Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Montis Albequini Conspectus

A nice view of White Horse Hill (or Monti Albequini if we want to be all Latinate about it)dating to c1738. This is an image from Francis Wise's Francis Wise's 'A letter to Dr Mead concerning some antiquities in Berkshire', published by Thomas Wood in Oxford, in which he argued that the horse was created to commemorate the victory of Alfred over the Vikings at the Battle of Edington. You can find the full text here as a Google Book- which pleasingly appears to have scanned Stuart Piggott's personal copy - Piggott has strong Vale links as his grandfather was a schoolmaster in Childrey and he retired to West Challow

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Abingdon Morris

Thought I’d kick this off with Abingdon Morris, who I saw dancing out in Steventon on New Year’s day. The Vale is in the heart of traditional Morris country. Although the 20th century saw a massive revival (or even reinvention) of the Morris tradition, there are only four sides that have a more or less genuine claim to be inheritors of an unbroken local tradition, of which three (Abingdon; Bampton; Headington Quarry) are in the immediate vicinity of the Vale. In Abingdon’s case, the first records go back to at least the 18th century. They were recorded by Mary Neal, a key figure in the early Morris revival (and pleasingly for me, involved in the wonderfully odd Kibbo Kift Kindred). There is a letter recording her requesting some dancers from Abingdon to go to London to teach the dance to eager learners. The Abingdon Traditional Morris have some idiosyncracies- they don’t do stick dances unlike other sides in the Cotswold tradition. They are also always accompanied by a set of regalia- including the Horns, the Mayor’s sash and cup or chalice. These are mainly connected with the tradition of the election Mayor of Ock Street, which I’ll blog about at some point. The horns in the photos are the ones they dance out with- the originals are probably of 18th century date and have their origin in a town game (Seemingly akin to the surviving Haxey Hood) and part of a wider tradition of mock mayors. I’m getting increasingly interested in the survival of this kind of regalia in folk traditions- might be nice to pull together a project looking at it at some point in the future. I’ll blog more about the Mayor of Ock Street in the future as I’m hoping to get to this years ceremony. For about this have a look at the Roud, S. 2006. The English Year, Penguin (pp.215-17) and Chandler, K. 1993. ‘The Abingdon Morris and the Election of the Mayor of Ock Street’ in Buckland, T. and Wood, J. (eds) 1993, Aspects of British Calendar Customs Sheffield, pp. 119-36

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Vale of the White Horse

Another day, another blog. Unlike my other blog, Outlandish Knight, which is an opportunity for me to randomly witter about everything under the sun (although it mainly seems to be about morris dancing and archaeology), the idea of this blog is a chance for me to focus on one particular area. I want to focus on a small area of countryside in central southern England, the Vale of the White Horse and its hinterland (the Berkshire Downs to the south and a limestone to the north, which seperates it from the Upper Thames Valley). Essentially, I’m looking at the valley and watershed of the Ock, a small river that joins the Thames at Abingdon. Historically this area constituted the northern marches of Berkshire, it has for most of my lifetime, been part of Oxfordshire. I’ve briefly explored the personal resonances this area has for me previously, so it is perhaps not surprising that I want to revisit it more extensively. My first inclination was, as a university lecturer, to develop some kind of structured academic research project that encompassed the Vale. However, on reflection I’ve shied away from this approach. This is for a number of reasons. Putting aside the inevitable pressures on my time, I struggled to frame a project that encompassed all the facets of the area I was interested in (including but not limited to prehistoric landscapes; Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash; early medieval Wessex; Goosey, Baulking and Denchworth; medieval churches, the 19th century industrialisation of agriculture; Morris dancing and mumming; place-names; Didcot power station; John Betjeman; lardy cake; bun throwing and the venerable pastime of Aunt Sally). Secondly, I wanted to avoid the strictures of constructing and presenting the material in a traditional format. Instead, I wanted to pull together something that was more impressionistic, more fluid and more deliberately ‘bitty’. In some senses, this chimes quite nicely with current conceptual developments in historical, geographical and landscape writing – I’m particularly thinking of the chorographic turn and the rise of psychogeography. Or to view it in a slightly more reactionary way, sometimes I just want to be an antiquarian rather than archaeologist. So, what can we expect on this blog? I’m not entirely sure yet; hopefully a rough-and-ready collage cum commonplace book focussing on the Vale with words, photos and probably some sounds (if I can work out the technical implications). There are some things I already know I want to write about, but I am also open to serendipity. Needless to say, there will be Morris dancing (you have been warned).
“… From this wide vale, where all our married lives We two have lived, we now are whirled away Momently clinging to the things we knew— Friends, footpaths, hedges, house and animals— Till, borne along like twigs and bits of straw, We sink below the sliding stream of time.” On Leaving Wantage – John Betjeman (1972)