Morris Dancing in Wantage
and the Vale
The Vale certainly joined in the Elizabethan
performances of the Morris. The Churchwardens Accounts and
records of the day refer to items of Morris regalia in Wantage
(1565), Didcot (1580), and Stanford-in-the-Vale (1607). The
Wantage records reveal Church Ales, Whitsun Ales and Whitsuntide
Sport(es) from 1581 to 1623 and payment to 'our minstrelles
for there bord'. In 1565, 16d was paid for 'a dasson morys
belles' and in 1590, 'lyveries' (costumes) were provided by
John Eshmond for 4s 6d.
The Wantage 'taberer' was John Rowland who
was paid 17s 6d for playing tunes at Whitsuntide as a young
man. He died in 1635 but music was also provided on
fiddle by Richard Kimber (d. 1651). The original dancing area
may have been a plot of land near Limborough called 'dauncing
more' belonging to William Talbott. The Maypole ('somner pole')
is referred to in 1611 and 1625; this may have been on a recreation
area (now Broadway Motors) at the end of Garston Lane.
A 'garston' was a field set aside for rejoicings, May festivals
The last maypole in the Vale
remained at Longcot. One November in the early 1800's it was
stolen by men from Ashbury and erected outside The Crown
Inn (now the Rose & Crown) ... 'reaching
high above the rooftops'. It was then stolen by Uffington
men and a subsequent threat from Lambourne ensued. Parson
Watts of Uffington ended the episode by cutting the maypole
into logs for the poor.
Wantage held fairs of national renown. When
the spread of plague became a serious problem, Charles II
issued a special proclamation in 1665 'prohibiting the holding
of the Faire at Wanting or Wantage in the County of Berks'.
The fair attracted people from all over the country.
Apart from this interruption there have been (and still are)
3 fair days in Wantage since the Fitzwarin family in the 13thC.
The next reference to the Morris locally is
in 1885 when the Morris was danced by 'laddes of ye Royal
Burgh of Wantage' before the sports began at Betterton House,
Lockinge in the 'Festival of ye Summer Quene'.
This was an Elizabethan pageant recreated by D'Arcy Ferris
(of Bideford fame). Nothing is known concerning the
side who danced, but the dance was referred to Sharp in 1910.
The festivities in Wantage did not endure
as successfully as those in Abingdon and there are no records
of any any Wantage variations of the Morris dance. The Side
would be very interested to learn of any
other information in relation to this.
A Revival of
In the 1950's Miss Mary Shunn, a teacher
at Icknield Secondary Modern School introduced Morris dancing
into the school curriculum as a part of the Duke of
Edinburgh award that the boys were doing. She had been a close friend
of William Kimber, musician and instructor of Headington
Quarry, and had danced with the side during the Second
World War when the men were away fighting.
In 1958/59 when the boys left school they
continued to dance the Morris. They danced in private
for several years with their first public season in 1965.
The Side were invited to dance at the 100th meeting of The
Morris Ring in Oxford and became full members in 1974.
The team emblem is the old Icknield School
Wessex Wyvern, the symbol of the Kings of Wessex, the
most famous of whom was Alfred the Great born in Wantage in
849. Over the years the Side has used different styles of wyverns. In the beginning all the wyverns were standard, then for several years each member made their own wyvern with its own character. In our 50th year we standardised the wyvern again. Illustrated below is the original wyvern used 50 years ago and the current wyvern. See more information on the Evolution of the Wyverns.
See details of the 40th
- White shirt & trousers, black
- Blue waist coat with a wyvern on
- Straw hat, with red/yellow/blue ribbons
- Bell pads with yellow and blue