As well as being the village brewers, my family have been closely involved with the Mirkmere Morris dancers since we first came to live in this area and provided many of the dancers and musicians over generations. At the moment I am the leader of the side, my wife Victoria is one of the musicians, my father Fred was the leader until his untimely death in a motorcycle accident on Hallowe’een night 1990 (returning from a celebration in Pidley on the back of the motorcycle driven by his old friend Charlie Nipperkin they failed to negotiate the sharp bend at Mirkmere Parva and sailed into the fen and oblivion. At the time of their deaths Fred was aged 90 and Charlie was 89). My grandfather “Old” John was leader before him.
The traditional seasonal festivals of Huntingdonshire were largely unmarked by the end of the nineteenth century. The celebration of the passing of the seasons by earlier generations in the Ouse River valley area was restricted to May Day festivities (especially the Glatton, Sawtry and St.Neots May Garland activities which you can learn all abut elsewhere on the web) and the mid winter activities associated with Plough Monday, when the village ploughmen would blacken their faces and parade the streets pulling a plough and collecting money from householders. In Ramsey there is a record of a Straw Bear akin to that of Whittlesey and some passing reference to Molly Dancers. For a long time this distinctive, if frankly unexciting and badly recorded, fragment of local tradition was thought to be all of Huntingdonshire’s contribution to the English folk tradition. That is to say, all that was known of outside of Mirkmere where we knew all about our own traditions and were happy to share them … but nobody came to ask us about it.
The original morris side danced for centuries without a break until the terrible fate that befell them (at the Midsummer Feast) just before the last war, after which the survivors of that awful day felt unable to continue. Something truly terrible happened to the dancers at the Summer Fair that year and the truth of what it was will probably die with the last of the older generation who were present. Village lips are firmly sealed. Fortunately in the summer of 1987 over a pint in the Old Lame Duck. Fred and Charlie were persuaded to teach some of the dances and tunes they knew before the knowledge was lost with their passing. The final result was the reforming of the Mirkmere Morris.
Just in time, as it happens as Fred and Charlie were killed in a motorcycling accident on the Pidley Road not long afterwards.
The Fuddle family have been closely involved with the Mirkmere Morris dancers since they first came to live in this area and have provided many of the dancers and musicians for generations. At the moment Albert Fuddle, managing Director of Fuddles Ales, is the leader of the reformed side and his wife Victoria is one of the musicians. His father Fred, one of our main informants, was the leader of the old side that folded its bells over 60 years ago and his grandfather “Old” John was leader before him. Nobody knows as much about the Mirkmere Morris as the Fuddles although the Nipperkins come a close second.
Many fascinating hours were spent with Fred and Charlie during 1988 and 1989 recording their memories of the village morris and its tunes and we are confident that we have a working knowledge of the status of the tradition by the time of the 1936 tragedy. Naturally, we were keen to try to recreate the dances but could find nobody in the village still able to perform them or with any knowledge of the morris style. Fortunately we were, at that time, in communion with the nearby Fenstanton Morris dancers who were persuaded to “test drive” the notations we had collected and to see if the tradition was still performable. Fortunately, we found that the memories of our informants were remarkably accurate and, apart from one or two minor points that we had to use common sense to recreate, we found ourselves the possessors of morris dances previously unknown to the morris community in England.
Here in Mirkmere, the new morris side will conserve our heritage and perform the dances at the village feast days. We have no intention of ever performing the dances outside the boundaries of the village itself, believing that this would break with the past – although we are happy, eager even, for our dances to be passed on and performed by others.
At the time of writing, the members of the reformed Mirkmere Morris are:
- Albert Fuddle (age 48) – dance leader/squire
- Victoria Fuddle (age 47) – musician (concertina)
- Joan Nipperkin (age 57) – dancer
- Constance “Bubbles” Fuddle (age 25) – dancer
- Daniel Ditchling (age 50) – dancer
- Maurice “Mo” Buggins (age 46) – dancer
- Delilah Sharpe (age 52) – dancer
- Rhodes Moriarty (age 61) – musician (melodeon)
- Beatrice Probus (age 45) – dancer
- Simeon Charlestone-Gavotte (age 49) – musician (fiddle)
- Amelia Able (age 47) – musician (concertina)
- Sidney Greene (age 44) – dancer
- Reverend Brian Brian (age 56) – dancer
Below is a small gallery of images of the dancers with the Mirkmere Morris from the time of the remembrance – click on any one of the thumbnails to open the set in a full-size slideshow.
footnote: Why is the dance leader called the “Squire”? A good question. For some reason dance leaders are all called squires as the teachers are the foremen and the administrators are the bagmen. Lost in the mists of time and all that but it probably has its roots more in the “How’s things Squire?” culture rather than any reference to doffed hats and forelocks touched in deference.