Much of the historical information that appears on this website was taken from a much more extensive paper that Ira Butler researched and wrote up for the side to be available at our 1986 Ring Meeting. He has produced a truly interesting and informative narrative of our first 60 years.
Although a particularly “English” tradition, Morris dancing was introduced into East Surrey by the enthusiastic endeavours of two Scots, both of whom were personally and directly influenced by the most important character in the Morris revival at the turn of this century, Cecil Sharp.
In the early 1920s, a young lady by the name of Grace Meikle attended a vacation course run by the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) and fell for the English country dances that were then being run by the Society. She studied the dances and eventually presented herself for examination as a teacher of English folk dance (including Morris). She passed and her examiner, Cecil Sharp himself, signed her teacher’s certificate. She joined the Society’s staff and, in 1925, was appointed organiser of the East Surrey Branch of the Society.
The early side
On arrival in East Surrey, Grace found that there was already some organised folk dancing in the area and eventually attracted enough men to Morris Dancing that she considered establishing a settled Morris side in the area. The names of the early members of the side include Reg Howes (of whom more anon.), Roland Heath (the leader of the local folk dance club), Len Bardwell (later to become bagman of the side), Ron Ludman, Dick Price (one of a family of Prices active in folk dancing around the Godstone area), Warren Zambra who also played Northumbrian pipes, Richard Powell (a young headmaster in Croydon) who according to Grace, was an outstanding dancer and unfortunately died at an early age in 1944, a young man named Olsen (the son of a Swedish family in the Oxted area), Geoff Metcalf who joined ESMM in 1935 and also danced with Morley College, and Fred Higgins who played the concertina.
Grace taught these early enthusiasts some Morris, but soon realised that they needed a man to continue their Morris education and form them into a side. She therefore obtained the permission of the local education committee to create a “men only” evening class and invited Kenneth Constable to take it.
This is an early picture of Ken partnering Grace (at front of set) performing a display country dance.
Kenneth Briggs Constable was born in 1900. Despite his Scottish birth, he was given a model “English upper-class” education at Winchester School (where he was taught English folk and sword dances by Cecil Sharp) and New College Oxford to read Classics (where he met William Kimber). A year before he died in 1979, Kenneth wrote of those days in Oxford: “K (Kimber) himself taught us to caper, the finest full-blooded straight thigh variety you ever saw and if it was an upstairs room, one feared for the safety of the ceiling. M.B. (Marjorie Barnett – affectionately known as Barnie) was scarcely less forceful. She capered better than any of us men”.
Kenneth also attended EFDS vacation courses where he again met Cecil Sharp. Shortly before his death he recalled that, on one occasion, Sharp devoted a quarter of an hour to correcting what he described as Kenneth’s “ugly and incorrect version of hockle-back”. It was, he said, “too much like Douglas’s (Douglas Kennedy) and his wasn’t good”.
After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in Scotland, Kenneth moved to London where he was to spend the rest of his working life. His love of dance was given full rein and he became a member of the EFDS “headquarter’s” dance side under Cecil Sharp which included Douglas Kennedy, the Karpeles sisters, Grace Meikle, Leonie Morris and Spencer Ranger who was later to dance with both East Surrey and Greensleeves Morris Men. It was in this context that, in 1926, Grace persuaded Kenneth to come to Croydon to teach her fledgling Morris Men and the East Surrey Morris Men had their beginning. For more information on this episode, click here to read the extract from an interview with Kenneth conducted by Ira Butler in 1978.
Foundation of the Morris Ring
At this time the side mainly danced at local EFDS festivals and other events where the Society had been asked to provide demonstrations. Reg Howes, in a note written in 1949, says that side also took part in the first Albert Hall displays. By the 1930s, the side was beginning to become more independent and started attending Morris meetings at Thaxted, Cambridge and elsewhere.
It was at one of these meetings, in 1933 that the Cambridge Morris Men proposed that there should be an informal federation of clubs to be known as the Morris Ring. The idea took hold and a year later, on 14th April 1934, at the Cambridge Morris Men’s annual feast with 6 sides present, the Morris Ring was formed. The founding sides were Cambridge, Oxford, Letchworth, Thaxted, Greensleeves and East Surrey.
In June 1934 the first Morris Ring meeting was held, with ESMM present, at Thaxted.
1934 – 1939
For the next few years the side flourished with Kenneth Constable as Squire and Leonard (“Len”) Bardwell as Bagman and main musician (he played the concertina as shown in the photograph below). Music was also occasionally provided by Warren Zambra on the Northumbrian pipes.
They continued to dance at local Society events and from 1937 to 1939, the main annual event was a May tour following the Pilgrims Way calling at such villages as Brockham Green, Betchworth, Reigate Heath, Nutfield (where the photographs above and below were taken), Bletchingly, Oxted and finishing up at the Hare and Hounds in Godstone for a steak and kidney pudding feast. These tours were supported by men from Morley College, Wargrave, London Pride and Greensleeves and individual dancers and musicians from other sides including Kenworthy Schofield who was then Squire of the Ring.
The side also continued to attend Ring meetings and it was at a pre-war Thaxted meeting that a photograph of ESMM was taken with Kenneth Constable dancing at number 1, which was later used on the dust cover of Douglas Kennedy’s book “England’s Dances”. It was from that photograph that someone drew a silhouette of Kenneth. It was this silhouette that has appeared on numerous Ring publications and is still used on ESMM’s own stationery and posters.
The other dancers in the illustrated set are (l to r) Walter Newall, Edward Nichol (Morley College), Len Bardwell, Reg Howes (hidden), Geoff Metcalf, KC.
Then came the war, to read what happens next in ESMM’s history, click here.