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Mary Neal

Clara Sophia Neal (Birmingham 1860 - 1944) adopted the name Mary when she worked in Soho to help the poor through the Settlement Missions. She started a girls' club - The Espérance where she persuaded William Kimber and the Headington Men to teach Morris Dances after hearing some folk songs and gathering some details from Cecil Sharp. The club at Maison Espérance was a social side to the business of tailoring giving better than average working conditions for the time. The musical director of the club was Herbert MacIlwaine with whom Sharp collaborated on the publishing of the Morris Books.

Neal also published on the Morris dance and developed the club dancers into the Espérance Guild of Morris Dancers who toured, demonstrated and taught.

Sharp and Neal although initially like-minded grew to have different notions of the folk revival leading to a reported bitter rivallry. Neal's outlook was both romantic and possibly dangerously nationalistic for the time whereas Sharp's was academic. Sharp was known to disapprove of the lax standards of the Espérance dancers, wishing to preserve the dances untainted.

Neal was asked to the United States where she was to teach Morris Dancing and Cecil Sharp had already had her engagements cancelled when she arrived. On arriving back in England, Sharp had also taken over her engagements at home.

She became a collector of Folk Dances and this apparently more than her social work led her to being given a CBE 1n 1937.

Curiously, when the Morris Ring was founded in 1934, they turned to Mary Neal for advice and it was Rolf Gardiner who persuaded her than Morris was masculine:

" putting women on to this masculine rhythm I had quite innocently and ignorantly broken a law of cosmic ritual, and stirred up disharmony which became active as time went on... I believe now that this misuse of the morris dance was the reason for the bitter estrangement between my colleagues and myself, the cause of which was as unknown to them as it was to me..".