The Formation of the Kingsmen

by Bernard Beecher

I think it was probably at Alan Brown's instigation but I'm equally certain that in Bill Cassie, Professor of Civil Engineering at Kings, he found an enthusiastic, even fervent, protagonist of the idea to form a side at King's College.

The first we knew about it, however, was a notice on the Union notice board at the start of Michaelmas term in September 1949. This proposed the formation of a Rapper side to collect money during the Rag in October and invited would-be members to a Smoker at which the Newcastle Morris Men would give an exhibition of Morris Dancing. Well, like most of the others there, we'd heard of Morris Dancing (just) but we'd really turned up to see what on earth this fabled ritual was all about.

I was immediately hooked and so began a participation in the Morris which has lasted to the present day.

There were, to the best of my recollection, about ten of us and we met most lunch hours in one of the unused temporary buildings past the library adjacent to Queen Victoria Road and opposite the RVI. Winlaton had been chosen as the dance and Bill Cassie instructed us. Alan Brown played the music on his tin whistle and of the others I can now only remember a few names - Alan Gent, Ron Denham, Alan Adamson, Richard(?) Clark and of course myself.

I feel that we didn't do too badly in learning the dance in a few short weeks. I know that I practised the stepping on the lino in my 1st floor room at Henderson Hall - probably much to the irritation of the student below who later admitted that he had thought rats had got into his ceiling space.

Rag Saturday came on 29th October and the float lorries were lined up in College Avenue ready for the opening ceremony by the Lord Mayor accompanied by the Rector of King's College, Lord Eustace Percy. Immediately after the opening we danced before the Lord Mayor and assembled crowd outside the Union Building, shown in the very first photograph of the team (see centre).

Our rig was rather basic, grey flannels and white shirt, college scarf as a sash and rosettes manufactured by Mrs. Cassie (who was always most enthusiastically supportive of the side). The floats then moved off for the procession round the streets of Newcastle and we danced throughout on our float as it progressed.

The remainder of the week was spent dancing round the miners' clubs in and around Newcastle. Alan Brown had a magnificent technique for introducing us to the assembled locals. In his fluent Geordie accent, which he could turn on and off with ease, he would tell the assembled drinkers that we were here to collect money for the Rag - but we weren't here to shake a tin at them. Oh no! We had learnt one of their own miners' dances especially for them and all we asked was not their charity but what they felt the performance deserved. The money rolled in! My recollection is that we collected several hundred pounds in that week. It doesn't sound much now but has to be measured against the fact that the average wage at that time was around 600 to 700/annum compared with 18,000+ today.

After the Rag it might have been expected that we disband the side but we all agreed that we had experienced so much fun and pleasure from the week that we couldn't let it stop there and determined to continue with the Morris. Bill Cassie again agreed to train us. We learnt a little Headington and Fieldtown but, apart from entertaining the nurses at the R.V.I. and going in for the North of England Musical Tournament (organised, I suppose, by the Northumberland District of the E.F.D.S.S., in which we failed to be placed) I cannot remember any great activity with Cotswold Morris.

For the same Festival we did, however, learn the Grenoside long sword dance (complete with clogs, and uniforms made by Mrs. Cassie) and this was very well received. I still have the die-cast medallion given to us as winners of that section. It is oval, about an inch high and half an inch wide; on the obverse is Terpsichore playing a lyre and the words North of England Musical Tournament around the edge. The reverse has the coat of arms of Newcastle and the words Newcastle on Tyne.

By this time in 1950, Finals, which up to that time had been a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, were beginning to assume significant proportions and Morris activity was very low on the agenda. I graduated in Engineering and travelled South to live in London where I worked with Napier designing jet engines. I also joined Greensleeves Morris Men and even though I now live in Gloucestershire I still turn out with them once or twice a year. I have often thought how eternally grateful I am to Bill Cassie and Alan Brown that through them I was introduced to an aspect of our English Heritage which has been a major source of pleasure for so much of my life. I am also very impressed (and perhaps a little proud) that a College side has managed to continue for 50 years despite the disadvantages of an ever moving student population. Long may it continue.

Postscript: it is worth recording that in 1959, to celebrate 10 years of the K.C.M.M., Alan Brown organised a re-union of as many as possible of those early stalwarts. Meeting mainly in Monkseaton we did, nevertheless, plant a standard rose appropriately called "Forty-niner" in the College gardens outside the then library building. I wonder if, 40 years on, it is still there.