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The man who made it all possible

If it wasn't for the antiquarian Percy Manning, the meeting that sparked the worldwide revival of morris dancing would almost certainly not have taken place. Inspired by the centenary of that event, JOHN MAHER has dug out an article he wrote in 1972, recalling Manning's role in re-forming the Headington Quarry side in the late 1890s.

From Bristol Folk News, Autumn 1972, No 10 "Cuckoo's Nest"

During this summer I spent two very pleasant days in the Bodlean Library reading the notes of Percy Manning. Percy Manning, of New College, Oxford, was an active collector of folk-lore and traditions in the Oxford region at the turn of the century; he obtained probably the last pipes and a tabor (as used by the older morris men, before 1860) and researched this instrument; he collected the words and tunes of some Headington and Bampton morris dances and found references to a number of other morris sides in Oxfordshire. However he is probably best known for his investigations into the Wychwood Forest Whit Hunt and the Kirtlington Ale. In my belief he should be remembered for a far more momentous achievement - he was responsible for the revival of the Headington Morris; without Percy Manning it is very doubtful whether that fateful meeting between Cecil Sharp and William Kimber, at Sandfield Cottage, Headington on Boxing Day, 1899, would ever have taken place!

Percy Manning first began collecting folklore from around Oxford during his undergraduate days; he enlisted the help of Thomas Carter of St Clements with the music, since he was no musician himself. In 1897 Manning published a short account of the morris, together with a selection of tunes and views of Bampton from that year; this account may have appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal for that year. Manning found a photograph of the Headington side taken in 1864: Headington at this time had not danced for ten years, so he thought to revive the side. From the photograph he found that James Hedges and Jack Harwood were still living in Headington, and in the autumn of 1898 he collected a side with Carter's aid. They practised for the winter and were equipped with a dress on the exact lines of the photograph. The training took place without either Manning or Carter interfering and with no outside source, "so that there was no possibility of contaminating the pure tradition (this is the great danger of today)". A public performance of the morris was then given on 15 March 1899, at the Corn Exchange, Oxford. As a result of this, the morris jumped back into favour in Headington and the side gave open-air performances on their own account. One of them was seen by Cecil Sharp when he was visiting Sandfield Cottage, Headington, on Boxing Day 1899. The seed was sown at Headington! Manning related the story to the Oxford Anthropological Society later.

Some reminiscences of William Kimber, related by T.W.Chaundy (EFDSS Journal 1959, VIII (4) 203), tie in nicely with this account. Kimber recognised Manning's encouragement and added the following: In 1887, when Headington danced, the musician was George Young; the side consisted of Kimber's brother, Jim Hedges, Bill Massey, Jack Harwood, John Simpkins, Bobby Cooper and "Black" Jack Haynes. They last danced in 1888: this was also the first time that William Kimber danced. Chaundy (EFDSS Journal 1962, IX (3) 115), also refers to the Sharp-Kimber meeting on Boxing Day 1899, and to Manning's efforts.

The show at Oxford Corn Exchange in March 1899 seems to have generated a lot of interest. It was organised by Manning and Councillor T W Taphouse (himself an enthusiastic collector). The dancers from Headington Quarry were J Hedges (foreman), J Harwood, E Morris, J Ward, R Kimber, and G W Coppock.

To quote the Oxford Chronicle, they danced "to the strains of a somewhat primitive fiddler", Mark Cox. The fool and squire was W Washington. J Ward is also mentioned as a reserve. They danced The Blue-Eyed Stranger, Constant Billy, Country Garden, Rigs of Marlow, How D'ye Do Sir, Bean Setting, Haste To The Wedding, Rodney, Trunk Hose, and Draw Back.

The dances were interspersed with folk songs and music from other people. Percy Manning exhibited two tabors, one from Leafield (c1800), the other Deddington (c1850), and a pipe made at Bampton (c1850). So far as I can discern, these were destroyed in The Blitz in the last war.


Postscript, January 2000:

A full account of the background to the Headington Quarry dancers can now be found in Keith Chandler's book, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, Chapter 8 pp 147-157.

Keith Chandler references the article as Jackson's Oxford Journal, 18th March 1899, p5, then Oxford Chronicle, 18th March 1899, p6. Back in 1972 I did not have the time to follow these up.

There is an account concerning Percy Manning's activities in the booklet accompanying the recent Kimber CD.

Some of Mark Cox's tunes were subsequently collected by Geoffrey Toye and Clive Carey, and appeared in The Espérance Morris Book, Part II, edited by Mary Neal.

The article by Percy Manning was presented at a Folk Lore Society meeting and read on 16th March , 1897. Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals: With Notes on Morris-Dancing in Oxfordshire appeared in Folk-Lore, 1897, VIII, pp 307-324. It includes a very interesting description of morris dancing, and some photographs of Bampton dancers, morris bell pads, a treasury, sticks and a cake tin for the cake and sword. There are also pictures of two pipes and two tabors, Oxfordshire "maces" and Ducklington "peeling horns". There is also music and words to some dances. It is a little long to re-type for the Web, but must surely be a seminal article in the morris revival which started around a hundred years ago.

Bristol Folk News also carried a review by Mike Whitehead (still of Bristol Morris Men!) for the recently released CD Morris On - another seminal event. I wonder whether the centenary of that will be celebrated in 2072?

Shave The Donkey adds: Bristol Folk News ceased publication in 1977. John Maher tells us he is planning to re-publish several other articles.

©1972, 2000 John Maher

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