About Towersey Horseshoes
Towersey Horseshoes is a mixed Cotswold Morris side, based in the village of Towersey near Thame, Oxfordshire. We launched at Towersey Festival 2022, after the merger of Towersey Morris (men’s side, formed in 1966) and Three Horseshoes (3Hs) Morris, a women’s side, which grew out of the 2011 Towersey Festival. Over the winter 2011/12, 3Hs became established and adopted white, red and black kit, similar to that of Towersey Morris. The kit changed in 2014 to black and red following one very wet bank holiday during Towersey Festival which caused red waistcoats to turn white shirts pink! Our new kit keeps the same colours but with new black and red waistcoats, black trousers, white shirts, and red bells and hankies. The repertoire of the side comprises a variety of Cotswold traditions including Adderbury, Fieldtown, Headington, Upton on Severn and Bampton together with other dances based on these traditions. We practice during the winter months in the barn at the Three Horseshoes pub in Towersey on Wednesdays at 7.30pm. In the summer months, we dance out at various local pubs, often inviting other local sides. We also appear regularly at the Towersey fete, Towersey May festival, the Towersey Festival and Bunkfest in Wallingford.
A Brief Background to The Morris
In many cultures, ritual dancing is an important part of the national heritage, and England is no exception. English Morris Dancing has a history so old that the roots have been lost. It certainly dates back to the Middle Ages and probably earlier, possibly as a memory of pre-Christian fertility rites or a propitiation of the gods.
The Cotswold Morris, in which style we dance, may be recognised by the dress or costume of the dancers. This is usually white trousers and shirt with baldrics (crossed coloured bands worn on the chest and back), a waistcoat, bell-pads worn just below the knee and perhaps a hat. The various Morris “sides”, as the groups are known, choose their own colour schemes and embellishments to the basic “kit”, in a heraldic tradition, as did the knights of old. The dancers are often accompanied by a Fool and also by animals associated with fertility, such as a bull. Our animal, when he can be coaxed out of the bar(n), is a horse. We, and all other Morris sides, dance to bring good luck, fertility to the soil and our fellow human beings (it sometimes works this way) and to preserve a fine English tradition. It is also jolly good fun and an excuse for a beer or three!
The dances that we perform and their tunes originate in various Cotswold villages such as Adderbury, Bampton, Bleddington, Ilmington and Fieldtown (now known as Leafield) and also from surrounding areas such as Headington, Hinton-in-the-Hedges, Lichfield and Upton-upon-Severn. Each has its own tradition, which differs from the others in the style of the steps, hand movements and figures, or shapes, of the dance.
Morris dances are usually for six men/women who weave their magic by dancing intricate steps and patterns whilst waving their handkerchiefs and ringing their bells to ward off the Devil. Some dances are performed with sticks; this practice is a relic of fighting with quarterstaves and also of the use of ancient agricultural implements. In some traditions the dances are for eight men/women, but all traditions have jigs for one or two dancers to demonstrate their prowess. For a Towersey Horseshoes man or woman to get his/her badge (look for the badge on the front of the baldrics), he/she has to dance solo in a jig of their choice and be able to lead the dancing.
The music comprises traditional tunes (though one side does dance in the Ambridge style to the Archers tune!) each associated with a particular dance and has been handed down from musician to musician over the centuries. The tunes were commonly played on the pipe and tabor (a small drum) or fiddle; nowadays the melodeon or accordion are more common.
Our Founder, Denis Manners, 1920 – 2009
On 2nd January, 2009 Towersey Morris lost its dear old founder, Denis Manners. He was 88, still loving life and humanity, though missing his wife, Sheila, who had died the previous summer. She had first become his girlfriend in 1946, sixty two years earlier.
Denis’s involvement with the Morris started when he lived in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, in the 1950’s. He soon joined Oxford City Morris, which was becoming revitalised after some years when its only activity had been its Squire dancing a jig on Magdelen Bridge on May Day each year, just to keep the side in existence. Soon after, Denis himself was Squire, a post he held for seven years.
Denis, Sheila and their children moved to Towersey, where Denis built his home, “Long Odds” right next to The Three Horseshoes and brought Oxford City there to dance. “The local yobbos”, as Denis always called them, laughed at the dancing and Denis told them they’d have the right to laugh if they could do better. Quite incredibly, Denis’s charisma, personal magnetism and goodwill caused these young lads, not to sneer some expletive laden rejoinder, but to become the founder members of Towersey Morris Men, and Denis to become virtually a second father to them all.
It may be that Denis was such a great Morris man at least partly because he was so much more than a Morris man. Not only did he have his lifelong interests in socialism and the peace movement, (a belief he only suspended to take up arms against Nazi Germany), but he had thrown himself wholeheartedly into Towersey village, with its ruinous, toiletless village hall. After one of the legendary “Long Odds” weekend breakfasts, where guests were quite likely to outnumber the family, Denis, Louis Rusby and Roy Bailey (yes, that’s why almost every Towersey Village Festival has him headlining a concert or two) slipped through the gate that Denis had installed between his garden and The Three Horseshoes and sat down to consider the problem. “We should hold a festival to raise funds.” said Denis, and so they did. Didn’t they just. Denis ran it for the first twelve years, by the end of which time it was a national institution, and of course it’s going from strength to strength to this day.
As age made convenience more important to them, Denis and Sheila moved into Thame, where they were living in 1998, when Denis was awarded the MBE for his services to Morris dancing. Though not a great believer in the honours list, he felt it was partly a recognition of the Morris’s place in English tradition, and also that it would be churlish to turn it down. Buckingham Palace though, was not a place he intended to grace with his presence and he opted to be invested by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire at Thame Town Hall. With Towersey leading, all the Morris sides Denis had been involved with danced his limousine (chauffeured by Nigel Cox, of Whitchurch) down the High Street. Dancing before, dancing after, the wonderful Morris tunes, it was a huge celebration of what Denis meant to us all. The Lord Lieutenant loved every minute and talks about it to this day.
In 2006, Denis, Sheila and Jenny, their daughter, moved to Nottingham to be close to the main body of the family, though he visited Towersey several times a year, including the 5.30 a.m. dancing the Sun up on May Morning. Of course, August Bank Holiday weekend was always spent at Towersey Village Festival, where Towersey, the first Morris side he founded, (he also founded Crendon Morris) danced every year, and although the last of his yobbos had ceased to be active in the Side, he never missed the chance to catch up with us.
Roy Bailey, Denis’s great friend, and the patron of Towersey Village, sings a song with the lines,
“And the only measure of your time on this Earth,
Is the love you leave behind you when you’re gone.”
If that be true, Denis William Manners was without doubt a great man indeed.