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Cecil Sharp

Cecil James Sharp wrote down Folk. Recognised by many as the founding father of the English Folk revival in the 20th century, he recorded (with others) many aspects of traditional culture which may have been lost had he not done so.

The damage done by reconstructionalists has not yet been calculated. It is a dilemma that the folk tradition should not be captured in print and yet had it not been recorded, it might have been lost. Discuss.

Sharp was a musician and musicologist and became interested in traditional dance and tunes after seeing the Headington Quarry Morris men on Boxing Day 1899 performing at Sandfield Cottage. The musician was William Kimber. Cecil was exceedingly lucky for the normal time of dancing was Whitsun and had the lads not needed a few extra bob*, the course of Folk might have changed forever.

Sharp noted the Morris dances from Headington and elsewhere in the Cotswolds (such as Adderbury, Bampton, Fieldtown etc) and published them.

Sharp published a number of works including The Morris Book parts 1 to 5 between July 1906 and 1924. Often reprinted. Also a free ebook. It is a heavily adapted, edited and individual record of some of the dances collected at the turn of the century. Dances are included or excluded by criteria such as perceived trustworthiness of the source. There is evidence that some substitution took place (between traditions) as a kind of extrapolation.

He asserts that up to 1850:

"..there were few villages in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire which did not support their own teams of Morris Dancers. And yet at this present time (1906) it would be difficult to name more than one or two where the dance is still performed."

The reasons for the lapse he gives as enclosure of common lands and the creation of a proletariat which led to a migration from fields to towns. It is clear that Sharp found the vestiges of a once widespread tradition in the midlands.


*bob = shilling. An old coin of the realm in England equivalent to 12 pennies.