The Bampton Morris Men on the 6th June 1927. The fiddler is Jinky Wells who gave many of the tunes to Sharp. (Photo from the archives of the Cambridge Morris Men.)
Perhaps the best known variety of the Morris is that which was collected by Cecil Sharp in the villages on the uplands of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and which has therefore become known as “Cotswold Morris”. The teams consist of six dancers and a musician, and often a Fool or animal character. There may also be a cake impaled on a sword, together with a “treasury” which will be used to collect donations from the onlookers. Indeed, it is considered lucky to donate to the morris men, and to receive a small piece of cake in return - on which you must make a wish! There is mystique in the morris.
Each village produced its own steps and dances, and these have become the “traditions”, known by the name of the parent village - Bledington, Bucknell or Badby, for example. There are still traditional teams at Chipping Campden, Abingdon, Bampton and Headington Quarry, but some villages have revival teams continuing the work of the old sides, notably Ilmington, Adderbury, Eynsham, Ducklington and Kirtlington. The set dances include handkerchief dances, processional dances, stick dances and hand clapping dances, there are also jigs for one or two dancers. The men will usually wear a white shirt, white trousers or dark breeches and black shoes. Bells are worn below the knee, and the club costume may often be a coloured baldrick or a waistcoat.
Music for the dancers used to be provided by a “whittle and dub” (Pipe and tabor) or a fiddle. Nowadays we find all manner of musical instruments in use, though the most popular is now a melodeon or a concertina. In the 1927 photo of Bampton, Jinky Wells is the fiddler; in 2007 the melodeon player is Steve Coad, and the accordion player Paul Smith. Behind Barry Care, the Bampton Fool, the hidden musician is Tom Bower. Dancing in the set: Barry Care, Andrew Care, Robert Care, Jonathan Coad, Paul Fowler, Lawrence Adams and Nick Locke.
A variant of the Cotswold Morris is found in the north midlands and dances have been collected from Lichfield, and from Winster in Derbyshire.
Eighty year On .... The Traditional Bampton Morris Dancers in 2007
Much of the text above is by Mike Garland, Past Squire of the Morris Ring, with additions by John Maher
Mike has also published his PhD thesis “It’s street theatre really!” A history of Cotswold Morris Dancing in the twentieth century.