miles SW of Stow-on-the-Wold along A436; turnoff at B4450
Brief History of Tradition
'If you're a dancer,
when you hear the tune playing you know how to foot it'
Hitchman (1850-1929) Bledington Fool
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
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
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.
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
Bonnets so Blue / William & Nancy
Flowers of Edinburgh
Idbury Hill / Maid of the Mill / Morning Star/ Old Woman Tossed Up
Over the Water to Charlie
Trunkles (6 or 8 man)