North West Morris is one of the remnants of the annual Wakes festivals held in Lancashire, Cheshire and surrounding areas.

These used to be centred on a cart made of rushes, which was paraded round the streets of the towns and villages drawn by relays of men and dancers.

The rushes were placed between the pews and aisles of the churches at the end of the procession in order to provide a warm flooring and control dust in the ancient churches.
Heywood  rushcart  (Rochdale Arts and Heritage Services)


M
any of the dancers carried garlands of flowers, which were hung in the church to give colour and perfume. The earliest records of this practice were in 1561.

After the First World War, it became difficult to find enough men to form teams. In the absence of men, new teams arose consisting of young boys, girls, women or mixed dancers. The men who had danced before the war taught these new teams and so young boys, girls and women thereby preserved the previously predominantly masculine tradition of the North West Morris.

The form of the dances was mainly processional and each individual town or village would have its own particular dance with its own set of figures, steps and music.

Today these dances have been divorced from the actual rush cart festivals and modern teams practise and display dances from different locations.

The difference between Cotswold and North West Morris

Most people are probably more familiar with Cotswold than North West Morris. Cotswold Morris dancers are the men (and sometimes women) who wear white with bells on their knees, waving handkerchiefs and clashing sticks. North West Morris dancers tend to wear more colourful costumes (often with lots of beaded necklaces) and attach their bells to their clogs. The dances can appear more 'militaristic' due to their processional nature and the loud rhythm produced by 16 clogs hitting the ground in unison. about).