No morris minors – they were all maxis

FLASHBACK: The Mail's article about Hartlepool morris men on May 7, 1979
FLASHBACK: The Mail's article about Hartlepool morris men on May 7, 1979

IT was an “elite group”, wrote the Mail’s Margaret O’Rourke.

“Something of a secret society with a heritage that goes back to medieval times,” she added.

Not surprisingly this group had considerable barriers to entry.

No women were allowed and all the men were of a certain type.

Member Phil Bond spilled the beans: “I have yet to meet a skinny morris man.

“We all tend to be on the weighty side.”

Phil himself was 17 stone back in 1979 but according to Margaret was “as light as a feather on his feet”.

He had a theory about this: “I suppose it goes back to the old days when these dances were performed by farm workers.

“Big, beefy blokes who performed ritual dances at certain times of the year.

“Particularly springtime when there were special rites to bring forth the seed from the earth.”

In fact, the Hart and Hound group were hardly a secret society.

They had recently formed and met once a week in the top room of a pub to rehearse handkerchief dances, stick dances and to learn morris music.

Now they wanted to spread the word and had invited the Mail to an impromptu performance on the village green at Elwick.

Margaret learned that stick dances were performed in spring, with the banging of the stick on the earth urging mother nature to give forth the crops for another season.

Handkerchief dances were to ward off evil spirits and other dances, including group favourite Bonny Green Garters, aimed at attracting the village maidens.

Each group had a squire, a bagman and a professor.

Squire of the Hart and Hound group in May 1979 was Roger Kennington, whose day job was as a probation officer.

Maragaret wrote: “He bullies cajoles and dances his Morris men through dance after dance, insisting that if at first they don’t get it right they start all over again.”

The group’s favourite dance was Constant Billy, a stick clashing dance described by Margaret as looking “thoroughly dangerous and has the audience wondering when one of the men are going to make a mistake and make a lusty swing at a head”.

This was early days for the Hart and Hound group, which aimed to found a tradition of Morris dancing in Hartlepool.

How did the group develop over the coming years?

If you have any Morris dancing memories you would like to share with readers contact Andrew Levett by emailing or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.