A May Day visit: Brighton Morris Men and the Sussex Loops

On 1st May this year, the Brighton Morris Men interrupted their May Day celebrations to come to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and view one of our ‘Sussex Loops’.

A Sussex Loop is a finely crafted bracelet or armlet made about 3,500 years ago from a thick bronze rod which was bent double, forming a loop at one end, and then bent round into an ‘O’ form with the ends of the rod fitting back into the loop.

Sussex Loop
Sussex Loop

So far 32 Loops have been found, all within the South Downs/Weald area and all but two within 16 miles of Brighton. As none have been discovered outside this area, they would appear to be the work of a nearby craftsman or workshop and must have had some sort of local significance, perhaps a badge of honour for a Bronze Age tribe living in or around Brighton. What seems strange is that they are generally found buried in pairs or threes (although five were uncovered recently as part of the Near Lewes Hoard) and, in a number of cases, they form part of a larger Bronze Age Hoard – buried with other items of Bronze Age jewellery and weaponry, some of which appear to have been made on the Continent.

Brighton Morris Men dance programme
Brighton Morris Men dance programme

The fact that they are buried in groups and sometimes with other precious objects could well indicate that there was a specific ritual purpose to their burial. It therefore seems apt that the Brighton Morris Men, who have adopted the Sussex Loop as their logo, spent May Day celebrating an ancient ritual that heralds the arrival of spring and the beginning of summer, and which dates from our long-distant past.

Andy Maxted, Curator (Collections Projects)

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