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Bledington
Location: 6 miles SW of Stow-on-the-Wold along A436; turnoff at B4450


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Brief History of Tradition

'If you're a dancer, when you hear the tune playing you know how to foot it'

John Hitchman (1850-1929) Bledington Fool

It is more than 100 years since the continuum of Morris dancing in the Bledington region came to an end. We cannot be certain of the exact date as the final appearances of the men were sporadic.

Charles Benfield
Charles Benfield, Fiddler of the Bledington Morris
(portrait by A. van Anrooy)

Charles Benfield ensured a link which touched almost 4 generations of dancers and his enduring enthusiasm eventually enabled the dances to be recorded by Cecil Sharp and later demonstrated and refined by the Travelling Morrice.

Bledington is an ordinary Gloucestershire Cotswold village, close to the Oxfordshire border.  Lying on the Oxfordshire Way, its houses group around a village green still retaining its Victorian maypole. Its Norman Church has a bell (1639) proclaiming 'Charles is King', reflecting the views of the local gentry at the time of the Civil War.

The Bledington area is rich in Morris history, one of the earliest recorded events being a paid performance by Morris dancers at a private house in Sherborne, 8 miles away, at Whitsun in 1711.  Another recorded event took place in Churchill in 1721 just 3 miles to the north-east of Bledington when a Morris team (probably local) were paid six shillings for dancing at a Whitsun Ale. There is also evidence that sides were active in Rissington, Icomb and Milton all within 4 miles of Bledington, in the late 1700's. 

No recorded incidents of Morris dancing in Bledington itself exist before the mid-19thC, when a side from Bledington were remembered as having danced at Bledington and nearby Fifield. The dances performed by sides from Idbury and Fifield were described to Sharp as being essentially the same as those at Bledington and there was sufficient similarity to the Longborough dances (taught by Henry Taylor) for men from these villages to dance as one set in 1887.  As far as revealed by the records the style we know as Bledington probably first entered the records with John Lainchbury, a farm labourer from Rissington. He was the senior member of the set dancing in Idbury between 1850 and 1870, but the existence of an earlier side has been implied by a local historian.

Charles Benfield began playing the pipe and tabour for the Morris in the 1850's and 'inherited' the instruments from the renowned Sherborne and Northleach musician Jim 'the laddie' Simpson, who died from an overdose of alcohol in 1856. He eventually went on to become a key character in the local Morris playing for Milton-under-Wychwood, Idbury, Fyfield and Longborough. By the early 1880s, Benfield eventually led what became known as the junior side comprising dancers born in the 1860's. These included men like George Hathaway, Lewis Hall, William Roberts and the Kerry (Carey) brothers, who were able to pass on their knowledge to the Travelling Morrice when they visited Bledington in the 1930's. By the late 1880s Benfield found it difficult to maintain a complete side and dancing continued sporadically until the late 1890's

Some of the Bledington dancers were very colourful characters.  George Hathaway believed that 'you couldn't dance unless you were three part...'. They toured with other sides like Longborough and Lower Swell, and there is an interesting description of Fools 'competing' having a breath holding competition with their heads in a rain barrel.

Some 25 Bledington dances have been collected, all but 2 with handkerchiefs.

Acknowledgements to Keith Chandler, The Morris Dancer, 3(11) p327 (Jan 2004) and Sem Seaborne, The Morris Dancer, 2(11) p55 (Jan 1995) for information used in the historical notes. Please read their accounts for a more informed discussion.

Dances Performed by Our Side

Handkerchief Dances
Stick Dances

Bonnets so Blue / William & Nancy
Cuckoo's Nest
Flowers of Edinburgh
Gallant Hussar
Glorishear
Idbury Hill / Maid of the Mill / Morning Star/ Old Woman Tossed Up
Over the Water to Charlie
Saturday Night
Trunkles (6 or 8 man)

Young Collins


Jigs

Ladies Pleasure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristic Features of Tradition
Notation Glossary of Terms
GENERAL

Normal figures
 

FU/FD, HG, WG, HR, WH or HH.

Hand/Arm Movements The arm movements are wristy circles away from the body and almost vertical. The side step is half this with the body inclining in that direction.
Finish All dances finish with x4 PCs
STEPS

Stepping

Starting foot is outside foot to the set or your partner, but in the hey is the trailing foot i.e. No. 1 brings right foot across, No. 5 brings left foot across.  The hey in Flowers is an exception.

Hookleg (HL) A characteristic feature of this tradition that assists the dancer in making smooth 180o and 270o turns.  The hookleg is swung near the ground (not like a Fieldtown galley) with one hop at the end of a bar or prior to a step and jump together.  (Never feet together jump during a dance in Bledington). Hooking into a hey knees should 'line up' with partners.  In cross figures the normal rule is HL right.
Plain Capers (PC) Leaps from one foot to the other taking on appearance of backwards cycling. Usually accompanied by circular waves at the side of the body.

Upright Capers (UC)

a) Upright capers begin with moving the right foot back keeping the weight on it whilst bringing the left foot across.
b) With the weight on the left foot bring the right across.
c) Jump off the right (hands up).
d) Land on the left swinging the right knee.
e.g., in Trunkles this is followed by an UC commencing with weight on the left foot (back), bringing right across, etc.  The jump in UC's or RTB's is on the 3rd beat of the bar. The arm movements are out (balance), swinging back, up above the head (no bent elbows), falling down to out (balance) again.

Fore Caper or RTB (right toe behind) a) RTB
b) R toe tap beside L
c) R (jump) landing on L (In Trunkles this is followed by an LTB).
There should be a slight jump into the RTB position but the body should be upright not bent forward. The arm movements are out (balance), swinging back, up above the head (no bent elbows), falling down to out (balance) again.
Forry Capers (FC) The arm movements for FC's are a slightly faster version of above without the backward swing.  The FC is R l r  (R = jumping foot, arms up; l r = falling to balance).  In other words, a right foot caper with a leftright shuffle.

Shuffle Back

Most difficult step described as 'wriggling your feet back'; is used in jigs.  The best description is moving the heel of one foot into the instep of the other whilst moving back.

FIGURES

Foot-Up (FU), Foot-Down (FD)

Move up to the music (FU) and then back. Move down from the music (FD) and then back. Turn inwards between FU and FD.

Half-Gip (HG)

Goes well passed partners but maintaining straight lines. Pass side-by-side right shoulders and return same side.  HL left.  Repeat left shoulders. HL right

Whole-Gip (WG) Partners dance clockwise round, facing each other; HL left. Repeat as mirror image.
Half Rounds (hR) Dance clockwise to half way position; return and finish.

Whole Hey (WH) or Half Hey (HH)

The hey should not be used at the end of HH dances, i.e. only for Trunkles and Saturday Night.

 

 
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