History of Ravensbourne Morris
By Malcolm Ward (2017)
With acknowledgement of the contributions of
Jim Bartlett, Kevin Bonner-Williams & David Jex
Ravensbourne Morris Men came into being in the aftermath of the
Second World War. Five men got together from the rump of two pre-war
sides which were unable to re-form – Morley College Morris Men and
Balgowan Old Boys Morris & Sword Dance Club, plus a sixth man ex-St.
Albans. The prime movers were two former members of M.C.M.M. –
Geoffrey Metcalf, an accomplished dancer, musician and folk music
enthusiast, and Walter Faires, who taught at Balgowan school and was the
link between the two sides. A preliminary meeting was held in October
1946, but with only six men nothing further was possible immediately,
but a musician was found and the first practice took place on 13th
January 1947. Here the name Ravensbourne was adopted, after the river
which rises in Keston and flows into the Thames at Deptford (a.k.a The
Our first public performance was given on 10th
March 1947 at Beckenham & Penge County School to help illustrate a
talk given by Douglas Kennedy, noted collector of folk dances and then
Squire of The Morris Ring. The dances performed were Twenty-ninth Of
May (Headington), Constant Billy (Adderbury), Nutting Girl (Fieldtown)
& the Newbiggin Sword Dance. Our first full tour took place on 28
August 1948, dancing at Halstead, Knockholt and Downe and in May 1949 we
ventured as far as Hythe to be part of the May Day festivities. This,
together with our pre-war connections, makes us the oldest extant Morris
side dancing in Kent, a tradition which we intend to maintain.
In 1949, Ravensbourne performed a folk play for the first time, namely the Soul Cakers’ Play from Guildern Sutton (Cheshire).
1st June 1953, a very wet Coronation Day eve, whilst dancing in the bar
of the Bat & Ball at Leigh, near Tonbridge, Ravensbourne met
72-year-old Jack Medhurst who was the last of the local Mummers side and
was word-perfect on the Westerham Christmas Play which he had last
performed some 40 years previously. G.M. arranged to meet this man
later, and collected the play which forms the basis of the Christmas
Mummers Play which we perform to this day.
On Boxing Day 1963 we
danced at The Greyhound on Keston Common for the first time (see Notable
Public Performances), a tradition we have continued every year since,
sometimes to an audience of as many as 500, the collection always going
to a local childrens’ charity.
On 1st May 1978 at sunrise (in the
pouring rain) Ravensbourne “danced the summer in” for the first time at
Caesar’s Well on Keston Common, being the source of the River
Ravensbourne. We have continued to do so, sometimes without the rain,
every year since.
Ravensbourne and The Morris Ring
survival of Morris Dancing as an art form dates from Boxing Day 1899,
when Cecil Sharp, a musicologist and entrepreneur, met the Headington
Quarry Morris Dancers led by William Kimber. Sharp and others became
actively engaged in collecting and noting down the dances for
publication. This stored information enabled enthusiasts to pick up the
pieces after The Great War. Six clubs got together to form The Morris Ring in 1934.
original clubs, Morley College and Balgowan Old Boys were admitted to
membership in 1935 and 1938 respectively. The newly-founded
Ravensbourne Morris Men were admitted on 22nd March 1947, the Squire’s
staff of office being that formerly held by the Squire of Balgowan Old
In November 1949, Ravensbourne went to the Jubilee
Meeting organised by Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, at which William
Kimber was present, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic
In July 1951, to celebrate the Festival Of Britain,
Ravensbourne organised what is believed to be the first outdoor
gathering of Morris Clubs in London.
In 1953, Ravensbourne hosted
a Ring Meeting based in Tonbridge, at which William Kimber was an
honoured guest. In 1972 to celebrate our 25th year, Ravensbourne hosted
a Ring Meeting centred on Bromley. We hosted a third in 1977, based on
Keston, to celebrate 30 years and in 2007 were joint hosts with Hartley
M.M. and White Star Sword Dancers at the Ring Meeting in Tonbridge.
1977, Ravensbourne participated in a re-enactment of Will Kemp’s “Nine
Daies’ Wonder” when Shakespeare’s clown danced in nine (non-consecutive)
days from London to Norwich during the period of Lent 1599 (1600 in the
modern calendar). It snowed as we danced into Norwich (Easter
We shall be holding our 70th Anniversary Ring Meeting
this coming summer of 2017, around the Tower Of London, St Paul’s and
The South Bank.
Ravensbourne have been, and still are,
enthusiastic supporters of The Morris Ring, and are the only club to
have provided one of each of the Chief Officers, namely Squire (Geoff
Metcalf, 1952-54); Bagman (John Wells,1971-77) and Treasurer (Steven
Archer, 2013 – date)
Notable Public Performance
January 1949 Ravensbourne performed at the Royal Albert Hall
Anglo-French Festival. We danced again at various festivals at the
Royal Albert Hall in 1950, 1951, 1953 and again in 1973.
19th 1952, Ravensbourne toured all points from Wrotham to Dartford with
Headington Quarry M.D. and William Kimber as guests. A photograph taken
at Otford Pond during this tour appeared in National Geographic
On May Day 1954, Ravensbourne were dancing as guests of
the Chanctonbury Ring M.M. when our performances were captured not only
by the B.B.C. but also The Times.
On 27th May 1956 at Thaxted,
several members of Ravensbourne were photographed admiring a new Ford
Anglia, & this was used in Ford’s publicity brochure.
around 1962, Ravensbourne were photographed dancing outside The Castle
Inn in Chiddingstone village, which appeared in the shops as a series of
postcards entitled “Morris Dancing In Kent”.
On Boxing Day 1963,
the actor Richard Chamberlain, famous for his role as Doctor Kildare on
TV, paid an incognito visit to the area, and for his benefit a special
performance was arranged at The Greyhound on Keston Common to an
audience of about 30 people. This performance was repeated for public
consumption the following year raising the princely sum of £9 14s 11d -
quite a tidy sum in those days, probably more than the weekly take-home
pay of a labourer at that time. This was given to a local charity, a
practice we have followed every year since.
On 12th May 1971 founder member Geoffrey Metcalf was very recognisably depicted in a cartoon by “Zak” in the Evening Standard.
April 1981 Jim Bartlett, a former Royal Marine, decided that if he
could “yomp” 30 miles a day with a 60lb pack on his back, he could
certainly dance 30 miles a day. So he did, dancing 202½ miles from
Orpington to Worcester in seven days. Unfortunately, the Guinness Book
Of Records declined to show any interest in this splendid
achievement, so 25 years later Ben Dauncey decided to put matters right,
and after much negotiation beforehand with Guinness World Records, he
was awarded an official entry of 235.37km for the Longest distance Morris danced in seven days.
In 1989, we danced all day from Bromley to London
waving collecting tins as we went, and raised £5,000 – a sum which would
have bought you five brand new Ford Fiestas – for Children In Need.
We ended up at the BBC TV studios, but could not gain entry to the TV
set, but we did get to dance live on the radio.
On Saturday 6th
September 1997 we curtailed our 50th Anniversary celebrations out of
respect for the late Diana, Princess Of Wales, refraining from dancing
until 2pm, after her funeral.
In 1999, Wayne Taylor appeared on
the Esther Rantzen programme on BBC2 to illustrate the art of Morris
Dancing in a well-balanced programme extolling different aspects of the terpsichorean art.
Ravensbourne and Royalty
June 1950, Ravensbourne danced before the Duchess Of Kent at an Old
English Fair at Tonbridge Castle, held to celebrate the purchase of the
historic castle by the town.
In 1967, Ravensbourne were invited
(?commanded) jointly with Kentish Travellers Folk Dance Club to perform
at Buckingham Palace staff Christmas party, in the presence of Her
Majesty The Queen, H.R.H. Prince Philip, H.R.H. Princess Margaret and
several other members of the Royal Family. After the displays, the
Squire and Bagman, together with representatives of Kentish Travellers
were presented to Her Majesty.
...............and in 1993, one of
our members escorted a Princess to a firework display. This is another
story, but she was German, and they are a republic, so it probably
In November 1952, Ravensbourne performed at an International Dance Festival in Antwerp.
1980, Ravensbourne were part of the festivities at Dieppe Carnival.
Our departure from foreign soil was curtailed by French fisherman
protesting about something and blockading the port, so some members
chartered a light aircraft to fly them back to England whilst others
hired a motor-coach to take them to Ostend, selling the empty seats and
covering the cost of the hire! The engagement was repeated the
following year, but this time the only trauma was one member suffering
from a bout of Napoleon’s Revenge after a fishy lunch.
The London Borough Of Bromley signed a Town-Twinning Agreement with
Neuwied, a town in the Rheinpfalz of Germany about 5 miles downstream
from Koblenz. The following year, Ravensbourne were invited to
accompany the Twinning Association on a visit to cement the twinning and
to attend the opening ceremonies for Neuwied’s new Heimathaus. The
hall was packed with about 1500 people for a banquet and show, and all
the surrounding associated villages took turns to put on an act, so we
represented Bromley. Five years later, we were invited back when
Neuwied hosted the area festival, the RheinPfalzTag. They obviously
liked us because we were invited back the following year to their annual
Deichstadtfest. Ravensbourne have since become affiliated to the
Bromley Twinning Association and we have formed a firm friendship with
the people of Neuwied. We have to date amassed a total of 16 visits as a
club; 10 Deichstadtfests, 3 Twinning Anniversary Celebrations, 2
RheinPfalzTags and a Picnic Concert with the Bromley Youth Orchestra.
May 2003, some members accompanied Weald Of Kent (q.v.) to The Festival
Of Flowers at Lucignano in Tuscany, where the highlight for us was to
hoist the reigning Miss Italy during a performance of “The Rose Tree”,
before the ceremony of the Election of the Captain Of The Town Gates. Later that same year we visited Normandy en famille for a weekend of dancing organised by Weald Of Kent.
addition, Ravensbourne have been represented at overseas Ring Meetings
at Adelaide, Helmond (Netherlands) and The Isle Of Wight.
Ravensbourne and other clubs
the early 1950’s, some members left to form the Orpington Morris Men.
Orpington attracted their own membership, but folded in about 1960, and
the remaining members joined or rejoined Ravensbourne to make the club
In 1952, Geoffrey Metcalf helped to found the Hartley
Morris Men, of whom he was their first Squire. Hartley have since
spawned The Wadard Morris Men, so one could possibly claim that they are
our grandchildren in the Morris.
During the Folk Revival of the
1960’s the Morris Ring encouraged an initiative whereby established
clubs shared their knowledge and expertise with newly-formed clubs, and
Ravensbourne are proud to have encouraged and assisted the Headcorn
Morris in this way.
Two former members of Ravensbourne were
instrumental in forming the Weald Of Kent Morris, who occupy an area to
the south-east of Tunbridge Wells.
The Hooden Horse
history of Ravensbourne would be complete without a mention of our
Hooden Horse. It is customary for a Morris side to include supernumary
characters in the company, one of which will be an animal of some
description. What more appropriate choice for a Kentish Morris team
than a Hooden Horse?
The practice of Hoodening is an ancient
custom which originated in eastern Kent, and probably owes its origins
to the Norse invaders (Hengist and Horsa et al) who worshipped Odin (or
Wodin) and his magical eight-footed steed Sleipner. The custom was to
take the Hooden Horse around the pubs and wealthier private houses in
the days before Christmas. It is said that the practice was prohibited
by law as a result of, shall we say, over-enthusiasm, and seems to have
died out in the early 1900’s.
Six of the original horses are
known to have survived and have been “resurrected”. Ours,
affectionately known as “Dobbin”, was made in 1939 for a special
demonstration event at Aylesford given by Balgowan (q.v.). He is the
oldest “revivalist” Hooden Horse, and came to us with the Balgowan men
on the formation of the club. For more information on Hoodening in
Kent, go to hoodening.org.uk.