Every year as the 1st May approaches, Leicester Morrismen are busy preparing to be up at Old John in Bradgate Park, Charnwood, Leicestershire, to welcome in the sun !
Every year they make the pilgrimage to keep alive one of England’s oldest traditions, as they have done as a side for over half a century. Nobody knows how old the Morris is, since its origins are lost in history, but it has for centuries been linked with Mayday.
Shakespeare mentions the connection as being perfectly obvious and normal, when he writes: “As fit as … a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a morris for Mayday”. We cannot say how the two things got joined together, but in old Celtic times Mayday was regarded as the first day of summer and it seems that the Morris has always been something to do with the changing seasons, getting the crops to grow and making sure the sun shines.
Today Leicester Morrismen regard it as the start of their busy season of dancing, when all the hard work of practising through the Winter months pays off. For many, many years they have celebrated this moment by performing at the high spot of Bradgate, by Old John Tower, at 7 o’clock in the morning.
Many people regularly turn up to watch the dances and are rewarded by a glorious view of the surrounding park as well as the spectacle of the Morrismen in all their finery, waving hankies, clashing sticks, rattling bells to the music of fiddle, melodeon and concertina.
Come rain or shine, snow or fog you will find them and their selection of appropriate beverages dancing the morning in! Indeed this is truly a legendary feat conducted annually upon Charnwood’s rich and fertile land.
The Morris has been danced in Leicestershire for at least four centuries. The records show that in 1599 Morris dancers were summoned before the magistrates for dancing near the maypoles - obviously a heinous crime in those days. However they clearly did not learn their lesson, as they did the same thing in 1603, and were duly summoned to appear once more.
The Morris dropped out of sight locally for a while, and the next recorded mention is in the last decade of the 19th-century, when dances with sticks were seen in Market Bosworth and other parts of west Leicestershire. The present Leicester Morris men were formed in 1953, and they initially met just to learn the dances, with an occasional demonstration.
In 1957 Steve George organized the first summer season of "dancing out", and the side has never looked back. They claim to have danced in every town and village in Leicestershire (and many other places besides) and hope to give as much pleasure to audiences as we derive ourselves from keeping the Morris alive. New recruits are welcome, and should fit in easily: their youngest dancer when these photos were taken was 15, the oldest was 75 years old!