Author Archives: Bob Goodenough

600 Years of Morris Dancing

Speaker : Mike Heaney – himself a member of Eynsham Morris Dancers.

There are broadly 3 types of Morris Dancing – Cotswolds/South Midlands – distinguished by complex steps, slow capers and distinct tunes and dances; Welsh Borders/Midlands – distinguished by raucous behaviour, sticks, blacking up and simple steps; North West – distinguished by clog-wearing, slings, steps and kicks and processional movements.

There are many theories as to the origination of Morris Dancing but the most credible is that it came to England in the 15th Century from Flanders where the wealthy Burgundian/Flemish court had Morisch (Moris) entertainment.

In England the first recorded evidence of Morris Dancing was in 1448 when the Goldsmiths Livery Company of London employed Morris Dancers at its grand annual banquet. Shortly afterwards Sir john Folstaf from Norfolk commissioned a tapestry containing images of Morris Dancing. The Livery Companies perpetuated the employment of Morris Dancers at their annual Mid-Summer London banquets with the use of Morris Dancers reaching the Royal Court in 1511 under Henry V111.

Morris Dancing then filtered down to the general population initially under the auspices of the Church (Church Ale festivals). However, it fell out of fashion under Puritan Rule culminating in an Act of Parliament effectively banning Morris Dancing in 1654.

Morris Dancing returned but no longer under Church control with Whitsun Ales and Rushbearing ceremonies taking place within local communities. The revival of Morris Dancing, however, commenced at the end of the 19th Century with enthusiasts DArcy Ferrars, Percy Manning and Cecil Sharpe researching and reinventing Morris Dancing in the old style.

As far as Abingdon is concerned the first recorded mention of Morris Dancing was in 1560 where Church Records detail the purchase of bells for the uniforms of Morris Dancers to attend a Church Ales festival. Today there are 2 sets of Morris Men in Abingdon with the famous Mock Mayor election celebration a highlight.

Morris Dancing would appear to be in a healthy state today with new groups around the world developing new styles of Performance.

Conscientious Objectors in Oxford in the First World War

Speaker : Sue Smith, who has studied the subject in depth at Oxford University.

There were about 100 Conscientious Objectors (COs) in Oxford during the War, but many of the records have been destroyed. In the early part of the War the Armed Services used regular forces, but by 1916 we could no longer replace troops in sufficient numbers, so universal conscription was introduced. Everyone eligible was ‘deemed to be enlisted’. This meant that those who could not, or would not, join the Armed Forces were subject to a Military Tribunal which examined their case and delivered a verdict. Certain categories (eg those in nationally important employment, or who were ill) were able to get exemption. But those who objected to military service on ethical grounds had a much more difficult time.

The Tribunals usually consisted of men who were established local figures, and not likely to share such views. They also had a representative of the Military, who exerted an influence on them. In any case COs, among the general public, were suspected of cowardice or unmanliness, and often abused. In reality, COs, and in particular Quakers, often served as medics and ambulance men in very dangerous circumstances on the front line.

Altogether in the country during the war there were about 18,000 COs, who objected to service either because of religious objections to killing, or who objected on political grounds to the War. 6,000 of these were sent to prison. Conditions were often harsh. Many COs were sent to the notorious Dartmoor prison, and we were shown pictures of a large group of COs there.

The Oxford COs were a mixture, and came from all classes. Some COs, after the War, became well-known figures especially if they were from the upper class. Raymond Postgate, who later founded the Good Food Guide, spent time in prison, but was driven by taxi to jail. Another CO, a Quaker (Sydney Langford Jones), was a painter and sculptor, and made figures during his detention out of porridge oats. Alan Kay was of German descent, and a CO, and committed suicide in 1919.

The COs were not without sympathetic support. In and around Oxford there were the Morrells in Garsington, who provided a refuge, the Bishop of Oxford who forced a debate in the House of Lords, the Professor of Greek Gilbert Murray and many Quakers, some from influential families. Though the antagonism to them lasted for several years after the War (they were not allowed to vote until 1926), they led eventually to legislation (first in Britain, then spreading to many other countries) that guaranteed the right of COs to refuse to join the Armed Forces.

The talk was followed by a very rewarding discussion.

AGM talk – “Oxford Pubs” (members only)

Speaker: Dave Richardson

Dave Richardson is a freelance journalist and author, and a resident of Kennington for over 30 years. Although he has specialised in travel and tourism for most of his career, he also now writes about pubs and brewing and is editor of the Oxford Drinker, the bi-monthly magazine of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Through CAMRA, he was approached by Amberley Publishing to write its book Oxford Pubs (one of a series covering many places), which duly appeared in 2015. His most recent book, Let’s Go – a History of Package Holidays and Escorted Tours, came out in 2016.

There will be some copies of Oxford Pubs for sale after the talk at a discounted price of £12.50 (cash only).