The short answer is that no one really knows where the Morris originated.
Those interested in history will tell you that once you travel back beyond the era of general literacy, it becomes increasingly more vague and scholars are forced to piece together the 'clues' in a fashion that would do credit to Sherlock Holmes or Poirot.
Some say Morris returned with the Crusaders, 'Morris' meaning 'Moorish', others quote a written mention from over 500 years ago that even then referred to 'the ancient art of the Morris'.
What is certain is that the tradition is very old, and has been passed down the years from father to son. Large numbers of the villages of England had a side of local lads who danced the dances their fathers taught them that were mostly unique to their village.
In 1899, Cecil Sharp began travelling rural England, noting down the tunes, songs and choreography of the Morris traditions. It was just as well that he did, as a generation later these villages sent their young men to fight in France during the Great War (1914-18) and many were never to return, so much of the 'knowledge' was lost with them.
In the 1970's a revival of the traditions took place, based largely on Sharp's re-discovered work, so we own this gentleman a huge debt.
The 70's revival may also explain why many of the Morris dancers you see today are looking so ancient themselves; new blood is always needed to allow these old souls to retire and have their knee operations or drive off into the sunset on their convalescent buggies, so if you feel inspired so to do, contact your local side and join in and help uphold this fine English tradition.
Traditionally the first day day of summer, Maypole dancing and Morris were performed to dance up the sun on this day to bring fertility to the land, animals and people. Most of these festivities have been lost to our more cynical times, but some survive. The best known of these is probably the dancing out of the 'Hoss'es' in Padstow each year.
Many Morris sides also uphold the tradition and rise early to greet the summer sun. The New Forest Meddlars start dancing at 4.30am, yes am, at Bolton's Bench, Lyndhurst, in the New Forest. We round off our May day with many other local sides in the town square at Wickham, Hampshire, for a massive spectacle of Morris dancing.
Although traditionally Morris was danced exclusively by men, today many Morris sides have a number of women dancers. Again this links in part to the loss of so many young men in World War 1, after which some women, remembering their fathers or husbands dancing, helped to keep the tradition alive.
Today many sides are mixed, and many are women-only, although there is a significant number of Morris sides who remain men-only. We believe there is a place for every type of side in these days of celebrated diversity, and that the important thing is to uphold the tradition and keep the dances alive.
Morris is very much a living tradition. Some villages can claim an unbroken tradition of dancing Morris over many generations, while at the same time new sides start up, learning tunes and dances from other sides. Many of the dances you will see are ancient, traditional dances, and some were newly choreographed much more recently, often in the style of the older traditions.