Ely & Littleport Riot is a Fenland women’s morris side who perform traditional and original dances in the Border style. The side was formed over 20 years ago and in that time they have danced the length and breadth of the UK and parts of Europe. They are regulars at the Ely Folk Festival where they can be seen ‘hard at it’ hosting the many morris sides from around the UK and helping to promote the festival the weekend before at Ely market square.
The Ely and Littleport Riot are named after the bread riots of 1816 that spread from Littleport to Ely. On the second day of rioting terms were offered and accepted at Ely market square but ‘free beer’ and a celebration encouraged a minority to continue rioting. The riot was eventually quelled by the First Royal Dragoon Guards, the Royston Troup of Volunteer Cavalry and local militia. In all twenty four rioters were prosecuted and sentenced, five were hanged, nine were deported to Botany Bay and the rest received jail terms of one year. Soon after, those serving a jail sentence were also transported to Australia. A memorial to the five hung can still be seen on the side of St Mary’s church tower, Ely.
The Border style of dancing performed by the Ely and Littleport Riot originates from the Welsh border with England and can be traced back to the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. The Border tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included blackfaces, use of bells and costume often consisting of ordinary clothes decorated with ribbons, strips of cloth, or pieces of coloured paper. Ely and Littleport Riot have brought their own flavour and interpretation to this English folk tradition; the black skirts represent the dark Fenland soil, the red hankies and bells the bloody revolt and clamor of the 1816 riots and the colourful waistcoats and costume jewelry the individuality of each dancer.
There are Traditional Border Dances and Contemporary Border Dances. The dances performed by the Riot are a mixture of traditional and self penned, both ancient and modern. The dance sets have a highly variable number of performers ranging from three to nine or even, on occasion, twelve dancers. The dances include both stick and hankie where chorus, figures and heys blend to provide a colourful spectacle. Often the dances will reflect a local element, Aldreth Mill and 1816, their signature dance, being two such examples.
The Riot can be booked to dance out throughout the year for any good cause or charity event, or for any mutually agreed venue such as festivals or gatherings organised by other Morris sides. We charge for appearing at large professional events, but our rates are negotiable for charities. The Riot is often to be seen dancing locally with their good friends, the Coton Morris Men, a local Cotswold Morris side. Generally dancing out is during the summer and practice during the winter, although practice is often interrupted by an enthusiasm to dance out again, Whittlesea Straw Bear being a regular winter event.
While dancing with the Riot is an exclusively female affair the ‘wall of sound’ provided by the musicians tends to be masculine with the occasional feminine interruption. The Riot can field a veritable feast of music with fiddles, banjo, flute or whistle, guitar and percussion creating a musical environment with which to drive on and encourage the dancers.
We are always looking for new dancers or musicians to join in keeping this local Morris side alive and to enjoy ourselves in the process. The musicians of course don’t have to be ladies. No dance experience is necessary, you will be taught all that you need to know; only enthusiasm is required.
If you are interested in joining, or simply finding out more, either make yourself known to one of the dancers or musicians or contact us with your enquiry.