A Collection of Redbornstoke memories
An article written by Rik Stokes, a long time member of Redbornstoke Morris and ex-Squire.
Looking back over 40 years there are many highlights which those of us who have danced in the side, or who have been friends of the side, will recall. A question that is frequently asked is when did we dance there? or When did we first dance with such and such? Another reaction is I didn’t know Redbornstoke did that or went there. Here may be the answers to some of those questions. It is not an attempt to tell the whole story, and apologies for any omissions; on the other hand, if you have any memories you wish to share, please let us know (see Contacts).
The inaugural meeting took place at Redborne School in Ampthill on 3rd May 1976, when David Adcock was trying to gauge the degree of interest in creating a new morris side. Sufficient interest was generated over the intervening months for Redbornstoke Morris to form and then to perform in public during the summer of 1977.
The side boasted a healthy number of members in those early days and by 1980 they were able to perform at the Towersey Folk Festival and to enjoy spending Days of Dance with other local sides.
A mummer’s team, the Brafront Guizers, was formed in 1980 by members of the side, and continues to perform over the midwinter season. Interest in the formation of a ladies’ morris side led to the formation of Bedfordshire Lace Morris around the same time. Redbornstoke enjoyed particularly close links with each of these groups throughout their history.
May Day has always been a high point in the morris year, and in the early years it was celebrated by Redbornstoke in Leighton Buzzard. However, in 1983 they saw in the first of May at dawn by Katherine’s Cross in Ampthill Park and continued to do so until 2018. Bedfordshire Lace ladies would join us throughout their existence. For a few years in the late 1980’s - mid 1990’s a shorter-lived local side, Black Annis & Ragged Rainbow would also join us. By 2010 we were joined in Ampthill Park by Hemlock Morris from Bedford. In 2006 we were lucky enough to have Oyster Morris join us at Katherine’s Cross. All manner of weather conditions were experienced over the years, from the sublime clear sunrise to steady rain, bitter chill squalls, sharp frosts and even an early hailstorm. The celebrants would then head down to the Old Sun, and later The Queens Head, for breakfast and maybe a couple more dances. Events were generally cut short due to team members’ work demands, but there were occasionally further dancing venues scheduled, often at local schools.
In 1992 Redbornstoke undertook its first trip to the Hastings Jack in the Green Festival, organised each year by Mad Jacks Morris. This immediately became a firm favourite with the side. This event is held over the May Day Bank Holiday, and for many years, provided that May 1st did not fall on a Sunday or Monday, the side would head there. A couple of exceptions were in 2005 when we were joined in Ampthill by Maids of the Mill from Utrecht in Holland and Shrewsbury Morris and Shrewsbury Lasses, and in 2013 when one of our side, Chris John, invited the side to his wedding in Cornwall. Over the years we danced at other members’ weddings, including Jerry, Taz, John Clifford and Andrew, and a good few Anniversaries too.
Redbornstoke Morris danced with most local sides at some time during their existence, however there were a number of sides from further afield that we developed particularly strong bonds with.
In 1988 the side were invited to the Sarum Morris weekend, and we met up with them several times, notably in 1989, when Jim Grennell memorably ended up in the river with Richard De’Ath of Sarum Morris at Bedford. Also with us on that Day of Dance, held jointly with Bedfordshire Lace, were Oyster Morris; we were invited to join them 1990 in the Whitstable area in Kent, and the two sides exchanged visits many times, and enjoyed a memorable final fling together in London in 2018.
Ironmen and Severn Gilders invited Redbornstoke to a weekend in Shropshire in 1991. In 1992 both sides, together with Stevenage Sword Rapper, travelled to the Maid of Tralee Festival in the west of Ireland, organised by Jim Grennel, where the sides learned about drinking Guinness and marching, and performed at the most westerly point in Europe. The sides met up on many further occasions. Redbornstoke themselves revisited Ireland in 1998 at Bray on the east coast.
Redbornstoke’s association with Stroud Morris probably goes back to the late 1980’s, and there were few years when the two did not meet, if not on either’s local patch, then at one of their frequent festival appearances. Similarly, Windsor Morris and Redbornstoke danced together most seasons and we frequently came across Black Annis (the Leicester based women’s morris side) at various events.
Folk Festivals were always a high spot of each dancing season and the side would try to attend a couple as an invited side most years. Chippenham Folk Festival was a favourite, held over the Late May Bank Holiday. We first danced here in 1992 and revisited the festival several times. Previous to this we made our only billing at Lichfield Folk Festival and Ely Folk Festival in 1989. We performed at Sidmouth Folk Festival in 1996, 2008 & 2012, and at Bridgenorth Folk Festival (2002), and later at Shrewsbury Folk Festival (2011), which was its successor; Whitby Folk Festival (2006); the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival (2007); Warwick Folk Festival (2009). In 2001 some members of the side accompanied our beloved anteater, Anton, to the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival.
In addition to these we made numerous attendances at Days and Weekends of Dance and special anniversary celebrations with many other sides up and down the country: in the later years these included regular attendances at such events as St Neots Folk Festival, Joint Morris Organisation (JMO) Day of Dance, Morris Federation AGM Day of Dance, the two latter taking us to a nationwide scattering of venues.
In addition to dancing in Ireland, the side has danced in the Trossachs, Scotland (2008), when we visited former dancer Cliff; and Ampthill’s Twin Town of Nissan les Enserune (2012 & 2016).
Although the summer months are when the bulk of morris dancing is performed, Redbornstoke had a tradition of dancing over the midwinter period.
A permanent fixture in the winter calendar was Boxing Day in Silsoe, which dates back to at least 1991. Redbornstoke Morris and Bedfordshire Lace would gather at The George at midday and put on four or five dances along the High Street each before the Brafront Guizers performance. The audience at this event grew year on year and (unofficially) would block off the road to traffic. In the early years there was a Boar’s Head ceremony from the Star and Garter to the George. Unfortunately, the George closed around 2014 and so the proceedings were rerouted to the Star and Garter.
Plough Monday was an event that was celebrated from early on: this would involve a few dances at the Cross Keys in Pulloxhill, followed by a performance by the Brafront Guizers and a few songs. After one session around 1990 when the beer started to freeze, it was decided that the summer kit and dances were not appropriate to extreme conditions and this led to the development of the winter tradition (Marston) and winter kit. Subsequently we made regular appearances at the Hitchin Winter Fayre (from 1997) and a couple of years later the first of several trips to the Elephant up a Pole Wassail in Coventry, and to Cheltenham Folk Festival.
There were a couple of invitations to the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival (2008 & 2011) and from 2010 we joined Letchworth Morris at the Dunton Wassail in early January.
No collection of Redbornstoke memories would be complete without mention of the famous Toddington Tour. This took place every July (eventually the last Thursday of the school term) when every pub in Toddington would be visited. A host of local (and some not so local) would be invited (or would invite themselves!) to join the tour. Up to around ten morris sides would mill around the village green dancing at each pub in turn until all those left at the end of the evening would gather in the Sow and Pigs to dance, drink and sing. Unfortunately, a number of pubs have closed over the thirty odd years (including the Sow and Pigs), but the tradition continued until the final performance of Redbornstoke Morris on July 12th 2018.
Rik Stokes (Feb 2021)