Ferris, D'Arcy

Collection date: Jun 1910

Area: Warwickshire


D’Arcy Ferris (aka de Ferrars) and the Bidford morris revival: There has been some confusion over this man's name. He was born in Bath on 2 April 1855 and his birth was registered as Ernest Richard D'Arcy Ferris (ref 5c 735) but he changed his surname to 'de Ferrars' as an affectation in 1888 - several professional musicians in this era adopted the cachet of a foreign sounding name. 'de Ferrars' was the name on the wedding register when he married Isabel Mary Browne in April qr 1889 (Kensington 1a 317). It is also the name in his correspondence with Sharp in 1910.
 
D'Arcy Ferris was the 4th child of Samuel Charles Ferris of the Indian Civil Service, who had been born in 1806 in Calcutta, and his wife Fanny. Samuel died in 1858, when D'Arcy was not yet 3 years old. His mother Fanny was a schoolmistress and came from strong non-conformist stock. Her father Rev James Evill (great name) had been a tea dealer in India but had his 3 daughters baptised back in London at the Caledonian or Scotch church in Regents Park in the 1820s. 
In both 1861 and 1871 censuses Fanny Ferris and her family were living in Walcot, Bath. Given their uncertain start in life, D'Arcy's older brothers all played safe in their careers - Frederick was an insurance agent, Samuel went into the Army and ended as a minister, while Spencer was a bank manager who died early in 1884. D'Arcy was much more ambitious. In the 1881 census he was in London, listed as a 'violinist and professor of singing'. He moved to Cheltenham and continued to teach, to sing and to conduct choral societies but he also advertised himself as a 'Designer and Director of Fetes, Festivities, Festivals, and Functions'.
In 1885 he travelled considerable distances to take on projects and in August he went to Lockinge nr Wantage to conduct a programme that was an Elizabethan summer revel with a play about Robin Hood as well as morris dancers and a hobby horse. He began to research the subject seriously and discovered that although morris dancing at Bidford had ceased 25-30 years previously, it might still be possible to recruit and train a new side.
In 1886 he took this side on tour to 16 different locations including Stratford-upon-Avon, Redditch, Cheltenham, Malvern, Bristol and even one show in London. These were ticketed events (seats 2/- and 1/-) and Ferris delivered an introductory lecture to kicks things off. The troupe called itself the ‘Shakespearean Bidford’ morris dancers. Ferris went on to other ventures including the Ripon Millenary Festival where he met the Kirkby Malzeard sword dancers. But (surprisingly) the Bidford men stayed together, performing in 1896 at Chipping Campden and in 1904 and 1905 at the Shakespearean Birthday Festivals at Stratford. As a happy by-product, they inspired the revival of the Ilmington morris side in Jubilee Year 1887. For more information on this early revival of morris dancing, see Roy Judge 'D'Arcy Ferris and the Bidford Morris' in Folk Music Journal vol 4 no.5 1984. 
 
Two men who helped Ferris get started were William Trotman (1843-1923) and William Richardson (1837-1915). Trotman was born in Idbury village in Oxfordshire, 30 miles to the south. He was baptised at Bledington church on 23/7/1843, son of George Trotman, agricultural labourer and his wife Mary. William was still in Idbury in 1861 (aged 18) but moved north to marry Jane Baskett on 23/7/1862 at South Littleton. They had settled in Bidford by 1866, raising just the one child. He was a bricklayer's labourer all his life. These dates mean that when William passed on his morris knowledge to the new Bidford side in 1886, he probably referred back to elements of the Bledington style, learned as a young man.
On the other hand, William Richardson was born and bred in Bidford; he would have promoted elements of the 'old' Bidford style that had lapsed. He was baptised on 16/4/1837 and married Emma Mealing at Bidford on 16/8/1857. They had 11 children, 8 of whom died young.    
  
Note: scholars still debate the extent to which the Bidford dancers drew on 'traditional' dance figures and (on the other hand) how many elements may have been newly constructed. Sharp first saw the Bidford morris dancers at Redditch in June 1906 (see Lady Isabel Margesson profile). He was unable to consult with either Trotman or Richardson - they were by then aged 63 and 70. He noted and presented 3 Bidford dances in his first Morris Book (1907) but was unsure of their authenticity and withdrew them from the 2nd edition of that book.
 
Ferris wrote to Sharp in 1910 somewhat grumpily that it was he who had first started the morris dance revival. Nevertheless he shared a Bidford tune with Sharp (FT2495) and gave him the history of the 1886 revival. 
D'Arcy Ferris died on 4/7/1929 at Royal Holloway Hospital.
 
For information on Jack Robbins, Bidford fiddler, and Edwin Salisbury, the young leader of the Bidford men, see separate profiles.
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