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A Good Day Out at Knutsford May Day 1936

Gorse Hill Morris Dancers from Stretford, followed by the Ashfield Morris Dancers from Altrincham at Knutsford May Day 1936.


The picture shows the two Morris troupes from the Trafford area that were most successful at winning prize money at carnival competitions in the North-West during the 1920s and 1930s. They were taking part in the procession at Knutsford Royal May Day in 1936 and can be seen her marching up King Street from Knutsford Station. The troupe leading were the all-female Gorse Hill Morris dancers from Stretford, holding their shillelaghs above their heads. The Ashfield Morris Dancers, from Altrincham, followed behind them, with the men to the left and the women on the right as one looks at the image. A crowd has gathered on the pavement alongside the wall of St John’s Parish Church and on the wall itself.


‘In the procession there was an added attraction in the eighteen dance troupes which were the last word in modern dress and the use of brilliant colouring. There were Morris dancers in orange, crimson and green with the necessary trappings equally colourful, smart little Lancashire girls in clogs and other who were to meet later in competition.’

(Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 8 May 1936, p.10)


This image provides proof that Ashfield Morris Dancers (1924 – 1937) remained a mixed adult troupe until at least 1936, their last season as a competitive troupe. From 1935 onwards this troupe was usually referred to in newspaper reports as ‘Altrincham Morris Dancers’ as all other Altrincham troupes had disbanded by this time. By the time of the event depicted here Harold Hollingworth, the troupe’s dance teacher, had departed from the Ashfield troupe to revive the Gaskell Morris Dancers from Knutsford and lead them to become a prize-winning troupe up until the Second World War. Gaskell had originally been formed as a mixed troupe which was active in the second half of the nineteen-twenties.  It now became an all-girl troupe under his leadership and continued to perfom after the Second World War with new leaders up untill the mid 1960s. On the occasion of Knutsford May Day depicted above the Altrincham (Ashfield) troupe prevailed over the Gaskell Morris dancers, no doubt with a sense of triumph for the Altrincham troupe.

At the time of the photograph the Gorse Hill Morris dancers had been in existence since 1910, when they had been formed as an all-male side for the Streford Rose Queen Festival. The troupe became a mixed troupe the following year and continued to have a leading presence as a mixed, and then all-female troupe at Stretford Pageant from 1919 onwards. They did not take part in competitions until 1931, but were winners at Knutsford Royal May Day in 1935 and in 1937 and 1938, following the award of a Special prize in 1936. 1938 was their most successful year when they took either first or second place in every carnival in which they entered a competition. They continued to dance as an all-female troupe into the early 1970s.


The report of the event in the Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser provides some information about how the Morris troupes contributed to the May Day celebrations.


At the arena:


‘The maypole erected almost in the centre of an arena was as large and as nicely decorated as any to be seen in the country. In the shade of this old country symbol gipsies danced, infants and sailors gave clever exhibitions of the hornpipe. Highland dances and Morris dances all in appropriate costumes riveted the attention during the afternoon.’


The dancing competitions:


‘The programme of troupe dancing was largely attended in the evening, when eighteen troupes from Lancashire and Cheshire competed for prizes. The Broadway Cabaret Girls from Hale beat the redoubtable Westminster Jolly Boys of Chester for the silver cup competed for by all dancers. Miss Ruth Burton and Mr J. Brookes were judges, and they made the following awards.’




1. Altrincham (95 points)

2. Gaskell, Knutsford, (94)

3. Oldham Central (92)

Special:  Gorse Hill, Stretford (90)




1. and cup:  Broadway Cabaret Girls, Hale (98 points)

2. Westminster Jolly Boys, Chester (96)

3. Superior Cabaret Girls, Oldham (90)

Special:  Rudheath Belisha Girls, Northwich (85)


(Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser, 8 May 1936, p.10)


Ashfield (listed above as the Altrincham troupe) also took the silver cup for Morris dancing.

(Sale and Stretford Guardian, 8 May 1936, p.12)


Further Evidence of the Success of AShfield and Gose Hill Morris Dancers


Further research has continued since writing ‘Carnivals, Contests and Coronations’ in the Spring of 2022 and it has identified more about the competition records of these two troupes. This research is derived primarily from further work on newspaper sources, partly from those that have been released on the British Newspaper Archive in digital format since writing, and partly from a week’s free trial of which contains some newspapers not included in the British Newspaper Archive.


The research provides further evidence of competition success. For the Ashfield Morris troupe, two additional first places and two additional second places have been located. The Ashfield Entertaining troupes have produced another three first places and three more second places. This means that evidence has been uncovered for a total of thirty-three first places for the Ashfield Morris and thirty-one first places for the entertaining troupes which went under various names. For Gorse Hill Morris Dancers, three more first places have been located, including one in 1940. This makes the total found so far for this troupe to be twenty-eight. These results represent outstanding achievement at the peak of the competitive period of pre-war Carnival Morris dancing.



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