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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Weird morris dancing picture from Limehouse

I went down to the London Metropolitan Archive the other day, looking for some information about the unusual alcohol licensing hours in Smithfield, around Barts and the meat market. This is because, as well as writing a blog about folk music, I recently started one for 24hourlondon, an iPhone app that finds late-opening bars, pubs and restaurants in London.

It's early days. But I'm thinking that the 24hourlondon blog will be about London's late-night economy, the running of the app itself including some of its business dilemmas - which is code for Help! - and the occasional political thought. Smithfield struck me as a good place to start because I knew that its licensing laws have always been a bit of an anomaly.

Anyhow, the trip to the archive resulted in a voyage around Smithfield. But while I was down there I also took this picture, which was being flashed up for about 30 seconds at a time on an electronic noticeboard inside the library reading room, rotated with several others.

The longer I stare at it the weirder it seems.

First, I think this is because I'm not used to seeing morris dancing in an urban context, let alone done by women dressed in pinnies.

Second, all three of the girls are staring directly at the camera, as if they've got something urgent to say.

And third, if you look at the top left hand corner of the picture it appears to be in colour - as if reality is trying to break through. I realise this could be an artefact of the printing process, but it still strikes me as odd.

I got in touch with the library at Cecil Sharp House - home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society - to see if they could tell me anything about morris dancing in Limehouse in 1908. They sent me an article about the history of the relationship between Mary Neal and Cecil Sharp (which seems to take forever to load), which includes something about the Esperance Club, which was active at around the time this picture was taken, so that could be a clue.

I've got a couple of leads, though so far the only definite thing is that no one appears to have seen this picture before. If anyone knows who these women might be, I'd love to hear from you.

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  1. Hi Emma,
    Try contacting New Esperance Morris which I understand was formed in London by Mary Neal as a distraction for Girls of the street.

    New Esperance (still active) can be traced by typing "sidefinder" into google.


  2. Errr.......the New Esperance Morris are exactly that. The clue is in the name.

    There was an Esperance Morris - easily googled and Mary Neal is well-known. One of her direct descendants is still around.

  3. The school was opposite the Raphael's Goldrefinery. Most of their employees were french. The girls might be french.


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