All about the Morris Year
The Morris Winter
During the long winter nights, Woodside retire to the Pump House to learn new dances, brush up on old ones, and generally prepare for next May Day. However, things can actually get more interesting in the winter...
2015 Practice Night, The Pump House, Watford
copyright 2015 Woodside Morris Men
The mainstay of the winter is practise night. The Colne River rooms at the Pump House provide excellent space for rigorous Morris training, and conveniently, a fully stocked bar. Our Foreman, Dave Pearse, takes us through the dances he has planned for next year, usually punctuated by the occasional 'Hmmm' or 'Can we just go through that again'. By the time we get around to March, the target is to get Dave to grudgingly say 'not bad'. Then we know we’re alright.
Woodside practise at the Pump House from late September onwards. If you would like to come along, please take a look at the details at the bottom of this or any other page on the Woodside site.
Ale Nights
2005 Woodside Ale Night, Sarratt Village Hall, Sarratt
copyright 2005 Woodside Morris Men
Ale Nights are evenings where six or seven sides will get together for some drinking, dancing and eating. Generally, the host side will lay on a few barrels of ale, a tasty selection of comestibles, and a list of dances that we’d be lucky to get half way through.
Many Ale's consist of the more formal (in structure at least) feast, where the initial focus is on a meal served to the attendee whilst sitting at a set table. There will usually be a head table with officers from the host side, officers of the Morris Ring and honoured guests (often the local Mayor, or distinguished former members). There are usually toasts to the Queen and to the immortal memory of Cecil Sharp, and the passing of the loving cup, from which everyone should sup a little beer, with a little of the old masonics and a twist attached for good measure. This can be followed by representatives from each attending side performing a tune, song or recital for the enjoyment of their fellow feasters, and eventually a little massed dancing. These feasts are much in the same vain as those held by the Morris Ring, and the events held by Ripley and Stafford are fine examples.
Then there are the more informal Ales, like Woodside's, which dive straight into the dancing, breaking halfway through the night to dig the tressel tables out of the store cupboard, and grab a quick plate of something hot and delicious, followed by cheese and biscuits, and, of course, more dancing.
Teams putting on these dos often have a signature dish: members of Woodside cook Shepherds Pies; Aldbury lay on Fish and Chips from an itinerant chippy who prowls the villages between Hemel Hempstead and Tring; and Letchworth get member Geoff Pitt to throw together one of his most noted currys for their evening.
Boxing Day
1983 Boxing Day on the Green, The Artichoke, Croxley Green
copyright 1983 Woodside Morris Men
On Boxing Day 1899, Cecil Sharpe, the distinguished collector of folk songs, met a group of men with bells strapped to their legs, dancing to a man with a concertina. It is widely believed that this was the spur that drove Sharpe to collect, or write down, all the Morris dances he could then lay his hands on, thus – along with a number of other enthusiastic collectors and teachers – creating a revival in folk dance and Morris dancing.
But that is not necessarily the reason why so many Morris sides dance out on Boxing Day. The Morris is linked to a great number of traditions, some of which, like Mumming, are very much associated with Christmas. The reason for sides dancing on Boxing Day is probably more closely linked to the reasons why the Heddington Quarry Men (for it was they) were out dancing when Sharpe came across them: a celebration of Christmas.
After dancing, most sides will settle in for a drink, some tunes and a few songs, returning home at some later hour both contented and merry.
Woodside currently meet for Boxing Day festivities at the Coach and Horses on Croxley Green. We've been dancing on Boxing Day since the move to Watford, and on the Green for the best part of the last three decades. We usually invite along a couple of local sides, an arrangement that has settled into Woodside being joined by Whitethorne Morris and Wicket Brood Border for the last few years, and hopefully many more to come.
Boxing Day on the Green is occasionally graced by a little mumming, with the Woodside play being performed semi regularly, and a recent visit from the Herger Mummers. You can read more about the Woodside Mummers here.
Boxing Day on the Green is often punctuated by interesting visitors, with, in the last few years, a regular coachload of Chinese school children stopping by as they head to some other exotic location, and yearly visit from a local antique cycling club. In fact, it was on these regular visits from the cycling club that Woodside's Simon Garbut took an interest in Morris Dancing, finally leaping into the arms of Woodside in 2004.
1979 Boxing Day on the Heath, The Royal Oak, Watford Heath
copyright 1979 Woodside Morris Men