Amersham Heritage Day,
on the edge of the Chilterns, Sunday Sept 9, 2007 (from Chiltern diary)

Megan rode over from Walthmanstow, growling on her heavy Triumph, but we walk down through the wood, down the curve of fields, counting squirrels and poppies. The birdwatching stall gave me some tips for a lake over by Tring, the clown made me smile as he toppled over and lazy Punch wanted to go back to bed and children clapped to natural order reminding me of my Sussex seaside early life, as organised as an ant colony or the army, Kropotkin rules came much later. To the north lay the Angle kingdom of Northumbria, east the kingdom of East Anglia; while to the south lay the Saxon kingdoms of Essex in the south-east, Sussex in the south, and Wessex in the south-west. Mercia, the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom and the greatest founded by the warlord Cryda, Offa took charge after cousin King Ethelbald was murdered by his own and raged, beat the borders out to this place on the Misbourne and on to London. War raged, he conquered East Anglia and killed King Ethelbert and turned on his own royal house to ensure Ecgfrith his son was the future king, which he was for 141 days.
Hill said he wrote his Mercian Hymns, ‘to encompass and accommodate the early humiliations and fears of one’s own childhood and also of one’s discovery of the tyrannical streak in oneself as a child.’ [1] In old Market House they made Bronze Age pendants  with a pair of pliers gripping a length of copper wire cut from a roll, and turning and turning and struck a coin, with a hammer swinging one clean hit to punch Offa one side and Romulus and Remus obverse, blatant propaganda for Mercian power.  Offa the first English king to mint a silver penny was first to stamp his name on coins.

 

A pint in The Crown standing on the doorstep watching the Morris dancers and the two squeeze box men (just back from Germany, one told me for ‘a twinning celebration’). I was pulled out of the crowd to help demonstrate anyone could do it, dancing to a crowd at a fete my sister organised. I told him found it knackering ‘practice’, he said. Then the Garland dancers to CD  silly dancing, not the great tradition of the Devils dance: “They strike up the Devil’s dance withall: then martch this heathen company towards the church and churchyards, their pypers pyping, the drummers thundering, their stumpes dancing, their belles jyngling, their handkercheefes fluttering about their heads like madde men ….”[2] A few collectors tried to save traditions, Percy Manning and Thomas Carter of Oxford, persuaded some of the old Headington dancers to dance again in the spring of 1899. That year Sharp and his family spent that Christmas with his wife’s mother, who was then living at Sandfield Cottage, Headington, about a mile east of Oxford. On Boxing Day, as he was looking out of the window, upon the snow-covered drive, a strange procession appeared: eight men dressed in white, decorated with ribbons, with pads of small latten-bells strapped to their shins, carrying coloured sticks and white handerkerchiefs; accompanying them was a concertina-player and a man dressed as a ‘Fool’. Six of the men formed up in front of the house in two lines of three; the concertina player struck up an invigorating tune, the like of which Sharp had never heard before; the men jumped high into the air, then danced with springs and capers, waving and swinging the handkerchiefs which they held, one in each hand, while the bells marked the rhythm of the step. [3]

The dance was the now well-known Morris dance -someone looking out of a window led to a revival of Morris Dancing. His interest in folk music before the Great War, took him all over, cycling and walking, collecting folk songs and censoring the often violent or sexual lyrics. The first revival Morris dancing team that survives is Thaxted from 1911. The the pipe and tabor have been replaced by the fiddle and concertina or accordian. The crowd looks Anglo but for three Chinese and the barmaid’s from South Africa. How long is this my England of the sixties, or fifties before I was at boarding school, Mr Pastry, Bill and Ben, the triangle as a serious musical instrument, conkers, my English teacher’s Morris Oxford, Ladybird books, Clarks shoe fittings, the pneumatic spirals of the money placed in cardboard in Kinch and Lack that whooshed around the ceiling, red telephone boxes with hard back plastic boxes, press button A for nostalgia


[1] Geoffrey Hill, ‘Keeping to the Middle Way’, in Style and Faith (New York 2003)p50.
[2] Philip Stubbes ‘Anatomie of Abuses’ 1583 From the title-page of “Kemp’s Nine Daies Wonder. Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich” (1600).
[3] A.H.Fox Strangeways in collaboration with Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp, Oxford University Press, London 1933.