Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Three Bampton Morris Dancers: Thomas Albert 'Son' Townsend, Francis Shergold, and George Hunt

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Three Bampton Morris Dancers: Thomas Albert 'Son' Townsend, Francis Shergold, and George Hunt

Article excerpt

The old custom of morris dancing in villages of the south midlands, already generally defunct as a viable cultural expression by the final quarter of the nineteenth century, nevertheless lingered on in a handful of locations, periodically stimulated by infusions of encouragement or practical assistance from the broader folk revival community. Of these, the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire benefited most often, and the annual Whit Monday performance tradition was maintained during the last century for all but two wartime years (1917 and 1918), and continues unabated to the present day. More than a hundred men and boys passed through the system between 1900 and 2009. Some of them danced for one or two years only before moving on, while others gave a considerable portion of their lives, helping, as dancer, fool, and long-term musician William Nathan 'Jingy' Wells (1868--1953) once said, 'to keep the old thing going'. Three such men have passed on during the last twelve months.

Thomas Albert 'Son' Townsend (born 1914) was the only one of the trio to have antecedents who were active in the Bampton set. His grandfather, Thomas Portlock-Clarke (1844--1936), plus two of his brothers, had been dancers during the previous century. As 'Son' often told me, on Whit Sunday in 1925 one of the six regular dancers dropped out. Rather than have the set go out with only five men the following day, his grandfather and father separately told him he would have to dance. He refused twice and received a clip round the ear from each of them, after which he acquiesced. He danced for a number of years during the 1930s and 1940s, but really came into his own during the following decade, when he assumed the role of fool for the side of youngsters raised by Arnold Woodley. Arnold's side folded after 1959, but after a short hiatus 'Son' continued fooling, but now for the 'rival' side led by Francis Shergold. Arnold reorganized a team in 1970, and 'Son' went back to him, continuing until a full day of activity on Whit Monday got too much. Even then, he would often meet up with them for part of the day, latterly in a wheelchair. He was especially important for my early fieldwork in Bampton, putting me up several times before I relocated to the area in late 1979, and introducing me to both retired and active dancers. I last saw him about six months before he died, and he seemed in good spirits. …

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