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Morris dancing at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire 1844

Well it had to come, the collision of two major interests: morris dancing meet Enstone Marvels. Here is an extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal for May 19th. 1791. printed without comment on the back cover of The Story of Enstone by Graham Binns.

"A cake and ale feast will be held at Enstone, Oxfordshire, on Monday, Tuesday,Wednesday and Saturday in Whitsun week next ensuing. A CROWN CAKE will be given to the Set of Maurice Dancers that appears at Enstone first on Whit Monday. A HALFCROWN CAKE will be given to the first set of Maurice Dancers on Tuesday and a GOLD LACED HAT will be danced for by the Maurices on Saturday.

Enstone Wells being in high condition, and a large commodious Room over them, there will be a ball on each of the above nights."

For those not familiar with the habits of morris dancers this account clearly refers to the common custom of hosting Whitsun Ales in many Midland parishes. Originally brought in as fund-raising activities for churches after the reformation by the eighteenth century they had become social gatherings and from the point of view of the morris dancers offered lucrative money making opportunities (Chandler 1993a: 57). It was common practice for groups of dancers to travel some distance to participate in such events although there was usually a host side that would represent the village. What is interesting is that Enstone, despite being in the heartland of Cotswold morris dancing, does not seem to have had its own set of dancers and is forced, at least in 1791, to advertise to attract this essential component of the festivity The notion of dancing competitively was also found frequently, for example Chandler quotes another account from Jacksons Oxford Journal, this time from May 21st 1808 pertaining to Brill in Buckinghamshire:

"HIS LORDSHIP... will give a PRIZE of RIBBANDS and a HAT of one Guinea value, to the best set of Oxfordshire morris"

Whit Monday is clearly more important than the Tuesday in terms of the need to attract quality performers although if that hat was anything like the Brill example Saturday was when the big money could be made. The crown and halfcrown cakes referred to were usually large plum cakes, not dissimilar to those carried around by Bampton Morris to this day. It seems that the prizes were generally sold and the proceedings divided up amongst the dancers and musician.

The Dixton Harvesters, Gloucestershire morris in the late eighteenth century.

One wonders which local teams would have been attracted by the advertisement to turn up for the event. Chandler in his gazetteer of morris dancing in the South Midlands between 1660 - 1900 attempts to identify villages with active groups of morris dancers. The chief candidates for the late eighteenth century would have been Ascot-Under-Wychwood, Milton-Under-Wychwood, Spelsbury (which unusually had a women's team), Adderbury, Burford, Finstock and Woodstock although the records are fragmentary at best and there must have been others.

The fact that the Wells are in 'high condition' indicates that the Marvels remained in a reasonable state of repair right up to the end of the eighteenth century but by 1805 the poet Robert Southey who was passing through recorded,

"... we were told there were some water-works which would amuse us if we were in time to see them... It was but a melancholy site. The gardens made in the times of Charles I, above a century and half ago, and everything about them was in a state of decay. the water-works are of that kind which were fashionable in the days when they were made; ingenious devices for wetting the beholder from the sides, roof, floor and door-way of the grotto into which he had entered, and from every object which excited his curiosity.' (Southey 1808: Letter 34)

Perhaps the Whitsun ale with its accompanying advert was part of a last ditch attempt to maintain the Wells as a going concern.