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Centenary blast for Quarry

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers are planning a strictly local affair to mark the centenary of the day their team was "discovered" by Cecil Sharp - the encounter that led to the worldwide revival of morris dancing.

Morris sides from across the country had wanted to perform in the modest Oxford suburb on 26 December, 1999.

"Anybody is welcome to come," says the Quarry bagman, Peter Davies, "but what the Morris Ring didn't want was 20 or 30 clubs that wanted to come and dance.

"We didn't want a mass invasion of Headington Quarry that was unmanageable. So there's no other dancing apart from ourselves."

The side will perform at noon on the site of Sandfield Cottage, where Sharp had been staying with his mother in law on the occasion when the Quarry men broke with tradition and danced out of season, hoping to earn extra pennies to help them through a lean time.

The cottage, where Sharp was struck by the distinctive character of William Kimber's concertina playing, is no longer standing. It's been replaced by a block of flats, but a plaque recalls the meeting that eventually led Sharp to tour the country, collecting various kinds of ceremonial dance.

Events on the anniversary day will begin at 10 am with a special service at Holy Trinity, the parish church, with which the side has had a long association.

"Initially our morris dancing symbol was the Holy Trinity star," says Peter Davies. "It's almost the same shape as the rapper swords. And we always had the Headington Quarry feast near to the feast of the Holy Trinity."

The service is open to all, but as Peter says, "When the church is full, the church is full."

After the dancing at noon, club members and honoured guests will sit down for a celebration lunch. Among those invited is William Kimber's only surviving daughter, Sophie Lynch - who was also present in May at the launch of a CD of her father's music, published to mark the centenary.

In the evening, the celebrations continue with a ceilidh. Again, it's open to all comers, though there's only room for 140 people.

On the Boxing Day holiday - which falls on December 27 - the Headington Quarry dancers will be out again, but this time with their usual post-Christmas performances of rapper sword dance, carol singing, handbell ringing, and the village mummer's play.

"It's the traditional Headington Quarry play," says Peter. "It was revived in a Headington Quarry booklet by the Holy Trinity mothers' union, who got hold of the scripts.

"I've been doing it for 40 years and some of the other people have been doing it for longer. It's always gone on - snow, rain, sunshine, the lot."

William "Merry" Kimber would surely have approved of such determination. After all, barely any morris teams still survived when the Quarry dancers braved the bitter weather of Boxing Day, 1899; if they hadn't turned up on Sharp's doorstep, the morris would almost certainly have died out.

Links:

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers have their own site, with a contact number if you want ceilidh tickets 

For more on the centenary CD, click here 

And you can also read about the early history of the English Folk Dance and Song Society

The Folk Mag has two excellent on-line articles relating to the centenary: When Cecil met Bill

Headington Quarry, 100 years ago

1999 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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