An exhibition in Bampton offers a nostalgic look at Morris dancing in the area, with pictures dating back to 1894. Dan Robinson takes a preview
LONG before the days when TV period drama Downton Abbey was filmed there, Bampton was synonymous with Morris dancing.
And now a photographic exhibition spanning 120 years of the traditional folk dance has been opened in Bampton Library.
It has been compiled by Bampton Community Archive group member Janet Rouse and includes more than 100 pictures celebrating the village’s link to the tradition.
She said: “It’s almost certainly the village with the longest broken record of dancing every year. There was certainly dancing here in the 1700s and we still hold an event every year.
“Since 1960 there’s been a real revival here in Bampton. There was generally a great revival in the folk world everywhere after the Second World War.
“It was an explosion of freedom and pubs here got a licence to stay open all day, which neighbouring villages didn’t have so everyone came to Bampton.”
The oldest picture is from 1894, showing nine dancers gathering on Whit Monday, the traditional date when the Bampton group would hold its only performance of the year in the village.
Performances are now held on the late May Bank Holiday Monday, two days after the Original Great Shirt Race.
The most recent picture was taken last year. Mrs Rouse took some herself and others were contributed.
In many of the older photographs the dancers are posed because the film would blur with movement.
Three teams of dancers, called sides, dance in the village centre and members traditionally had to either live or have been born in Bampton.Sides are led by a squire and there is also a fool, ragman and musician.
Each village would have its own style typified by steps and patterns.
Mrs Rouse, who has lived in the village since 1968 and is married to former morris dancer Terry, said: “There are Morris dancers all over the country and each town or village has their own specific dance so if another side performs it they always acknowledge which village the dance style comes from.
“When they perform in Bampton it’s such a wonderful atmosphere.”
The exhibition is at the Vesey Room of the village library, in Church View, until Sunday, June 22.
1894: Present on Whit Monday, May 14, were, left to right, Henry Radband (sword bearer), George Wells, Joseph Rouse, probably John Tanner, William Nathan Wells (fool), James Dewe, George Dixey, Thomas William Tanner, Richard Decimus Butler (musician)
1932: Avoiding the floods by the Elephant & Castle pub
1938: William Nathan Wells also known as Jinky
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