Bampton Morris Dancers

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Bampton, Oxfordshire, has one of the best-known morris traditions in the country, and is one of the few villages which can claim an unbroken tradition (apart from during the First World War) of dancing over the past 150 years. The earliest written reference is in Revd J. A. Giles's History of the Parish and Town of Bampton (1847, p. lxv) in a passage which is relatively dismissive of the dancers, but at least proves their existence at that time, and implies an already established tradition. Village tradition claims a much longer history of two, three, or even six hundred years, but although two hundred years is possible given the family traditions involved, the other two figures are unsubstantiated. As with most teams in the area, the traditional time for Bampton morrismen to dance was previously Whitsun but it is now Spring Bank Holiday. They dance what scholars term ‘Cotswold’ morris, with most dances being for six men, carrying white handkerchiefs. They dress in white, bells strapped to their shins, and wearing black hats trimmed with flowers. They also have a ‘fool’ character, and a cake-bearer who carries a large cake in a tin, impaled on a sword which itself is decorated with flowers and ribbons. Onlookers get a piece of cake when they make a donation. The musician is nowadays a fiddle or melodeon-player, but until the mid-19th century was a pipe and taborer.

Cecil Sharp included the Bampton dances in the third volume of his Morris Book, and from that time on the village morris has attracted visitors from a wide area. This outside attention helped to keep the tradition going when other teams faded away, but the contribution of particular families, and individuals such as William ‘Jingy’ Wells, Arnold Woodley, and Francis Shergold, in keeping the dance alive must also be acknowledged.

Cecil Sharp, The Morris Book, iii (2nd edn., 1924);Keith Chandler, Morris Dancing at Bampton until 1914 (1983);Keith Chandler, Musical Traditions 10 (1992), 18–24;Chandler, 1993.

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