Celebrating 70 years of dancing in Chichester by Martlet Sword and Morris Men

On Saturday June 3, Chichester’s City Centre will be filled with dancers for all to see and enjoy as 170 visiting dancers will be joining Chichester’s Martlets Sword and Morris Men.

The Martlet Sword and Morris Men were formed in Chichester in 1953, the year of the late Queen’s Coronation. Fifteen teams have accepted their invitation to perform on Saturday June 3 to celebrate their 70th Anniversary, now the year of King Charles’ Coronation.

All teams will assemble in West Street near The Cathedral at 10.30am. Then they will dance in East Street (by Marks and Spencers), Eastgate Square, North Street (outside Assembly Rooms) and Northgate. Some will also perform in Priory Park at 11am and 3pm. All the teams will assemble in Priory Park for a final performance from 4pm to 5pm.

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The visiting teams come from far and wide, including three from the Isle of Wight, some from Hampshire and Surrey, another from Dorset and several from Sussex. Some teams are men, some ladies and some mixed. One team is a clog dancing side - ‘Penny Royal’. Costumes range from traditional Morris outfits to radiant colours or masked faces.

In their prime, the Martlets ranked amongst the top teams in England. In 1982 their ‘Foreman’, Jim Gaffney, was invited to produce a display in the Royal Albert Hall featuring four top teams including the Martlets. It was brilliant and the Martlets were proud of their performance. Additionally, they have performed in Trafalgar Square and outside Westminster Abbey to huge audiences. They have also danced in countless towns and cities in Britain and across much of Europe.

Unfortunately, the Martlets are a much smaller club now due to age and disabilities, and, unless recruits join this summer, it is possible that the Club will be forced to close down in the Autumn after performing so well for these 70 years.

One of the founder members, Peter North, is still a member of the Sword Team, and joins in occasional performances of Morris at the age of 91 – he is possibly the oldest active Morris dancer in the UK! Although the Martlets have been a Men’s side throughout their history, they are now happy to welcome lady recruits.

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In the early days, a number of pupils from the Lancastrian School for Boys joined the Martlets, having been trained by the late Pat Mitchell. The are still known as “Pat’s Boys”! Several of them, now in their early 80’s, are still active Members. They are Jim Gaffney, John Greenfield, Gerry Tilling and Peter Davey. Morris dancing is obviously a very good way of keeping fit for the elderly to continue to be active for so long!

What a great day it will be – some teams may even let spectators join in one of their dances. The Martlets plan to perform themselves at 11.15am and 12.15pm in the vicinity of The Cross, and to conclude in Priory Park at 4pm with all the other teams. Come and watch them!

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