Article MT064

Musicians in 19th Century Southern England

Keith Chandler's series of short essays

General Introduction, part 2:

Even though, during the nineteenth century the instrumental combination of three holed pipe and tabor drum (both played by a single individual) remained the preferred musical accompaniment to morris dancing, it had already fallen from favour for use in a social, or country dance context by at least the middle of the previous century.  During the Michaelmas Fair held at Banbury, Oxfordshire, in October 1846:
A variety of ball rooms were speedily opened, where, although "the toe" was not of the lightest character, it was sufficiently "fantastic".  Some of these, where dancing commenced in the middle of the day on Thursday, were not closed until day-light on Saturday; hence peripatetic pianofortes and accordions found ready engagements as auxiliaries, perhaps, in some instances, as rivals, to the more legitimate violin and tambourine. 1
A report on the annual October Fair held in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, in 1855 both creates a typical image of nineteenth century community celebrations and introduces one of the most common dancing venues:
The square was speedily filled with "Cheap Johns," ginger bread and toy stalls, fancy bazaars, shooting galleries, dancing and fighting booths, gambling tables, oyster stalls, shows, &c. &c.  The fineness of the weather brought an immense throng of visitors from all the neighbouring towns and villages. 2
Memories of an an aged informant in the workhouse at Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, about 1910 date from around the same period:
The dear old face of the woman in bed broke into dimpling laughter as she told me how her village wake was kept up in her youth; how, night after night, for a whole week, folks came from far and wide to the booth set up for the purpose to dance into the small hours.  And dancing was dancing "then-a-days," when the long line of couples stood up for "Haste to the Wedding," 'Pop Goes the Weasel," or "Step and fetch her." 3
Booths, or bowers, including those given over specifically to dancing, had been long-established features at the popular and widespread Whitsun Ales, held regularly throughout the south Midlands up to the middle of the nineteenth century.  One source, relating to the decades around 1800, describes how, high on the Cotswold escarpment:
The greatest number of Morris-dancers, in that part of England, always assembled in the Whitsun-week at Dover [sic - Dover's] Hill, near the vale of Evesham, in the neighbourhood of Campden, Weston, and Longmaston.  There were many booths erected, with various rural sports and gymnastic exercises. 4
These early booths were generally built from greenery laid over a wooden structure.  That same source describes how:
At the village of Finstock, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire, the Morris is held by prescription, with a right of common, of a considerable extent, by the Forest of Whichwood.  The young men and maidens claim the right of procuring from the forest as much materials for the bower, as, with the May-pole, they can draw away, always preserving leather harness for that purpose, and when the sports are ended the bower and May-pole are sold, and the money expended in malt, from which is brewed ale for the ensuing year. 4
The booths remained a feature of such celebrations as the century progressed, even as other components were on the decline.  At the hiring fair held at Buckingham in October 1860, for example:
There was a very marked decrease in the attendance of those who usually frequent such scenes. There was a pleasing absence of shows, whilst a few photographic galleries and dancing booths were all the novelties to attract attention. 5
William Nathan Wells of Bampton, Oxfordshire, born in 1868 and himself a fiddle player, gave the best extant description of a dancing booth which he recalled from his early years:
You know what a big tent is, dont'cha?...  With a sh...big sheet over the a tent.  You know what a big tent is.  Like you'd see a tea tent or...a tent at a fete or anything like that...  Well, this tent was open at the front you' of course it sheets hung all round.  Well, both sides 'a this...both sides 'a this tent...there was a seat.  A long seat this side and a long seat on that side.  Well then in the middle of the tent, you see, there was boards.  The same as you'd see the floor boards on a floor...  There was pieces put across, you see, at the underneath, and then these boards come on the top.  Well they was fixed, you see?  Well...the girls and the boys, years gone by...they could've danced on the lawn...  On the grass.  But that didn't suit 'em.  They couldn't y'ear their feet.  But when you was dancing on these...boards, an' of course they was sprung, you see.  Used to give.  An', of course, it used to sound, see?  That's the reason why they used to always dance in the booth, so that they could...uh...'ear their feet.  And 'ear the stepping.  And of course you could tell absolut...uh...footwork was being done, an' all that then.  'Course you could.  Well you couldn't on the lawn, could ya?  'Course you couldn't.  You paid nothing to go into the booth...but the man used to come round after 'e'd got the...numbers they wanted...'e used to go round and collect the money.  When they'd got the dancers...the numbers they wanted, you see?  'Course the fiddle used to start...they was all ready for dancing.  'Course.  An' then, of course, when the dance was over...they as 'ad the next dance, you see, got to pay again.  'T'was only tuppence, mind.  They used to pay tuppence each.  The dancers...Well, of course, the...boys used to pay mostly, the men...folk...They used to pay for their girls then...their women folk, 'a course.  6
Dances for 'as many as will,' during which as many couples as could be physically accommodated might take the floor in a single set, were often marathon sessions for the musicians.  During an anniversary dinner held at Leckhampstead, Buckinghamshire, in 1865, for instance:
After tea the sports commenced in earnest.  Dancing being the chief attraction, as many as sixty or seventy couples performing that intricate "Contre Danse" "Hands across and back again, down the middle," etc., and to the looker-on it was a matter of wonder how some of the fair performers could keep at it in the unflagging way they did, never ceasing for sometimes an hour together and then only because the music ceased. 7
The village of Adderbury in Oxfordshire was en fête on 10 August 1855, and during the festivities, 'blithe lads and lasses were stepping away in the centre to the tune of "pop goes the weasel," &c.' to the strains of Prescott's Quadrille Band.  8  But where stamina and robust good health were in evidence, dancing was not merely a recreation for the young.  At the club feast held in Padbury, Buckinghamshire, in June 1874:
By this time cynthia had arisen, and shed her mellow light on those who in much increased numbers were still pursuing pleasure in threading the triumph [sic - 'The Triumph'], and other popular dances, the elder vieing with the younger in feats of agility and grace. 9
At Shipton-Under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, on the Thursday in Whitsun week, 1860:
Various amusements were afterwards introduced, and the Shipton quadrille band being engaged for the occasion, a dance took place, and several of the old people took part in it.  One old lady, now in her 82nd year, said that, although she did not admire the present style of dancing, she had no objection to "Charley over the water."  Mr Wright immediately became her partner, and after keeping it up for twenty minutes, she was asked if she was not tired?  but her reply was "No, thank 'ye, I loves it dearly, and am game to my backbone." 10
And at Ilmington, Warwickshire, exactly half a century later, fiddler Sam Bennett played for social dancing, during which:
Mrs Bennett, an old lady of 93, was present, and showed that she had not forgotten the old dances, and there were several men and women over eighty years of age who took part with surprising energy and zest. 11
The 'present style of dancing' disdained by the old woman at Shipton would have included recently fashionable couple dances such as the waltz.  Relatively sedate, and involving prolonged close contact with one's partner, they were at the opposite pole to those exuberant, sweaty and even, at times, wildly abandoned dances in common usage in rural areas.

No 2: Edward Butler of Minster Lovell and Bampton, Oxfordshire

Edward Butler (born 1822) garnered a widespread reputation as provider of music for both social and morris dancing throughout a wide area of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.  His son, Richard Decimus Butler (born 1856), succeeded him in both capacities.  Both men feature in my article 150 Years of Fiddle Players and Morris Dancing at Bampton, Oxfordshire, on this site, 12 but this essay seeks to contextualise their lives in greater depth.

Edward's father, Richard Butler, was baptised at Kingston Bagpuize, Berkshire, on 14 December 1783.  By 1812 he had married and moved to Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire, and at the baptism of his second child, in April 1816, the register gives his occupation as 'innkeeper'.  At successive baptisms, in 1818, 1820, 1822, 1825, 1827 and 1831, he is recorded as 'victualler'.  Although none of the early published trades directories cover the village 13, it seems likely that he kept one of two public houses: either The White Hart, at the turnpike on the Witney to Burford road (now the A 4095) above the village, or The Swan in the village proper.  By the date of the 1841 census his association with the selling of alcohol had apparently ceased, and he was farming.  In April 1851 his holdings consisted of sixty acres and he was regularly employing four labourers.  Keeping an inn may have been a stepping stone to this more socially acceptable pursuit.  Certainly at the time of his death, in April 1853, he was also churchwarden.

In June 1841 nineteen year-old Edward was living on the farm with his father and siblings.  This was the first census taking to record names and selective personal details, and only the head of the household's occupation was given.  Ten years later, still in his father's household, his occupation is given as 'Dealer'.  Although the actual details have eluded me, at about the same time as his father's death he married a woman named Lucy, whose birthplace was given in the 1861 census as 'London'.  During the four 'lost' years between April 1851 (the date of the census taking) and March 1855 (the baptism of his first identifiable child) he may, as did others in the Wychwood region, have spent some time in London, possibly in association with the time-honoured tradition of travelling with a group of peers, morris dancing in the streets of the capital and harvesting the earlier-ripening hay in the areas surrounding the city. 14  By March 1855 he was certainly resident in Minster Lovell (of course, he may never have left), and the baptism register reveals that by that date he had become a farmer.  Although only the third eldest of Richard's sons, it seems likely that he simply took over the farm formerly owned or leased by his late father.

The middle years of the eighteen fifties were ones of extensive economic privation.  With the price of a loaf of bread almost the equivalent of an agricultural labourer's daily wage, many families lived under conditions of dire poverty.  One informant at Launton, Oxfordshire, noted that thousands of children starved to death during the Crimea War (1853-1856). 15  Edward Butler did not escape this human toll: his first son, also Edward, died aged eight months in October 1855.  His wife was already pregnant with their second child, Richard Decimus Butler (baptised 6 April 1856), and both he and the third child, William Clemans Butler (18 February 1858 - both in Minster Lovell) survived into the following century.  William's daughter Ada related her father's claim that he had been born in Eynsham, Oxfordshire, where Edward had lived for a time, and his mother had been a Clements (the official sources give several variant spellings, including this one). 16  Clearly this birthplace is erroneous, but if this really was the maiden name of Edward's wife it goes some way towards explaining the uncommon middle names of the two children.  Since 1847, at least, one Decimus Clemans, born at Kingham, Oxfordshire, in 1805, had been the landlord of The White Hart, a role he maintained until his death in February 1854.  Although unproven, it seems likely that Edward's wife Lucy (born about 1833) was a relative, possibly even a daughter of this man.  Additional circumstantial evidence may be found in the tendency to name children after one's own parents: Lucy had also been the name of Decimus' mother.

In an extension of the alcohol vending connection already established for both Richard Butler and Decimus Clemans, at the date of baptism of his son John, on 7 August 1859, Edward Butler is noted as 'farmer/victualler'.  It is possible that he had taken the license of one of the village public houses (no trades directories between 1854 and 1863 were available to me), but more likely (given that this association occurs in no other source) that he sold alcohol (possibly cider) and perhaps also other consumables directly out of the farmhouse.

Tragedy again struck the Butler family in November 1859, when their four month old son John died.  Two years later, still in Minster Lovell, Edward was enumerated as 'Violinist', the only time I have ever seen this designation in the census returns.  He evidently continued farming, however, as his residence in April 1861 is given as 'Farm House', and the entries for children baptised in both 1860 and 1862 still give his occupation as 'farmer'.  But clearly he almost immediately fell on hard times, and during the eighteen sixties relocated at least twice.  The death of another child, James Edward (baptised 29 October 1862, buried 23 February 1863) occurred while at least some of the family were resident in the workhouse at Witney, an option always considered a last resort, even in times of extreme hardship.  By September of the following year he was living three miles distant, in Brize Norton, where his occupational status had been reduced to agricultural labourer; but in 1866 he was again farming in Minster Lovell. 13  By February 1867 he had moved six miles down the road, to Bampton, and in that month his wife died and was buried at Minster Lovell.

Exactly what role Edward played in the day-to-day running of the farm in Minster Lovell, or what his duties were as an agricultural labourer in Brize Norton is uncertain.  A grand daughter related how Edward had weighed twelve stone at the age of twelve and put on a stone for every year until he was twenty-one, remaining at twenty-one stone until he died. 16  In later life, at least, his legs were crippled, and he was only able to get about on sticks or crutches, although at what age this occurred is unknown.  It may be that, in common with other known musicians, physical handicap precipitated the learning of a musical instrument in order to generate at least some income.  And yet in 1871, still in Bampton, where he would live out his days, he continued to work as an agricultural labourer.  By 1877, however, his fortunes had taken a turn for the better, and he was making a living as a coal dealer. 13  At the date of the census taking four years later he was recorded as 'General Dealer'; in an 1891 directory (referring to the previous year) as coal dealer 13; and (in his final appearance in the sources available to me) in the 1891 census as 'Coal Dealer & Retailer'.  His grand daughter pinpointed his residence as having been down Chapel Lane, near to the chapel and The Elephant and Castle, at the west end of Bridge Street.  In addition to selling coal, which would in any case have been a seasonal trade, he 'also had some cowsheds at the back [of the house]' 16, suggesting some form of stock management, perhaps a dairy.  Clearly his vending activities encompassed more than coal, although exactly what else was sold is unknown.  Edward was certainly skilled as a handyman in wood, and a pin box studded with both inscription and curlicews has survived within the family.  He may also have produced such items for general sale.

So much for his chief modes of employment, what of his activities as musician?  We do not know if his father had been a musician, or from whom he learned to play; although I think we may safely assume that he, in turn, would have taught his son Richard.  In an age where nicknames were the norm, Edward Butler's was "Deedlem".  In explanation, one informant in Bampton noted how, 'when he fiddled for the dancers, he used to sing "Deedlem-deedlem-deedlem-dee".' 17  In the 1861 census, as we have seen, he was listed as 'Violinist', which suggests that a considerable amount of his income during that period was derived from music-making.

During his career Edward Butler owned at least two fiddles, of varying quality, the minor of which passed ultimately to a great grand daughter.  The second was, according to family tradition, a 'Stradivarius', which he sold. 16

In addition to playing for social dancing he is likely to have acted as musician to unrecorded morris dance teams.  Experienced musicians were much in demand by such sides during the middle decades of the century, with some men known to have played for a dozen or more sets.  Edward Butler may have been one such, and an association with the set at Filkins, Oxfordshire, a distance of some seven miles from Minster Lovell, is one possibility.  Thomas W Luker (born 1842), recalled how:

The company I refer to had for a musician a man with no use of his legs, who could play the violin admirably.  I used to push his carriage and beat a small tambourine [i.e. as accompaniment during performance]. 18
Although Luker dates this to '35 years ago' [i.e. 1849] he is unlikely as a seven year old child to have been able to push a man weighting twenty-one stone around, even in a wheelchair.  If he is indeed recalling Edward Butler this is more likely, then, to have occurred during the eighteen fifties, by which date his strength would have increased.

In April 1861 Edward Butler and his family were living a mere four doors from the household of Richard Lock (born 1806), who had been one of the morris dancers in the team based at Brize Norton, probably during the eighteen twenties and thirties. 19  Butler would have been too young to have provided music at that date, but the side continued to perform, and in about 1854, at The White Hart, competed against those from Bampton, Standlake, Ducklington and Leafield, at which the latter were victorious. 20  Being resident in the village it is certainly possible that he had acted as musician on this occasion.  Richard Lock's son James (born 1839) claimed to have been 'Ragman of the Minster Morris' when he was 'a young chap of about 15 or 16,' 21 which suggests a date of activity of circa 1854-55.  His brother Daniel (born 1841), however, would probably have been too young to have danced regularly at this stage, and his father probably too old.  During the eighteen fifties and sixties the Minster side danced in Whitsun week and at local Club Feasts, 22 during which period the dancers were 'away a whole week from the work.' 21  In 1911 Daniel Lock spoke of public performances of morris dancing having been abandoned over forty years earlier, i.e. during the late eighteen sixties.  Among the reasons given was the death of the fiddle player, after which 'there werent no one to take his place' 21  This clearly was not Edward Butler, but it seems likely that he would have played for the Minster Lovell morris side during this period.

Certainly Butler became musician for the Bampton team about 1876, until his son Richard took over in about 1880. 24  The reasons for his apparently brief tenure are unclear, as are those for why he did not assume the role as regular musician upon his move to Bampton in about 1866.  Perhaps for the first decade he continued to hire out to other morris dance teams, either out of a sense of loyalty (assuming he had been playing regularly for one or more sets prior to this date), or for more money.  At any rate, he is probably the man referred to in the report on the Whit Monday festivities in Bampton in May 1877, when, 'the morris dancers busily tripped the "light fantastic toe" to the sound of fiddle and tambourine.' 23  This percussive instrument may on this occasion have been played by Butler's son William, who provided identical accompaniment in the dance booth context.  William had also been a drummer in the army at one stage, and saw action in Afghanistan. 16  As he does not feature on the computerised index of the 1881 census which covers the whole of England, we may suggest that he was abroad in the forces in early April that year.  Similarly, I have been unable to locate him in the Bampton area at the date of the 1891 census.  I would hesitate, however, to assume that he was again overseas, and certainly not extensively during this decade, one of recorded activity with his father in the dancing booth.

Non-morris contexts would have included playing for social dancing at the type of celebration outlined in the Introduction.  One informant remembered how Edward Butler 'used to take a dancing booth round to the fairs in the neighbourhood.' 17  The logistics of dance booth transportation and (re)construction on site is problematic.  At the Whitsun ales a booth seems often to have been erected by the locals as a matter of course, and the musicians probably just went in and played.  Once the ales were abandoned, irrevocably after about 1860, it may have been that the only method of transportation would be a horse-drawn wagon.  How large a booth can be transported?  Can it be erected by one person?  Edward Butler was lame, although his grand daughter told me that her father, William, used to accompany him, 16 and being able-bodied he was presumably capable of erecting a booth, We might also expect that assistance might be had from locals in situ.

The advantages of playing inside a physically-delimited space are obvious: for enhanced acoustics, which would amplify the sound of the fiddle; for the option to illuminate the dancing area during the hours of darkness; to regulate fees paid by dancing couples; and, when appropriate, to limit the participation of non-paying customers standing outside, by demonstrating the movements about to be danced only within a visibly-delimited space.

Perhaps these privately owned booths were merely a short-lived phenomenon, limited, say, to the last half, perhaps even quarter, of the nineteenth century.  As a farmer, a general dealer and a coal merchant Butler is likely to have had easy access to a wagon and horses.  But what of the period when he was employed as an agricultural labourer, in 1864 and 1871 at least?  And how amenable would his employers have been to him taking off for weeks at a time during the summer?  Possibly his playing for social dancing was curtailed during this period.  Even so, one-off occasions in the immediate locality would have remained feasible.

These questions are unanswerable.  What is certain is that for some years during the final two decades of the nineteenth century Butler, 'used to go to all the fairs for miles around, including Witney Feast.' 25  This latter event occurred annually for two days on Church Green in the nearby market town of Witney around mid-September.  Another venue to which Butler travelled regularly was Blackwell in Warwickshire, some considerable distance from Bampton.  In this village the Wake was a large occasion, occurring annually for a week beginning 23 June, and drawing musicians from many miles around.  The indigenous morris side performed outside the dancing booth which was an invariable feature of the celebration.  The Wake continued to be held long after the performances of the Blackwell Morris had been abandoned, around 1867.  It was here that Sam Bennett of Ilmington (born 1865) heard Butler play, and from him got a number of the Bampton morris tunes, which he later used to accompany that team.  'I know the Bampton [tunes] from old Butler he used to come to Blackwell wake June 23rd and have a booth and have a week.' 26  Another local correspondent remembered in 1925 how:

the whole of the village used to take part in the somewhat complicated steps of the more difficult reels.  Shipston June Fair night used to be a great occasion for dancing, when one Butler from Bampton-in-the-Bush would come down with his tent on Blackwell Green and put down a boarded floor for the convenience of the dancers.  The old gentleman would fiddle whilst his son would play the tabor, and despite the hour at which the Blackwell folk returned from Shipston June Fair, they would always betake themselves to the tent and there dance till the small hours.  The wake would be kept up for a week, and during that time there was always plenty of supper and ale for all comers.  The visits of the Butlers finished, however, some 34 years ago, when the old man either died or was unable to make the journey. 27
Bennett wrote in 1946 that his memories of Edward Butler at Blackwell Wake date from '52 to 60 years ago' 28, that is, about 1886 through 1894; while the 1925 piece establishes the final date of performance as about 1891, three years earlier than Butler's actual demise. 

Another performance venue was at Bledington in Gloucestershire, where in late July he would:

come over for Club Day bringing with him a tent.  This was rigged up on the village green.  He would then start his fiddle and in would come the dancers, who were each charged twopence a time.  This would go on for the best part of a week.  People flocked in from all the villages around and the enterprising fiddler did a roaring trade.  As the relator of the incident said, "They missed it terrible when he died." 29
William Nathan Wells provided an image of Butler at work:
Old Fiddler Butler was crippled and had a great iron all up his leg.  He used to sit in a chair with his leg straight out in front of him.  He was a wonderful fiddler and he used to pull such faces. 24
One of the highest compliments that could be paid to a musician was that he was able to 'almost make 'en [i.e. his instrument] speak.' Wells observed how he had:
seen some good, you know, dancing in the booths, years ago.  All them old fashioned dances..."Step an' fetch 'er" an' all them there...An old man used to bring that..."Pretty little dear." 'E used to bring that on 'is fiddle almost talk it..."Pretty little dear...Pretty little dear"..."Step an' fetch 'er". 6
and further commented that Butler had been:
a wonderful fiddler...He could make that old fiddle talk.  You could hear it say the words, "Pretty little dear" in the dance "Step and fetch it". 24
One of my informants explained this technique, also used by Sam Bennett and, no doubt, many other musicians.  Bennett was able to make his fiddle appear to be saying words such as 'ready in a minute' by sliding the stopping finger up and down the string being bowed to imitate the nuances and inflections of the human voice. 30

By 1914 Wells could write that 'village green and booth dancing is a thing of the past,' and described how, during the eighteen eighties:

All the old booth country set and pocket handkerchief dances were gone into with great spirit 30 years ago and we had some rare good dancers around these villages.  But hardly any of the young ones would know how to start a set today.  I have seen 16 couples dancing in a very small compass - each kept their changes just like clockwork.  Poor old Fiddler Butler had a job to tire some of them, for they would keep on for hours. 24
In addition to providing accompaniment to his father's fiddle music, William Butler would also act as 'lead dancer,' 16 presumably demonstrating unfamiliar choreographic movements, although clearly these twin roles are unlikely to have been performed simultaneously.  He told his daughter that he 'used to have brand new shoes on the Monday and when they came back on Friday the shoes had holes.' 31

We may use all these disparate snippets regarding Butler's booth to calculate a very rough estimate of how much income might have been generated during, say, the eighteen eighties.  Evidence suggests that the booth often stood in a village for five days.  Working on an estimate of it being open for eight hours a day (though in all probability it may well have been for a longer daily period) gives a total performance time of forty hours.  Say each dance took an hour, including getting couples onto the floor, collecting the fee from each dancer, walking them through any unfamiliar figures, then playing until the dance had run its course.  Wells speaks of sixteen couples in 'a very small compass,' which seems a likely dimension for a portable tent with wooden flooring.  So:

32 dancers per hour x 2 pence each per dance x 40 hours = 2560 pence

At that date English units of currency were pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (d).  One pound consisted of 240 pence, or twenty shillings (at twelve pence to the shilling).  So the total estimated earnings for one week's playing is £10 16s 4d.  As a comparison, the contemporary weekly wage of an agricultural labourer was about twelve shillings (12s).  So, even using this conservative estimate Butler would have earned just under eighteen times more than our labourer.  If total time worked is taken into consideration the figure would increase putatively by fifty per cent, as a labourer often worked more than sixty hours per week.

We may observe, then, that for most of his seven decades - save for a low spot during the eighteen sixties - Edward Butler was relatively well off financially, at least by comparison with many of his labouring peer group.  His physical deformity would, to some extent, have been balanced by his evident enjoyment over his music.  He was clearly skilled with his hands, in activities which did not require the use of his legs, and like his father (who was churchwarden) would, no doubt, have been literate and able to derive pleasure from printed sources.

Edward Butler died on 24 June 1894, aged seventy one.  His passing was noted among others in the list of local deaths on the front page of the Witney Gazette, but inside he did not even rate an obituary. 32

No 3: Richard Decimus Butler of Minster Lovell and Bampton, Oxfordshire

As noted above, Richard Decimus Butler was baptised in Minster Lovell on 6 April 1856.  As the son of a farmer his social experiences during early childhood would have mirrored that of his father, with appropriate fluctuations in the economic base.  But by the age of seven circumstances had changed drastically, and he is likely to have been one of those who found themselves in Witney workhouse.  The whole family migrated first to Brize Norton, apparently back to Minster Lovell, and thence to Bampton.  By the date of the 1871 census both he and his younger brother William were working as 'Stable boy, Domestic'.  Ten years later, William had moved out but Richard continued to live in his father's household and was described as 'General labourer'.  It seems likely, in fact, that he would have worked at least part of the time in the coalyard.  By 1891, and still unmarried, his occupation was given as 'Agricultural labourer'.  Following his father's death, on 24 June 1894, he took over the coal dealership, and continued (according to an 1899 trades directory) in that role through 1898. 13

There is no evidence, however, to suggest that he took over the running of his father's mobile dancing booth, although he almost certainly did play for social dancing.  There is a suggestion that both he and his father played for 'hunt balls,' that is, at gentry-sponsored events. 33

By the date of Richard's known primary musical activity, at the age of twenty four, the morris was in widespread terminal decline, with merely a few teams turning out with any regularity, and so his own opportunities for playing were more limited.  But he did succeed his father as regular musician for the Bampton morris team, in about 1880.

Although Butler acted in this capacity on twenty consecutive Whit Mondays, he was apparently not happy doing so because of the copious alcohol given gratis to the performers.  One dancer who was in the team right at the end of this period, Arthur Dixey (born 1880), claimed that Butler, 'did not really like to play.  He, Fool & Cake [carrier] got too much drink (beer everywhere) & did not have chance to work it off.' 34  William Nathan Wells recalled having:

seen the fiddler [i.e. Butler] too tipsy to play properly, and that generally happened on a gentleman's lawn just when all wanted to do their best.  They would start a tune and get into another then try and get right, failing and have to give out and start afresh. 24
If nothing else, Butler's reputation as a musician would have suffered under these circumstances.  While perambulating the town with the morris dancers on Whit Monday 1899 his fiddle neck got caught in a standpipe and broke, and he was, according to Dixey, 'Glad to give it up.' 34  Wells spoke of paying the fiddler eight to ten shillings for a day's playing during Butler's twenty year tenure, and before he himself took over as musician in 1899 and set the division of money on a more equitable footing. 24  At more than four times the daily rate for an agricultural labourer this is quite a considerable sum.  As Butler had by that date become more financially secure in the coal dealership we may imagine that the money earned was not - contrary to that of his father at an earlier period - a major feature of his economic base.  A similar sense of security may, in fact, be the answer to the question posed earlier, regarding Edward Butler's short-lived association with the morris dancers.  In 1881 he was a 'General Dealer', while Richard was merely a 'General labourer', and it seems likely that father ceded the post of morris musician to son in order to render him more economically stable.

With no obligation or moral commitment now tying him to the morris dancers (and one wonders if the destruction of his fiddle had been entirely accidental), he migrated out of the village.  His niece, Ada (born 30 April 1903), never knew him, but remembers her mother saying that he had bought Ada's brother, born 1900, his first pair of shoes then left Bampton. 31  This is further substantiated by his absence from the trades directory relating to 1902. 13  He had moved away to live with a sister in London. 35

His date of death, however, in addition to whether or not he continued playing music while living in the capital, remains unknown.

Keith Chandler - 17.9.00

Appendix - Census entries:

1841 : Minster Lovell (page 3) - note: in the first Census of 1841, the figures for Age are notoriously inaccurate, having been rounded up or down by five years, indiscriminately!
name age         occupation   place of birth
Richard Butler         55     Farmer      
Hannah  55  
Edward 25   
Matilda  15  
Susannah  11  

1851 : Minster Lovell (schedule 43)

name age         occupation   place of birth
Richard Butler     head67     Farmer 60a. 4 labs   Kingston Bagpuize
Edwardson27 DealerMinster Lovell
Susannahdaughter    20Domestic DutiesMinster Lovell

1861 : Minster Lovell (schedule 47)

name age         occupation   place of birth
Edward Butler     head38     Violinist   Minster Lovell
Lucywife 28 London
Richardson  5  Minster Lovell
Williamson  3  Minster Lovell
Susannahdaughter    7 months Minster Lovell

1871 : Bampton (schedule 158)

name age         occupation   place of birth
Edward Butler      49     Agricultural Labourer  
Richard 15 Stable boy, Domestic    
William   3 Stable boy, Domestic 
Susannah      10Scholar 
Mary Ann        6 Brize Norton

1881 : Bampton (schedule 136)

name age         occupation   place of birth
Edward Butler     widower58     General DealerMinster Lovell
Richardson25 General labourer   Minster Lovell
Mary Anndaughter    16 Brizenorton

1891 : Bampton (schedule 153)

name age         occupation   place of birth
Edward Butler     widower68     Coal Dealer & Retailer   Minster Lovell
Richardson35 Agricultural LabourerMinster Lovell
Maryanndaughter    26GovernessBrizenorton


For further exposition on the role of musicians in a morris dance context see my 'Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles' The Social History of Morris Dancing in the English South Midlands, 1660-1900 (Enfield Lock: Hisarlik Press, for the Folklore Society, 1993), Chapter 9.
  1. Banbury Guardian 22 October 1846, page 3.  The accordion was at that date a recent invention, and would have consisted of a single row of ten buttons on the melody side, and probably two bass buttons or spoons on the other.
  2. Jackson's Oxford Journal 27 October 1855, page 8.
  3. M L S [Mary Stanton], 'Country life in the workhouse,' Country life (28 October 1911), page 616.
  4. Sir Egerton Brydges, K J and Joseph Haslewood, The British Bibliographer, Volume IV (London: Printed for R Triphook by T Bensley, 1814), page 337.
  5. Jackson's Oxford Journal 20 October 1860, page 8.
  6. 'Constant Billy. Music and memories of a Morris-man II. William Wells (fiddler),' Folktracks cassette FSA-90-084 [first published 1975]. Tape-recorded interview with William Nathan Wells, Bampton, by Peter Kennedy, October 1952.
  7. Buckingham Express 24 June 1865, page 4.
  8. Banbury Advertiser 16 August 1855, supplement [n.p.].
  9. Buckingham Express 13 June 1874, page 4.
  10. Jackson's Oxford Journal 9 June 1860, page 8.
  11. Banbury Guardian 25 August 1910, page 3.
  12. That article, written in 1991, contains certain biographical data which subsequent research proved erroneous.
  13. Relevant editions available during my research were published in 1823/4, 1830, 1842, 1847, 1850, two from 1854 (by separate publishers), 1863, 1864, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1876, 1878, 1891, 1895, 1899 and 1903.  Details regarding the village of Minster Lovell appear for the first time in 1847.  Data was clearly collected some time prior to publication, as confirmed by the case of Richard Butler, given in an 1854 directory as 'farmer and Churchwarden,' but dead since April 1853.  I have therefore assumed that each edition contains material relating to the previous year.
  14. See my 'Taking an annual circuit' : Peripatetic rural morris dancers in London and the Home Counties, 1780-1870 (Eynsham: Chandler Publications, 1984); and 'Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles', pages 93-95.
  15. George Butterworth MSS., Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, ff.3-5.  Interview with William Cartwright, Launton, 13 April 1912; published in Folk Music Journal 3, number 3 (1977), page 194.
  16. Author's interview with Ada Tanner, Bampton, 29 February 1984.
  17. ORCC file 8, Bampton, Centre For Oxfordshire Studies, Oxford Public Library, n.p.  Information from Mrs Townsend of Bridge Street, Bampton, no date.
  18. Birmingham Weekly Post 6 September 1884, page 1.
  19. Percy Manning MSS., Bodleian Library. Ms. Top. Oxon. d.200, f.160.  Notes by Thomas J Carter from an interview with William Bellinger, Stonelands, Brize Norton, September 1894.
  20. Ibid, f.227. Notes by Carter from an interview with Jonathan Williams, Leafield, Oxfordshire, September 1894.
  21. Cecil James Sharp MSS., Clare College, Cambridge. 'Folk Dances' 2, ff.49-50.  Interviews with James Lock, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire, and Daniel Lock, Minster Lovell, 18 September 1911.
  22. May Elliot Hobbs, 'Memories of Cecil Sharp,' English Folk Dance Society News 8 (November 1924), pages 228-230.
  23. Witney Express 24 May 1877, page 8.
  24. William Nathan Wells MSS., 'Written by W. Wells, on Morris Dancing,' January 1914 [now lost].  Transcribed by Roy L Dommett, there are copies in the Dommett and Chandler MSS. Portions of the manuscript are reproduced in 'William Wells 1868-1953. Morris dancer, fiddler and fool,' Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 8, number 1 (1956), pages 1-15.
  25. Library of Congress MSS., transcript of an interview with William Nathan Wells, Bampton, no date.  There is a copy in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and it was partially published as 'William Wells and the Bampton Morris. An interview,' Country Dance and Song 4 (1971), pages 9-12.
  26. Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Lib. Coll., AL/BENNETT.  Letter from Sam Bennett, Ilmington, to Douglas Kennedy, 2 November 1949.
  27. Evesham Journal 17 January 1925, page 7.
  28. Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Lib. Coll., AL/BENNETT.  Letter from Sam Bennett, Ilmington, to Douglas Kennedy, 6 May 1946.
  29. H H Albino, 'Folk Music in Gloucestershire,' Gloucestershire Countryside 3, no. 6 (1939), page 423.
  30. Letter from Peter J Drinkwater, Shipston-on-Stour, to the author, 18 October 1989, relating stories from his mother.
  31. Author's interview with Ada Tanner, Bampton, 25 May 1986.
  32. Witney Gazette 30 June 1894, page 1.
  33. Roy L Dommett lecture, Sidmouth Folk Festival, Devon, August 1979 [notes in the author's collection].  When questioned about his source for this information he wrote, 7 September 2000, 'Most of what I ever heard about the Butlers came from Arnold [Woodley].'  See my article '150 Years of Fiddle Players and Morris Dancing at Bampton, Oxfordshire', on this site, for biographical details of this latter informant.
  34. Roy L Dommett MSS. Interview with Arthur Dixey, Bampton, 18 August 1962.
  35. Author's interview with Ada Tanner, Bampton, 29 February 1984.  This would probably have been his sister Susannah, baptised in Minster Lovell on 25 June 1860, rather than Mary Ann (4 September 1864 in Brize Norton), who was still living in her father's household in 1891.

With thanks to Roy L Dommett and Roy Palmer.  Transcripts of Crown-copyright records in the Public Record Office appear by permission of the Controller of HM Stationary Office.

Article MT064

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