Dancers in the morris set at Sherborne were renowned locally for their skill in performance. The fiddle player William Hathaway, born at Lower Swell (Glos) on 3 May 1841, described Sherborne as 'a desperate Morris place,' while the collector Cecil James Sharp claimed to have 'repeatedly heard other Morris men speak in similar terms, [and] I gather that the Sherborne men must at one time have held a leading position among the Morris dancers in that part of the country. (Cecil J Sharp, The Morris Book. Part IV (London: Novello, 1911), 8-9.)
On Thursday, June 12th (1856), an inquest was held at the New Inn, on the body of James Simson [sic], of Sherborne; it appears the deceased left home on the Monday previous, as one of a party of morrice dancers proceeding to Stow club, stayed there until the Tuesday night, and when on his way home (alone) he called at the New Inn, in this village, where a party had that day dined, and were spending the evening together. The deceased insisted on joining them, and as drink was to be had without stint, he drank in a short space of time so much that he was obliged to be removed to an apartment, in which he was comfortably laid and covered for the night; every care was taken of him, and the landlady, the last thing, saw him asleep, and left him safe. The following morning, about 9 o'clock, he was found in an uneasy state. Medical assistance was sent for, but before the doctor arrived he had ceased to breath [sic]. Verdict - Died from excess of drink, (Oxford Chronicle, 14 June 1856, 8.)
The dances and tunes as listed in A Handbook of Morris Dances
1.Constant Billy, MDT (Headington): B music CJS MSS
2.The Old Woman Tossed Up, MDT
3.The Old Woman Tossed Up, TM (H.H.Albino from Thos. Pitts)
4.The Blue-Eyed Stranger, CJS MSS
5.Young Collins, Jour
6.The Cuckoo's Nest, MDT
7.Lads A-Bunchun, MDT
8.The Orange in Bloom, CJS MSS
9.Trunkles, CJS MSS
10.How D'Ye Do?, CJS MSS
11.The Monks' march, MDT
12.I'll Go and Enlist, MDT
13.The Sherborne Jig, MDT
14.Princess Royal, Jour.
15.Jockey To The Fair, CJS MSS
16.Princess Royal, DW (CJS from Simpson, 1908)
MB IV; News, Jan 1921; Jour EFDSS, 1927; RW; RD; TM; David Welti (DW). RW's and RD's source is Sharpe's MSS.
The music was by pipe and tabor ("whittle and dub")
The major source of information about the Sherborne Morris was George Simpson, aged 60 about 1908,and living then in the village of Upton, near Didcot in Berkshire. George died about the First World War from cancer. George’s younger brother James was visit ed by the Travelling Morrice on 26 June 1938 when living in retirement at Battledown, Cheltenbam. He and his brother had both danced in the village but both left and joined the police force in Cheltenham. Fred Hamer said they changed their name for this, for some reason now forgotten. George had done land measuring and carpentering.
George Simpson said that William Harper of Sherborne used to play whittle and dub (pipe and tabor).Someone else told Cecil Sharp that “Jim the Laddy” (J. Hopkins) was pipe and taborer. Richard Pitts (not a morris dancer) told Clive Carey about 1913 that he remembered a Simpson as whistle and dub player. As Pitts, then aged 89, also talked of “young”’ Simpson the player was probably of an older generation.
Pitts talked of dancers named Hedges, Hawker, Lambert and two brothers Kent, one called John as well as Simpson the player.
Before Sharp met Simpson, Mrs. Hobbs, who did a lot of exploratory work in the Cotswolds, went to see Mrs. James, widow of the man who taught Simpson. Mrs James regarded Fieldtown as Sherborne’s greatest rivals. Sharp also saw Taylor, a pupil of Simpsons but they all agreed in Sherborne that Simpson was the best and that he could whistle the tunes.
The Travelling Morrice in June 1924 met Albert Townsend and collected the tune and some words for a dance for 4 men to Highland Mary. Mr. Charles Taylor of the Oddington side danced some of this to the Travelling Morrice using the Sherborne step and both he and Townsend said that it was danced very much as I’ll Go and Enlist for a Sailor. Russell Wortley and R. Albino met Thomas Pitts, an old Sherborne dancer, then aged about 80, at Eastleach before the last war and obtained some tunes. His photo is on the cover of Old Cotswold Photographs by Viner of the Cirencester museum.
From Roy Dommett’s “Notes about the Sherborne Morris” Kennet Morris Men Workshops 1979/80