Articles tagged with: Long Newnton

“Very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”: Morris, Garlands, Sedition and Riot

on Tuesday, 21 May 2019. Posted in Archives, Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire People

Devizes Jubilee Morris

Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).

What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?

Capers against the Commonwealth
On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.

The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.

The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).

Public nuisance, party, or Sedition?
In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.

Blackpowder Morris from Lewes in Sussex

While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as  an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).

However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1

The new arrivals that have it all plan'd out...

on Friday, 03 May 2013. Posted in Archives

We have recently received the first part of series of deeds from the Salisbury diocesan registrar which will be an important source for local historians. In the early 19th century, two enabling Acts of parliament permitted the exchange of land and property in order to improve the estates which supported parish clergy, known as glebe. Each incumbent was tenant for his term of office, without power to buy or sell. Now it was possible to rationalise scattered glebe lands and to acquire new parsonages or vicarage houses. The deeds have detailed maps, often the earliest for the land being exchanged. Highlights among the first batch include a deed of 1817 for Long Newnton (now in Gloucestershire) with a plan of the entire glebe, surveyed by John Hayward, Rowde in 1811.

But the star of the group is an 1826 deed of houses in St Mary Street Chippenham. The plan offers a detailed ground plan of both houses with less detailed one of the church. The then present vicarage house, on the east side of the churchyard was exchanged for one on the other side of the street opposite the church. It has the date stone GL 1717, which refers to Gilbert Lake, vicar from 1716. The new vicarage, now a care home, is called The Old Vicarage. The other property now called St Mary House, should perhaps be named ‘The Even Older Vicarage House’.

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