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

Royal Preston Morris Dancers : A Brief History

Published in Morris Matters Volume 21 Number 1 January 2002

See the photos which accompanied this article

As a part of the ebb and flow of morris dance tradition, individual teams may enjoy only a brief existence, though the dancing tradition continues almost oblivious to the fortunes of particular teams. On the Lancashire Plain, it is believed that the Preston Royal Morris Dancers enjoyed a fairly brief existence from about 1893 until perhaps 1901, although it can only be said with some certainty that the team definitely existed during 1893 and 1894.

Preston Royal Morris Dancers were reformed in January 1978 by the late Richard Boswell and Andy Anderson, themselves former members of other North West morris teams, including Garstang Morris Dancers, Horwich Prize Medal Morris Men and Leyland Morris Men. This reformed team was based on extensive research done by Richard's wife, Pruw, and some of her work has since been published - see :

· Morris Dancing on the Lancashire Plain : The Preston Tradition (Printed and Published for the Morris Ring in 1981)
· Morris Dancing on the Lancashire Plain : The Horwich Inquiry (Printed and Published for the Morris Ring in 1984)

A third book in the series which was in preparation with a title of "Horwich to the Fylde" has sadly remained, as yet, unpublished.

Pruw was an important figure within the North West Morris revival at the time and was associated with other prominent and trend-setting teams on the Lancashire Plain such as John O' Gaunt Morris and Garstang Morris Dancers.

The reformed Preston Royal Morris Dancers were as authentic as possible in costume terms; their costume being based upon photographs of the original team and an old kit in possession of the daughter of a dancer. One exception was the use of clogs instead of shoes; an understandable artistic choice by the revivalists. However in terms of repertoire, the reformed team differed in that it performed dances from several different towns and villages around the Preston area as opposed to just the one or two dances which were unique to Preston Royal. Most of the dances were collected by Pruw and expertly choreographed and arranged by Richard.

The dance repertoire has remained fairly static over the years and in 1986 comprised :

Churchtown Processional Pruw Boswell
Preston St. Ignatius Pruw Boswell
Blackrod Pruw Boswell
Coppull Pruw Boswell
Fleetwood Polka Pruw Boswell
Preston St. Walburge's Pruw Boswell
Chorley Polka Pruw Boswell
Blackburn Neil Graham, Dave Middlehurst and Dave Nelson

This table is based upon details given to me for a performance at the Liverpool Garden Festival in 1984, when I was privileged to become an occasional member of the band.

It may noticed by those familiar with the North West morris dance that there is a perhaps surprising omission in this repertoire, namely the Preston Royal Morris Dance. When Pruw first collected this dance it was believed to have been introduced into Poulton-le-Fylde by a dancer from Preston. At the time, Preston Royal Morris Dancers were thought to be the only team from the Preston area. Subsequently, further teams were found to be active in Preston at the same period and it became uncertain that this dance was the Preston Royal Morris Dance. As a result it was re-classified by Pruw as Poulton-le-Fylde. Some teams still, perhaps mistakenly, refer to this dance as the Preston Royal Morris Dance. However the revival Preston Royal Morris Dancers did include this dance in their original repertoire, but only briefly until the dance was renamed Poulton-le-Fylde.

Figure 1 - Map showing the approximate location of the towns and villages mentioned within the article

There existed other dances which were collected from within the same area but never added to the repertoire. These included the Chorley Display Dance and another church based dance from Preston St. Vincent's. The St. Ignatius and St. Walburge's dances are also church based dances from Preston.

I believe that there is at least one strong personality behind every successful and well-regarded North West Morris Team. There were certainly a number of strong personalities within Preston Royal and perhaps inevitably there arose some differences of opinion. As a result of these differences, Richard ( and a number of dancers who supported his opinions) parted company with Preston Royal Morris Dancers and formed the Royal Lancashire Morris Dancers in 1983.

These two teams, both grown from the same roots, operated independently and successfully for about 16 years. Over the years the original differences subsided as the teams' personnel changed and with the sad and untimely death of Richard in 1989. There became occasions when the two teams danced out together. More recently both teams found themselves short of members and decided to merge with the negotiations beginning towards the end of 1999.

The merged team had its first public appearance at the Great Northern Ceilidh in Preston on Saturday 25th March 2000, but this was essentially a mixed team with each dancer wearing his original teams' costume.

The team costume is one fairly obvious issue which needed to be sorted out, but there were a number of factors all of which required careful compromise in order to reach a situation with which everyone was comfortable. The people involved went to some lengths to make sure that this was a merger and not a take-over.

Name of the Team. The merged team found it difficult to compromise between two so very similar sounding names, but settled on Royal Preston Morris Dancers. This was a subtle but important change.

A new costume has been devised and made for all the members of the amalgamated team. The team costumes were fairly similar in style, the main differences being the choice of colours and style of headgear. The new costume is largely based on the Preston Royal costume with a slight change of colour in the velvet and a more "Royal Lancashire cut" to the waistcoat. Bob Alty, the present leader of Royal Preston Morris Dancers, views the costume as "an attempt to maintain the authenticity of the original Preston Royal kit with some practical adjustments found to be beneficial from the Royal Lancashire kit". The team danced out sporting its brand new kit on Thursday 25th May 2000 for the BBC Music Live radio event - perhaps not the most suitable broadcasting medium for showing off a new costume!

The dance style and repertoire had many similarities due to Richard's influence, with only some very slight adjustments being required to bring the two groups of dancers together. One new dance was added from the Royal Lancashire repertoire, namely the Poulton-le-Fylde dance which was mentioned earlier in this article. Also the Fleetwood Polka was extended with additional figures collected by members of Royal Lancashire Morris Dancers.

The Royal Lancashire Morris Dancers repertoire around the time of the merger was :

Preston St. Ignatius Pruw Boswell
Preston St. Walburge's Pruw Boswell
Blackrod Pruw Boswell
Churchtown Processional Pruw Boswell
Coppull Pruw Boswell
Fleetwood Polka Pruw Boswell
Chorley Polka Pruw Boswell
Poulton-le-Fylde Pruw Boswell
Garstang Processional Pruw Boswell
Duke of Lancaster Based on a Basque dance and choreographed by Keith Greenwood to suit the style of John O' Gaunt Morris Men
Royal Lancashire Polka Essentially a version of the Fleetwood Polka danced with mollies rather than sticks, choreographed by Richard Boswell.

From Clitheroe Morris Men via Malcolm Baxenden

There was also a special dance in the Royal Lancashire repertoire during 1992 only. This was called the Preston Guild Dance which consisted of various figures collected, arranged and choreographed by John Musgrave. This dance was developed specifically for the Preston Guild of 1992. By way of background information the following details describing the Guild were taken the Council Web site :

"The Guild, formed in 1179, was an organisation of traders, craftsmen and merchants. It had a monopoly of trade in the town: only its members could carry on craft or business. At intervals the Guild Merchant updated its membership lists to ensure people were not falsely claiming the right to trade. Members of the Guild had to take part in a public ceremony and swear loyalty to the Mayor and the Guild Merchant in order to be admitted or readmitted as members. At first these ceremonies were irregular and it was soon established that they were only needed once in a generation. So from 1542, Preston Guild took place every 20 years, as it still does today.

The Guild became a special opportunity for feasting, processions and great social gatherings. Even though by the 18th century the Guild had lost its importance as a regulator of trade, it still survived because of its celebrations and prestigious social occasions. For the last hundred years Preston Guild has been a truly popular occasion enabling everyone to join the 'North West's greatest party.'"

Recently the team invited founder member Andy Anderson to teach them a version of the Horwich Polka which Andy used to dance in his days with Garstang. This item is new to all members of the team and at the time of writing (May 2001) is being polished up, ready to bring the total number of dances to 10.

Music. The dances are generally danced to a medley of tunes and each of the constituent teams had their own set of tunes for each dance. The musicians have been able to go through the joint sets of music and have "weeded out" some tunes and added others for greater variety. For instance the Coppull dance is now done to a medley of 4 tunes whereas each team originally danced this to 3 tunes.

Team officers. The only official positions are leader, secretary and treasurer. These have been shared as follows:

Leader - Bob Alty - originally Preston Royal
Secretary - Alan Salter - originally Royal Lancashire
Treasurer - Dave Nelson - originally Preston Royal

However there other essential tasks to be carried out within a morris team and it is important to mention these.

The duties of teaching dances and running practices are shared between John Musgrave from Royal Lancashire and Kevin Gillett from Preston Royal.

The principal musician is accordionist Bob James from Royal Lancashire.

A new team Logo has been designed by John Musgrave of Royal Lancashire which incorporates the red rose from Royal Lancashire logo and the lamb and flag from Preston Royal logo.

Figure 2 - Team Logo

Location of the practice. The dancers come largely from the same hinterland and practices were, at first, alternated between the two original locations in Preston and Whittle-le-Woods. But this did lead to some confusion and all practices now take place in Whittle-le-Woods. The dancers can also be found quenching their thirst in the nearby Royal Oak after practice.

By way of a conclusion, I hope further success can be built upon this already promising merger. This will help to ensure that the dances from the Lancashire Plain collected by Pruw Boswell continue to be danced in their local area and that people from around Preston and also further afield continue to enjoy watching them being performed.

Finally I would like express my special thanks to Bob Alty, Pruw Boswell and John Musgrave for their help in preparing this article.

For further information on Royal Preston Morris Dancers visit their Web site or contact

Bob Alty 01772 612445
Alan Salter 01772 601259

Chas Marshall
May 2001