Archive: A Masterpiece Recalling One of the Great British Dance Traditions; for Morris Dancers, the Betley Morris Dance Window Is an Icon, Says Ross Reyburn

By Reyburn, Ross | The Birmingham Post (England), October 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

Archive: A Masterpiece Recalling One of the Great British Dance Traditions; for Morris Dancers, the Betley Morris Dance Window Is an Icon, Says Ross Reyburn


Reyburn, Ross, The Birmingham Post (England)


Few have heard of the Betley Morris Dance Window, but in the world of Morris dancing it has cult status.

'It's a Morris dancer's icon really,' said Robin Hildyard, an assistant curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum's Department of Ceramics and Glass. 'We have a lot of people wanting to see it.

'The figures are beautifully painted, probably by Netherlandish painters working in England. Enamelling glass was a highly specialised craft that was imported.

'Basically there was no one in England who knew how to do. Just because the window was in Staffordshire, it is not to say the glass was painted there. It might have been painted in London - there was a colony of Netherlandish craftsmen living in Southwark.'

In 1976, the window left Shropshire when the Victorian & Albert Museum paid pounds 5,000 for it. The 11 figures in the diamond-shaped leaded panes are six inches tall by 31/1 inches wide.

'It was fairly small scale but it was made for a house so it could be looked at closely unlike stained glass in churches,' said Hildyard. 'It is fired enamel so it hasn't faded at all. The figures are as bright as they day they were made.

'You can look at the window very closely. It stands close scrutiny - it is a beautifully painted window. The figures are superb.'

When the new British Galleries are opened next autumn at the museum, the window will be one of the prominent exhibits.

'It is one of our masterpieces really.'

It has been estimated there are 10,000 Morris dancers in the country and the tradition had been retained in various West Midland villages.

'The popularity of Morris has increased as we went through the last century,' said Paul Bryan, who helped revive the Ilmington Traditional Morris Men in 1974 in the South Warwickshire village.

'Around 1910 Cecil Sharp became the first academic to write down the Morris dances and the tunes. Until then it had been an oral tradition passed on within village families. …

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