Saturday, 12 October 2019

Pagan Carshalton Rises Again

Carshalton may be XR Central these days, but the place is still pagan at heart (a former Rector, newly arrived and getting his bearings, concluded that we were essentially tree worshippers, and he wasn't far wrong about some of us). On this soggy Saturday morning I found the village swarming with morris dancers of all kinds, some traditionally attired, others more colourfully dressed in a weird fusion of hippy, Goth, Celtic and steampunk styles, with faces luridly painted.
The traditional East Surrey Morris Men, I gathered, were at the heart of the action, along with folk dancers of other kinds, young and old. It was all rather heartening and, yes, very English.

The traditionalists and the more flamboyant modern morrises seemed not to be mingling much. I wonder if there is a schism in the morris world – it wouldn't be the first time. A book I recently had to read for review, The Lark Ascending by Richard King, tells of almighty fallings-out in the world of English folk dance in the Twenties and Thirties, mostly stirred up by one Rolf Gardiner, a man who viewed morris dancing as an expression of the kind of blood-and-soil neo-paganism then in vogue in Germany. Having fallen out with Cecil Sharp, the founder of the English folk revival, Gardiner went on to found a clandestine romantic-fascistic organisation called the English Mistery (later the English Array) which believed that 'our race can be saved and its vigour increased by the revival of instinct and tradition, and by the protection and development of national breeds, on which the existence and continuation of culture depend'. 'National breeds', eh?
Gardiner developed into a rather brilliant agricultural pioneer, whose next organisation, Kinship in Husbandry, evolved into the very successful Soil Association. However, his known affection for National Socialism understandably clouded his reputation. He was even turned down when he volunteered for the Home Guard.                             



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