I love Morris dancers, and at Kenilworth Castle on Boxing Day morning, all those who had braved the icy winds and crisp chill of the atmosphere were treated to several dances by the Coventry Morris and the Chinewrde Morris Dancers of Kenilworth. Male and female dancers entertained us while we were fortified with hot chocolate and mince pies from the Stables tea room.
In my book ‘Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire’ I include a chapter on Folklore and Folk Customs. In this, I write about one particular Morris Side, the Plum Jerkum. But the lead melodeon player and dancer, Dave, speaks for all Morris dancers when he says:
“People like to remember the past, when it is thought life was much simpler (and harder too, though people forget that). Border Morris is a celebration of working folk, who had to wear costumes and disguises to dance for money, which was apparently illegal at the time.’
I love the way they got round the authorities and subverted the rules! On this occasion, the male dancers mostly swapped the traditional dress for blue sweatshirts, but there were still a few rags and ribbons to be seen.
On Boxing Day morning at the castle, the festive canines were also out in force for the best-dressed dogs contest.
Finally, we enjoyed a bracing walk around the castle, which included my favourite aspect: up the staircase that now allows visitors to ascend to the different levels of Leicester’s Building. Here, Elizabeth I and her entourage were accommodated during the 19-day festivities in 1575 hosted by Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and then the owner of the castle.
At the very top visitors may gaze across the empty space to the countryside beyond. We have to imagine the floor of the room up here, the tapestries on the walls, the flames in the fireplace, and the gorgeous costumes of the revellers. In this very space, Elizabeth and her courtiers danced the night away.
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