AS a cub reporter, when journalists had time to devote whole days to a single story, I once spent a whole weekend ‘on tour’ with a ‘hanky-waving’ side of morris dancers based in the Cotswolds.

There was a lot of dancing, I was thrown up in the air repeatedly, and there was an awful lot of drinking - that, along with the time I joined party of pensioners to the coast, remains one of the most surprisingly fun times I have had while ‘on the job’.

It comes as no surprise then that our own Flagcrackers of Craven have been busy practicing, enjoying themselves, and looking forward to getting out and about again, entertaining people far and wide.

The Flagcrackers, who traditionally have disguised their faces by painting them black, have evolved and now use red as well

Morris dancing may have its fair share of ridicule from the uninitiated, but the ancient art form remains a part of our national heritage which is well and truly live and kicking in Yorkshire. It’s noisy, colourful, vibrant and fun.

The Flagcrackers say they have weathered the fallow year of lockdown and have emerged fit and ready to entertain again with new members, evolved kit and adapted dances.

Squire Ruth Emery and assistant ‘Baldrick’, Julie Greenwood, have been instrumental in guiding the ‘side’- as groups are called - through a period of change and are excited about the new outlook.

The Flagcrackers were formed in 1988, adopting the style of morris known as ‘Border’. They wear clogs on their feet, carry sticks and disguise, themselves, as opposed to the hanky-waving style of Cotswold morris, the swords of Rapper morris or the garlands of North-West, to name just a few of other morris ‘traditions’

The origin of Border morris ‘blacking up’ as a disguise is lost in the mists of time but scholars have mostly ruled out racial connotations, they say.

The side says the unsuspecting public, however, were becoming increasingly fazed by their appearance and so many Border morris sides - themselves vehemently anti-racism - have adapted their disguises to avoid any ambiguity.

The Flagcrackers debated the issue and voted in October 2019 to use red within their facepaint designs rather than the solid black of former years.

Squire, Ruth, says changes were important so that members and the public felt at ease.

“It was an important evolution in The Flagcrackers to enable our members to feel comfortable dancing out and for the public to enjoy the spectacle without being disconcerted by our appearance,” she said.

The side now practises on Wednesday evenings at the earlier time of 7.30pm to 9.30pm at Farnhill Institute, Farnhill, and welcomes anyone interested to know more to just turn up and see what it’s all about.

A spokesperson said: “There is a strong social element to being involved in The Flagcrackers side which is clear to see. Travelling to festivals at home and abroad, camping together and having fun is all part of this family friendly activity which is open to all ages. “

The side has a catalogue of dances, of which in any given year around 12 are constantly practised and ‘danced out’.

Within each dance the four, six or eight dancers’ positions each feature different moves and the quiet winter months are used for dancers to learn familiar dances from new positions and to practise stepping and sticking techniques.

This year the Flagcrackers have been working on adapting some of their unique dances, such as The Craven Stomp, Twiglets and Grass Wood for fewer dancers to give more flexibility for members.

Baldrick, Julie adds: “Historically we have sometimes found we have had to turn down invitations to dance at events because not enough people could commit to that particular date.

“Now we have made it so that more dances in our repertoire require fewer dancers, so it’s easier to accept event invitations with fewer needed to make each performance date viable.”

The spokesperson added: “New musicians have joined the side and add to the distinctively uplifting sound emanating from the village hall each practise night. It’s a great chance for musicians to enjoy playing traditional tunes with a twist and airing new ones as The Flagcrackers are always open to something new.

“ Street entertainment is rewarding in itself, and festivals provide the opportunity to play along with other like-minded musicians.”

For more information on the antics of the morris side, find them online at and the archive site at