Chichester side, featuring the oldest active Morris dancer in the UK, fights for survival

​​The Martlet Sword and Morris Men, who once ranked among the top teams in England, have possibly the oldest active Morris dancer in the UK.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

At the age of 91, founder member Peter North is still part of the sword team and joins in occasional performances.

He would love more younger men and women to join him, as the group celebrates 70 years of dancing – as without new recruits coming forward this summer, it will be forced to close down in the autumn.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A demonstration of dancing in Chichester city centre on Saturday, June 3, will have caught the eye, as 170 visiting dancers joined the Martlet Sword and Morris Men for an anniversary celebration.

The Martlet Sword and Morris Men dancing at The Murrell Arms, Barnham, in July 2005. Picture: Malcolm McCluskeyThe Martlet Sword and Morris Men dancing at The Murrell Arms, Barnham, in July 2005. Picture: Malcolm McCluskey
The Martlet Sword and Morris Men dancing at The Murrell Arms, Barnham, in July 2005. Picture: Malcolm McCluskey

The group was formed in Chichester in 1953, the year of the late Queen’s Coronation. In the early days, the ranks were swelled by a number of pupils from the Lancastrian School for Boys, having been trained by their schoolmaster, the late Martlets enthusiast Pat Mitchell.

Pat and his wife Pearl belonged to the English Folk Dance and Song Society in Devon before moving to West Sussex in the 1950s and it was then that Pat joined the Martlets.

Even to this day, his recruits are known as 'Pat’s Boys', and four of them, now in their early 80s, are still active members – Jim Gaffney, John Greenfield, Gerry Tilling and Peter Davey. They say Morris dancing is obviously a good way of keeping fit!

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although the Martlets was a men’s side throughout most of its history, the group is now happy to welcome ladies.

The Martlet Sword and Morris Men at the Bishop's Palace in Chichester in August 1962. Picture: West Sussex Records OfficeThe Martlet Sword and Morris Men at the Bishop's Palace in Chichester in August 1962. Picture: West Sussex Records Office
The Martlet Sword and Morris Men at the Bishop's Palace in Chichester in August 1962. Picture: West Sussex Records Office

Traditionally, dancers wear black breeches, white stockings, bells at the knee 'to keep the devil at bay', a tabard decorated with yellow birds and a flower-festooned straw hat.

They will wave a handkerchief, or clash sticks or swords, while performing dances with such names as Old Woman Tossed Up, Lad's A'bunchum and Dearest Dickie.

A beginner will wear a plain blue tabard for a probationary period before he is pronounced a full Martlet and ‘gets his birds’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Camaraderie, love of music and dance, giving pleasure to people and performing in picturesque villages all over the county in some of the finest dancing spots in England are all reasons why Morris is magical for many.

Related topics: