Stansted Morris Men

The year 1934 does not feature prominently in history books, since very little happened which was worthy of note - on the surface, at any rate. King George V was still on the throne of a Britain which really was Great, ruling an Empire over which the sun never set. There were rumblings in Germany, of course. Behind the scenes, however, two meetings were held and two new organisations founded which were to have a profound effect on the lives of a considerable number of people, most of who were as yet unborn.

The first of these took place at 8pm in the evening of Saturday, 2nd. June, in the front room of Mrs. King's house in Newbiggin Street, Thaxted, when representatives of six of the early "revival" teams met to discuss the feasibility of forming a federation of Morris Clubs from all over the country, to be known as the Morris Ring. It was duly agreed to go ahead, and the Inaugural Meeting was held at Cecil Sharp House on September 20th. of that year.

The second of the two significant meetings took place in the barn of Goodman's Farm in Tumblefield Road, Stansted - a few hundred yards up the road from the Black Horse.

Mrs. Ethel Hunt, who was the owner at that time, was a keen folk dancer, and she had a small barn standing empty which she thought would make an ideal practice site. Accordingly, she invited other interested parties from the Stansted and Fairseat district to discuss the formation of a local country dance group, and so it was that the Fairseat Folk Dance Society (F.F.D.S.) came into being in the Summer of 1934.

If the villagers in remote villages wanted entertainment, they had to make it for themselves. Dancing was one obvious solution to the problem, and country dancing was increasing in popularity at that time. As a result, folk dance clubs sprang up all over the place, sometimes in most unlikely locations. They were run by women, and most of the members were local women who knew one another socially through other village activities. Often they wore a distinctive Club dress the Fairseat ladies wore emerald green dresses with red, yellow & blue braid on the sleeves and skirt. As we shall see later on, it was this combination of four colours which was eventually to determine the kit of the Stansted Morris Men. On practice nights, any men present wore ordinary clothes, but for parties and special events white shirts, trousers and socks were the norm, with the inevitable white plimsolls!

As I have already said, the backbone of these early folk dance clubs was always provided by the local village women, but there were occasional visitors - mainly from nearby towns where folk dance clubs, if they existed at all, tended to be rather formal and academic, lacking the spontaneous gaiety of the village groups.

One of the F.F.D.S regular visitors was a Mr. H. Bentley Thorne, an experienced Morris Man who was a member of Douglas Kennedy's E.F.D.S.S. display side. He lived at Bromley, which really was in Kent at that time. In the Autumn of 1934 he met some of the younger men of the village at a country dance party given by Mr. & Mrs. Hunt in Goodmans Barn, and persuaded them to take up the Morris. Mrs. Hunt willingly offered the use of the oast house which was adjacent to the barn for this purpose.

So the Stansted Morris Men came to be formed in the Winter of 1934/5. One or two older men helped to complete the side. Practices were held every week in the Goodmans Farm Oast House, and once a month Mr. Thorne would make the somewhat arduous journey from Bromley to teach them new dances. In the intervening weeks, the men would practice the dances they had learnt to date under the Foremanship of Stanley Chapman, the verger of Stansted Church. When Mr. Thorne visited Stansted, he would usually bring his own musician with him, an E.F.D.S.S. violinist named Willy Ganiford. He was an excellent musician, but not really a Morris "fiddler". For special events and on day tours the pair of them would accompany the Stansted Men, but on all other occasions the music was provided by their own musician, Robert Dixon, who played the fiddle.