WHEN this year's Morris dancing season starts on May 1, Wantage-based Icknield Way Morris Men will be without the influence of their founder member and long-serving president Bob Hart, who passed away this month.

Mr Hart was a founder member of the team and has been a dancer for nearly 60 years which the side called an 'outstanding' achievement.

He learnt morris dancing as a schoolboy from Mary Shunn, who was his deputy headteacher at Icknield School in the 1950's.

She taught the pupils country dancing but the boys in particular were instructed in Morris.

Miss Shunn had been involved in working with the famous Headington Quarry Morris Dancers during the Second World War and was keen for all boys to be aware of Oxfordshire traditions.

The young Bob and his school friends carried on dancing when they left school, returning on Wednesday evenings for Miss Shunn to give them further instruction.

In 1958, they decided to call themselves the Icknield Way Morris Men after the school and adopted the old school emblem, the Wessex Wyvern, as their crest.

Over the decades Mr Hart was squire (leader) of the team for two terms, foreman (in charge of dancing standards) for 14 years and honorary president for the past seven.

His friend and fellow dancer Sem Seaborne said: "Bob was a Wantage man, born and bred and lived and worked in Wantage all his life.

"He was a well-known character who was also a member of the Wantage Mummers and acted in a number of plays produced by the Domino Players.

"His dedication to morris dancing, a valuable Oxfordshire tradition, has been hugely significant and he will be sadly missed by many Wantage residents and of course the Icknield Way Morris Men."

Mr Hart passed away at home in Wantage on Wednesday, April 5, aged 75. He is survived by his five children, 11 grand children and seven great grand children.

His funeral will be held at South Oxfordshire Crematorium and Memorial Park in Garford today at 10am.