Six decades of an English tradition – with bells on

The new trackbed for the Horndean Light Railway looking south across the bridge over Southwick Hill Road, Cosham, about 1903.

NOSTALGIA: Ready and waiting, the shiny new tracks climbing Portsdown Hill

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Teams of Morris dancers from all over England will jingle into the area this weekend to help one of the longest-established sides in the region mark their 60th anniversary.

Chichester’s Martlet Sword and Morris Men have invited 14 sides from as far afield as Yorkshire and Cornwall to a festival called Sixty Years With Bells On on Saturday and Sunday.

The Martlet Sword and Morris Men at their first Ring Meeting in North Street, Chichester, in 1963

The Martlet Sword and Morris Men at their first Ring Meeting in North Street, Chichester, in 1963

There will be three tours on Saturday bringing handkerchief and stick-clashing delight from Havant to Littlehampton.

And on Saturday afternoon 180 dancers will perform together for a massed dancing display on the cathedral green in the city.

The Martlets have been a familiar sight in Chichester and the villages of West Sussex since their formation in 1953, in their blue and yellow tabards, straw hats and bells.

Martlets spokesman John Greenfield says: ‘In the 1950s there was a feeling of great pride in our country after the war, and anything that was English became popular.

‘This saw a great revival in traditional English music and dance.’

In 1953 a group of men in the Arundel area were performing sword dances when several young men from Chichester joined them when they decided to include Morris dancing in their repertoire. They became the Martlet Sword and Morris Men.

Originally the men wore white trousers and shirts with blue and red sashes but the kit was later changed to black breeches, white shirts and blue tabards decorated with six yellow Martlets to associate themselves with West Sussex.

One founder member Peter North, a Cicestrian, is the current Squire, or chairman, and continues to dance each week.

John adds: ‘The majority of the members over the years have come from or around Chichester. Many of them started Morris dancing at the old Lancastrian School for Boys, Chichester, in the 1950s and 60s and five of them are still active with the Martlets. Peter Davey is one of the ex-Lancastrian boys and is the festival director for the weekend of dance.

You can catch the dancing at the following venues:

· Saturday, West tour: 9.45am Chichester (North Street and East Street); 11am Emsworth (The Square); midday Havant (West Street and The Meridian Centre); 2pm Bosham (The Anchor Bleu).

· Central tour: 10am Itchenor (The Ship); 11am East Wittering (The Shore Hotel); 12.15 Chichester Marina (Chichester Yacht Club); 2pm Chichester (Canal basin).

· East tour: 9.45am Bognor Regis (The Pier and London Road); 11.15am Littlehampton (High Street and Riverside); 1.45pm Arundel (The Square and Maison Dieu).

· 3.30pm Cathedral green, Chichester massed dance.

· Sunday: 11.30am Massed display outside Chichester Festival Theatre.