Traditional folk music, dance and customs - Harrogate, North Yorkshire - Chas Marshall's Website



Despite making his living as a clogmaker, Trefor Owen once remarked "How many of you call yourselves Clog Morris - there's no such thing, it's North West Morris and maybe up to 85% of it (though some authorities reckon only about 60%) was danced in shoes or boots not in clogs."Ref 1 The suggestion that North West Morris was not performed exclusively in clogs is not in itself new Ref 2, but the timing of Trefor's remark coincided with an increasing number of teams describing their dancing as Clog Morris. The impression gained is that it is the teams which are not indigenous to the North West area which are most prone to using the tag of Clog Morris. Indeed, a quick glance at the Morris Federation's 1990 County Table shows over 20 teams which include the word "clog" (or it's derivatives) in their team names, only one of which is based in the North West! All of these teams describe their repertoire as including North West and/or Garland dances. This article attempts to discover the truths, if any, behind Trefor's remark by examining records of footwear used in North West Morris in times gone by.

The Source of Information

Over the years, the author has built up a collection of information on North West Morris, comprising both published works and copies of manuscripts from various libraries and archives. This represents merely a collation of available data and does not include any original fieldwork. The author owes a considerable debt to the original fieldworkers and researchers who have worked hard to gather the data and to the informants (is there no better word?) who have given so generously of their experiences and memories. The help, encouragement and additional information provided by Pruw Boswell, Trefor Owen, Roger Bryant and Denis Cleary (for the Manchester Morris Men's Archive) is also greatly appreciated.

The Selection of Information

A series of records was created from this information; each record being generated only if, with some certainty, it uniquely identified:

  • The town or locality where a team was based or performed and, where possible, the name of the team
  • The gender and age of the dancers
  • The details of the footwear worn
  • A year, or range of years, when the team was active (where a team can be shown to have existed for several years the earliest year of performance was used).

Repeated references where the first three of the above items are unchanged have been ignored because they are most likely references to the same team. However there are instances where there is clearly documented evidence of several teams having existed in the same locality (such as Horwich Ref 3 and Preston Ref 4). These are counted as separate records even though the teams may have either been formed by the same individuals or at least had an influence on one another, for this is surely tradition in the making. Equally there is evidence to suggest that some teams have changed footwear or have changed the team make-up by becoming, for example, a mixed gender team. These likewise are counted as separate records.

No serious attempt has been made to follow up very early references as the period under study was intended to cover the era for which most of the information used by today's revival teams was collected.

All teams which have been formed or revived since 1960 have been ignored though this in itself would provide interesting study. The intention was to examine the situation before the more "folk" conscious revivals occurred, though it must be admitted that previous revivals have taken place within the period under study. The selection process resulted in 133 records being created.

Completeness of the Data

It is virtually impossible to know how exhaustive the data is, nevertheless it is important to assess whether the sample is worthy of study or whether it is insignificant and should be discarded. Dan Howison and Bernard Bentley certainly used fewer examples for their important article on North West Morris.Ref 5 However, their classification of dances into two groups, one centred around the Pennine foothills and the other on the Cheshire Plain still holds remarkably true, save for the unexpected wealth of information to come from the Lancashire Plain. Refs 3, 4

The Geographical Index of Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain Ref 6 shows the following number of locations classified as having a North West style dance:

Cheshire 17
Derbyshire 4
Lancashire 48
Staffordshire 3
Yorkshire 2
Total 74

(Note that the above are the counties as existed prior to the 1974 reorganisation.)

There have undoubtedly been many more discoveries since the Geographical Index was published, though some of these may not have been included had they been known at the time, depending on the view taken as to whether the morris in question was seen as traditional and indigenous or seen as the product of dancing masters or of competitions. For example, Pruw Boswell lists 41 teams on the Lancashire Plain covering the period 1890 to 1928 Ref 7. Janet Chart and Lesley Edwards list 49 teams in Cheshire in a study covering the years 1880 to 1914 Ref 8. Within this context the view was taken that while 133 records are by no means exhaustive, they are worthy of consideration.

Some Problems

There are many problems associated with this type of work but some peculiar to this analysis are worth making a particular note of:

  • While it is easy to distinguish between clogs and other types of footwear, there are particular difficulties in distinguishing between different types of shoes, boots, plimsolls etc. In general it seems preferable to distinguish merely between clogs and not clogs. Certainly in terms of the sound of the dance and the actual style of the dance the marked differences are due to the flexibility or the hardness of the sole of the footwear. There were particular problems in dealing with the description "white shoes"; in most instances these may be white gym shoes but there are particular occasions where it is clear that leather-soled white shoes were worn.
  • The classification of dancers into male, female and mixed is straightforward. Determining whether the reference was to adults or boys, girls and mixed juveniles was rather more difficult. It is suspected that a number of the male teams (and by implication adults) should really be boys or youths teams. The intended meaning in the original fieldwork may also be undefined or unclear.
  • The information sources are merely snapshots of a particular location at a particular time. In very few instances are there detailed records of a team over a period of time which may suggest how their costume and footwear changed and indeed why it changed.
  • There are several records where the team leader wore different footwear to the rest of the team. In these cases the team footwear rather than that of the leader has been used.

The Results

Firstly the records were plotted geographically. The results are shown in the map at Figure 1. (Note that three locations are outside the boundaries of the map i.e. Wigton, Whitehaven\Workington and Stafford - all shoe). This shows a marked boundary between Cheshire and the Lancashire Plain where (apart from some well documented examples at Horwich Ref 3 and Manley Ref 9) shoes etc. were the norm and the Pennine Foothills (particularly S.E. Lancashire) where clogs were more usual. This conforms with the three "regions" described by Pruw Boswell Ref 12.

There are a number of plottings in the Pennine foothills which show the use both of clogs and "shoes" at a particular locality. Without exception the use of the clog at these locations predates the use of the "shoe". This would lead one to the conclusion that the older style of dance used clogs and the newer style used shoes. This supposition lead to the tabulation of the style of footwear against the date of performance. This approach has some flaws because of the snapshot nature of the material and because of the variability of the dates. Some dates are first appearance, some are last appearance and some teams with long histories such as Manley, Leyland and Brittania have been ascribed with the earliest date. The results are shown in the table at Figure 2.

This table would suggest, given all its limitations, that during the 40 years from 1890 to 1929 to which the bulk of the data refers, it would be wrong to infer that there was a noticeable general trend other than that noted specifically in the Pennine foothills.

Finally in Figure 3, the details of footwear were tabulated against the gender and, to some extent, the age of the dancers. This shows that 37% of the records include clogs as the footwear and that 63% refer to footwear other than clogs. The distribution of clogs and other types of footwear across the different genders of dancers does not suggest that the wearing of "shoes" or clogs was the exclusive preserve of any category, though the proportion of male teams wearing clogs (about 50%) is significantly higher than any other category.

The Reasons for Choice of Footwear

Very little information can be gleaned as to why a particular type of footwear was chosen. However, there are a few anecdotes which in themselves are worth quoting.

At Clitheroe the girls wore clogs until "two of them were hurt by falling while dancing uphill on a wet road" Ref 10. At Glossop clogs apparently were available but "the boys felt they could not wear them" Ref 10. The following tale concerns Padiham; "Her father insisted on clogs; once there was a move to wear pumps but he put his foot down and said that they would be country dancers if they did. Morris dancers wore clogs" Ref 10.

These anecdotes reinforce the conclusion which common sense would suggest - that there are a number of reasons why certain footwear would be chosen. It is suggested that these stories are examples of practicality, fashion and tradition respectively.

Some Conclusions

The conclusions are fairly self evident and certainly lend weight to Trefor's original remark which opened the article, though it would seem that rather more teams wore clogs than he imagined. The origin of the name North West Morris is not known ("North Western Morris" was certainly in use in 1936 Ref 11) but it seems more apt than the more recent term Clog Morris to describe the dance form in question. Perhaps the term Clog Morris could be applied to the style emanating from the Pennine Foothills where clogs were more commonly in use. However this would perhaps overemphasise a detail of costume when in dance form there is much in common with the areas of the Cheshire Plain and Lancashire Plain.

If the term Clog Morris has any real currency it could be used to describe accurately the modern trend of the many teams which choose to dance all their North West Morris in clogs, regardless of the origins of the dances in question. Teams such as the Leyland Morris Dancers and the Abram Morris Dancers are to be admired for not following this fashion by dancing their local dances in the customary footwear of shoes. There are other teams such as Derby Crown, who perform a variety of styles, including North West, in shoes. This choice of footwear, while it may be based primarily on the practicality of performing a variety of styles, still allows opportunity to witness North West Morris being danced in shoes.

There is nothing wrong in the modern enthusiasm for clogs providing it is not justified solely on the basis of morris tradition; rather that clogs are a novel form of footwear in today's age, that they have some links with the past (though not necessarily related to morris) and perhaps, above all, that they sound good.

Chas Marshall August 1991


Decade 1880 to 1889 1890 to 1899 1900 to 1909 1910 to 1919 1920 to 1929 1930 to 1939 Later or Not Known TOTAL
CLOG 1 7 13 15 10 3 0 49
NOT CLOG 0 12 19 17 22 7 7 84
TOTAL 1 19 32 32 32 10 7 133


MALE 29 28 57
FEMALE 1 6 7
BOYS 5 15 20
GIRLS 6 13 19
TOTAL 49 84 133
PERCENTAGE 36.8 63.2 100


1. North West Morris Dancing : A Selection from Trefor Owen`s Collection. The Morris Federation.
2. The Morris of the North West. Sixty Years of Folk. Julian Pilling. EFDSS 1971.
3. The Horwich Inquiry. Pruw Boswell.
4. The Preston Tradition. Pruw Boswell.
5. North West Morris : A General Survey . JEFDSS 1960 . Bernard Bentley and Daniel Howison
6. The Geographical Index of Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain. JEFDSS 1960. Cawte, Helm, Marriot and Peacock
7. Traditional Dance volume 5/6. Trends in Morris Dancing on the Lancashire Plain from 1890. Pruw Boswell.
8. Aspects of Morris Dancing in Cheshire 1880-1914. English Dance and Song, Volume 43 Number 1 1981. Janet Chart and Lesley Edwards.
9. The Manley Morris. English Dance and Song Volume XXXIV 4 1972. Dorothea Haworth.
10. Helm Collection.
11. The Geographical Distribution of English Ceremonial Dance Tradition JEFDSS 1936. J Needham.
12. The North West Morris Dance. The Morris Dancer Volume 13. August 1982. Pruw Boswell.