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 Illustration: Sherry Tolputt
 “The drum struck and we marched forward.
My Maid Marian shook her fat sides and footed it merrily to Melford.”
mishap as he strained his hip, attracted pickpockets to the huge crowds cheering him on, fell down a pothole and, at one point, had to lock himself inside a pub to escape being mobbed.
Here we join Kemp as he reached Sudbury. “A tall, lusty fellow, a butcher by profession, said he’d keep me company in dancing to Bury. Being glad of his friendly offer, I gave him thanks and off we set. However, we had only travelled half a mile when he gave up, protesting that even if he was paid £100, he would not be able to keep up with me.”
As the butcher left, a buxom lass Kemp dubbed Maid Marian, took his place. “I saw mirth in her eyes, heard boldness in her words, and beheld her ready to tuck up her russet petticoat,” he wrote. “The drum struck and we marched forward. My Maid Marian shook her fat sides and footed it merrily to Melford.”
A gentleman called Colt gave Kemp bed and board in Long Melford until the end of the second week. As he left, Colt’s jester accompanied him for the first mile. However, he led him the
wrong way towards Clare, possibly as a joke. Kemp said they split up “in a foul way”.
Between Clare and Bury, he was offered hospitality by a widow called Everet. “So plentiful a variety of good fare I have very seldom seen in any commoner’s house,” he commented. “From this widow’s I danced to Bury, coming in on the Saturday afternoon.”
As Kemp entered Bury, the Lord Chief Justice of England (who sentenced Mary Queen of Scots to death in 1587 and later Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gunpowder Plotters) was being greeted by a large group at another
gate. However, the throng left this government VIP to gape at Kemp, halting his progress seven times. The weather then presented another problem. “By reason of the great snow that fell, I stayed at Bury from Saturday in the second week of my setting forth until Thursday night the next week,” he explained.
Kemp’s seventh day of dancing was on the Friday of the third week, when he reached Thetford and stayed for the weekend. He eventually reached Norwich on the Wednesday of the fourth week, his ninth day. The mayor gifted him £5 and an annuity of 40 shillings a year. Kemp also collected on his bets, tripling his initial outlay. His story came to a sad end when he died of plague in 1603.
However, he is remembered in the name of a Norwich street, Will Kemp Way, and in a wood carving in the city’s Chapelfield Gardens. The comedian may have had his critics, but none could argue that he didn’t give his all to performances – in the case of his marathon Morris, quite literally with bells on.
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