Most of our knowledge of the lesser morrises extists because of the industry of Cecil Sharp just before and after the First World War. Sometimes the immediate descriptions existing in his pocket sized Field Notebooks retain a vividness lost in the later formal write-ups found in his deposited Manuscripts. One such visit was on September 2nd 1922 to Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire. The formal account is found under C# Tune 4886 and in Folk Dance IV p 85-87. The other half of the visiting team would have been Maud Karpeles.
Buckingham Union after breakfast, got 3 songs from Robert Hughes (63). Talked with other old men and learned of a morris at Dadford and Steeple Claydon, also of a fiddler Tom Stuckberry at Hillsden. Then cycled to Steeple Claydon. Found John Jennings (73) on the road. Plays piccolo both ways (traverse and a bec) all sorts of dance tunes. Used to go "mumeling" at Christmas and remembered all the words. Played for the morris and once danced with them. Told us of John Inwood, known as "Jockey-Um", a morris dancer and a fiddler and son of a fiddler. Had a brother William now dead who played and danced still better.
Went and called on John Inwood (77), a nice old man. Found him digging potatoes. At once came into his cottage, a pathetically small one, and took down a fiddle (half size) which he told us belonged to his father's granfer. After much tuning played a version of "Old Mother Oxford" which he said was the only tune they ever played when they danced the morris, probably because they played it better than any other. Played several other tunes as he gradually found his fingers which he said were too stiff now to play as he used to. He apologized when he began by saying "I can't put it up very high". I took down "The Cockade" as well. He said they used to dance at the Phoenix public house, country dances etc. he once won a prize there at a smoking match when he smoked in a church warden pipe two ounces of tobacco straight off, "you couldn't tell the time of the clock for smoke".
Then I tackled him on the morris. The 6 men who had bells stood up in a file, went through the straight hey (called the "double") to the tune ending facing in pairs, 1&2, 3&4, 5&6. They then clapped, he couldn't tell us exactly how but apparently something like the claps of "Shepherd's Hey" and "None So Pretty". Jennings told me later on that after the second double, they faced 2&3, 4&5, 1 and 6 being neutral. Jennings also told me they sometimes used sticks. It reminded me of the Worcestershire morris and like it danced at Xmas. Inwood then danced the morris step with great vitality, springing very clearly and throwing out his legs further and higher than we are used to do and keeping them very nearly straight, his hip joints wonderfully loose and flexible. He told us Crass was another morris dancer now living at Brackley.
We then returned to Jennings who told us of Country Dances, one in which hands across and Butter fly arch movement occurred.
The morris- stopped 30 years ago.
In Sharp's Mss, he said "Apparently very like the morris at Ludlow and White Ladies Aston, evidently very corrupt and more like a reel." The only such relevant dancing we know that Sharp actually saw was at Brimfield, so the comment may have been second hand. It is not a conclusion we would accept today with our greater data base.
Sharp also expressed the step description differently, "with great agility and spring for a man of 77, throwing out his legs further and therefore higher than usual and keeping them very nearly straight, though quite flexible, hip joints wonderfully loose."
Keith Chandler has found material that suggests that major differences between Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire morris were recognised by contemporaries. Whether this was in dance structure or performance style is unknown.
Sharp has collected a number of "Shepherd Hey" clappings. "None So Pretty" came from Fieldtown. A suggestion for an interpretation is to use the None So Pretty formula but touching one's opposite, not oneself, in bars 1-2.
© 1990 R L Dommett