Articles tagged with: Pewsey

“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 1906 Pewsey Feast and Carnival

on Monday, 12 September 2016. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire Places

4051/3BW Carnival group, c1920. WJ Selfe, Pewsey, photographer

Whilst looking into the history of Pewsey during the First World War, I wanted to investigate whether the time honoured tradition of the Pewsey Feast and Carnival took place during the war years. As it turns out, it didn’t, though I have heard rumours that there may still have been some sort of collection for Savernake Hospital – If anyone has any information regarding this, it would be greatly received!

During my search for information I became intrigued by the feast and carnival, how they came to be and overlap with each other, and the traditions involved. There is some speculation and contention over exactly how the first Pewsey Feast came to be, but the one that seems to win the fight is the story of King Alfred in the 9th Century coming back safely from war and declaring that from then on the inhabitants of Pewsey had the right to an annual feast day. The various traditions have then sprung up over time, with a tea for older people, concerts and dances, various sporting events both the 'serious' and the comparatively frivolous, a large carnival procession, and most importantly of all, the raising of funds for charity, and in particular for Savernake Hospital. The main Feast Day Sunday has traditionally fallen on the closest Sunday to 14th September (Holy Cross Day), with the rest of the festivities following afterwards. The first carnival was held in 1898 and consisted merely of a group of people riding around on ornately decorated bicycles, collecting money for Savernake Hospital, and the events and procession grew from there. Originally taking place in one week, it is now spread across two weeks, with the occasional associated event taking place outside of those two weeks.

F8/500/220/2/2 - School log book, Pewsey County 1899-1913

Clearly in 1906 the village viewed the festivities with great importance, in the school log book we can see it was closed to allow the children to join in. It's interesting to note in the log book that attendance was high in the last day before the festivities began, and rather bad the day after the carnival procession, one can only speculate as to why!

For this blog I have decided to give you a glimpse of the 1906 Feast and Carnival (16th-19th September) using an article written in the Marlborough Times and Wilts and Berks County Paper on the 22nd September.

1225/215 – Sheet of the Marlborough Times and Wilts & Berks County Paper September 22nd 1906

The article is titled:  "PEWSEY FEAST. INTERESTING CELEBRATION. A REMARKABLE SUCCESS. ALL PREVIOUS RECORDS ECLIPSED."

As you can tell from the title the author was clearly rather impressed with the feast and carnival, they go on to describe all the components of said feast and carnival in varying degrees of detail, but write so much that it fills a whole page of the broadsheet. I will do my best to summarise, trying to pick out the important and amusing parts.

The first section gives a general overview of Feast week and emphasises how warmly the author regards the celebrations as a Pewsey tradition. They take note and admire that the "predominant feature of the Pewsey festivities is their association with the church from the earliest times", stating that as long as people keep this in mind, "no one can conceive any aspersion upon the character of the festivities". The author believes this is why the festivities had been so successful up until that year, noting that the church was always full on Feast day (Sunday). I wonder if that is the same in this day and age. The festivities are then briefly listed in order to give the reader an idea of what is about to be described, beginning on Sunday with the church services, moving onto Monday for the cricket match, "old folk's tea", and evening concert, then Tuesday for the sports day. Then on to the carnival, the committee had wanted to raise £100 on the Wednesday, and due to the success of previous years, the "proprietor of this journal felt that they deserved every encouragement, and accordingly offered a silver cup to be competed for in the afternoon." The cup was donated to encourage people in the surrounding villages to also take part in the competitions, as a way to bring people together, and raise more funds. This was obviously successful, as they had already made £100 by the time the article was written and there were still more collection boxes to come in. The carnival procession on the Wednesday night was apparently one the county could be proud of, "one of imposing magnitude, and one not likely to be forgotten by those who saw it." The last sentence of the introductory section, a stand alone sentence, made me chuckle, as a sentence so very British in nature: "The weather throughout was of a very propitious character."

Now begins the day by day description of the 1906 Feast Week.

School’s Out for Summer!

on Friday, 13 June 2014. Posted in Archives, Schools

Education records in Wiltshire and Swindon Archives

At this time of year, I can’t help but think of all the children doing exams at school and college, and who are now awaiting results. I thought it might be timely to write about the range of school records held in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives that shed light on how our ancestors coped with the demands of education. I was also amused to read on an external website that Elvis Presley managed only to get a ‘C’ for music in his exams – it just goes to show that formal education is not the be all and end all!

What I’ll do is run through the main types of educational establishments which have existed in Wiltshire down the centuries, and discuss what records may be found for them, and how they may be used. A quick caveat before I begin - survival of education records is patchy, unfortunately. Also, it is worth remembering they may still be kept by the establishment itself rather than a county record office.

Journey to Pewsey

on Wednesday, 09 April 2014. Posted in Museums

As Museum Documentation Assistant, I am currently spending a great deal of my time working with our chosen collections management database, MODES.


Recently the History Centre and some of our Wiltshire museums have upgraded their software to the new and innovative Modes Complete system and I have been helping them in this process. One of the nicest things about the upgrade is the chance for me to go and visit the various museums and their committed volunteers.


As a non driver living in Corsham, I have explored the various transport opportunities to get me into the Wiltshire countryside and as the county is so big and our museums spaced so widely, this has been challenging!

Wiltshire's Sports Stars

on Friday, 24 January 2014. Posted in Sport

The 2014 Winter Olympics will soon be upon us, and as we'll be cheering on Pewsey’s very own Shelley Rudman, I thought I would bring to light another of Wiltshire’s pioneering sportswomen. Fanny Williams played for Swindon Town ladies football team in the 1920s. Ladies football developed during World War I when the employees of munitions factories formed teams to play each other. The Football Association banned ladies football on their grounds but the English Ladies Football Association was formed in 1921. A national Challenge Cup competition was begun in 1925. Fanny’s boots are kept at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Wiltshire can also be said to possess some famous athletics stars of the past. Walter George was reported to be the finest runner of the Victorian era, with a ‘phenomenal’ performance in 1886. He became a ‘national institution’ and was the sporting world’s very first superstar. His method of training involved brine baths and a ‘100-up’ exercise. He also enjoyed beer drinking and smoking, but still managed to produce a new ‘miracle mile’ that lasted for 29years. He was born in 1858 and suffered from asthma, croup and St. Vitus’ dance as a child. He lived in Calne; his father was a pharmacist whose clients came from many parts of Wiltshire. As a child he was encouraged to get lots of fresh air and went off running for an hour or two, especially around the area from Cherhill to Morgan’s Hill with the white horse and newly erected Lansdowne Monument. It was at Lillie Bridge on August 23rd, 1886 where Walter smashed the mile record by four seconds. One spectator stated that silence prevailed whilst waiting for the time to be displayed onto the board. Then a roar went up ‘Such a roar thrills me now as I write this... thousands broke loose from every quarter and rushed madly across the ground towards the victor’. It was the fastest mile in history at four minutes twelve and three quarters. Walter’s brother Alfred was also a title winning athlete who later managed the British team at the 1924 Olympics.

Wiltshire's Conscientious Objectors

on Thursday, 23 January 2014. Posted in Archives, Military

Some of you may have listened to the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning (23rd Jan) or have seen newspaper reports on the National Archives recent release of online material relating to World War 1 Military Conscription Appeal Tribunals for Middlesex. http://ht.ly/sPK8W  and http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/jan/23/who-conscientious-objectors-first-world-war?CMP=twt_fd

It is suggested that these records are one of only two complete sets of such records to survive as the tribunal papers were supposed to have been destroyed after the war. So we thought our blog readers might be interested to know that the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre also hold a series of tribunal papers.

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