American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 3
October, 2005

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 AMN Article, Vol. 25, No. 3  

ROS Maps and Morris

Andrew Bullen

Why Maps?

Maps are particularly useful to Morris researchers, as they allow us to grasp the all-important relationship between geography and ritual celebrations.  When I first began researching the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in 1987, I discovered John Speed's maps of the British Isles, first published in 1611. The map of Staffordshire became an important research tool, showing me old place names and parish boundaries. Compared to a modern map, of course, the Speed map of Staffordshire is cartoon-like in its simplicity; however, it enabled me to see what Dr. Robert Plot would have had as a reference when he wrote A Natural History of Staffordshire in 1686 and where the opposing garrisons of Roundheads and Royalists were and how the devastation of civil war might have affected the Horn Dance.

Imagine, then, my delight upon first encountering the densely detailed and elaborate Royal Ordnance Survey (ROS) maps (scaled 1 inch to the mile). The maps are perfect for Morris research purposes. They fit the proper time scale; they were first commissioned in 1746 by King George II (who was, incidentally, the last English monarch to actually lead troops in battle). The maps arose out of necessity-- England was at war on two fronts, fighting a bloody rebellion in Scotland and embroiled in a major world war with France. The edition I use was first published in 1833 and revised again in 1895. The sheer density of information available on one of these maps is incredible, showing rail lines, canals, and roadways. These are the maps of Holmes and Watson, traipsing the Dartmoor fens and hollows, and Jeeves and Wooster tearing around narrow country lanes late for a party. They are also perfect for really understanding Morris traditions in their original context.

Illuminating Articles

As I mentioned above, the Ordnance Surveys become useful in illustrating geographic relations in articles. As an example of this, in Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals, by Percy Manning, Folklore Journal, v. 8. 1897 pp. 307-308: "Bampton-in-the Bush is a small town about three miles north of the Thames, and fourteen miles west of Oxford. It is even now two miles from the nearest railway station, and its isolated position-- for till recently no made road passed near it -- has been very favourable to the survival of ancient custom."

Just how remote was Bampton? We can see what Mr. Manning meant when we look at the map of Bampton-in-the-Bush:


 Also, please consider the following message sent out on MDDL by Peter Millington on June 28, 2005: "Correspondence about the Cropwell costume in the Folklore Society's Ordish Collection suggests that it may have come from 'The Butler'. However, as I discuss towards the end of my article, there are some discrepancies between the correspondence and the appearance of the costume, so we can't be absolutely certain.

Plough Monday plays were performed at both The Bishop and The Butler, although Cropwell Bishop seems to have been the main focus..."

Aside from learning more about the whole matter in question from the incomparable and breathtaking site at and subsequent conversations with the ever-helpful Dr. Millington, to really understand the import of his message, I found it useful to examine the relationship of the "Bishop and the Butler" to each other, just a bit southeast of Nottingham:

Cropwell Bishop and Cropwell Butler.

Connecting Data and Maps Together

Morris, of course, lends itself well to geographic systemization.  In fact, there are at least two influential articles that have been written about the subject:

Needham, Joseph, The Geographic Distribution of English Ceremonial Dance Traditions, Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, v. 3, n. 1, December 1936 (henceforth referred to as the Needham article).
Cawte, E. C., Alex Helm, R. J. Marriott, and N. Peacock, A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain, English Dance and Song, v. 9, n. 1, December 1960 (henceforth referred to as the Cawte article).

Needham's article also includes a map laying out Morris traditions on a map depicting the England of Aethelred the Unready himself. While somewhat predating at least the most recognizable Morris traditions by a few hundred years in order to support a thesis of linking ancient rituals to Morris, I am delighted by his novel approach to mapping Morris traditions.

Cawte's article builds upon Needham's, re-examining his sources, and, after a five year development and research span, building an index of Morris references. The Cawte, et al, index looks like:

Location Grid Ref. Extant Time of App. Class Source


SP4635 c. 1880 Whit C/H St/S BluC, HamE, ShaMii2


SP2704 1914   C/?H/ WelC

Ascott under Wychwood

SP2918 c. 1880 Whit Monday C/H St/S/J ManJ, ManM, ShaMii2
 and so on.

Field explanations:

Location Name and county of the village tradition in question.
Grid Reference The ROS grid coordinate. Incidentally, the survey still uses the same grid system, so one can easily bring up a modern ROS map online with that grid reference at
Extant As Cawte states, "The date given is in each instance the last known date of the performance."
Time of Appearance The time of year or date when the traditional performance could be expected.
Class A systemization and classification method which categorizes the tradition. Adderbury, for instance, is C (six man Cotswold) H (using hankerchiefs) and St (sticks), and is an S (Set dance).
Source Sources used. Adderbury, for instance, has BluC (Janet Blunt: Collection), HamE (an article by F. B. Hamer in EDS), and ShaMii2 (C. Sharp).

The data as laid out by Cawte (and, of course, subsequent discoveries resulting from 45 years of scholarship since the article) fit neatly into a Morris database system. And, of course, given the subject of this article, I believe that the ROS maps make a useful interface to that system. 

Consider a working example at my Pullman House History project. Here, using Sanborn fire insurance maps of my Chicago neighborhood of Pullman, I have tied each house to a database SQL query. The query results give a researcher all of the information and sources that we have gathered about who lived in each house from its origins in 1881 to the 1930 census.

An example of how a map-database interface might work for browsing, using ISMAP (clickable) maps to connect to a database of information:


1. Select a county.

2. Select a region within the county.

3. Select a town to view within the region.

Clicking on Adderbury would give you a record that looks like:

Village of Adderbury. Oxfordshire.

Grid Reference  SP4635
Extant Since  c. 1882
Primary Sources Sharp, Cecil, and H. C. Macilwaine. The Morris Book, vol. 2. London: 1909.
Traditional Time of Appearance  Whitsunday

And, of course, since we live in a brave new world, we might add:

DVRA Videos


Online ABC/Music
MDDL Archive Search  MDDL search

And so on. 

Name your source, and it can be added to a database table or linked to existing database tables to form a complex bibliography. Of course, any number of these fields might be made searchable, so a query could be run to find all of the records that have traditional times of appearance of Whitsunday, or all of the database records from Oxfordshire.

We at the AMN technical team have all of the necessary resources (server space, a database engine, and a search engine, plus of course je ne sais quoi, zeal, and elan). Who knows? Our next stop in our bright future might be the long-awaited MorrisWiki, supplemented and perhaps even fronted by ROS maps from 1895. Stay tuned, and watch the skies...

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 3, October 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689