Westminster Morris Men (WMM) first began practising in September 1952 during a boom in the foundation of new morris teams following the two world wars. The team first danced out in 1953, with our earliest notable public appearance being on Coronation Day. The team were very quickly accepted into the Morris Ring of England – the premier association for male morris dancing teams – and we “danced in” to the Ring on 6th of June 1953 at our first Ring Meeting in the beautiful town of Thaxted in Essex. The team has danced at every annual Thaxted Ring Meeting since then.
Westminster quickly began to tour the heartlands of the Cotswold morris dancing tradition and, being based in the capital, we have been frequent visitors at top folk events. WMM have performed 13 times at the Albert Hall. One of the most memorable occasions was a performance in 1972 with the Royal Ballet School to a Malcolm Arnold composition.
Westminster’s most famous (and frequently repeated) appearance is in the film The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966) during which Frankie Howard uses a Westminster performance as cover to flee the police. Since then the team has appeared on ITV a number of times, in TV series and in print, e.g. for The Guardian feature, and given numerous radio interviews.
The team have made a number of overseas trips. Last year (2012) we travelled to the Marlboro Morris Ale in Vermont, USA, where we had a fantastic reception, and were intrigued to see how styles had evolved. We’ve had three splendid trips to the Sancerre folk dance team in France sampling glorious local cheese and wine. Further back, in the 1970s the team was part of a weeklong British trade delegation to Japan. In the 1950s and 60s the team toured France, Denmark and Holland, leading the then Squire to claim that they had “danced for all the Crowned Heads of Europe”.
Some of the key characters that have populated our club’s history include: John French, who began the team and with Keith Lester largely inspired the costumes; John Strange who set much of Westminster’s early dancing style; Colin Fleming who, as squire and foreman for many years (and Squire of the Morris Ring), improved both the accuracy of the dancing and the team’s costume; Leslie “Ginger” Saunders, who was an avid researcher of morris dancing and devised many of the dances in the style of the village of Longborough we perform today e.g. “Big John”, “Old Harry” (named after Harry Taylor, a Longborough dancer), and Longborough “Leap Frog” to the tune of Golden Vanity; Denis Smith, the team’s long-time musician who excelled at playing sensitive accordion music for the team.
Throughout this time, Westminster have continued to try to uphold the best standards of performance striving for elegant and accurate dancing, accompanied by a Unicorn which keeps the crowd amused, and excellent music. Alongside that, we have a great social side to the club enjoying each other’s company as we dance, play and sing our way around, usually accompanied by a pint of good ale.