The history of the Morris is illustrated with
characters whose enthusiasm and dedication made them the keystone
which ensured the longevity and success of a team over decades,
despite the comings and goings of the rank and file members.
Charles Benfield, Sam Bennett, and William Wells represent
the more famous examples of this. For the Morris in
Wantage and the Vale of White Horse, Joe Marns was such a
man. His sudden death on 13th
January 1998 left the Vale mourning one of its best loved
public characters, known throughout the region for his music
and community activities.
Joe joined Icknield Way Morris Men during
National Folk Week in 1967 and quickly learnt the tunes and
dances from their mentor Mary
Shunn. Although she was the motivator behind the
team and a friend of the Kimber family, she kept behind the
scenes believing the performance to be men's business.
Joe instantly became the main musician and
through attending instructionals given by Messrs Dommett and
Reynolds in the '70's soon became Foreman as well. He
remained Foreman for 20 years, was squire from 1986 - 1988
and Chief Musician until 13th
January. In May 1997, in a joint celebration with our
friends from Oxford City Morris Men, he was elected to a specially
created position of Life President, a post we thought had
at least another 10 years to run.
Joe was famous locally as the man with the
accordion who played for charity and twinning events, parties,
pubs, and barn dances. He was an accomplished musician who
also played violin and viola with the Didcot and Wantage Orchestras
for over 20 years, as well as playing piano, pipe and tabor
on other occasions. He also had his own dance band, 'The Waylanders',
who played for numerous country dances throughout Oxfordshire
over a period of 14 years, with Joe calling the dances.
Joe was well known for his community work
and was a Labour councillor on the Wantage UDC for 4 years
in the early 70's as well as being a Governor of Stockham
He was involved in many charity activities,
most recently providing weekly entertainment at the Wantage
October Club and helping with the Community Information Centre.
Amazingly he also found time to be a keen supporter of the
Oxford and District Esperanto Society of which he was
a member since 1983, and was an enthusiastic organic gardener
in his younger days.
Born in London's East End in 1925, Joe
lived next door to a neighbour in Joseph Street who paid a
shilling for accordion lessons. Crafty Joe then paid his neighbour
sixpence to pass the information on to him. He taught himself
to read music at the age of 12 from borrowed books and at
14 played in his first band in Bow.
After gaining a degree in radio engineering
at the Northern Polytechnic he served for three years in the
Navy. He married his beloved Christine in 1953 after
meeting at the French Society. In the late 50's the family
moved from Portsmouth to Wantage following Joe's appointment
as Deputy Librarian at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment,
Harwell where he spent the remainder of his professional life.
For Icknield Way Morris Men he will always
be remembered as 'The Guv'nor' who , despite the emergence
of other musicians and instructors, was always looked to for
the final word. His humanist funeral service in Headington
was attended by representatives from Oxford City, Bampton,
Ancient Men, Abingdon, Charlbury, St. Alban's and Whitchurch
teams, as well as Icknield Way past and present.
Joe was revered and respected by all who met
him and especially by his family and fellow musicians.
He is survived by his son Christopher, daughter and son-in-law
Sue and Ian; and three Granddaughters. He was a truly
remarkable man who will be greatly missed in Oxfordshire and
by all who knew him.
27th January 1998
The Jolly Joe Marns