There are about twenty dances from Ilmington, of which many go back to the nineteenth century. The basis of the tradition is the work of Cecil Sharp and Mary Neal in the first twenty years of this century who collected from many sources including Sam Bennett in Ilmington. This was extended by other collectors, and published by the Morris Ring in Lionel Bacon's 'Black Book'. The best known of these dances is the linked handkerchief dance 'Maid of the Mill'.
The current Ilmington Morris Men were formed in 1974 and soon made contact with 'Fiddler' Sturch of Shipston-on-Stour who had played for an Ilmington side early in the century. Mr Sturch taught us both the distinctive style of our figures and some tunes and dances, for example, the tune used for the modern dance 'Sturch's Piece' composed by the side in his memory after he died in 1980.
Another dance with an interesting history is the Broom Dance, performed by one man with a household broom to the 'Greensleeves' tune. This was taught by Sam Bennett to Arnold Woodley of Bampton, probably during a period in the 20's or 30's when Sam Bennett played for one of the Bampton sides, and was performed regularly by Arnold's side. When Arnold discovered that there was a new side in Ilmington he made a point of teaching us the dance and ensuring its return to its 'native heath'. This dance is thought to have originated in the neighbouring village of Blackwell. (From the Ilmington Morris Web Site, Dec 2011)
Cotswold Journal: 100 years ago.
May 7, 1910 With the revival of Morris Dancing, Sam Bennett, the Ilmington dancer, who is known to many of our readers, is achieving something in the nature of national fame. Commenting on the dance which was to be given at the Kensington Town Hall on Thursday by the Esperance Club, the Daily News said: "The most picturesque figure present will be Sam Bennett, the village fiddler and morris dancer of Ilmington, who has achieved some degree of fame beyond his native village by his participation in the recent Shakespeare Festival. Till 25 years ago the village revels at Ilmington had been carried on almost since time immemorial but they gradually lapsed into disuse until Bennett who, remembering the old tunes and dances, revived the custom four years since".
May 4, 1935 Owing to the proximity of the Jubilee celebrations, the annual May Day revels at Shipston were curtailed on Wednesday, but in spite of this a large crowd assembled in the High Street to watch the proceedings. The weather was dull and showery, but this did not dampen the ardour of those taking part, or the spectators who took a lively interest in the dancing. A start was made at one oclock, when a programme of Maypole and Morris dancing was given under the direction of Sam Bennett, attired in smock and beribboned hat. A gaily decorated lorry made an imposing "throne" for the May Queen, Doreen Hooper, who looked charming in her robes of white silk. Her maids of honour were Muriel Bailey, Phyllis Carter, Jessie Davies, Marion Hunt, Hazel Hancox and Margaret Rose. The crowning of the May Queen was performed by Mrs Baring Gould.
The dances and tunes as listed in A Handbook of Morris Dances
- Shepherds' Hey MDT (from Bidford. The Ilmington tune
- (RKS from Bennett) is closely similar
- The Cuckoo's Nest MDT
- The Cuckoo's Nest CJS MSS
- The Cuckoo's Nest CJS MSS
- The Black Joke MDT
- Constant Billy CJS MSS
- Constant Billy RKS MSS
- The Jubilee Dance RKS MSS
- The Maid of the Mill MDT (from Jim Hathaway of Lower Swell: RKS from Bennett is almost identical)
- The Maid of the Mill CJS MSS
- The Maid of the Mill RKS MSS
- The Old Woman Tossed up in a Blanket MDT
- Bumpus o' Stretton Carey MSS
- Old Molly Oxford CJS MSS
- The Buffoon RKS MSS
- Nelson's Praise RKS MSS
- The Lively Jig Esperance Morris Book (danced by Bennett's teams)
Sources: MB I; RD (Sharp'sMSS; RKSS's MSS). RKS's information came largely from Sam Bennett, Ilmington dancer and fiddler, who was teaching the dances up till 1945.
Dancing in Ilmington underwent a series of revivals, with resulting variations in the dancing: hence the alternative versions. "The modern side was started in 1974 largely with men with connections with the village, or from Shipston-on-Stour. In 1899 Sam Bennett had the horse made which the side still uses. It was preserved in the village by the Village School during the period before the current side was started. This is the only traditional horse with close connections to Traditional Morris."