One wet Friday evening in the summer of 1982, a group of friends met in the Shoulder of Mutton at Owlswick in Buckinghamshire, as had become the custom, and began to put the world to rights. Whilst countering over a pint or two of excellent London Pride they began to reminisce about morris dancing. Most of the group had been involved in morris and folk dancing in the village of Towersey from the 1960s. Denis Manners had taught them to dance at the village youth club and they formed a very fine side; but that’s another story. By this time, most had left the area, and Towersey Flying Circus, behind them.
Back in the pub, the idea of dancing together again was kicked around a bit until one of the lads in the group, Clive Brooks, who was about to marry, suggested that an excellent way to celebrate his marriage would be to form a morris team to dance at his wedding. The friends seized the idea. Most of the group planned to be at the annual Towersey Village Festival over the August Bank Holiday so this was set as the venue and date of the first practice, and hence, the official birth date and place of Owlswick Morris.
Originally, the side was male with the exception of the Secretary (Bag), who also made all the costumes. The side was intended to be an occasional one but as the bookings came rolling in 'occasional' never really happened. Within a couple of years, a women's team was formed with the two sides being administrated by joint officers. The men danced Cotswold morris whilst the women danced made-up dances. Both sides performed at the same venues under the name of Owlswick Morris. After a couple of years, the difficulties of raising two teams for each booking became apparent and a decision was made to combine the dancing as well as the administration. The women abandoned the made-up dances, to the relief of many, and in June 1985 Owlswick became one of the first mixed morris sides in the country to dance Cotswold morris.
In the early years, the practices were held at the Shoulder of Mutton in Owlswick. The costume was based on the original colours of the Fuller’s Brewery, because of the connection with the Shoulder of Mutton, which was a Fuller’s Pub. (The pub is now a private house). The side was named after the village in which the pub was situated. Graham Bloxham, the landlord of the pub, sponsored the group by producing beer mats and other marketing paraphernalia and was supportive in many other ways. He also reproduced and enlarged a photo of the group, which held pride of place in the pub for many years. The whereabouts of this is no longer known.
Over the years, the practice venues have been many and varied but mostly at pubs. The group has had the support of numerous landlords & landladies. Some of the practice venues, in no particular order, were the Five Arrows at Waddesdon (Dave was a particularly supportive landlord); The Old Thatched Inn, Adstock (another Dave); The Folly, Adstock; The George, Winslow; the secondary school in Waddesdon .
Currently we practice in the village hall in Twyford where Joan, the landlady of The Crown, which is situated opposite the hall, entrusts us with her glasses (beer glasses that is) so that we may quench our thirsts whilst practising.
Over the years, Owlswick officers have been surprisingly few. At the very beginning, Simon Fidler was Squire, Nick Manners Foreman and Delly Blane Bag. It wasn’t long before we changed the ‘traditional’ system slightly and appointed a Squire who also acted as Foreman, and split the job of the bag by appointing a Secretary and Treasurer. Initially Nick Manners was Squire/Foreman, Ben Walter, Treasurer and Delly Blane Secretary. Soon Nick Manners left the area and Chris Blane was appointed Squire. These three officers remained until around the turn of the 21st century. Since then Mary Walter, Jane Bird and Hilary Conboy, the current Secretary, have all taken a turn as Secretary and we have split the workload further. Tina Wood is responsible for the wardrobe, Delly Blane (retired) and now Juls Thomas for special events, and website and Carol Cownley the keeper of the scrapbook. Chris has retired now and we are back to the traditional system of Squire and Forman. Ben is now Squire and Steve is Forman, our new Treasurer in Elaine. The commitment of all the Owlswick officers is appreciated by us all!
The ability of the group has increased enormously over the years to include rapper sword dancing, clog dancing, singing and the performance of a Mummers' Play. Added to this are the talents of the musicians within the group, many of whom are self-taught, who between them play a wide range of instruments.
During our dancing years we have had a lot of support and made many friends. We have enjoyed enormous hospitality from a number of people. We were welcomed in Sweden by Allmogegillet and our friends Dan & Rose-Marie Nord. We have also been welcomed in France, Belgium, Austria, The Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany & Hungary. Our links with Hungary are particularly strong. After an initial introduction by Ben, our Treasurer, we have been invited back on many occasions and in turn, we have played host to dancers & musicians from Hungary several times.
Our German exchange came about after we met the group at the Sárvár Folk Festival, and our Swedish friends, whom we have also played host to, performed at the same festival after an introduction from us. Péter Marko & István Kondora, who organise the Sárvár Folk Festivals, have been significant in retaining these links.
Whilst on the Hungarian theme, LászlóGróf & Nellie Zergi who both have Hungarian links, have been instrumental in accommodating and helping with the Hungarian visitors. They are long-term friends of the group. We are also indebted to the late Sally Routh, who tirelessly 'potted' gifts for our numerous exchanges & holidays.
As well as abroad, we have visited many places in our own beautiful country. On our numerous visits to the lovely Yorkshire Dales, we can always rely upon Rod & Lena Colton for their generosity and support. In Ashburton, Devon, we have spent many a good weekend camping on Pam and Eddie Honour’s farm and making use of Jonathan’s bathroom.
Sue and Richard Davis left us some years ago to move to Ipswich. Was that the last we saw of them? Oh no! Still associate members. They took it upon themselves to host a weekend for us each year, camping at the Butley Oyster or in Tangham Wood and entertaining the folk outside Southwold Brewery. They then tried to escape again by moving to France. It didn’t work. They invite Owlswick’s tri-annually to their dance festival in Normandy and dance with us in their Owlswick kit.
More locally, Hilary, Deb’s and Julie W can always be relied upon to provide a warm welcome and a cracking good meal or home-baked cakes.
Although they live too far away to take part each week, John Bone and Lawrence Wright have earned the title 'holiday musicians'. They are always happy to step in on group holidays when our regular musicians are usually needed to dance. They put up with endless "too slow; too fast; fast should be slow & slow should be fast in this dance" comments but somehow manage to get it spot on.
As already mentioned, we have been thoroughly spoilt by the talents of our many musicians over the years. The excellent fiddle playing of Jon Ginn, Bob Tracey and Ivor Sayer; Fred Faux, Ken Searle, Alan Hall, Yvonne Fox, John Watson, Andrew Hearsey and Richard Davis on melodeon; and many more. The ability of these people has allowed us to stage dances, ceilidhs and medieval banquets totally from within the group.
Our main musicians for dance are Steve, Jane, Elaine and Ian we are often helped our by Jonathan too. When we have a music session after dancing on a Tuesday just about all of us can play a musical instrument. We are also lucky enough to have some very fine singers, in particular, Jane, Penny and sometimes Geoff an honorary member, who entertain an appreciative audience.
During our first thirty years, we have made friends of many morris sides, some local, some not so local, some no longer exist. Sides that spring to mind from the earlier years are Akeley and Thornborough, with whom we had very strong links, Bucknell, Burnsall and Lichfield. Lichfield taught us a number of their dances, which we still perform today. We also formed an alliance with Lagabag when Sue and Richard started the side after moving to Ipswich.
Sides that we still meet up with, some from the early days and some from recent times are Crendon Morris, Ducklington Morris, Kirtlington, and Cry Havoc. There are many more.
One very important part of Owlswick is family, not just the big ‘morris’ family, which is a community in itself, but also the family within Owlswick. From the outset, Owlswick aimed to encourage family involvement and organised camping weekends and events to that end. Over the years, members had families at different times and the ages of the children varied considerably. This often led to the older ones looking out for the younger ones. Most are teenagers or adults now, some with children of their own, but when they pop up from time to time, the relationship is very easy; there are no barriers, age or otherwise.
On to the next generation, grandchildren have been, and are, on the scene and the pattern of mutual respect continues. With so much violence and crime in the world, this is reassuring and uplifting. With luck, some of them will keep the Owlswick tradition going.
Chris and Delly Blane have recently retired from dancing, we owe so much to them for 30 years commitment to Owlswick Morris, and this brief history would not be complete without including the great grandfather of the family, Denis Manners, and his wife, Sheila. Denis taught many of the founder members of Owlswick to dance when they were teenagers and we were very proud when he was awarded an MBE, for his services to morris dancing, in 2001. Sheila made costumes, fed, organised and tried to keep order. They must take some responsibility for the strength of Owlswick. We are in their debt, sadly Denis and Sheila have both passed away now.