Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aylesbeare Common

I get off the bus on Aylesbeare Common, a couple of miles outside of Aylesbeare village to have a short detour from my main walk, which will be walking back over the distant hills into town.

Aylesbeare (pop.527) is only famous in this country for one thing and that is the disappearance on 19th August 1978 of Genette Tate when she went missing aged 13 whilst delivering newspapers. Her bicycle and scattered newspapers were found lying in the middle of a country lane only minutes after she had been speaking to two friends. Her story was all over the newspapers at the time and still turns up sometimes, although her disappearance remains a mystery and is unsolved, unfortunately.

I am here in the middle of nowhere to take a look at the tumuli which are marked on the map as being around here somewhere. Actually they turn out to be really easy to find and are very close to the main road indeed. It is strange to think that the bus that I travel to work on and all the traffic that hurtles past this spot are within spitting distance of these tumuli which remain largely ignored by folk here. I myself have hurtled past these tumuli, not knowing of their existence until I was browsing the map one day and spotted them. To find these things all you need is a local map and a bit of curiosity although it does help that there are lots of these things around here. I have in years past found similar mounds hidden in woodland which were not marked on any map which I suppose must mean that they are still undiscovered.

I like to stand on them and survey the countryside around to see in what way they might relate to the landscape, markers on distant hills, gaps in hills, prominent trees, stones etc. and this facility is good here as the tumuli have been recently cleared of growth. This is quite unusual as most are left to grow over and so it is a good opportunity to have a look at the unadorned shape of the tumuli and also their possible relationship to the surrounding landscape.

On the next nearest mound stands the remains of a very large tree. This tree, being right on the skyline of Aylesbeare Common was used as a marker for navigational purposes by the sailors of old and was known as The Lone Pine. The tree which though dead remained standing for many years was planned to be felled but a note was found attached to the tree stating that the person who felled the tree would be cursed, the note being signed at the bottom by The White Witches of Aylesbeare. The tree fell of its own accord a few years ago leaving a tall and lovely shaped guardian stump.

Anyway, I take some photographs and must get on. It is a long walk back and the walking hasn't even really started properly yet. The photo's shown here are partly from my second visit, but in the next posting there will be photo's from the remaining part of the original walk in which I have the immense pleasure of seeing the route back from here for the very first time.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Molly and Morris Dance in Sidmouth Folk Week 2009

Morris dancing is another tradition that almost died out being revitalised in the nick of time in about 1899. Something old for the new century. It probably gets its name from Moorish.

Molly dancers have been recorded in many parts of the English Midlands and East Anglia. It died out finally in the 1930s, the last dancers seen dancing in Little Downham near Ely, Cambridgeshire in 1933. On this occasion the dances performed included a tango, performed by two male dancers, one dressed as a woman.

The only recorded Molly dances come from Comberton and Girton, villages just outside Cambridge, researched by Russell Wortley and Cyril Papworth. Some examples of the music played for the dancers have survived. These include George Green's College Hornpipe, collected from the Little Downham Melodeon player.

Molly dancing is most associated with Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany. Tradition has it that as a way of filling the gap between Christmas and the start of the Spring ploughing season, the ploughboys would tour around the village landowners, offering to dance for money. Those who refused would be penalised in various ways (see Trick or treat) including having a furrow ploughed across the offender's lawn.

The dancers, wishing to gain employment from those same landowners shortly afterwards, would attempt to conceal their identities by blacking their faces with soot and dressing up in a modified version of their Sunday Best, typically black garments adorned with coloured scarves and other fripperies. It was originally an all-male tradition but with one of the members - the Molly - dressed up as a woman.

These days women and men dance together molly and morris wise though according to a painting of morris dancers at Richmond in 1620 they were danced by both men and women together in those days too, unless they were men dressed as women, there is quite a bit of politics about all this which I don't have the space to get into here.

A nice early picture of morris dancers is an enamelled glass window from Bletley, Staffordshire. Its date is uncertain but it seems to have been made between about 1510 and 1600 something or other.

In the reign of Henry VIII, morris dancing attained great popularity. There seems to have been at that time two principle performers, Robin Hood and Maid Marian; then there was a friar, a piper, a fool, and the rank and file of the dancers. In the parish accounts of Kingston-on-Thames for the year 1537 the Morris Dancers' wardrobe, then in the charge of the churchwardens, consisted of "A fryers cote of russet and a kyrtele weltyd with red cloth, a Mowren's (Moor's) cote of buckram, and four morres dauncars cotes of white fustian spangelid and two gryne saten cotes, and a disardde's (fool's) cote of cotton, and six payre of garters with belles."

Morris sides, or teams, consist of a number of roles. The role of the squire varies. In some sides the squire is the leader, who will speak for the side in public, usually lead or call the dances, and often decide the programme for a performance. In other sides the squire is more of an administrator, with the foreman taking the lead, and the dances called by any experienced dancer.

The foreman teaches and trains the dancers, and is responsible for the style and standard of the side's dancing.

The bagman is traditionally the keeper of the bag — that is to say, the side's funds. In some sides today the bagman acts as secretary (particularly bookings secretary) and there is often a separate treasurer.

On some sides a ragman manages and co-ordinates the team's kit or costume. This may include making bell-pads, ribbon bads, sashes and other accoutrements.

Many sides have one or more fools. A fool will usually be extravagantly dressed, and communicate directly with the audience in speech or mime. The fool will often dance around and even through a dance without appearing really to be a part of it, but it takes a talented dancer to pull off such fooling while actually adding to and not distracting from the main dance set.

Many sides also have a beast: a dancer in a costume made to look like a real or mythical animal. Beasts mainly interact with the audience, particularly children. In some groups this dancer is called the hobby.