Favourite Things: Celebrating decades of keeping traditions alive in Sheffield

Gerry Bates with the Cholera Monument in the background. Picture: Andrew Roe
Gerry Bates with the Cholera Monument in the background. Picture: Andrew Roe

Gerry Bates, aged 72, was born and bred in Sheffield, initially in the area now occupied by the Woodbourn Athletics Stadium and later in Shiregreen. He attended King Edward VII School in Broomhill and then, at Sheffield University, obtained a degree in electrical engineering, leading to his professional career in high voltage work at British Rail Research, Derby, while continuing to live in Sheffield. Gerry is a founding member of Sheffield City Morris, and 2015 is their 40th anniversary. On Saturday SCM is holding a celebratory day of dance, including over 20 local teams, and in the evening a ceilidh in the Cathedral.


My folk life started with folk song clubs in the mid-60s, as a result of which a number of us started attending the Sidmouth International Folk Festival and gained an interest in traditional dances, leading to us commencing our Morris Dancing with Sheffield University Morris, practising at the Students’ Union. Sheffield itself features many of our self-organised annual events, starting on New Year’s Day with our performance, along with a guest team, on the Sheffield Cathedral forecourt. This year, of course, we are motivated to make several large scale appearances in Sheffield, as well as at further locations such as York, to celebrate our 40th anniversary.


After several years a number of us took the decision to form a morris team with a more stable membership. Sheffield City Morris was thus officially formed in 1975 and I am the only remaining founder member of the team. The aim was to revitalise the Morris Dance by restoring the characteristics of a ‘living’ tradition and the result has been our own tradition known as Medup. Our first practice venue was at St Vincent’s Church Hall. For many years now we have been based at the Burton Street Foundation and anyone wishing to take part is welcome to join us on Monday evenings. Our own first appearance at Sidmouth Festival was in 1990 but two years beforehand we started our international career. In 1988 we took part in a festival in France at Montoire, followed by Dublin in 1989. Our most spectacular visit was to the equator in Ecuador in 1993.


For 15 years or so I’ve been the organiser of the Sheffield-Edale Folk Train and every year now, with great delight to both performers and audience, I include Sheffield City Morris in the programme. We welcome the summer with the first al fresco performance of the year at the pub which provides the performance location in Edale, The Rambler, next to the station.

Sheffield pubs

During the summer we participate in visits to several outstanding pubs. Our favourite pub is, of course The Gardeners, where we regularly take a breather and sometimes have a singing or music session after our practise at Burton Street.


A friend of ours who lives on Norfolk Road recently suffered an injury abroad and a crowd of us went to celebrate his recovery. As well as giving us a house party he took us on a walk by the Cholera Monument and through Clay Wood. I had only previously viewed the monument closely during the time when work was being done to improve its surroundings. This time I was very impressed with what had been completed, making it a more easily visitable site, with several excellent pathways, and I’m sure it will make a desirable location for tourists, particularly with its now pleasant view from the station.


For several years now we have organised an annual celebratory event for several visiting teams, based at Thornbridge Hall estate for a weekend. It has excellent facilities. The nearby Monsal trail with its reopened tunnels provides excellent walking access to deliver dancing in Bakewell and at Monsal Head.


In 1991 SCM took part in the opening ceremony of the World Student Games in Sheffield. The cultural festival accompanying the games included performers from the participating countries and one of the outstanding ones was the team of Giants from Manresa in Catalunya. It was subsequently Sheffield Council’s idea to continue the cultural activities in the following years and the outcome was the construction and financing by the Government of Catalunya of the Sheffield City Giants. They were completed by a professional Catalan giant maker in Sheffield and presented to our Lord Mayor in 1992. Sheffield City Morris was nominated by the council, and still continues, as the Custodians of the Sheffield City Giants.