At Easter, 1977, the Club divided (amicably) in a most ambitious way. Six men, including Bert and Leslie, travelled by train and boat to a folk festival at Leuven/Louvain in central Belgium. Here they have two languages (Flemish and Walloon, being at the border of the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking parts of the country); two breweries and one university [or was it two universities and one brewery? - the memory is blurred]. Our seventh man was Antony, joining us from his (then) home in Germany. There are many strong memories from that long weekend, including: the Festival being sponsored by the Stella Artois brewery, who provided a grand total of ONE free drink over the four days!; the announcement when we arrived late on Thursday evening "the English team have now arrived - can anyone offer them accommodation?"; looking forward to the brewery visit on the Friday, only to have it cancelled because it was Good Friday as had happened for the previous two years! ; smuggling cans of beer into the hall where one of the shows took place, in a melodeon case; watching the stilt walkers falling down, into the rose garden, and not hurting themselves because of their sheep-skin waistcoats; the blizzard (at Easter!) during the procession; and dancing the cross-over in Shooting in front of the Town Hall steps (about as wide as the main hall at Cecil Sharp House) in just four huge, alcohol-assisted steps.
Meanwhile, back in the UK... Peter Chetwood and Albert, the only other main-stream musicians at that time, travelled to Halsway Manor for the Easter House Party. This left the irregular musicians to support our "leg" of the recreation of Kemp's Jig ("the Nine Daies Wonder") from London to Norwich, which took place the same weekend. This was organised by the Morris Clubs of London, with each club covering 4.9 miles before handing over to the next club, through the day and the night. This event achieved media attention and it was Greensleeves "leg" which was shown in one of the supporting television programmes, where the actor Chris Harris played Kemp before an audience of Morris Men and their ladies.
Lord Mayor's Show, London
In the 1970's, the Association of London Morris Clubs, of which Greensleeves was a founding and active member, decided to use the London Lord Mayor's Show as an opportunity to raise public awareness by putting on a massed show on the same day. This took place in Paternoster Square, a wide precinct area between tower blocks, behind St. Paul's Cathedral. The event was well attended by Morris Men and their followers but never managed to compete successfully for the large crowds that swelled the nearby streets. Each team danced one or perhaps two dances individually, as well as massed performances. Typically Greensleeves would (by our choice or by request) usually perform the longsword dance from North Skelton, as a contrast to the exclusively Cotswold Morris of the rest of the show. At this time, we danced to the accompaniment of a harmonica (in retrospect, one wonders how many of the audience could hear anything) and one memory from this period is of the year that its player, Stephen Mark, arrived in London on the wrong side of the procession and was unable to cross it in time for our show. A very reluctant Bert Cleaver had to be persuaded to play for us.
Greensleeves began (as is our wont) to become discontent with the limited amount of dancing we were able to do on the day. The Black Friar public house, built into the arches of Blackfriars Bridge, had recently changed hands and the new landlord had cleaned the inside to find wonderful copper illustrations inset into the marble walls, under decades of soot and grime. We began to migrate to this venue after our "spot" at Paternoster Square, learning that if we started up our show as the Lord Mayor's coach went past, we could turn the crowd round to create a ready-made audience. This continued for many years (long after the massed shows at the bleak Paternoster Square had discontinued) eventually being killed off by security concerns on behalf of the extra police brought into the city for the (main) event. We then sought other similar sites and for many years manipulated the crowd opposite St. Paul's in a similar fashion, returning to the Black Friar from time to time.
In 1997, Greensleeves received an invitation to dance in the procession itself. The invitation came about in an unexpected manner. The incoming Lord Mayor wanted something to add colour and spectacle to the float for his own livery company - the Worshipful Company of Solicitors, represented by tradition by his own work colleagues. He heard that his cousin, John, knew some Morris dancers, though apparently not that they frequently visited the village and its green which his own house overlooked. The village of course was Chipperfield - Lord Mayor Richard Nichols is apparently totally unaware of the long and active involvement which his other cousin, Leslie, had with Greensleeves.
Anyway, a "three-line whip" was issued to encourage as many men as possible to come and dance (which they did). In addition, the Bagman rustled up a number of extra musicians from other clubs, who ably assisted those of our musicians who were not already dancing. The day was hot and the procession hard work. The "float" consisted of a small tractor towing a trailer of similar size in the shape of a bowler hat. Because we were restricted in the length of our "slot" in the procession, we were not allowed to precede or follow it, therefore we split our fourteen dancers into two sets for Winster, one each side of the float. In the event, of course, the procession stretched and we were therefore dancing four abreast when we passed St. Paul's and achieved further television coverage. In fact, the musicians were heard for considerably longer than the dancers were shown, especially since the commentator had no information about us at all, except for the single line which he read from the souvenir programme, singularly omitting the Club's name. This was subsequently to result in various requests for identification both in local folk magazines and on the Internet. Sadly, despite his valiant (and successful) efforts at keeping the crowd entertained, ex-Squire Peter Brunton, in a borrowed hobby horse, failed to reach the television audience on this occasion.
Soon after our move of practice venue to Wimbledon, it was suggested that we start our own tradition of dancing the sun up on the first day of May (it was universally agreed that this should not migrate to the "May Day" Bank Holiday, on the first Monday of the month). The site chosen was the windmill on Wimbledon Common and from that first fledgling appearance has gone from strength to strength. In fact, it often attracts one of the best attendances of dancers in the year, although the same cannot always be said of the audience. Somewhere along the line, it was decided to invite the Mayor of Merton to the event and, to our surprise, the invitation was accepted. In subsequent years it has become part of the official calendar of events for the Mayor, who has appeared almost every year. On several occasions we have been told that the Mayor has, to their own surprise, actually enjoyed the event. This may owe some small reason to the now regular appearance of hot coffee and something a little stronger to go in it (as started by Geoff Trewinnard - for many, our first experience of "Pusser's Rum"). After the show, a full cooked breakfast is taken at a local bar (initially the Rose and Crown, now the Squash Club), with other beverages for those that will, followed by a rousing sing-song.
Once again, the media have shown occasional interest in the event but have never really come to terms with our timing. Radio 4's "Today" programme did manage to include a report on the morning they sent along a radio car, albeit recorded after we had finished. And the local radio station's roving reporter (on a bicycle) managed to catch up with us in the bar the year he was despatched to meet us. However, the television crew who had already arrived when the first dancer arrived on the scene at 5 a.m. singularly failed to get their cameras ready until the planned show was already over. An "Action Replay" was organised for them but by 7 a.m. (one and a half hours after sunrise) they were still not in a position to film. And they seemed so offended when we said "enough is enough" and left them, to have our breakfast!
Over the years, we have taken part in hundreds of shows, all over the country. Whereas they originally consisted almost entirely of visits to hostelries, there has been an move over time to take advantage of the various shopping precincts and shopping malls where toady's crowds gather. Many events have been evening tours to a couple of pubs in a particular area, organised by one of our members. Others have been days or weekends of dancing, organised by Greensleeves or other clubs. Some of these, particularly those occurring on a regular basis, deserve a mention.
Our principal Club weekend occurs in July each year, based at Chipperfield in Hertfordshire. Tours spread out into the surrounding area, usually by coach but sometimes using a fleet of vintage buses. We are usually joined by a couple of visiting clubs and also by many individuals who have become part of the greater Greensleeves "clan" over the years. All of these camp on the school field or find local accommodation wherever they can. Unlike some clubs, Greensleeves' men, supported by their families, provide all the catering on this and other Club events. For many years, a massed show was held on the Saturday afternoon in Watford Town Centre but, in more recent years, this has proved impractical. A feature that has developed on the Sunday, from 1976, is an open-air church service on the edge of the Common, with music provided by the Morris Men. This is then followed by a massed show from all the participants and then a procession to the Windmill Inn for refreshment and more dancing.
Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, the Club used to visit Tewksbury, in Gloucestershire, for a family camping weekend organised by one of our past Squires whose job took him to the area - Bernard Beecher. These weekends included visits to the city of Cheltenham, where pedestrianisation has created an excellent location for dancing, and the beautiful village on Upton-on-Severn. On the very first year we danced here, Bernard's concern that we would not get enough dancing had resulted in a very packed Saturday programme. By Sunday morning at Upton, the men were moving very gingerly and groaning. This might seem inevitable after the amount of beer that had been consumed the previous day but the reason for the distress was - sore knees! Despite that, it proved to be the first of many highly successful and popular weekends, now sadly (but appropriately) ended.
Prior to the start of the Tewkesbury weekends, the Club used to go to a similar weekend hosted by the Taunton Deane Morris Men. Along with our two Clubs, the East Surrey Morris Men were later invited to take part, beginning some long friendships. Two incidents from that period of our history stand out. Firstly, all three clubs have the otherwise unusual tradition of not wearing hats. One year, by chance, none of our Fools were able to attend. Since they were also the collectors for each club, it was realised that no-one had anything to collect in. As a result, that weekend saw audiences being encouraged to place their contributions in "the lucky Morris tankard" and "the lucky Morris drum"! Another year, we were dancing outside a pub late one dark evening and noticed the lights of a car approaching up the valley. As it got nearer we saw that it was a police car and wondered whether we would be obliged to stop our performance, which was taking place in the road itself. Imagine our horror, instead, to see the local men break away from the crowd, rush towards the car and start bouncing up and down on its bonnet! When the driver emerged with a grin, we discovered that the local club included three police officers in their team, including this one, who was traffic inspector for the area. It was these weekends that started Greensleeves' love of playing pub skittles, something which Bernard incorporated from the start into the Tewkesbury weekends.
The links forged on those weekends brought East Surrey as regular visitors to Chipperfield; and Greensleeves as regulars at East Surrey's family camping weekend over the Whit (subsequently Late May Bank Holiday) weekend. This is based on the village of Peasmarsh but extends around much of the area of the Cinque Ports, including the historic port of Rye, now some miles from the sea.
One other event has continued for many years, being our Boxing Day tour. In the early 1970's, this was taking place at Ickenham, Bucks., being near to the then-Bagman's home (the writer recalls one bleak day when the dancing site was covered in a sheet of ice, but still the show went on). When Geoff took over as Bagman, the event re-located to the Richmond area, ending with a party at his house (or sometimes Ian's). The nearby "Home and Hospital for the Incurables" (since mercifully renamed) was approached to see if they would appreciate a private show for the patients, to which they acquiesced. We entered the magnificent halls with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect, and found some two dozen wheelchairs drawn up in a circle, like a wagon train. To one side was a huge coffin-like apparatus, presumed to be an "iron lung". The occupant was able to observe the proceedings via a small mirror. The sight of those two eyes, and the joy behind them, made a lasting impression on those who caught a glimpse from within the dance. Our Boxing Day tour, although having moved again (with the change of Bagman) to Wimbledon and with our party having moved to a different date, still starts from that hospital each year.
In recent years, further weekends at Chichester and in the Barnsley area have started up as a result of other members having moved to those areas.
Two other weekends, organised by other clubs, deserve comment. In the North-West, the traditions of the Morris differ from those of the Cotswold traditions which Greensleeves generally follow. (In fact, for many years Greensleeves danced a North-West Morris dance, from Royton in Lancashire. By the 1970's, although this was still practised, it was no longer being performed and, despite revivals at practices, this situation remains unchanged.) In 198?, the Saddleworth Morris Men broke with tradition and invited Cotswold Morris clubs, amongst them Greensleeves, to join them in their traditional Rush-cart festivities (although we didn't realise it when invited, this decision caused considerable ill-feeling amongst some in the North-West). The tradition is that a cart piled high with rushes is pushed around the area from one church to the next, where the freshly cut rushes are strewn on the church floor to last for another year. These days, with central heating and carpets, the rushes are no longer laid but the procession remains.
The rush-cart has teams of Morris men in their gaily-coloured costumes fore and aft of it to pull it up and slow its descent down the many hills in the area, all accompanied by music and carnival crowds. We intruders from the Cotswold tradition had much plainer costumes but one distinct advantage - we wore shoes, rather than iron-shod clogs! We were still taken by surprise when the teams in front began to run down hill, leaving those of us on the rear traces to slip and slide as we struggled to keep the cart under control. The sparks were literally flying from those in clogs, that day. And (once again literally) to cap it all, one poor soul is picked each year for the "honour" of riding on the rush-cart - 20 feet up and without a safety net. He was kept topped up with plenty of beer during a very hot day and looked distinctly queasy when eventually allowed down.
Another traditional event in the North-West, which only occurs every ?25 years, is the Preston Guild. Greensleeves have been honoured to be invited to attend on the last two occasions, again for a very spectacular and colourful series of processions.
Beyond our shores
Our members have tended to disperse across the length and breadth of the country over the years, either through the demands of employment or the pleasures of retirement. For a couple of members, this migration has taken them across the seas. Robin Harrison emigrated to Canada to set up a dental practice there. Inevitably, he is still actively involved in the Morris and visited us at Chipperfield in 2004 with his "local" team. In a reciprocal move Greensleeves will be sending a side to Toronto in summer 2005.
For Antony Heywood, there was less choice about his destiny since, having a young family, the alternatives of "move to Germany or be made redundant" gave no option. A similar demand some years later resulted in a further move, this time to Holland. Here, Antony and his family became involved in the Dutch Folk Dance organisation, which he eventually became Chairman of. He also became very active with Helmond Morris Men, who have visited Chipperfield on various occasions. In 1982, the Club was invited to a very successful weekend based on Helmond, which was to be repeated later in 1998.
Other media appearances
Our first fool, Geoff Trewinnard, appeared as such on "What's My Line" (out of kit) but narrowly failed to defeat the panel.
The Club put up a team for an advert for Fosters Lager, on the strict understanding that they would not be required to drink the stuff! The team had to arrive very early in the morning, then hang around waiting because it was too dark for the cameras. Filming took place over several hours, with real beer supplied. During this time, one of the temporary signs put up to cover the real pub name crashed down, narrowly missing one of the actors "drinking" at the table below. After this excursion, "Balance the Straw" was known as "Fosters" for short.
Another team from the Club took part in the first series of "You Bet!". The pretext was that Harvey Smith had agreed to do a dance if his challenge was not achieved, which narrowly happened (luckily it had been pre-recorded so we knew that we would not have a wasted journey, even if he had no idea of what would happen). We danced into the studio to Wheatley then performed a truncated Balance the Straw. Alan Chetwood (having succeeded Geoff as Fool) had a few words with Bruce Forsyth before Harvey was brought into the set. Suffice it to say that the chap who stood in for him at the rehearsal would have been welcome at any Club practice.
Relations with the Morris Ring
Following the Club's highly successful first Ring meeting in our Golden Jubilee year, 1926, another was organised in 1979. Whilst not as spectacularly successful as our first, it was nevertheless well-received and enjoyed by those attending. However, there was not to be a further repeat for the next twenty years.
The Club had already supplied the Ring Squire on two previous occasions (Leslie Nichols and Bert Cleaver) and relations with the Morris Ring were sometimes stormy as different men with differing ideas took office, then moved on having completed their term. At one Ring Meeting that the Club attended, the behaviour of Headington Quarry Morris Men so upset those in charge that that club was suspended from the organisation. Kenneth Loveless was so upset by this and other incidents that he refused to wear their kit any more and instead took office as Ring Squire in the colours of his first club, Greensleeves. On his travels around the country, he was accompanied by Bert, such that they were able to perform jigs on request (with Kenneth playing, it should be pointed out). This was the start of improved relations with the Ring, which have remained more stable over the 1990's.
Towards the end of the 1970's/start of the 1980's, the cost of running practices at Fox School, Kensington began to spiral. A new venue was sought and, since the then-bagman lived in the London Borough of Merton, we moved to that borough as one of their evening classes. We maintained the same basis of a teacher and "accompanist" being paid (in fact their "fee" went into the Club coffers) with the rest of the Club paying as class members. We were not one of the smallest classes! After some years, this arrangement, too, began to be prohibitively expensive, with the result that (at the time of writing) we have ended up in the dance studio of the Wimbledon Squash and Badminton Club. The one problem that this latest arrangement has given us is that we are constrained by the size of the room, as we were at Fox School.
Another aspect that has changed with the differing venues is the subject of refreshment. At Fox School, although one or two men met up at a pub beforehand, everybody used to go to the pub in the interval (this itself was a change from the practice in the 1960's & early 1970's, when we used to go to the school canteen for a real cup of tea, hence the pub visit became known as "tea-break"). Self-discipline must have been very strong because everyone also returned after one or two quick pints for the second half. After a time, the number of people staying on for a drink after practice increased such that it became part of the routine for most.
With the move to Wimbledon, the opportunity for a mid-session break was lost. Many men had a longer journey and those that lived locally mostly had young children so the pre-practice session remained small. A variety of local pubs enjoyed our company after practice. The move to the Squash Club, with its own bar, has meant that those who wish to can drink all evening (and some do). As this period has also included a greater awareness and tightening of the drink-drive regulations, many of those who are obliged to drive have had to become more wary.
Greensleeves' costume has shown remarkable consistency, at least over the last thirty years. It consists of the "basic" costume of white shirts and socks, with black knee-breeches (which had replaced the earlier white trousers, presumably being considered more practical). Specific to the Club are cross-baldricks in wide green braid, decorated with red and black rosettes; green braid bell-pads worn below the knee; and, to signify full Club membership, a green rosette on an armband (the "green sleeve") on each arm. In order to gain the latter, individuals are required to dance a solo jig in public (or, in at least one case, to play for the same) unless awarded them on an honorary basis. By the 1970's, most men had changed from the earlier regulation of being allowed to select their choice of baldrick rosette colour to the standard of red and black. However, one set with orange rosettes continued to appear until the 1976 Ring meeting.
For this event, it was decided to provide all Club members attending (even those whose dancing days were over) with new baldricks. Enquiries were made to suppliers of braid and samples obtained. To our horror, we discovered that there was no longer any supplier of the width of braid we wished to use, with the only alternative being to join two widths together - a choice that many felt would look less than good. It was one of our wives who came up with the solution, with the result that Brenda Godrich spent most of the next six months frantically weaving miles of braid by hand to meet the deadline. Teams of men and wives made up this braid and purchased narrow braid into the required sets. In addition, it was agreed to have a souvenir plate to replace the central front rosette. These engraved plates, which acquired the nick-name of "shaving mirrors" caused many a problem over the years, as their weight unbalanced the baldricks for those whose girth did not secure them.
Some twenty years later, it was decided that the "kit" was again starting to show its age and need replacement. We had also run out of supplies of the braid that Brenda had slaved over. Another member, Colin Sawyer, now undertook to learn the art of weaving and to manufacture supplies of all widths and colours of braid required. He also spent many hours making up a set of this latest "new" kit for each active member.
One question which has generated much "hot air" over the years is that of hats. Certainly, photographs of the Club abroad in the 1950's show the men in straw hats (and white trousers).
Apart from the Fools (and, arguably, the hobby horses), hats have not been part of the costume for at least thirty years. There have also been many discussions about the need for a regulation "outer garment". Numerous individuals have produced their own suggestions, such as the jackets used by the Scout Association and emerald green knitted jumpers. At one stage, Bert manufactured a number of green fisherman's smocks for club members, however these did not receive universal approval and the remainder are now a mixture of colours, after spillages and washes. Similar reactions resulted from the availability of sweatshirts, etc. Embroidered with the club logo.
At the start of the period covered by these notes, there were only two Club officials - the Squire and the Bagman. By the end of the century, both rôles had been split. The first occurred at the time when the standing Squire had decided not to continue (the Club has never imposed fixed terms of office, although elected officers are now re-confirmed on a bi-annual basis). It went something like this "I propose x as Squire if Bert will stand as Foreman." (This was from someone who was to subsequently hold office as Squire, himself.) As far as most of us were concerned, this was the first time in the Club's history that a separate Foreman existed, although it has recently come to light that John Hylton had held this position a generation earlier. After many years, Bert decided to call it a day and was succeeded in turn by Phil Rowson; Steve Parker; Martin Godrich; and Alan Chetwood.
In the 1970's, there were four musicians routinely playing for shows and practices. These were: the late Leslie Nichols on English concertina (who always maintained that he "wasn't a real musician" but obtained a wonderful tone and lilt, especially when he acquired a new instrument); Bert Cleaver on pipe and tabor (when he wasn't dancing - he was the only one of this quartet to dance regularly); Peter Chetwood on piano accordion (who started by learning the English concertina at practices "hoping no-one would hear him", whilst waiting to drive his son, Alan, home. People did notice and he was encouraged, particularly by Leslie, and eventually worked up to show standard); and Albert Redman on violin (he started as a dancer but changed gradually to become almost exclusively a musician).
At one time (possibly the 1976 Ring Meeting), it was realised that there were thirteen musicians who could (and sometimes did) play for shows or practices. They were brought together in various combinations for such occasions as providing the music for the open-air church services at the annual Chipperfield weekend but never all appeared together, except possibly at a "session" in one hostelry or another. Those who, in addition to the four above, have played on a regular or occasional basis since then include:
Brian Heaton, Peter Chetwood and Neil Barrett
Vic Godrich, Albert Redman and Peter Bowden
Ian James, Alan Jeffries and Kenneth Loveless
Alan Jeffries, Mike Bull, Philip Trewinnard, John Box and Robin Harrison
Bert Cleaver, Mike Cogan and Chris Benson
Pipe and tabor
Philip Rowson and Alan Chetwood
For our Jubilee Ring Meeting in 1976 it was decided to introduce the concept of honorary membership as a means of thanking individuals who had assisted the Club significantly. At the time, we didn't realise quite what an effect we would have. The new Vicar of Chipperfield village, where we have held a weekend of dance for many years, had taken up his post to find that his inherited flock was very small. He therefore determined to go to the people and not wait for them to come to the Church, becoming a regular visitor to the local hostelries amongst other things. He actively encouraged us to include a church service as part of our weekends. On these occasions, the Church was filled beyond its seating capacity. We suggested to the incumbent, John Richardson, that it would be better if we asked the Morris Men to stand, to be told "Nonsense! If they [the locals] can't be bothered to come at other times, they can jolly well stand now!" It was this attitude, along with his enthusiasm to learn a song to sing when invited to our Feast that resulted in the awarding of honorary membership to him. From then on, he proudly wore his "sleeves" over his vestments when we were around. However it was not long afterwards that he was moved on to Rickmansworth parish. It is gratifying that he still keeps in touch, despite having moved again, this time to Bedford.
Our second honorary membership was conferred on the landlord of the Windmill Inn, again in Chipperfield village, who provided sterling service over the years: letting us take over the pub when we visited the village; supplying and setting up barrels of beer for our various events at halls in the village; and even letting us use his barn, behind the pub, to practice for shows such as the visit to Louvain in 1977. Sadly, he too left the village shortly after we had honoured him.
The suggestion was made that another Church of England minister, the Very Reverend Kenneth Loveless, should also be made an honorary member, as had already been done by several other clubs. However, an examination of the first Club Log (and lively discussions with Kenneth himself) revealed that he had already become a member on his merits, since he started his dancing as a club member with Greensleeves, between the wars.
After his period as Greensleeves Squire ended, Geoff decided that he wished to continue dancing but cut down a bit. With the agreement of Club members, he began to appear as the Fool, with pigs bladder and a puppet Robin Goodfellow on a stick. Those who saw him charging around the set, attempting to "bladder" every dancer in a single chorus may wonder whether his intention to ease down was actually achieved. When he retired to the Welsh borders, Alan Chetwood took on the rôle in a rag coat and bowler, carrying a hand bell with which to gain the audience's attention. In subsequent years, Mike Cogan in full Cavalier regalia; and Keith Duke in smock and with bladder have also taken on the task of catching the crowd's attention. On a few occasions, audiences have even been entertained by up to three Fools simultaneously attempting to draw their attention towards (and never away from) the dance.
By the 1990's, a succession of hooden horses also appeared at shows - Griff and then Groff displayed their plumage to assorted onlookers.
In the mid 1990's, further characters were to appear, principally at Yuletide. These were the members of the Wimbledon Mummers Play, which has gone from strength to strength by employing such memorable lines as "What we need now is a lady from the audience." "A lady? This is Wimbledon, you know!"