Gloucestershire and Cotswolds Folk Music by Gwilym Davies

Gloucestershire and Cotswold Folk Music

By Gwilym Davies

Meeting of 16 January 2020

Gwilym told us that the Oxford to Cheltenham area was a hotbed of Morris in the ‘Cotswold Style’, with ‘Forest of Dean’ or ‘Border Morris’ in the west. He began with a song which is probably a couple of hundred years old: ’We are the Jovial Foresters’. We also heard ‘Country Gardens’, the words “ an English Country Garden” etc were not added until the 1960s. We heard a recording of George Lane singing in 1908, made on a wax cylinder by Percy Grainger with his up-to-the minute- equipment at Winchcombe Workhouse (near Cheltenham). He trooped the full house party of Lady Elcho down there in their finery, including ex-prime minister Arthur Balfour.

Since most folk songs were not written down until the collectors of the 20th century, we rely a lot on reminiscence. Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) is the best known collector, working both in England and USA – where he found many UK songs which had been carried over with migrants and adapted. He met Henry Allen in Stratford who told him about Ruardean Morris; he said in the 1870s he go up at 6am to play the ‘Morris Call’ on his fiddle to get the Morris group together. This included the fool, the flag bearer and the man waving around two swords. They would process around the village. Allen bought new ribbons every year as he ‘give ‘em to the girls’. Thomas Phelps of May Hill told him of dancing for the full week of Whitsun.

The places where Morris was traditionally danced in the Forest are:

· Blakeney

· Bream

· Clifford Mesne

· Littledean

· Longhope

· Mayhill

· Newnham

· Ruardean

The Ruardean dances were kept going by the Penn family, but died out in the 1920s. Not enough information on Forest Morris survives to reconstruct a dance, so they are now put together from known moves.

Our last song (with us all joining in) was ‘The Twelve Apostles’ (you may recognise it: “One by one lies all alone and evermore shall be so …” ). The Forest of Dean has a strong carolling tradition, with lots of carols collected in Brockweir. South Gloucestershire is renowned for wassail songs, but these were sung door-to-door at Christmas, with a wassail bowl for collecting. This tradition seems to have died out between the Wars and the orchard wassail with gun shots was revived in cider-making areas and spread.

Websites of interest: – a detailed look at folk songs and tunes collected in Gloucestershire. – Gloucestershire Christmas carols and wassails – Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: lots of on-line documents and recordings, including all of Sharp’s.