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'With snail shells instead of bells': music, morris dancing, and the 'middling sort' of people in eighteenth-century berkshire.


Contrary to Alfred 'Williams's assertion that mortis dancing was not found south of the Thames, this paper documents a reference from the Berkshire parish of Brightwalton in the mid-eighteenth century. Morris dancing was in fact just one of a number of customary activities performed by the parishioners. The participants were derived from the 'middling sort', who, by their involvement in these activities, appropriated to themselves the identity of their community. The decline of morris dancing on the Berkshire Downs may be attributed to wider socio-economic changes, such as the continued polarization of society, which unbalanced relationships within this group.

In Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, Alfred Williams contrasts the inhabitants of the counties north of the Thames with those living south of the river:

  Those of Wiltshire and Berkshire are rather more
  boisterous and spontaneous, more hearty, hardy, strong,
  blunt, and vigorous, and a little less musical; those of
  Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire are gentler, easier,
  softer in manner, but weaker, more pliable, and less
  sturdy than the others. At the same time, generally
  speaking, they have more refinement, and tastes more
  artistic than their neighbours of the southern half,
  though they have not quite the same tenacity and
  independence of spirit. This difference in character is
  very well illustrated by the diversity of pastimes in the
  two halves of the field: throughout Gloucestershire and
  Oxfordshire we had, as a general sport, morris-dancing;
  about Wiltshire and Berkshire the common amusements were
  back-swording and wrestling. While those were bedecking
  themselves with ribbons and tripping to the strains of
  the fiddle, these were breaking each other's heads with
  the single-sticks, or strenuously engaged in casting
  their opponents in the ring. (1)

Williams further states that he found no evidence of morris-dancing in the villages south of the Thames'. (2) Step-dancing was common in Wiltshire and Berkshire, but not morris dancing. In contrast, morris was common in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. This general distribution for morris activity in the English South Midlands, at least from the later seventeenth century onwards, has been accepted ever since, even giving rise to the term 'Cotswold morris', which is still widely used toclay. (3) Indeed, Keith Chandler's detailed study of the social history of morris dancing during the period 1660-1900 identifies just three locations for morris dancing in Berkshire and one in Wiltshire, compared to over sixty in Oxfordshire and over twenty each for Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire. (4)

This paper, however, details some tantalizing evidence from the downland parish of Brightwalton in Berkshire (occasionally referred to in the sources as Brightwaltham or Brickleton) that indicates that morris dancing may once have been more widespread south of the river Thames than previously supposed (Figure 1). This is a reference in the late eighteenth-century commonplace book of William (IV) Savory of Brightwalton (1768-1824), an apprentice to an apothecary in Newbury, who studied medicine at St Thomas' and Guy's hospitals in London, and who later set up his own surgery in Newbury (see the family tree in Figure 2.). (5) This paper examines the social backgrounds of the participants named in the source, details other customary activities with which they were involved, and attempts to place morris in Berkshire in its wider context in the South Midlands. Finally, some possible reasons are posited for the decline of morris dancing on the Berkshire Downs.


The parish of Brightwalton is situated on the southern slopes of the Berkshire Downs, nine miles from Newbury, six miles from Wantage, eight miles from Lamboum, and five miles from East ilsley. It is therefore some distance south of the previously recognized areas for morris activity in Berkshire. In the mid-eighteenth century, Brightwalton, along with neighbouring Chaddleworth, was described as 'so much out of the way, and so hid by the woods, that, as the tradition -goes, they were never visited or molested by any one, royalist or republican, during the whole course of the civil war'. (6)

The population of Brightwalton was largely agricultural, and probate indexes after 1700 reveal a majority of testators of yeomen status, supported by a smaller number of rural craftsmen and tradesmen. (7) husbandry was universal on the Downs and the sheep fair at East Ilsley attracted dealers from far and wide. Large flocks of sheep were important for fertilizing the arable land. While the main sheep-walks were confined chiefly to the north-western and central parts of the Downs, William Mayor in 1809 noted that the land in other parts, though it maintains a considerable number of sheep, is pretty much in tillage; and by means of folding, and other modes of manuring, produces good crops, artificial grasses, and turnips'. (8) The most important and most profitable crops were wheat and barley, but smaller crops, such as oats; peas, and vetches, were used for fodder. (9) William (IV) Savory claimed that his grandfather, William (II) Savory, brought the first potatoes to Brightwalton, thinking that they were 'strange Turnips' when he first encountered them when visiting London as a boy. (10)

The manor of Brightwalton was held by the Eyre family until 1800, when it was purchased by the Rev. William Wroughton of Woolley Park in neighbouring Chaddleworth. (11) All of the common fields and some 'new broke land' (almost certainly former common grazing land on the Downs recently converted for arable use) were enclosed in 1721 by an agreement between Lady Eyre and the freeholders, copyholders, and leaseholders. (12) The commonplace book describes Brightwalton thus:

  Brightwalton in former days was a very flourishing
  Village, a great many freehold and lifeholcl Estates were
  occupied by the owners but are since mostly of them fell
  in the Lord of the Manors hand and occupied with the
  Manor Farm. I have heard my predecessors say [y.sup.t]
  money in this place was very plenty & trade very brisk,
  every Labouring person had good Victuals & a Barri11 of
  good Beer at tide time but now they thinks themselves well
  off if they can get Bread & Small Beer. (13)

An entry for 1787 records that John Blackney, who was 'a particular acquaintance of my father & Uncle' and a farmer at Brightwalton, 'had a good estate of his own one time in Brightwalton but when he died his son sold it to Mr Harbert, it being mortgaged for nearly what it was worth'. (14) John Harbert had arrived in Brightwalton to occupy the Manor Farm in 1779. (15)

William Savory and his Commonplace Book

William (117) Savory k-vas born at Brightwalton on 28 June 1768, the son of William (Ill) Savory and Jane Savory (nee Barratt). William UM had married Jane, daughter of Thomas and Miriam Barratt of Henley Farm in the parish of West Shefford in the Lamboum Valley, on 25 July 1755. (16)

William (IV) apparently commenced his commonplace book sometime during the 1780s or early 1790s. (17) In addition to describing his home parish and family details, he chronicles a number of local activities such as cockfighting at the Jack of Newbury, a 'Jew's burying', and the visit of the players to Newbury in the summer of 1787. He records his medical training and lists of anatomical specimens, but is also clearly interested in more 'traditional remedies since he mentions magical spells and charms against all manner of things ranging from witchcraft to warts. He meticulously records detailed astrological charts for various members of his family (and for King George III and the Prince of Wales), and even describes how to perform a 'silent' language (presumably an early form of sign language). Also mentioned is 'Dame Harding', an elderly woman from Shaw who was thought to be a witch and told fortunes by reading tea leaves. Savory notes some of her superstitious sayings, including one describing how one can see 'comical things' by breaking an egg in a glass of water. (18)

In its detailed description of the minutiae of rural life, in particular the relationship between customary practices such as morris dancing, bell ringing, and the church band, the Savory memoir in many respects parallels the later manuscript diaries of Richard Heritage (born 1803), stonemason, innkeeper, musician, and monis dancer of Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire, which were maintained for many (though not all) of the years between 1821 and his death in 1865. (19)

Church Band and Choir

William (IV) notes the importance of music to his ramily. He tells how his grandfather 'could sing songs, tell stories or jests'. (20) Of his lather, William he says:

  He was excellent in Music--Used to play the Bass Viol at
  Church--and for singing songs & Catches no one could excell
  him [...] he was a good Scholllar, knew Algebra--Astronomy
  --Navigation--Dialling &c [...] he had many Curiosities
  such as Electrifying Machines--Air pump--Magic
  Lanthorn--Measuring Wheel--slight of hand implements--
  Theodolite--Peep Shows--Implements for drawing &c. (21)

The bass viol had been paid for by public subscription: William (III) had drafted a petition on 31 March 1755, and had himself collected the money to pay for the instrument. The petition is reproduced in full in William (IV)'s commonplace book:

  For the better performance of Church Music in the parish
  Church of Brightwalton the Singers are very desirous of
  having a Bass Viol (or some instrument) for the use and
  ease of the Choir, hoping it will not be disagreeable to
  any of the Congregation & for the encouragement of so
  usefull an instrument, they had agreed to raise by
  subscription the money to purchase it. But the most part
  of them (as we call 'em) day labouring people they could
  not afford to give any large Sum & so not being able of
  themsilves to purchase such an instrument. But still they
  are not quite in dispair--hoping that the Gentlemen and
  farmers of the said parish will contribute toward the
  purchase and in so doing the Choir will return them their
  most Humble thanks and be highly obliged to them for such
  a favour. (22)

William (III) played the bass viol for a number of years until he bought a new one, at which time, as William (TV) records: 'This subscription Bass Viol being out of repair my Uncle John sold it to John Sly of Wanbro' for 16/. Uncle John was 6/ expence with it before he sold it besides finding strings &c for some Years before.' (24) To illustrate the cost of finding new strings, the churchwardens' accounts for the parish of Blewbury, a little to the north-east of Brightwalton, show that a sum of is 8d was paid for strings for their bass viol in 1765. (25)

During the next .generation, William (IV) played the tenor viol in church, while Joseph. Norris played the bass viol. In addition, 'one Jno Fisher, a native of WeIlford and used to live wth Henry Horton, Blacksmith of Brightwalton, played the Hoby [hautboy]'. (26) Though he subsequently took up the bassoon, William (IV) also learned to play the flute bought for him in 1781 by his uncle, John Savory, from Avery Hobbs, a schoolmaster and peruke-maker of Hendred, who 'had the misfortune to Cutt his finger and it was this necessity Amputated, which was the occasion of his selling his flute; he since plays on the Viblin'. (27) John Savory also bought a spinet from Avery Hobbs, in January 1790. (28)

Popular church music during the years 1660-1870 has been studied by Vic Gammon. (29) Gammon suggests that distinctions between church music and secular performance were in fact blurred during this period, and that playing in church was just one of a number of musical activities that would have been undertaken by rural musicians. This certainly seems to have been the case with the village musicians at Brightwalton described in the Savory manuscript. Instead of the notion of 'autocratic and insufferably conceited yokels', whose musical standards were often 'deplorably low', as caricatured by Thomas Hardy in Under the Greenwood Tree, Gammon argues that we should instead regard the village musicians of this period as independently-minded rural labourers and artisans who held themselves and their music in high esteem' (30) Donald Spaeth further contends that, by encouraging church singing, ecclesiastical and parochial authorities stimulated the growth of a vibrant and popular religious culture. (31) Christopher Marsh also notes how, in an intensely hierarchical world such as eighteenth-century England, church music provided one of the few outlets for ordinary parishioners to express themselves. (32)

This sense of identity and belonging could also, on occasion, lead to tensions, both within the group of singers and musicians itself, and with the church authorities, as Hardy describes in Under the Greenwood Tree. William (11V)'s uncle John played no instruments, but he sang the bass part at church and 'used to sing Songs & Healths very frequently in Company'. (33) William (IV) records how in 1787 his uncle had a disagreement with one of the other singers in the church choir:

  Last Christmas Mr John Holmes, tailor at Brightwalton
  left the gallery at Brightwalton Church who is a ringer
  and singer because my Uncle gave 2/6 to them instead of
  entertaining them at his own house. He spoke many oaths
  that he would not sing any more in the gallery being in the
  heat of liquor. My Uncle and him sung together upwards of
  forty years. This john Holmes used to say the psalms and
  sing the tenor part. (34)

He also records that his uncle paid 2s Od and his father, William (III), 2s 6d on behalf of the singers towards the purchase of a bass viol for the church band; John Holmes contributed is 6d. (35)

Partaking in mutual hospitality was evidently a keenly anticipated part of the village social calendar. In March 1788, for instance, upon William (IV)'s return home following his apprenticeship, his uncle John invited all the farmers and tradesmen in Brightwalton to dinner, after which a half-pint bumper went round for toasts. (36) By aligning himself with the farmers rather than the singers, however, John Savory was demonstrating his social pretensions. John Holmes's reaction to John Savory's donation of money to the singers, instead of the expected personal hospitality, clearly shows that the withdrawal of direct patronage posed a threat to village relationships.


Shared hospitality as a way of cementing group identity was equally important to the Brightwalton bell-ringers. William (IV) records:

  I learnt to ring at Church & used to go with the ringers
  at Christmas round the village. We used to ring two or
  three peals & go to Mr Harbert's to Breakfast & stay till
  11 or 12 Clock from there to Stanbrooks--Holmes--Whiters--
  Mrs Taylors & spent the Eveg at my Uncles--to Blackneys--
  Trumplett--South End--Birds--Mitchell &c the following
  Evening. (37)

In addition:

  We used to go to Comb on New Years day--the Rector gives a
  Crown every Christmas on Christmas Eve. We have a fire in
  one Corner of the Bellfree and ring almost all Night--Sheep
  Shears and Harvest Homes was very much in fashion
  particularly at Blackneys--Churches--Horns &c. (38)

Bob Bushaway has noted how the church ringers were an important customary group in a local community. (39) Bells summoned. parishioners to church, marked the time of day, greeted visiting dignitaries, warned of fire, accompanied rites of passage, and provided men (though rarely women) with a popular form of exercise. Among other entries, William (IV) Savory records that the Brightwalton ringers were paid 4s Od on the occasion of the marriage of Mr Thomas Horne, farmer of Brightwalton, and Miss Elizabeth Nelstone, daughter of the 'Old Schoolmaster', at neighbouring Chaddleworth, on 14 December 1780. (40) Christopher Marsh also notes the abundance of church bells in early modern England, interpreted as a signal of God's favour towards the Protestant nation. (41)

The sonic range of church bells also marked the boundary of the community, leading the ringers to identify themselves with the parish. (42) Indeed, Marsh notes, ringers came to believe that the belfry was their own personal property--a space in which ordinary laymen could experience feelings of power and contro1. (43) The bell-ringers constituted a distinct and independently minded group within the parish, protective of their skills in much the same way as other crafts or trades. Bushaway suggests that this sense of independence was due in part to the additional earnings they brought to their family economies. Parishioners would donate money, food, or drink to the church ringers, thus endorsing the customary role they played in marking many occasions of the secular and ecclesiastical calendar. (44)

The Brightwalton churchwardens' accounts do not list specific payments to the bell-ringers, but there are frequent payments for the mending and upkeep of the bells and bell ropes throughout the eighteenth century. (45) In 1732, for instance, a sum of [pounds sterling]3 5s was paid for 'Stocking of 3 Bells', and a further 11 5s 8d was paid to Tho. Blackney for Iron gear for repairing ye Bells (being new Stock'd)'. In 1760, 6s 10d was paid for '4 pins &c & mending ye Clapper and new stay to ye Bells', 2s 6d for 'Mending ye Bell Wheels', and 5s Od for 2 new Bell Ropes'. In 1781, [pounds sterling]4 was paid To Mastr Savory mending ye Bells and oil & handling ye Church Madock [mattock]', with an additional lOs 8d "To Mastr Horton for work and Iorger [iron gear] to ye Bells and Nails and Steeling Church Madocks'.

The churchwardens' accounts for neighbouring villages on the Downs tell us more about the occasions on which the parish bells were rung. 'Gunpowder Treason' seems to have been the main occasion for ringing bells throughout the eighteenth century. (46) At Chaddleworth in 1735, for instance, 2s 6d was paid to 'ye Ringiers for ye 5 of November'. (47) However, in 1739 a similar sum was 'gaf the Ringares at Chrismas'. Other occasions for ringing the bells were to celebrate coronation day or the king's birthday. At Welford, 2s 6d was given to the ringers in 1748, and 5s Od in 1780, for the king's 'Crownation Day', and 7s 6d to commemorate the king's birthday and the Gunpowder Plot in 1749. (48) At West Shefford in 1759. 7s 661 was given on 'thanksgiving clay'. (49) Public acts of thanksgiving were common during the eighteenth century, in gratitude for divine favours, victories in war, or deliverance from disaster. A sum of lOs Od was paid to the ringers at Welford on 25 April 1748, 'it being ye Thanksgiving day'; 5s Od on 29 June 1758, 'for Minden Victory'; and 5s in September 1758, for 'Taking Louisburg & Cape Britain Victory' during the Seven Years War. (50) Across the Thames at -Nuneham Courtenay; the Rev. James Newton entertained 'the Ringers & my Labourers' at his house on 29 November 1759, 'This being the Thanksgiving'. (51) The Rev. George Woodward describes similar celebrations at East Hendred:

  The affair of Louisburgh, (as you observe) has been
  matter of great joy all over England; the public are
  informed by every paper, what sort of reception this good
  news met with in different parts of the Kingdoml but as
  you may have not seen the rejoicing upon that occasion,
  in any of the public papers, that were made here at
  Hendred, I will transmit the account in writing. We had
  the news by the Sunday's post: and as our chief
  politicians are always impatient for news every post
  night, I immediately sent it to them, at the blacksmith's
  hard by, where the committee generally sits for the
  dispatch of business: the worthy members immediately
  rose, and adjourned to the belfry, to which place I also
  sent them a bucket of ale, with the healths to be
  remembered: the whole parish was soon got together, and
  the hells struck up; more liquor was given by the other
  inhabitants, and all the guns in the parish, that had
  been employed in frightening the birds from,
  were collected together; and with these they fired in
  repeated volleys from the top of the tower: in short,
  nothing was heard almost the whole night long, but
  huzzas, 'firing of guns, and ringing of bells, to the no
  small amusement of those, who were not inclined to sleep:
  some other villages in the neighbourhood, who were not so
  early in their intelligence of what passes in public,
  thought the town was on fire, and were coming up in great
  numbers to our assistance; but being better informed,
  retired back again, with a full resolution to have the
  same rejoicings the next evening, at their own parishes;
  and accordingly they had: you may see by this, that we
  can rejoice as heartily as others of His Majesty's
  subjects, though we don't choose to put ourselves to the
  expense of i1luminations. (52)

The Rev. Woodward's ironic use of terms such as 'chief politicians' and 'worthy members' tells us something about how the bell-ringers thought of themselves, but also hints at tensions that were mounting between the ringers and the 'better sort' of inhabitants of the parish, such as the clergy. Nonetheless, Woodward decided to indulge the ringers' customary practice by sending them a bucket of ale.

Bell-ringers had long been rewarded in many parishes, but, as this East Hendred account shows, this could take the form of the purchase of ale rather than a direct cash payment. (53) The churchwardens' accounts for West Shefforcl record a payment of 5s Od to Mr Stiles for 'Gunpowder treason' on 5 November 1773. and a combined sum of 15s 8d for 'the Ringing 5 November' and 'Mr Stiles Bill for Wine' in 1785. (54) William Stiles was the local inn-keeper, so it would appear that the payments for bell-ringing went directly to him, rather than to the ringers themselves." In the majority of cases, the churchwardens' accounts for Chaddleworth, Welford, and West Shefford record the sums given to the bell-ringers as gifts--'given to ye Ringers'--rather than as payments--as they might do for maintenance work on the church fabric, for instance, as in 'Pd. Joseph Mouldy's Bill for Mending the Bell & Clapper'--hinting at the customary rather than the commercial nature of the relationship. (56)

The churchwardens' accounts for Blewbury, a little to the north-east of Brightwalton, are even more explicit. (57) They record 6s Od, 'Pd for Beer for ye Ringors ye 29th of May' in 1749. On 13 April 1752, 'The New fifth Bell was brought from Alborn [Aldbourne, Wiltshire] (Where it was cast) to Blewberry & before it was put up in the Tower, it was set upright in a hole dugg before the Charity School House and partly filled with Beer, which was drank up by the Company there assembled, many of whom were very much Intoxicated therewith.' A sum of 194 15s id was paid for the new fifth bell, stock, and wheel.

Recreational bell-ringing was also increasingly important. Marsh notes, 'drunken Englishmen [...] sometimes took to the church tower in order to demonstrate the vigour with which they could pull the ropes and clang the bells'. (58) Local youths regularly competed against one another over who could ring the longest or the loudest, and often placed bets upon the outcome. Marsh comments that bell-ringers must have enjoyed 'a sense of fellowship that was warm, masculine and. competitive'. (59) The bond between them involved the 'interweaving of individual and individualistic talent and co-operative endeavour'. Ringers worked together, but they also pulled against each other. While there must inevitably have been occasional confrontations, internal tensions within the group were probably 'dissolved in alcohol', as they adjourned from the belfry to the alehouse.

Morris Dancing: Participants

The social dynamics described above for bell-ringing will be familiar to anyone who has ever been involved in a morris dance team. In addition to singing in the church choir and entertaining the bell-ringers, William (IV) Savory's uncle John was:

  very fond of Card playing--Dancing &c--him with more of
  his Companions went to Morris Dancing and ornamented
  themselves with Snail shells instead of Bells. Their
  Squire was one Robt Brown who lived at a little Cottage
  House in the way to Farnbro & occupied his own land. Since
  dead his land is now occupied by Mr Harbert with the Manor
  Farm--their Musitioner [sic] was Betty the wife of Stephen
  Taylor now living at Brightwalton. (60)

Keith Chandler notes that sources prior to 1800 rarely supply dancers' names, so it is often difficult to gain an idea of social status. (61) The Savory memoir is thus unusual in providing some of these details, which make it possible to obtain some additional biographical information. For example, The List of Souls in Brightwalton' recorded in the Brightwalton memorandum book, dated October 1790, includes 'Widow Brown' living with 'Widow Spokes and Daughter', next to the entry for Mr Harbert, his wife, two sons, four daughters, two maid-servants, and eight men-servants. At the same time, John Savory was living with William (IV) Savory, his mother, one nephew, and one maid-servant. Stephen Taylor was recorded living with his wife. (62)

Twenty years previously, 'The Number of Souls in Brightwalton' of May 1768 lists Stephen Taylor and his wife, but not Robert Brown or John Savory, unless the latter was one of the four unnamed men recorded in the household of William (III) Savory. (63) 'An Assessment for the Necessary Relief of the Poor and for other Purposes', dated 10 October 1767, assessed Robert Brown at rents worth [pounds sterling]4 10s, and William (H or III) Savory at rents worth 11 155. (64) Twenty years later, on 30 July 1788, Robert Brown was paying 5s Od for the poor, at a rate of two shillings in the pound, while Savory was paying Is 3d. (65)

It has been possible to discover further information concerning these individuals from the parish records. John Savory was born on 27 July 1727 and baptised at Brightwalton on 6 August 1727, the younger son of William (II) Savory and Mary Savory (nee Lucas), who had married at nearby Beedon. John should have been apprenticed as a watchmaker to his maternal uncle John Lucas in Newbury, but this fell through and he ended up instead following his father's trade of wheelwright. (66) However, as William (IV) comments, He is not of so ready a Genious as my father was--was a very good Workman when in his Youthful! days, but Mr Work and my Uncle disagreed When he had the misfortune to cut his finger and a profuse Haemorrhage ensued on y' account he made a vow never to wear an Apron any more.' (67)

Despite this, Savory took over as master wheelwright following his brother's death in 1772. He was paid nine guineas in June 1778 for erecting the village pound, and 12 12s 6d for making the well curb and [pounds sterling]2 16s 3d for erecting fifteen posts with arms in the Upper Street in 1779. (68) The Brightwalton churchwardens' accounts for 1776 record an overdue payment of 2s 6d, To Master Savory for repairing ye Church Rails in 1770'. (69) In 1778, John took as an apprentice Joseph Norris, from South Moreton, who subsequently married John's niece, Mary Savory, on 12 April 1784. (70) In April 1793, the insurance records of the Sun Fire Office show John Savory of Brightwalton described as a shopkeeper, while his former apprentice Joseph Norris seems to have taken over as wheelwright. (71) Following William (III) Savory's death in 1772, John sold his brother's electrifying equipment but kept the peep shows, magic lantern, books, and telescopes. John also succeeded his brother 'in only one branch in Surgery and y' was drawing of teeth.' (72) John Savory also added a brew-house to the family home, and 'had some fruit trees from Reacting and made an Orchard at Brightwalton'. (73)

John Savory appears to have been very active in parish life, even if he may have subsequently distanced himself from it. As with Richard Heritage of Marsh Gibbon half a century or so later, John and his brother William (III) were involved with the church band and choir in addition to MOITiS dancing. (74) They were also members of the benefit societies in the nearby parishes of Boxford and Shefford until their disbandment, which again mirrors Richard Heritage's involvement with his local 'Club'. (75) In addition, John Savory kept the parish account of marriages, christenings, and burials after his brother's death. (76) John inherited much of his father William (ID's considerable estate, and was also involved in the distribution of alms after his father's death--'to every poor family in the Parish of Brightwalton in the said County a Gallon Loaf and to every poor person who is a housekeeper in the said Parish but hath no family a half-Gallon loaf. (77) 'An Account of the Land belonging to Brightwalton' reveals that the 'Savory Leasehold' consisted of one acre, three roods, and ten perches of land. (78) William (II) had gained financially from his second marriage, to Susannah Taylor of Fawley, at Brightwalton in 1732. (79) William (II) gained again when she died in February 1768, since she had only recently inherited [pounds sterling]2,199 from relations in London. William (II) himself died on 5 February 1786, aged ninety. (80)

John Savory never married. This may in part have been due to the fact that he took responsibility for his brother William (III)'s widow and children following William (III)'s death in July 1772, at the age of forty-seven, having caught smallpox during a visit to London. In addition to being uncle to William (TV) Savory, John was also his godfather, along with another uncle, Richard Barrett; William (IV)'s godmothers were Elizabeth Trumplett (Snow the wife of Arthur Whiter') and Sarah Mouldy (late Richard Bird's widow'). (82) John Savory was buried at Brightwalton on 12 December 1806, aged '80 years'. (83) A headstone was erected in the churchyard to the south of his father's and stepmother's graves. (84) The old church was pulled down in 1862, when the current church, which stands a little to the south-west, was built. (85)

The provisions of his will, made on 7 August 1796 and proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 2 March 1807, left his sister-in-law Jane (nee Barratt) a life annuity of [pounds sterling]10, payable in equal parts on each .of the four quarter days. (86) Jane was also to receive the use of his 'plate, China, Linen, bed, Bedding, Tables, Chairs and of all my household goods and household ffurniture of what Nature or kind soever' after his decease. After her death, these were to pass to her son William (IV). William (IV) was appointed executor of the will, and he was also to receive the residue of 'ready money, mortgages and other securities For money, debts clue and owing to me, monies and Stock in the publick ffunds, Stock, utensils and Implements in Trade, working tools, wearing apparel and all my other Goods, Chattels and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever'. In addition, John left his three nieces the sum of 110 each (with one of them receiving a further [pounds sterling]10 as the outstanding balance on a bill). At the time the will was written, it would appear that the affairs of John's father's estate were still being settled, and John made provision for these over and above the legacies already mentioned. (87)

The 'squire'--a term widely synonymous with the fool character--of the Brightwalton morris was Robert Brown, a yeoman farmer who, a poll book of 1768 tells us, was a freeholder with his own land and messuage. (88) 'An assessment for raising money upon houses, Windows and lights, 1767' assessed Robert Brown at three shillings for five lights. (89) Robert appears to have been baptised M the parish of Ramsbury, just over the Wiltshire border, on 20 January 1722, the youngest son of Edward Brown and Jane Brown (nee Skeat), who married at Ramsbury on 23 April 1704. (90) Robert married Grace Mines at Ramsbury on 1 October 1751, though no baptisms for any children have been found either there or at Brightwalton. (91) It was presumably sometime after their marriage that the Browns moved to Berkshire, probably because in August 1753 Robert was given '8 acres of land and Comon of Pasture for one Cow in Brightwalton' by his uncle, Robert Brown of Wantage. (92) It is not clear whether Robert brought his morris dancing skills from his home parish of Ramsbury when he moved to Brightwalton, or whether he joined a pre-existing team after arriving there.

Robert Brown wrote his will on 7 April 1765, but he lived for another twenty-three years; he was buried on 22 October 1788 at Brightwalton, aged sixty-five, and his will was subsequently proved .at Newbury on 14 July 1789. (93) Despite the move to Brightwalton, Robert evidently retained some contacts in Ramsbury, for his will mentions George Adams of Ramsbury, to whom he had mortgaged his land, and his 'loving friend' Edmund Tarrant of Ramsbury Manor, gentleman, was appointed trustee. Indeed, Robert Brown had probably written his will in response to the fact that on 5 April 1765 he had mortgaged his freehold premises in Brightwalton to George Adams for a security of [pounds sterling]60 and interest. (94) In his will, Robert Brown left his land to his widow Grace, but if she died or remarried the land was to go to his kinsman Thomas Cruse, the son of Robert's nephew John Cruse, subject to the payment of the [pounds sterling]60. (95) Following Robert's death, however, his widow was forced to remortgage the land to one Edward Lovelock in order to support herself in her old age. (96) Grace died and was buried at Brightwalton on 25 September 1807. (97) After her death, Thomas Cruse appears to have given up his interest in the land formerly held by the Brown family, which went to the Rev. Philip Wroughton at the manor. (98)

The musician of the Brightwalton morris was Elizabeth Taylor (nee Holloway), though what instrument she played is unrecorded. Women's participation in the morris, though more unusual than that of men, was by no means unknown. Emma, the daughter Thomas Pitts of Sherborne, for instance, played melodeon for the local side. (99) Keith Chandler also cites the set composed of daughters of local farmers and labourers at Spelsbury in the 1810s and early 1820s, though, unlike Betty Taylor at Brightwalton, they were said to have given up involvement with the morris when they married. (100)

Elizabeth Holloway was probably baptized at neighbouring Chieveley on 18 June 1724. (101) Her parents, Moses Holloway and Mary Holloway (nee Godfree), married at nearby Welforcl on 25 July 1717. (102) Elizabeth Holloway married Stephen Taylor at Speen, to the north of Newbury, on 18 January 1747/8. (103) A son, Richard Taylor, was baptized at Brightwalton on 11 September 1748. (104) 'An Account of the Seats in the Church, 1782' records Stephen Taylor as a freeholder, and 'An Account of the Land belonging to Brightwalton' shows that Stephen Taylor's freehold consisted of one rood and two perches of land. (105) Stephen Taylor contributed 6d towards the purchase of a bass viol for the church band. (106) Despite his freeholder status earlier in his life, Stephen Taylor was described as a 'Labourer' when he was buried on 14 February 1800, aged seventy-eight. This may indicate a decline in his fortunes, though it is feasible that a man's status at death may not be applicable to his earlier life. Elizabeth Taylor was buried a few days after her husband, on 19 February 1800, aged seventy-five. (107)

Stephen Taylor would have been born during the early to mid-1720s, but no definite baptism date has been identified for him. He is not listed among the morris dancers in William (IV) Savory's memoir, but as Betty Taylor's husband his participation seems likely. The Taylor family may have been connected to the other morris families in Brightwalton through earlier intermarriages: John Savory's grandfather, William (I), for instance, had married a Jon.e Taylor at Appleton with Eaton on 26 December 1695, and his father William (II) had taken as his second wife Susannah Taylor of Fawley on 24 August 1732, following the burial of his first wife, Mary (nee Lucas), at Beedon on 17 August 1731. (108) In his memoir, William (IV) Savory records that Susannah Taylor was 'aunt to the present Tho Tayler of Brightwalton Holt who keeps the Marquiss of Grandby. (109)

Other men, too, presumably helped make up the set of morris dancers at Brightwalton. Likely candidates might include the disgruntled singer and bell-ringer John Holmes; the husbands of William (IV) Savory's godmothers, Arthur Whiter and Richard Bird; and John Savory's 'particular acquaintance, John Blackney--but without further evidence this must remain speculation. It is too easy to assume John Savory and his friends were prominent in the Brightwalton morris simply because the record we have of them was written by John's nephew, However, probate indexes do reveal these men to have been farmers, butchers, and tailors, so they would have been of comparable social status to the known morris dancers at Brightwalton, and they are also listed amongst the subscribers to the bass viol for the church band along with the two Savory brothers and Stephen Taylor." (110)

In 1790, the will of Arthur Whiter, butcher, mentions his copyhold estate in the manor of 'Hayley near Witney in the County of Oxford', demonstrating connections between Brightwalton and the better-known morris heartlands of Wychwood Forest. (111) This leads to the intriguing possibility that morris dancing might have been seen and copied by inhabitants of Brightwalton while visiting elsewhere. Despite Brightwalton's remoteness on the Berkshire Downs, the Savory memoir records a great many close associations with neighbouring parishes, such as West Shefford, Welford, Chaddleworth, and Farnborough. It also reveals that William (IV) and his uncle John visited places further afield, such as London, Abingdon, and Oxford, where the former 'stood upon the Clapper of Great Tom'. (112)

Morris Dancing: Social Background

Keith Chandler considers that MOITiS dancers in the South Midlands were usually drawn from the lower levels of the social hierarchy during the period from the seventeenth through to the nineteenth century, but this does not appear to have been the case at Brightwalton. (113) Robert Brown was a yeoman farmer of eight acres of land and numbered men of gentry status among his close friends; Stephen Taylor was a freeholder; and Savory was a skilled craftsman. All might therefore be classed as belonging to the 'middling sort' of people.

The 'middling sort' of people in early modern England has been the subject of a large amount of historiography. (114) There are problems with precise definitions because there was great regional diversity, but Joan Kent suggests that, in rural areas at least, lesser gentlemen, yeomen, and the better-off craftsmen and tradesmen might, at least in socio-economic terms, be lumped together and labelled the 'middling sort'. (115) Kent also argues that the 'middling sorts' were defined by their public roles and the political positions they occupied. Indeed, several historians have noted that substantial farmers, craftsmen, and tradesmen in the countryside often constituted the elites within their own villages. Steve Hindle, for instance, has amply demonstrated the importance of parish office-holding to the rural 'middling sort' in early modern society. (116) Churchwardens, vestrymen, overseers of the poor, and quarter-sessions jurymen all tended to be drawn from the smaller gentry and yeomanry in any particular parish, while husbandmen and craftsmen more commonly held the humbler posts of sidesman and constable. At Brightwalton, Robert Brown (probably the mortis dancer's eponymous uncle) held the position of churchwarden during various years between 1719 and 1732; 'Farmer Taylor' (possibly Stephen, but perhaps more likely another inhabitant with the same surname) was churchwarden in 1750-51; and William (III) Savory occupied the position from 1759 through to his death in 1772. (117)

Tim Harris has stressed the participation of the 'middling sort' of people in early modern popular culture. (118) This evidence concurs with Chandler's observation that some participants may have belonged to a slightly more elevated social stratum than the servants and labourers who were mostly recorded as involved with morris dancing in the English South Midlands during this period. At Bicester Kings End, Oxfordshire, in 1790, for instance, the dancers may have been the sons of tradesmen, such as bakers and brewers; and the men who comprised the set from Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, that danced at Stowe House in 1797 were described as 'freeholders'. At Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, during the earlier nineteenth century, it was sometimes the case that farmers' sons prided themselves on being part of the morris team, even though they were evidently perceived within the community as socially superior to the labourers who formed the rest of the side. (119)

In a similar vein, Vic Gammon suggests that, while farm labourers did occasionally participate, the members of village bands and choirs were primarily drawn from among the artisans and tradesmen. (120) Indeed, while William (III) Savory described most of the Brightwalton singers as 'clay labouring people' in his petition to raise funds to buy the bass viol in 1755, Berkshire probate indexes reveal that their number included skilled craftsmen and tradesmen, such as wheelwrights, coopers, blacksmiths, butchers, and tailors. (121) Gammon argues that a few shillings a week difference in earnings could mean a significant difference in disposable income, which might then be spent on instruments and their maintenance. In addition, he suggests that pre-industrial patterns of work survived longest among the artisans. Self-employment meant that a man might have greater control over the amount of time he spent at work, in sharp contrast to the agricultural labourer whose greatest periods of leisure time were due to enforced unemployment. It is not unreasonable to assume that such factors could have facilitated involvement in other forms of musical activity such as morris dancing. Christopher Marsh notes that the similar social and occupational .status of monis dancers, along with the requirements of cooperative endeavour--the acquisition of specialist equipment and costumes, the recruitment of performers, and the assignment of particular parts all meant that morris had to be planned in advance--must have reinforced social bonds between the performers. (122)

Steve Hindle has noted how participation in Rogationtide perambulations and hospitality (beating the bounds') was increasingly confined to more restricted social groups, which he interprets as a sign of the growth in social solidarity among those local elites who regarded themselves not merely as representatives of the parish community, but as the whole body of that community. Indeed, he suggests that, by the late seventeenth century, the select groups that were permitted to participate in such processions had effectively appropriated to themselves the identity of the community. (123) The Brightwalton memorandum book contains a very full description of the final heating of the bounds of the parish, performed in 1720, written by William (II) Savory. (124) Among other entries, it records how Robert Brown and Henry Bonner carried 'Cake and Ale to the Cross in the Green where the stocks stands'. (125) This Robert Brown was the uncle of the Robert Brown who was later involved with morris dancing. Robert senior was one of the parties involved in the enclosure agreement at Brightwalton in 1721. (126) A year later, in 1722, he acquired the '8 acres of arable land in Elle Furlong in the new enclosure at Brightwalton' from Joseph Sparrow. (127) The practice of beating the bounds would have died out as enclosures created permanent hedges to mark the boundaries, though the suppression of the parish bounds walk might also have served to suppress the memories of parishioners who could recall rights and customs associated with open fields and commons before enclosure. (128)

As another visible expression of community identity, then, morris dancing may have been perceived as too important to be left to the lower sorts. Analogies between the Savory memoir and the diaries of Richard Heritage of Marsh Gibbon suggest that participation in other local activities, such as church music and bell-ringing, may have been regarded in a similar light. Keith Chandler notes how leading families, such as the Temple/Grenvilles of Stowe House or the Dashwoods of K.irtlington Park, were major patrons of local monis teams, which no doubt added to the sense that the dancers were representing their communities to the outside world. In addition to contributing to the collections of visiting sets of dancers, important local families also frequently paid for their kit. As at Kirtlington, in Oxfordshire, the colours of the ribbons worn by the dancers were generally those of the nobility or leading family of the parish. (129) Geoffrey Tyack, however, notes that no major aristocrats had their seats in Berkshire, and it is possible that the absence of influential patrons may have been a causal factor in the ultimate decline of morris dancing at Brightwalton. (130)

All of the participants mentioned in the Brightwalton morris (including Stephen Taylor, if we assume he was involved alongside his wife) would have been born during the mid-1720s, so it seems likely that there would have been morris activity in western Berkshire at some point during the later 1740s and the 1750s. Robert Brown only acquired his land at Brightwalton in 1753, but he may have joined later. Of course, it is impossible to say whether this was an isolated instance or part of a wider phenomenon. We simply do not know how widespread morns activity was in west Berkshire at this time. Contemporary commentators may have been silent on something they regarded as so common as not to merit attention. (131) In the mid-eighteenth century, for instance, E. Rowe Mores asked incumbents from a number of parishes across Berkshire to provide information on local games, sports, customs, proverbs, or peculiar words and phrases. Richard Forster of West Shefford reported football, wrestling, and cudgelling, which seems to support Alfred Williams's observation quoted above, hut in most instances the response was along the lines of 'none that I know of' or 'there is nothing in these questions which can be answered by me', which rather suggests a lack of interest in such matters. (132) However, the fact that the Brightwalton morris was considered worthy of note by William (IV) Savory a generation or so later is suggestive of something more substantial. Nevertheless, it is evident that morris performances--or at least, his family's active participation in them--had ceased by the time he was writing his memoir in the later eighteenth century. Indeed, however widespread morris dancing might once have been on the Berkshire Downs, it is clear that it must have largely disappeared by the time Alfred Williams wrote his comments in 1923.

Of course, the reference in William (IV) Savory's commonplace book tells us nothing about performance context or choreography, but it seems likely that morris dancing would have been a feature of the various thanksgivings and feasts similar to those recorded in neighbouring parishes. (133) Although Brightwalton itself was not recorded in Mores's enquiries, the Rev. G. Woodward at East Hendred records that the week before Whit-Sunday is called the feast week, a sort of a wake and time .of revelry, and owes its original, I suppose, to the dedication of the church, though to whom the church was dedicated I can never find'. (134) At Sparsholt, W. Noble recorded that the feast day 'is holden on the Sunday following the Invention of the Cross, May 3'; the feast day at Kingston Lisle was held 'on the Sunday following St. John the Baptist; and the feast clay at the old chapel at Fallow 'now demolished, had been on the Sunday following the feast of St. James, which day the neighbourhood of Fallow keep in the way of having better cheer and open hospitality'). (135) At Coleshill, the feast, or wake, 'is kept the first Sunday after St. Faith, to whom the church is dedicated'; at West Shefford, Our feast is and has been kept upon the 29th of May, so long as that day has been memorable', though it 'was changed by Sir George Browne for some day about All Hallows, as the repute is'. (136) At Chaddleworth, the feast was kept at Whitsuntide; at East Garston, the parochial feast was held on every Monday in Trinity week. (137) William (IV) Savory recorded that he himself had been baptized on 25 July 1768, 'being St James & Leckhampstead Feast Day'. (138) Parish feasts encouraged social cohesiveness, through their emphasis on fellowship, hospitality, and good cheer, the entertaining of visitors, and the renewal of the bonds of kinship and neighbourliness. Indeed, as Robert Malcolrason suggests, most festivities celebrated those ideals that transcended self: they reinforced the individual's consciousness of his group identity, his sense of social belonging. (139) Such occasions would therefore have been ideal opportunities for the local morris dancers to have appeared.

Morris Dancing: Development and Decline

Pulling all of these various strands together, it is possible to theorize the development and decline of morris dancing at Brightwalton. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was a tier of principal parishioners below the lord of the manor, including the Taylors, the Browns, and the Blackneys. The Savory family were incomers, but they were soon able to join the ranks of the principal inhabitants when William (II) Savory was apprenticed. to a wheelwright named Gray, and took over both the wheelwright's business and his house COW Grays') following his master's death. (140) The major village families were heavily involved with the Rogationtide processions and had come to view themselves as synonymous with the public identity of the parish itself In 1721, these inhabitants entered into an enclosure agreement with Lady Eyre at the manor and, although beating the bounds ceased from this time, they and their descendants continued to be involved in other forms of 'customary activity within the parish. They constituted the church band, for example, as well as the bell-ringers and morris dancers. Local and regional differences in morris dancing probably derive from this period, as the expression of community identity and inter-parochial competition would have led to innovation and diversification.

Although analogies can be found in the ethnographic record, the use of snail shells instead of bells at Brightwalton appears to be unique in English morris dancing, and may be evidence for the kind of innovation suggested above. (141) It is entirely possible that morris dancing with bells was the norm at Brightwalton but that only a particular performance using special implements stood out sufficiently to be recalled a generation later. Keith Chandler notes the presence of other 'atypical' dances elsewhere in the South Midlands, including one where coconut halves were clashed together, at North Leigh, Oxfordshire; and one where the participants danced around in a circle holding each other's ears, at Leafield, also in .0xfordshire. (142) Alternatively, the use of snail shells, which were presumably readily available on the Berkshire Downs, may be an indication of a more makeshift attitude towards morris performance by performers who were unable to spend considerable sums of money on kit, or at least were unwilling to commit capital to something that was always intended to be short-lived. Chandler stresses the costs involved in kitting out a morris dancer with bells and ribbons, and suggests that performances might have sometimes occurred without proper kit in order to maximize returns. (143)

The processes of eighteenth-century agrarian capitalism did not cease with the enclosure of Brightwalton in 1721, and it is difficult not to equate the decline of morris dancing there with William (IV) Savory's remarks regarding the subsequent engrossment of land within the Manor Farm and the disappearance of freeholders and life-hold estates. While the fortunes of some of the principal 'middling sorts' continued to rise, others were not so lucky. Several studies have indicated that the trend in downland areas during this period was towards the amalgamation of farms and an increase in the landed resources of large farmers. at the expense of the small. (144) The larger farmers, such as John Harbert at the Manor Farm, with excess produce beyond their subsistence needs, were able to increase their incomes by selling their surplus on the market, and were able in turn to increase the size of their holdings by purchasing more land from smallholders who were unable to survive as independent producers. The purchase of land by larger farmers led to a reduction in the size and number of smallholdings, which increased the number of those who did not own enough land to support themselves as producers and who might therefore become landless labourers. (145)

Detailed analysis of probate inventories for the south-western Berkshire Downs during the period 1650-1750 has demonstrated the polarization of wealth, with the emergence of a few very wealthy individuals accompanied by increased impoverishment of those at the poorer end of the spectrum. (146) Stephen Taylor had been a smallholder, but was described as a 'Labourer' at the time of his death. Robert Brown had mortgaged his eight acres to raise funds during his lifetime, and his widow was forced to give up the land altogether to raise capital to support herself after her husband's death. As smaller farmers were squeezed out and their land subsumed into the larger manorial holdings, they were increasingly forced to take on work as labourers. With the concomitant loss of disposable income and leisure time, the maintenance of customary activities would have been increasingly difficult to coordinate and perform. Morris dancing may have been one of the first casualties, since it required the outlay of capital on costume .and musical instruments, and time to practise. Bell-ringing may have survived longer because the equipment was already in place in the parish church.

Of the participants named in William (IV) Savory's commonplace book, only his uncle John appears to have prospered. He had inherited money from his father and brother. In 1755, when the bass viol was purchased for the Brightwalton church musicians, and probably around the time that morris dancing was taking place, John Savory and his brother William (III) were listed among the singers, alongside John Holmes. Thirty years later, John Savory had evidently ceased any active involvement in the monis, and he further upset his former colleague John Holmes at Christmas 1787 by attempting to dissociate himself from the church singers by offering them money rather than hospitality in his own house. At the same time, he entertained the farmers to dinner when his nephew returned from his apprenticeship. The transformation of labour relations between farmers and labourers, engendered by enclosure, intensification of production techniques, and resultant increased profit margins, was thus already creating social rifts in communities on the Berkshire Downs of a kind that were to become the norm in other areas during the nineteenth century) (147) Such social changes produced a new class of farmers on the border of gentle status. As Andy Wood notes, this 'better sort' of villager became increasingly distant from their poorer neighbours as they acquired larger landholdings, dominated village office-holding, achieved higher levels of literacy, and removed themselves from the leadership of popular protest. (148)

Robert Malcolmson has suggested that, by the end of the eighteenth century, 'refinement had triumphed over rusticity': the violence (or semi-violence), the 'vulgarity' and coarseness', of many customary sports and pastimes were no longer so readily accepted. (149) A previously favourable disposition towards traditionalism was gradually undermined by an increasing desire for 'improvement'. Malcolmson notes that this transition had many components: refinement of manners; 'rational' tastes; the cultivation of moral sensibilities; restraints imposed on some forms of personal indulgence; a focus on particular social and economic practices in the interests of greater efficiency. The gentry, clergy, and larger farmers became increasingly disinclined to conform to many of the older expectations in the conduct of their relations with the common people. Paternalistic norms, especially those of tolerance and obligation, were losing force and, as demonstrated by John Savory's relationship with John Holmes and the other singers, there was a waning of interest in the kinds of patronage and ceremonial commitments that had previously been widely accepted. As a result of the decline of hospitality, and the widening gaps between social classes, much of the support for traditional recreation was withdrawn. In this situation, morris dancing would ultimately have drifted down the social ladder, upheld only by families who once would have been considered part of the village elite. In the absence of large, paternalistic, resident landowners to patronize the monis in Berkshire, it eventually fell into decline. The role of the old-style aristocracy in the survival of the morris cannot be overstated. Emma Griffin has similarly noted how the anniversaries of accession days, royal birthdays, and military victories continued to be celebrated on a larger scale in villages and hamlets situated close to an important county seat, while M other rural areas such occasions were usually marked, if at all, just with the ringing of bells. (150)


This paper has challenged the assumption, perpetuated by Alfred Williams in the earlier twentieth century, that morris dancing was not to be found in Berkshire outside of a few scattered towns and villages along the River Thames. By locating a reference at Brightwalton, the known distribution of morris activity in the English South Midlands during the eighteenth century has been extended further south on to the Berkshire Downs. Furthermore, despite some unique attributes, such as the use of snail shells instead of bells, the morris at Brightwalton appears to fit very well into the general pattern of morris behaviour in the South Midlands previously noted by Keith Chandler. However, it remains unclear just how widespread or long-lived morris dancing was in this area--or, indeed, whether the morris at Brightwalton had actually been introduced from outside, perhaps by incomers to the parish such as Robert Brown, from Ramsbwy, in Wiltshire.

While it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from such limited evidence, it has been possible to make tentative suggestions regarding the development of morris dancing on the Berkshire Downs. Since some of the participants at Brightwalton were named, it has been possible to recreate their backgrounds from supplementary sources such as parish registers, churchwardens' accounts, and probate records, and to link them to the wider socioeconomic changes of the time. Far from being members of the labouring poor, the morris dancers at Brightwalton during the middle years of the eighteenth century were derived from the 'middling sort' of people. Furthermore, they were also involved in a range of other customary activities, including bell-ringing and the church band and choir. Participation in these popular recreations would have been important in formulating and consolidating the social ties that bound such people together, although these would ultimately have come under threat as the continued effects of enclosure and engrossment meant that some parishioners profited, whereas others lost out. Without paternalistic aristocrats to counter these effects in Berkshire, the morris could not survive.

Whether further references to morris dancing on the Berkshire Downs, or elsewhere in the county, remain to be discovered is uncertain. However, the fact that at least some of the Brightwalton morris dancers were also the village musicians and bell-ringers--a pattern that we know to have been repeated in other parishes up to the mid-nineteenth century--does suggest that it may once have been more widespread. We know from churchwa rdens' accounts and other records that many neighbouring parishes had their own 'chief politicians' and 'worthy members' who were engaged in church bands and bell-ringing. Might they, too, have been morris dancers?


I am grateful to the staff at the Berkshire Record Office and the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives; and to Keith Chandler and Emma Wooders for commenting on earlier drafts of this article.


(1.) Allred Williams, Folk Songs of the Ipper Thames (London: Duckworth, 1925), p. 26.

(2.) Williams, Folk Songs of the tipper names. p. 27.

(3.) To chart how morris dancing became focused over time from its earliest appearances in London and the Thames Valley to the South Midlands, see .fohn Forrest, The History of Morris Dancing. 1458-1750 (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1999), pp. 35-46,177-85,290-91.

(4.) Keith Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles: The Social History of Morris Dancing in the English South Midlands, 1660-1900 (London: Hisarlik Press, 1993), pp. 23-24. K. Chandler, Morris Dancing in the English South Midlands. 1660-1900: A Chronological Gazetteer (London: Hisarlik Press, 1993), pp. 35-43, 232-34, specifies three locations in Berkshire--Abingdon, Buckland. and Faringgdon, all three of which lie close to the county's northern border with Oxfordshire--and one in Wiltshire--Latton, lying close to the southern edge of the Gloucestershire border--as having fielded dance sets at some point during the years 1660-1900.

(5.) Reading, Berkshire Record Office thereafter BROL D/EX 2275/1, Commonplace Book of William Savory. I am very grateful to Lisa Spurrier of the Berkshire Record Office for pointing me in the direction of this volume. The commonplace book of William Savory has been the topic of previcms study, and I cannot .claim that this reference to morris dancing was previously entirely unknown. For instance, June Osment, Sue Sayers, and jean Stephens, Brightwaiton: A Down la (Newbury: JSJ Publishers, 2002). p. 100, state that 'other excuses for merry making were the sheep shearing and the harvest when many people took part in Morris Dancing', although this assertion is not entirely supported by the manuscript itself since it does not explicitly connect mortis dancing. with those occasions.

(6.) E. Rowe Mores, Collections towards a Parochial History of Berkshire, being the answers returned to Mr Mores 's circular letters and queries for the parishes of Bisham, Chadleswortb, Cumner, East Garston, Shaw. Sparsholt, Speen, Stanibrd, Sulharnstede and Yattendon, to which are added a Jew particulars collected by the editor Ibr those of Aldworth. Shottesbrook, and White Waltham (London: J. Nichols, 1783), p. 65.

(7.) Berkshire Probate Index: An. Index to the Probate Documents of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire 1480 to 1857. CD-ROM (Berkshire Family History Society, 2012).

(8.) William Mayor, General View of the Agriculture of Berkshire drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement (London: Richard Phillips, 1809), p. 26.

(9.) Joan Thirsk, 'The Farming Regions of England'. in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. IV: 1500-1640, ed. Joan Thirsk. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1%-), pp.1-112 (pp. 6465); J. R. Wordie, The South: Oxfordshire. Buckinghamshire. Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire', in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. 1640-1750: Regional Farming Si.sterns, ed. Joan Thirsk, (Cambridge: Cambridge I niversity Press. 1984), pp. 3 (p. 329); Joseph Bettey, 'Downlancls', in Rural England: An Illustrated History of the Landscape, ed. Joan Thirsk (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 27-49 (pp. 29-30).

(10.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 5-6.

(11.) Rev. Daniel Lysons and Samuel Lysons, Magna Britannia: Being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain. vol. I: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire (London: Cadell & Davies, 1806). p. 250.

(12.) BRO, D/EW E12. See also William Page and Rev. P. H. Ditchfield, eds, The Victoria History of the County of Berkshire, vol. iv (London: Constable, 1924), p. 48; Ross Wordie, ed.. Enclosure in Berkshire, 1485-1885 (Reading: Berkshire Record Society. 2000), p. 27.

(13.) BRO., D/EX 2275/1, pp. 3-4.

(14.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 143.

(15.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 50; Kew, National Archives, PROB. 11/1279/39, Will of John Harbert of Brightwalton, yeoman, proved 3 September 1796.

(16.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1; BRO, D/P 24/1./1, Brightwalton Parish Registers; BRO, D/EW 08, Brightwalton Memorandum Book; Chippenham, Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P1/B/1397, Will of Thomas Barran., yeoman of West Shelford, 1770.

(17.) George C. Peachey, The Life of William Savory (Surgeon), of Briglotwalton, with historical notes (London: J. J. Keliher, 1903). See also Stuart Eagles, The Life of William Savory, Surgeon of Brightwalton', Berkshire Family Historian, 177.A (199,4), 132-38; Stuart Eagles. 'William Savory: Rise and Fall', Berkshire Family Historian, 21.1 (1997), 18-23.

(18.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 99, 121-22, 126-27, 133, l43. 150-51, 163-69, 260-61.

(19.) Keith Chandler, 'Popular Culture in Microcosm: The Manuscript Diaries of Richard Heritage of Marsh Gibbon. Buckinghamshire', Folk Music Journal, 9.1 (2006). 5-55.

(20.) BRO, D/EX 22-5/1, p. 10.

(21.) BRO, D/EX 22-5 I. p. 19.

(22.) BRO, D/EX 2 1, pp. 25-26.

(23.) BRO, D/EX 22-'). 1, pp. 28-29.

(24.) BRO, D/EX 22-5/1, P. 29.

(25.) BRO, D/EX 22-5/1.

(26.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p.49.

(27.) BRO, D/EX 27 5/ 1 , p. 55.

(28.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 217.

(29.) Vic Gammon, -Babylonian Performances": The Rise and Suppression of Popular Church Music, 1660-1870', in Popular Culture and Class Conflict, 1590-1914: aplorations in the History of Labour and Leisure, ed. Eileen and Stephen Yeo (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1981), pp. 62-88.

(30.) Gammon, 'Babylonian Performances', p. 62.

(31.) Donald A. Spaeth, The Church in An Age of Danger Parsons and Parishioners, 1660-1740 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 225-53.

(32.) Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 201(Y). p. 440

(33.) BRO, D/EN 2275/1, p. 32.

(34.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 215.

(35.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 28-29.

(36.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 154; Peachey, Life of William Savory, pp. 8-9.

(37.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 58.

(38.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 59.

(39.) Bob Bushaway, By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1 700-1880 (London: Junction Books, 1982), pp. 48-57.

(40.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 49.

(41.) Marsh, Music and Society, p. 1.

(42.) Marsh, Music and Society, p. 454.

(43.) Marsh, Music and Society, pp. 489-90.

(44.) Bush-away, By Rite, p. 48-53; Marsh, Music and Society, pp. 489-90.

(45.) BRO, D/P24/5/1.

(46.) See also David Cressy, BoOres and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabeth and Stuart England (London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1989)

(47.) BRO, D/P32/5/1.

(48.) BR0, D/P147/5/1.

(49.) BRO, D/P108/5/1.

(50.) BRO, D/P147/5/1.

(51.) Gavin Hannah, ed., The Deserted Village: The Diary of an Oxfordshire Rector. James Newton qf Nu wham Courtenay, 1736-86 (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1992), p. 70.

(52.) Donald Gibson, ed., A Parson in the Vale of White Horse: George Woodward's Letters from East l753-1761 (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1982), p. 111.

(53.) Spaeth, The Church in An Age of Danger, p. 252.

(54.) BRO, D/P108/5/1.

(55.) Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P1/S/1.466, Will of William Stiles, inn-holder of West Shefford, 1792.

(56.) The examples are taken from the Chaddleworth churchwardens' accounts for 1702 and 1744, respectively, at BRO, D/P32/5/1.

(57) BRO, D/P20/5/1.

(58.) Marsh, Music and Society, p. 484.

(59.) Marsh, Music and Society, p. 491-93.

(60.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 31.

(61.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, p. 106.

(62.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp. 182-84.

(63.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp. 188-90.

(64.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp. 208-09.

(65.) BRO. D/EW 08, pp. 226-27.

(66.) Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P1/1/384, Will of John Lucas, clockmaker of Newbury, 1741. The Welford churchwardens' accounts also record a payment of 14 5s 3d. to 'Mr Jno Lucas for Repairing ye Clock' in 1738/39, at BRO, D/P147/5/1.

(67.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 30.

(68.) BRO, D/EW 08. pp. 234-35.

(69.) BRO, D/P24/5/1.

(70.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 43.

(71.) London Met ropolitan Archives, MS 11936/395/614063, MS 11936/395/614064.

(72.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 31-32.

(73.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 5,128.

(74.) Chandler, 'Popular Culture in Microcosm'. P. 9.

(75.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 57-58.

(76.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 20-21.

(77.) National Archives, PROB 11/1147/2, Will of William Savory of Brightwalton, wheelwright, proved 2 October 1786.

(78.) BRO, D/EW 08,11p. 179-80.

(79.) BRO, D/13 24/1/1.

(80.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 6-9.

(81.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 20.

(82.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 43-14.

(83.) BRO, D/P 24/1/4; BRO, D/EW 08.

(84.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp 10-11. See also BRO, D/EX21243/4/15/1-2.

(85.) Page and Ditchfield, eds, Victoria History of the County of Berkshire, vol. Iv. p. 50.

(86.) National Archives, PROB 11/1460/1.

(87.) National Archives, PROB 11/1147/2, Will of William Savory.

(88.) Berkshire Family History Society, Poll Book for Berkshire, 1768, CD (Berkshire Family History Society, 2008).

(89.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp. 216-17.

(90.) Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, 500/1, Ramsbury Parish Register. At the time of his marriage, Robert's father, Edward, was described as a labourer of Hungerford in Berkshire.

(91.) Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, 500/2.

(92.) BRO, D/EW T.21. There are letters of administration for a Robert Brown of Wantage, dated 22 December 1755. almost certainly relating to the burial of a Robert Brown at Brightwalton on 11 December 1755, but these provide limited family information, mentioning only Robert's widow, Elizabeth, alongside Thomas Wiltshire. farmer, and Robert Stevens, cooper, as administrators (Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P23/6(1). Elizabeth Brown made her will a couple of years later. on 11 March 1757, but she left legacies only to Jane Wiltshire, wife of Thomas Wiltshire of Charlion. yeoman; George Keats, Thomas Keats, and Martha Keats, children of her late brother Thomas Keats; and Richard Keats, son of her late brother Richard Keats (Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P23/682).

(93.) Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P1/B/1510; BRO, D/P 24/1/1; BRO, D/EW 08.

(94.) BRO, D/EW T.21.

(95.) Robert Brown's sister Jane was baptized at Ramsbury on 29 June 1707 and married Miles Cruse at Ramsbury on 23 April 1728 (Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, 500/1, 500/2).

(96.) BRO, D/EW T.21.

(97.) BRO, D/P 24/1/4; BRO, D/EW 08.

(98.) BRO, D/EW T.21.

(99.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, p. 19.

(100.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking fiddles, pp. 26-27.

(101.) BR0, D/P 34/1/3, Chieveley Parish Registers. Other baptismal and burial entries for the Holloway children show that they lived at North Heath in Leckhampstead. Moses and Mary Holloway had a younger child, also Moses, baptized at Brightwalton on 13 August: 1732.

(102.) BRO, D/13 147/1/1-4, Welford Parish Registers.

(103.) BRO, D/P 116/1/2, Speen Parish Registers.

(104.) BRO, D/P 24/1/4.

(105.) BRO. D/EW 08, pp. 179-80,200-01.

(106.) BRO, WEN 2275/1, p. 28.

(107.) BRO, D/P 24/1/4; BRO, D/EW 08.

(108.) BRO, D/P 24/1/1.

(109.) BRO, D/EX 2257/1, p. 6.

(110.) Berkshire Probate Index; BRO, D/EX 2275/1, pp. 28-29.

(111.) BRO, D/A1/142/117.

(112.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 50.

(113.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, p. 110.

(114.) Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680, new edn (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 36-37; Keith Wrightson, "'Sorts of People" in Tudor and Smart England', in The Middling Sort of People: Culture, Society and Politics in England, 1550-1800, ed. Jonathan Barry and Christopher Brooks (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994), pp. 28-51; Steve Hindle, 'The Political Culture of the Middling Sort in English Rural Communities, c.1550-1700', in The Politics of the Excluded, c.1500-1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 125-52; Mark Goldie, 'The Unacknowledged Republic: Officeholding in Early Modern England', in The Politics qf the Excluded, c.1500-1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 153-94; H. R. French. -Ingenious & Learned Gentlemen"--Social Perceptions and Self-Fashioning among Parish Elites in Essex, 1680-1740'. Social History, 25 (2000) 44-66; H.. R. French, 'Social Status, Localism and the "Middle Sort of People" in England 1620-1750', Past and Present, no. 166 (2000), 66-99; H. R. French, 'The Search for the "Middle Sort of People" in England, 1600-1800'. Historical Journal, 43 (2000), 277-93; H. R. French, The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England 1600-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

(115.) Joan Kent, 'The Rural "Middling Sort" in Early Modern England, circa 1640-1740: Some Economic, Political and Socio-Cultural Characteristics'. Rural History: Economy, Culture, 10 (1999), 19-54 (pp. 23-24,41-42).

(116.) Steve Hindle, 'Exclusion Crises: Poverty. Migration and Parochial Responsibility in English Rural Communities, c.1560-1660', Rural History. Economy, Society, Culture, 7 (1996), 125-49 (p. 126); Steve Hindle. 'A Sense of Place? Becoming and Belonging in the Rural Parish, 1550-1650', in Communities in Early Modern England, ed. Alexandra Shepard and Phil Withington (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp. 96-111; Hindle, 'Political Culture': Steve Hindle, On the Parish?: The Micro-Politics of Poor Mkt' in Rum! England, c.1550-1750 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004); Steve Hindle, Destitution, Liminality and Belonging: The Church Porch and the Politics of Settlement in English Rural Communities, c.1590-1660', in The Self-Contained Village? The Social History Rural Communities 1250-1900, ed. Christopher Dyer (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2006), pp. 46-71.

(117.) BRO, D/1324/5/1.

(118.) Tim Harris, 'Problematising Popular Culture', in Popular Culture in England, c.1500-1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), pp. 1-27.

(119.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, p. 110.

(120.) Gammon, 'Babylonian Performances'.

(121.) Depending upon wealth and status, the probate documents of testators from Brightwalton prior to 1858 were proved in a series of ecclesiastical courts, from the Archdeaconry of Berkshire (the local Archdeacon's Court), through the Consistory Court of Sarum (the Bishop's Court), to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (the Archbishop's Court). Archdeaconry of Berkshire records are covered by the Berkshire Probate Index CD-ROM, but see also the online indexes to Consistory Court of Sarum records held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, and Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills held at the National Archives.

(122.) Marsh, Music and Society, pp. 344-49. See also Robert W. Malcolmson, 4p and Labour in England, 1700-1780 (London: Hutchinson, 1981), p. 101; David Underdown, 'Regional Cultures?: Local Variations in Popular Culture during the Early Modern Period', in Popular Culture in England, c.1500-1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), pp. 28-47.

(123.) Steve Hindle. 'Beating the Bounds of the Parish: Order, Memory and Identity in the English Local Community, c.1500-1700', in Defining Community in Early Modern Europe, ed. Michael J. Halvorson and Karen E. Spierling (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 205-27.

(124.) 'See also George C. Peachey, 'Beating the Bounds of Brightwalton', The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Archaeological journal, new set. 10.3 (1904), 75-81; Stuart Eagles, 'Beating the Bounds of Brightwalton', Berkshire Family Historian 18.3 (1995), 110-11.

(125.) BRO, D/EW 08, pp. 47, 48 (probably the same .document mentioned by Page and Ditchfielcl, ecls, Victoria History of the County of Berkshire, Vol. IN; p. 48).

(126.) BRO, D/EW E12.

(127.) BRO, D/EW T.21.

(128.) J. H. Bettey, Rural Life in Wessex, 1500-1900 (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1987), p. 103; Bushaway, By Rite, p. 25.

(129.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, pp. 198-200.

(130.) Geoffrey Tyack, 'Country Houses before 1750', in An Historical Atlas of Berkshire, ed. Joan Dils and Margaret Yates, 2nd ecln (Reading: Berkshire Record Society, 2013), pp. 76-77 (p. 76)

(131.) Bushaway, By Rite, p. 210.

(132.) Mores, Collections towards a Parochial History. pp. 8, 29, 41, 55. The negative responses were taken from East Hendred and Speen. See also Emma Griffin, England's Ret ehy: A History of Popular Sports and Pastimes, 1660-1830 (Oxford: Oxibrd University Press. 2005.) p. 1.

(133.) See, for instance, Robert W. Malcohnson. Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973). pp. 16-19.

(134.) Mores, Collections towards a Parochial history, p. 29.

(135.) Mores, Collections towards a Parochial [history. pp. 36-37.

(136.) Mores, collections towards a Parochial History, pp. 50, 55.

(137.) Mores, Collections towards a Parochial History, pp. 65, 85.

(138.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 1.

(139.) Malcolmson, Life and Labour in England, p. 101.

(140.) BRO, D/EX 2275/1, p. 4; Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, P1/G/523, Administration Bond of John Gray junior of Brightwalton, 1738.

(141.) Chloe Metcalfe, 'Rags, Bells and Baldrics: A Study of Morris Dance Costumes Past, Present and Future' (unpublished dissertation, Central School of Speech and Drama, 2012).

(142.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, pp. 34-35.

(143.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, pp. 196-98. See also Michael Heaney, "With Scarfes and Garters as You Please": An Exploratory Essay in the Economics of the Morris', Folk Music Journal, 6.4 (1993), 491-505.

(144.) Thirsk, The Farming Regions of England'. pp. 65-66; Joan Thirsk, England's Agricultural Regions and Agrarian History, 1500-1750 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), P. 40; Wordie, The South', p. 329-37; Bettey, Downlands% pp. 29-30.

(145.) Craig Muldrew, 'Economic and Urban Development', in A COMpa 11 ion to Stuart Britain, ed. Barry Coward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 148-165 (p. 148).

(146.) Jameson Wooders, 'Local Economies and Material Culture: Trends in Early Modern .Berkshire, 16501750' (unpublished doctoral thesis. University of Reading, 2011).

(147.) Chandler, Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles, P. 110.

(148.) Andy Wood, Riot; Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 88-89.

(149.) Malcolmson, Popular Recreations, pp. 163-65.

(150.) Griffin, England's Revelry, pp. 38-39.

William (IV) also records the names of the subscribers and
the amounts collected: (23)

Farmers                        Singers

Mr Hatt       10s 6d         Wm Savory     2s 6d

Mr Blackney   5s Od          Arthur        2s 6d

Winkworth     1s 6d          John Savory   2s Od

Wm Horn       2s Od          Thos Taylor   1s 6d

G Barnatt     6d             John Holmes   1s 6d

J Aldridge    6d             John Venn     1s Od

Jno Norris    1s Od          F Purton      1s Od

Wm Fuller     1s Od          Tho Coventry  1s Od

James White   3d             Wm Wakefield  1s Od

Somebody      4d             John Bird     2s 6d

Stephen       6d             Rich Spokes   1s Od

Ann Hind and  3d             Ed Tame       1s Od
Mrs Church

                             Henry Morton  2s 6d

                             J Aldridge    1s Od

                             J Bennett     1s Od

                             Moses Bond    1s Od

                             Tho Pettit    1s Od

Totals        [pounds                      [pounds
              sterling]1 3s                sterling]2 18s
              4d                           4d
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