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Centenary success for Quarry

Members of Headington Quarry Morris Dancers have been looking back with quiet satisfaction on their big day - the centenary of their team's meeting with Cecil Sharp on December 26.

The flu bug prevented the appearance of one dancer and the guest of honour, Sophie Lynch - William Kimber's only surviving daughter.

But the new bagman, Terry Phipps, says the day was a great success, and a fitting way to recall the meeting between Kimber and Sharp that led to the worldwide revival of morris dancing.

The commemorations began with a special service at Holy Trinity Church, with a sermon by the curate, the Rev Bob Nicholls, that dwelt on the long-standing relationship between the church and the morris team.

"Although it was the normal eucharist of the day it was aimed with the morris in mind," says Terry, who's a former member of the parochial church council. "The sermon was based on the morris, and the fact that various members of the club have served the church or the parish over the years. He did a very good sales promotion as far as we were concerned."

The dancers had luck with the weather when they emerged from the church. "The day was overcast and actually started to drizzle when we finally finished dancing," says Terry. "But we could not have asked for better. When we danced outside the church the sun was actually shining.

"We did a couple of dances outside the church and then visited William's grave in the churchyard. There was a wreath in club colours laid on the grave."

At midday, a 200-strong crowd watched an hour-long show at the site of Sandfield Cottage, where Sharp had been spending Christmas with his mother-in-law in 1899.

The youngest of the 16-or-so dancers present was teenager Rupert Ainley, the son of another Quarry man; several of those performing were aged around the 60 mark, though, with personal memories of William Kimber.

The programme included all the dances performed for Sharp and his mother-in-law at the original encounter.

A solo jig, Old Mother Oxford, was danced by Chris Kimber-Nichelson, the great-grandson of William Kimber and the only member of the side directly descended from the man known as "The Father of The Morris".

Kimber's favourite jig, Shepherd's Hey, was performed by bagman Terry - whose own great grandfather, John "Brickdust" Horwood, had been in the set see by Sharp. Terry is one of several members of the club who learned their morris from Kimber at Margaret Road School.

A number of VIP guests were present, including the current Squire of the Morris Ring, Daniel Fox, and past squire Colin Fleming. Nibs Matthew, former director of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and also a previous Ring squire, gave one of the main speeches at a lunch for 96 people at Headington Bowls Club. The celebrations ended with an evening folk dance.

The side was out again the next day for its annual Boxing Day round, performing the old Headington Quarry mummers play. One change was made to one of the performances, though, to give a distinguished visitor to dance in Quarry kit.

Dr Richard Wilson, professor of English at Harvard University, brought his family to spend Christmas in the UK, in order to be present at the centenary celebrations. "It was something of a coup for us to have him there," says Terry.

"He wrote to us a couple of years ago reminding us of the forthcoming event….. should it have passed our notice."

Richard had danced out with the side while based in Oxford some years earlier, and he returned wearing the kit of those days. Several past members of the side were present, but it had been decided that only current members should dance on the day, with no other sides performing.

But arrangements had been agreed in advance for Richard to perform the next day. "We normally have a mock morris in the mummers play," says Terry, "but we changed it at one of the pubs to allow him to perform the Fool's Jig. His children had never seen him perform in a proper setting, so we were glad to be able to accommodate him."

For Terry, the success of the day's celebrations was a mighty relief. "I'd been involved in planning it for virtually four years and it got very edge-of-the seat when it was going on. But I felt privileged to have been a part of it."

Bob Grant, the team's historian, was equally proud. "I was far from well," says Bob, who was suffering from flu and with a recent major operation behind him. "But I felt I just had to be there. I had done quite a lot of the lead-up work and made a special effort to be at Sandfield Cottage.

"I didn't make the church - I was far too grim. I lifted myself up on adrenaline, got there for the dancing and then came straight back home. There was no way I could have danced."

Bob's booklet, When Punch Met Merry, detailing the events of 1899, has gone into its third printing. An illustrated booklet on the centenary is also available through the club's web site.

But the team has decided not to order more of the commemoration mugs it had made for the big day. All 140 had been sold out by December 27th - making them an enviable collectors' item.

Donkey note: Publication of this report has been delayed by holidays.


Headington Quarry Morris Dancers

Absolutely Classic: The Music Of William Kimber

The Folk Mag has two excellent on-line articles relating to the centenary:

Boxing Day 1899:

Quarry Roughs: Headington Quarry, 100 years ago

©2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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