During a sunny respite in the stormy winter weather, a large crowd enjoyed a performance from this group of dancers.
Wantsum Morris Men formed as a club in 1967, with the members living both sides of the Wantsum Channel, which in former times separated Thanet from the rest of Kent.
The repertoire is drawn from the vast selection of traditional dances collected from the villages of the Cotswolds, complemented by some more recent dances in the Cotswold traditions as well as a few from the Welsh borders and a rapper dance from the North East of England.
The costume is knee breeches, tabard and a tricorn hat. The tabard is decorated with a St Augustines cross with a depiction of Reculver towers in the top left corner. St Augustine arrived in England at the Southern end of the Wantsum, and built an Abbey at Reculver at the Northern end.
Morris dancing has experienced a great revival during this century, due mainly to the enthusiasm of collectors such as Cecil Sharp, who between them saved this rich heritage from virtual extinction.
The original Morris was possibly a circle dance , often danced around a “female” figure. However, even in 1480 there were complaints that the dance had already degenerated.
These dances have disappeared into the mists of time, killed off by the Puritan attitudes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is a disappointing that we shall never know the local dances performed by a group of men around Canterbury in 1589, shortly before the mayor of Canterbury had the maypole pulled down from the Dane John.
The 1589 side were led by a musician called Henry Parkes, who played fiddle The average age was early twenties, although the “Mayd Marryon” character was played by a twelve year old boy. There seem to have been six dancers who had costumes including bells and “furnytur”. They did not seen to be cadging as they were retained for the fortnight around Mayday by a “Jencke of Herne”. Within this 14 days the side danced Canterbury and at least four villages covering some 12 miles. At one village, Chislet, they attended church on Ascension day, and therefore presumably did not consider themselves Pagans.
Our knowledge of this side come from the records of a case against them for dancing without a licence held at the Quarter Sessions. Details above were taken from extracts of the trial in Philip Edmonds article in “Hoath and Herne”published by K H McIntosh.
Wantsum Morris Men perform annual tours on Boxing day and May 1st. In addition they dance local villages and towns during the summer season, and occasionally venture onto foreign soils. Recent trips have included the Tarn valley in France, The Eastern seaboard of the U.S.A. and Poland.