrey Folk magazine. In 1977 his voluntary work was recognised by the award of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal. Dan had a perceptive wit as evidenced by his winning the circular’s caption competition on more than one occasion, and as he always wanted to learn something from everyone, he was welcomed by all. We all frequently “took the mickey” but he always managed to give as good as he got!

At his packed funeral were people from all his many interests as well as most of his own side. I am sure that he would have loved to make a collection around such a large gathering!

As a postscript, the recent losses of Martin Jolley (aged 86), Tony Dowland (62) and now Dan (86), have resulted in the average age of East Surrey Morris Men falling by nearly 12 years – to what though, will not be revealed!   [Bob Davies]

1979: Dan Rothenberg with Alf Bloxsome behind.

1979: Dan Rothenberg with Alf Bloxsome behind.

As a postscript and to illustrate Dan’s wicked sense of humour, this is an extract from The Morris Ring circular dated September 1984 in which he reflects on the role of the “Betty” or “Betsie/Betsy”:

……………..I have it on the authority of no less a person than the current Squire of the Morris Ring, Barry Care, that there are probably only four or five of us who are Bettys or Betsys in the Cotswolds style……….Soon after inheriting the East Surrey Betty, I found myself alone and unsupported in full Betty rigout outside Tottenham Court Road Police Station. This was the most embarrassing ten minutes I have ever had, apart from my five-year-old initiation into biology by the girl next door……………………………..


Reginald Mowling Howes, M.C.

Obituary as it appeared in the English Dance and Song magazine 

I have always regarded “Reg” as one of the architects of East Surrey from its foundation over 50 years ago, and it is a privilege to be asked to add my tribute. He died peacefully on 14th February 1977, at the age of 87.

In World War I, Reg served as Captain in the Green Howards and was awarded the M.C. for distinguished service. Home again, he was appointed to the staff of the Ministry of Education. In 1924 came his first impact with “Folk”. He joined a Country Dance Class directed by Roland Heath, a then Senior H.M.I. and a member of the EFDSS.

In 1925 he joined my first classes in Croydon for Morris, Sword, and Country dancing. Soon the East Surrey Morris was established and became a founder member of “The Morris Ring” with Kenneth Constable as squire and Instructor. The Ring celebrated its Golden Jubilee at Guildford in September 1976 and the detailed history is in safe keeping in the Ring Scrapbook. Happily, Reg was able to join in the historic occasion. From the first he was captivated by the dances and tunes and treated traditions and their performance with reverence. Often controversial, probing with a wry humour, somewhat caustic, but never unkind. It was a joy to “wrangle” with him.

To me and to East Surrey he gave undivided loyalty over half a century – he never let you down, and woebetide those who did. He played a part in every stage of the pioneer years. To name a few:

  • Member of the first demonstration team;
  • A Squire of East Surrey Morris Men and keeper of East Surrey Morris scrapbook;
  • Hon. auditor of Branch accounts;
  • In conjunction with Croydon Education Committee helped to organise a huge Festival for Schools in Ashburton Park (1,000 taking part)

In 1937 Reg met Mary (later to become his wife). She had been dancing in Leicester and Norwich – this mutual interest set its seal and led to the 40 happy years to follow.

To Mary, their daughter Ruth Kendon and family, we extend our deep sympathy. [Grace Meikle]

“Fred” Higgins

Obituary as it appeared in the East Surrey District News (Autumn 1966)

Frederick Higgins – Headmaster – was a founder member of the original East Surrey Morris side which contained such names as Kenneth Constable and Stewart Ranger. He was for many years the main stay of the Croydon Group and he was noted for his work amongst children in the Folk Dance sphere.

Never strong in health, he tended as the years went by to concentrate on playing, and would be seen with the Morris side playing his concertina. A quiet man who lived for his dancing and playing, he was of the sort that makes for strength in any organisation and his quiet sense of humour and merry twinkle in his eye was something that evoked response from people who knew him.

Wally Randall

Obituary as it appeared in the East Surrey District News (spring 1966)

Fool, musician, teacher, dancer, sometime bagman and reigning Squire of the East Surrey Morris Men, Wally Randall died on Saturday 6th November, 1965 at St. Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey. Amongst the unforgettable memories we are left with are his jigs, particularly Princess Royal and Flowers of Edinburgh, which he danced with consummate skill and quiet humour.

Up to a few weeks before his death, he was teaching the side the “new” Sherbourne with great success. His hobby of collecting folk music meant that his manuscript book was never static. He will always be remembered with gratitude.

Geoff Metcalf

An active member of East Surrey Morris Men before the War, Geoff moved on to join Ravensbourne after the War and subsequently was elected Squire of the Morris Ring. He died, appropriately on Mayday, 1st May 1992.

The following is an extract from some notes prepared by Geoff in February 1988, reflecting his memories of ESMM.

“In September 1934, I started dancing the Morris in Richard Callender’s class at Morley College. In due course I graduated to the “team” class and thus became a member of the Morley College Morris side. In the autumn of 1935 I moved with my family to Coulsdon, and shortly afterwards began attending the East Surrey men’s Morris class at Croydon, whilst still regarding Morley as my main loyalty. This class was conducted by Kenneth Constable on Monday evenings, and although technically a class, was more in the nature of a club. It was however under the general guidance of Grace Meikle, the organiser of the EFDSS East Surrey branch. The object of the class was to rehearse a few dances so that when called on for folk dance “demonstrations” (which were the only way that the dances were shown to the public in those days) something would be available. In addition to Morris, the men would be expected to partner the girls in Country dancing……

Apart from myself, regular dancers were:

Leonard Bardwell. A great enthusiast for the Morris, if not the world’s best dancer. He was the prime mover in getting the 1937 tour going; this was breaking new ground as, apart from Thaxted and the Travelling Morris, it was unheard of to take Morris to the public in this way. He also played concertina, which was our only regular music. When Bardwell retired after the War, he moved to the Oxford area and had some sort of connection with the Abingdon Morris, although I am not certain if he actually danced with the side. I think he died some time in the 1950s.

[N.B. Actually Len lived until 1967 and was still an active dancer in the Oxford area until as late as 1954. Leonard’s other claim to fame is that he was the grandfather of the novelist Martin Amis and the father-in -law of Kingsley Amis. He is believed to be the inspiration/origination of the character Professor Ned Welch in “Lucky Jim” – I am indebted to John Maloney of Exeter Morris Men for this facinating piece of information – (Ed)]

Reg Howes. Keeper of the Ring Scrapbook for many years. A quiet and gentle man but far from vigourous dancer. I attended many early Ring meetings with him.

Ron Ludman. He moved to Oxford just before/during/just after the War and I believe danced with Oxford City for a while.

I cannot recall any other names and as mentioned, we often did not have a full side at practices. At that time everyone everywhere danced every dance the same way, and it was common practice to rope men in from other clubs if needed. At Ring meetings, it was unusual to see a side made up from men of only one club.

There were other men at practices but they tended to come and go. Music was occasionally provided by Warren Zambra on the Northumbrian pipes.

Repertoire was mainly Cotswold Morris, but I can remember Constable trying to teach us the Royton dance (a new discovery in those days) and there was a festival at which we danced Flamborough sword, so we must have had eight men. In June 1939, I got married and moved away from Coulsdon and I did not take any further part in East Surrey Morris after the War.”