Article MT078

Musicians in 19th Century Southern England

Keith Chandler's series of short essays

[Introduction] [George Broadis] [Edmund Warman] [Joseph Barrett] [Footnotes] [Appendix]

General Introduction, part 4:

One aspect of social dancing during the nineteenth century which has apparently escaped the notice of scholars for the past century, and which demands a more detailed analysis, is that which occurred in the context of the dancing booth.  The presence of such booths was widespread within Oxfordshire and the border areas of the neighbouring counties.  It is in this area that my research has been concentrated, but further research, especially among nineteenth century local newspapers, will doubtless reveal many more examples from further afield.

Ownership of a dancing booth implies at least a partially peripatetic lifestyle, and one which required adequate transport in which to travel from one venue to the next, carrying the outer shell and wooden dance floor.  One source, however, suggests the existence of a fixed booth, perhaps during the eighteen twenties or thirties, owned by 'Gypsy' Stephens,

...who at one time kept a dancing booth called the 'Crown and Anchor' in Norwich, and was afterwards landlord of a public house near Epping... 1
More typically, dancing booth proprietors would have travelled during that period each year when village feasts were most common.  Within the compass of the year, the earliest booth so far discovered was open for business on 5 May, at Duns Tew, Oxfordshire (in 1857),2 and the latest on 25 October, at Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire (in 1858).3

Some men, such as Edward Butler, of, successively, Minster Lovell, Brize Norton, and finally Bampton (all in Oxfordshire), maintained a permanent year-round base from which to venture forth for one or two days, a week, or whatever timespan was appropriate.  Others, including members of the Gypsy fraternity, wintered in one location, and travelled the countryside, often following proscribed routes, during the period between April and October.4

Thompson wrote in 1910 of various Gypsy families travelling to fairs and feasts during the summer months, and described those of the Grays and Shaws as 'the Gypsy entertainers of East Anglia.' Of their activities in the dancing booths, he speaks of them as having been:

...seated on raised platforms, and elaborately dressed in long, black coats, brightly coloured plush waistcoats, velvet knee-breeches, and smart top-boots, [where they] fiddled for the dancing from early morning until dark, whilst the tarni cais in their feast day attire - turban felt hats with long, amber feathers, gorgeous multi-coloured shawls, red, or blue, of white satin dresses, and black high-heeled, brogue shoes - collected the money in the tambourines which they occasionally played...5
There is nothing drastically at odds here with the description already given of Edward Butler's activities in his dancing booth, in a previous instalment of this series.  We do not know the manner in which Butler and other non-Romany players dressed on such occasions, but there is no reason to believe they did not affect a respectable appearance.  The tambourine is present, and, once again, there is no reason why pennies should not have been collected from the impending dancers in this manner by Butler's son William.

One point is at variance with my earlier suggestion as to Butler's potential earnings.  If the booths really were on occasion open 'from early morning until dark' we may assume that his gross take had been far larger than my conservative estimate.  No doubt the extent of activity varied from place to place, and from year to year, and was affected by variables such as the weather.  A wet feast day would invariably reduce the number of potential customers, as for example, at Aston, Oxfordshire, in July 1879:

...This annual event came off on Sunday and Monday last.  The visitors, owing, no doubt, to the unfavourable weather, were not so numerous on Sunday as is generally the case...6
And at times activity at club feasts by the owners of dancing booths would have been curtailed by the presence of the inevitable brass, reed or fife and drum band hired to parade the community in procession, and which often subsequently provided music to accompany dancing.  At Newland, Witney, Oxfordshire, on the Tuesday in Whitsun week, 1877, for example:
...the fiddle made brisk music for some hours in the evening, after the bands had left, for those who wanted a dance.  Judging by the crowded state of the booth, the latter must have been quite as profitable to the musicians...7
Extant sources have by no means been exhausted, but the first reference to the term 'dancing booth' uncovered during my research, at least, occurs in 1848, in association with the Lamb Ale at Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, where 'Dancing booths and other amusements, with eatables, toys, &c. were in abundance.'8

Certainly there had been roofed arenas for dancing at feasts and fairs in existence for many decades, perhaps several centuries, prior to this date, but they appear to have either been made of tree boughs and foliage - hence the term 'bowery' - or use made of an existing structure, most often a barn.  Referring again to Kirtlington, during the period 1819 to 1830, 'A large Barn was fitted up in which the country people used to amuse themselves by dancing and singing.'9

This earlier incarnation was usually a community initiative, most often instigated by local farmers and publicans, rather than by an individual external musician.  William Nathan 'Jingy' Wells of Bampton spoke of Edward Butler's booth as a 'big tent,' suggesting a canvas construction.  The cost and availability of suitably-sized material around the middle of the century is unknown, but it may be that the eight pounds repaid by Butler to the churchwardens at Minster Lovell on 6 September 1853 had been borrowed in order to purchase just such material.10

Even within a community context the hire of a canvas tent from a specialist supplier would have been beyond the financial bounds of most feast organisers.  When the Marquis of Chandos arranged the festivities for the coming of age of his son, in September 1844, he paid seventy pounds for the hire of two marquees, from Orchard & Co., Smithfield, although these were considerably larger than any dancing booth would have been: 200 x 90 feet, and 190 x 90 feet.11

With no evidence as yet predating the eighteen forties, it seems likely that the privately-owned, peripatetic dancing booth was a specifically nineteenth century phenomenon.  From an oral tradition given by the Gypsy fiddle player Noah Shaw, himself a dancing booth proprietor, his father, William Shaw, had been 'the first to travel Oxfordshire and the neighbouring counties with a similar booth.'12

Larger communities such as market towns, at least, usually operated on a system of tolls, whereby peripatetic stall, show and booth owners paid for a standing during specific celebrations.  Attendance was thus regulated to a degree, but I have discovered no restrictions on the number of dancing booths which were allowed to be erected, and suspect that it was dependent on the space available.  Major events, such as St.  Giles' Fair, held annually in Oxford during the first week of September, might accommodate any number of dancing booths within the specific confines of the showground.  In 1869, for example, it was observed how, 'Of course, a large number of dancing booths were indispensable, and were largely patronised.'13

Custom might establish annually-recurrent routes and venues on the part of individual booth owners, and Edward Butler's appearance at Blackwell Wake, in Warwickshire, for example, was an anticipated local occurrence.  Even so, all feasts and fairs were fair game for dancing booth proprietors, and there might, on occasion, be some rivalry, even at a small community such as Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, where a dispute took place in 1868.  As heard at the Magistrates' Court held in Abingdon on 22 June,

Shipton Buckland, a gypsy and proprietor of a dancing booth, was fined 13s. including costs, for an assault on another gypsy and owner of a dancing booth, at the feast at Sutton Courtney [sic] on the 12th inst.  The amount was paid.14
The rival booth owner is not named, though we may suggest that it had perhaps been another member of that same family, Abraham Buckland, travelling the same proscribed festivities route.

With a profusion of booths, shies, roundabouts, galleries, stalls and other diversions present on fair days, it seems logical that the owners of such pitches would make every effort to alert the promenading public - synonymous with what has come to be called 'the passing trade' - to the wares available within.  The report of the feast held at Aston in July 1879 suggests that Edward Butler, and by logical extension other dancing booth owners also, displayed a sign on the outside of the tent.

...On Monday the fair was well patronised, some of the vendors seeming to do a roaring trade.  There was a shooting saloon (Forrest's), a travelling bazaar, some toy stalls, cake stalls, and a dancing booth (Butler's), &c., &c...&15
The pitching of a wooden framed canvas tent is dependant to some extent upon the state of the ground.  Many were set up on the village green or in a suitable field, but during the period of greatest activity, even the main roads running through the centre of some towns, at least, were conveniently unpaved.  Thus it was that Edward Butler was able to erect his booth in the centre of Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, during June 1877.  As heard at the Petty Sessions on the 30th of that month:
Edwin Butler, proprietor of a dancing booth, was summoned by George Palmer, district road Surveyor, charged with doing 1s.  damage to the High-street, Shipston.  It appeared from the evidence that the defendant visited Shipston fair, and made holes in the street for the purposes of erecting a dancing booth.  He denied having done any damage, and called as a witness Fred.  Cooper, toll collector at the fair, who considered that the street was not damaged, as the defendant left it in as good a state as he found it.  The Bench fined him 12s., including costs.  Defendant said that he would seek redress in the County Court.16
With the evidence strongly in Butler's favour, we may view this as characteristic of the ongoing suppression of exuberant working class culture by those in authority.  Such an impulse was hardly new.  A quarter of a century earlier, Edmund Warman had been brought up in Magistrates' Court at Deddington, Oxfordshire, for pitching his booth 'by the side of the highway.'17  The actual charge was one of 'causing a nuisance and obstruction,' but the impression is of a hierarchy increasingly intolerant towards travelling showmen.  Despite this ruling of a guilty verdict, six years later, at the same location, the question of legality of the booths was again raised:
...Between 9 & 10 O Clock Mr Burgess Cave called to know if I could not interfere magisterially to remove a Dancing Booth & the Parties belonging thereto - who came into the Town yesterday, it being the Club Feast Day - I said I did not know how to deal with the Case - yet would do so if I could - but would rather not show my teeth without I could bite - I referred them to our clerk, Mr Churchill & Field -- They had seen Mr C, who did not know what I could do or could be done in the matter - I intend to enquire elsewhere what can be done in future.18
Harassment of booth owners continued sporadically, and judgement was invariably found against them.  Butler was again in court, at Woodstock, Oxfordshire, in July 1881:
Edward Butler, dealer, of Bampton, was summoned for pitching a dancing booth on the highway at Cassington, on the 4th inst., and was fined 9s. 6d. and 10s. costs; paid.19
And yet, the financial rewards evidently outweighed any potential penalty.  Butler's fine of a little under a pound in 1881 is likely to have been smaller than his gross takings for that day.

Despite the best attempts at suppression, dancing booths continued as a common feature of festivities until at least 1885, when one or more were in operation at Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, during the club feast celebrations.  '...Stalls, roundabouts, dancing booths, etc., were in attendance, and were well patronised...'20

Finally, it was sometimes possible to erect a 'dancing booth' without a canvas shell, as at St.  Giles' Fair in Oxford in 1886:

...Opposite St. Giles' grass plot, a fiddle and drum invited those who felt that way inclined to foot it on a boarded floor...21
Such enterprises would have been solely dependent upon favourable weather conditions, which certainly could not be guaranteed in England during the first week in September.  It would, however, have been no trouble to collect money from each of the dancers on the wooden flooring, although theoretically possible, at least, for others on adjacent surfaces (assuming such space existed at a stall-packed fair) to form a set and dance for free.  The reality was probably quite different, with pitches crammed together as tightly as possible, as at Bicester Summer Fair on 30 July 1868, where:
...The attendance was unusually small, with the exception of purveyors of sights, amusements, toys, edibles, etc., which were so numerous that some could not find standing room in and near the Market Square, and had to move on...22
It was just such a situation that might initiate the kind of incident at Sutton Courtenay, as noted above, six weeks earlier.

By the eighteen eighties there was increasing hostility towards itinerants in general, and Gypsies in particular, with travellers now being denied unrestricted access to the old venues.  Of a Berkshire village on the traditional feast route in 1887, it was observed that: spite of all its jollity, the good husbandmen of Brightwell do not seem to have found the village feast an unmixed blessing.  They do not complain of the influx of the pretty sisters, cousins, and aunts, though beauty is by no means uncommon at Brightwell, but they object to the poaching, trespassing, and damage done upon the parish in such large numbers at these times.

So much damage was done last year by the horses belonging to these people, that the farmers and principal ratepayers, in solemn council assembled, determined to take some means for preventing a recurrence of the nuisance.  The gipsy fraternity were not allowed to enter the parish till 1 o'clock on Monday morning, and on Tuesday were respectfully requested to "move on."23

While Edward Butler was a respectable tradesman at his base in Bampton, when suddenly appearing in, say, Blackwell, many miles distant, he might clearly be perceived as itinerant.  To be lumped together, in fact, with the subjects of the barely disguised contemptuous term 'these people.'

Hostility might become even more overt, as at Sutton Courtenay, yet another of traditional performance venues, on 27 April 1887:

The young men of this village do not appear to be careful of entertaining strangers.  On Wednesday night, a travelling fiddler, having in some way incurred their displeasure, was assaulted in a most disgraceful manner, and driven from the village.24
Of St. Giles' Fair four months later, a correspondent observed a substantial reduction in attractions attending the fair, and could ask, 'where were the...dancing booths...?  All gone, and not a wrack behind!'25  In fact, the majority of known dancing booth proprietors had either already died by 1887, or, like Edward Butler, already aged sixty five, would have been winding down.  They lingered on in some areas in vestigial form, but after a half century or more of widespread popularity for the patrons and lucrative returns for the owners, the heyday of the dancing booth was all but over.

Postscript: In addition to Edward Butler, already covered in this series, three further non-Gypsy dancing booth owners are known to me at this time, and their lives outlined below.  The Romany dancing booth proprietors will feature in the next instalment.

No 5: George Broadis of Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

During the eighteen fifties and sixties, one or more dancing booths were a common feature of the annual fair held in Bampton during late August.  In 1858, for example, 'In the pleasure fair, there was no lack of fun - [which included] dancing booths.'26  Two years later the newspaper correspondent observed that:

...The booths devoted to the lovers of the mazy dance were, as usual, well patronised, and the partakers of this exhilarating exercise indulged themselves with a gusto quite amazing to those who were witnesses of their enjoyment...27
and 'dancing booths' were also present during the following year.  Already by this date, however, the features of the fair were so commonplace that the correspondent was both losing interest and, in keeping with the Victorian middle class trend towards self-improvement, harking forward to the day when such events would be but a memory:
...The pleasure portion of the fair presented no especial feature upon which to remark...The repositories, however, were but poorly patronised.  Owing to the improvement in the tastes of the people, the meagre attractions submitted to the patronage of the fair-frequenting public, and to the increased and increasing facilities of visiting London and other large cities and towns, the attractions of a much worthier and more elevating character are offered to visitors, who seek more substantial subjects for their enlightenment than the too prevalent peepshows, merry go rounds, dancing booths, arenas where the noble (?) [sic] art of self-defence is practised and taught... to these and other causes we may attribute the falling off in attendance at pleasure fairs, which are fast becoming "small by degrees and beautifully less."28
Reports in subsequent years note that there was a continued falling off of both quantity and quality of stalls attending the fair, and there are no further mentions of dancing booths, although the absence of note by no means confirms the absence of occurrence.

But before this morally-improving trend set in he offered the following observance on the 1859 fair:

...we must not omit to notice the temple dedicated to Terpschicore [sic], erected by one Mr. Brodiss, where the sons and daughters of Agricola exhibited their saltatory powers to the strains of an old cracked fiddle and a miserable-sounding tambourine, to their hearts' content, time being kept by the stamping of the iron clad extremities of the rustics...29
At that date there were two enclaves of the Broadiss family (the spellings were many and varied) in the immediate locality: one at Weald, an adjacent hamlet to Bampton, the other at Brize Norton, some three or four miles distant.  Initially it appeared as if 'Mr. Brodiss' might remain a shadowy historical figure, but the 1851 census for Brize Norton removed all but the slightest doubt.  There, George Broadis, aged thirty, is enumerated as 'Hawker, fidler, etc'.  As such, he fulfils all the requirements previously listed as characteristic of a dancing booth proprietor.  As a hawker he would doubtless have owned a cart and horse, and his lifestyle would have been peripatetic.  This latter is born out by the fact that he appears to leave little impression in the official sources.

Although the 1851 census entry records that George Broadis was born in Brize Norton, there is no baptismal record.  In fact, the family seem to have been relative newcomers to the village at the time of George's birth in about 1820.  The first Broadis baptism occurs in 1803, the first burial in 1836, and the first marriage in 1858.

Despite extensive checking of the official sources (including Oxfordshire-wide indices to the censuses taken between 1851 and 1891, inclusive), only the 1851 census entry and one other mention George Broadis at all.  We may observe from other evidence, however, that he was probably the son of John and Sarah Broadis.  Two children are baptised to this couple in Brize Norton: Edward on 7 December 1817, and Charles on 23 February 1823.  At the date of the former the father is a shoemaker, but a labourer at the latter.  Though circumstantial, it is possible that George was born in the five year gap, perhaps in another community altogether, as shoemaker was itself often a peripatetic trade.  Of the other Broadis couple, Robert and Elizabeth, bearing children contemporaneously, they had a son Charles baptised on 25 June 1820, just about the time when our fiddle player would have appeared, and so may be eliminated.

From the 1851 census entry we may establish that George was living as man and wife with one Matilda, also aged thirty, whose birthplace was given as Fairford, Gloucestershire, and that two children, Sarah, aged four, and George, aged one year, were living in the same household.  Appended to Matilda's entry in the burial register on 29 July 1853, is the note, '(Reputed wife of George Brodis),' suggesting cohabitation.

At the date of the first detailed national census, on 6 June 1841, when Broadis is absent from Brize Norton, the enumerators were instructed to give a tally of persons not living in houses on the census night, but with no obligation to record their names and other personal details.  It seems likely, then, that Broadis was on his rambles, probably playing at one of the village feasts.  He may even have been attending Kirtlington Lamb Ale, for the enumerator at that place noted that:

There is a feast kept on Trinity Monday called a Lamb Ale which is supposed to have been held annually for upwards of 500 years which is always visited by Gipsys and People with Stalls.
Est. Persons who have slept in -

                               M     F     T

Barges, boats, etc.            3           3
Barns, sheds & like            8           8
in tents or in the open air   41    34    75

                              52    34    86   30
One further account may refer to George Broadis.  Commenting on the parlous state of activity at the September Fair held at Burford, Oxfordshire, on 25 September 1855, one correspondent wrote:
This celebrated and long established meeting took place on Tuesday the 25th ult., and the day proving remarkably fine, with harvest operations completed, attracted, according to usual custom, a goodly number of buyers and sellers.  The amount of business transacted was great, and proved of a satisfactory character.  It was a remarkably quiet day, there being no show nor members of the "legitimate drama" present; even that regular appendage, the Brize-Norton dancing booth, whose spirited proprietor heretofore indulged the "rurals" with a cheap trip, was "non est."...31
Regular attendance at this venue is confirmed, and yet, as we shall see, there was another dancing booth owner resident in Brize Norton during this period.  The report may therefore refer to either man, or perhaps even to another, as yet undiscovered booth owner.  As noted in a previous instalment of this series, Edward Butler also lived in Brize Norton briefly, but that occurred later, and throughout the eighteen fifties was in nearby Minster Lovell.  Burford is only five miles from Brize Norton, and would thus have been merely a short journey.  Why this booth owner was absent in 1855 we shall perhaps never know; although September was the month when many statute fairs were held, and prospects may have looked better elsewhere.

And although George Broadis apparently disappears from the official sources in 1853, nearly three decades later, at the date of the 1881 census, his son George was living in Wednesfield, Staffordshire, and working as a waggoner.  Seventy miles from his home village, and with three children born in that place, two others in West Bromwich, and a one month old son born in Bilston, he was maintaining his father's peripatetic lifestyle.

No 6: Edmund Warman of Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

Edmund Warman - also known at times as Edward and Warmington - was baptised at Brize Norton on 4 January 1824, the fifth child of Edward, a labourer, and Mary.  His mother was born Mary Eden in Asthall or Asthally, and is probably the woman baptised in the former place on 30 October 1785.  Her father, Thomas Eddon (as the register has it) may be 'Old' Thomas Eden/Heddin/Edden of Fawsley/Fawler, who played the pipe and tabor to accompany morris sets.  Although there are a number of possible candidates for this musician, I have suggested elsewhere that the man buried at Fawler on 26 June 1857, aged eighty-three, is most likely.32  Clearly, on age grounds, this is not Mary's father (although his wife was also Mary), but a close relationship is likely.

Another tangible connection is the pipe and tabor player named as musician for the Brize Norton Morris set active during the eighteen twenties and thirites.33  This John Hedon (yet another phonetic rendering of the surname) from nearby Shilton has not yet been identified and the informant - who had been one of the dancers, but was already aged eighty seven at the date of giving evidence - may have meant to say Thomas.  Certainly there are marriages of two men named Thomas Eden/Edden in Shilton, one in 1781, the other in 1784.  If he was speedily widowed both may refer to the same man, and the date is right for him to also be the same man who fathered Mary in Asthall (also two miles from both Brize Norton and Shilton) in 1785.

Further evidence of intermarriage between musical families is suggested by the presence of Elizabeth Butler as one of the witnesses at the wedding of Edward Warman and Mary Eden on 7 January 1813.  She was probably an older relative of fiddle player Edward Butler, born at a later date in nearby Minster Lovell.

At age seventeen, Edmund Warman is not at home on the night of the census taking in 1841, nor is he anywhere in the surrounding area.  We may suggest that already he was out on the road as a musician, perhaps, as has been suggested for George Broadis, above, one of the unnamed visitors to Kirtlington Lamb Ale.  On 5 September 1848 he was one of the witnesses to the marriage of his older sister Elizabeth; and three years later was still unmarried, living in his parents' household and working as an agricultural labourer.

The following year we find him out with his dancing booth at Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire, on 5 August, 1852, in the earliest reference yet discovered.  As heard at the Petty Sessions in Deddington two days later:

Edm. Warman, of Brize-Norton, was charged with causing a nuisance and obstruction at Steeple Aston, by erecting a large booth by the side of the highway.  It appeared that defendant is in the habit of attending fairs and feasts, and amongst others Steeple Aston feast, and erecting a large booth, in which dancing and music are indulged in, and which, when lighted up, is dangerous, and a great annoyance to any one travelling by.  - Defendant said he thought he had taken care to set it sufficiently away from the road, that it was the only means he had of obtaining a living, and hoped the Bench would be merciful.  - Fine 5s., costs 8s.34
In claiming the dancing booth as his sole livelihood, he was clearly speaking of the peripatetic journeys during the summer months.  And yet, when he married Sarah Miles on 17 July 1853, and also at the baptism of their son George on 13 July 1855, his occupation was given as labourer.  Another child resulted from the union, Frederick, born in 1856, but within two years Sarah died, and was buried on 7 July 1858.

It was perhaps following this tragedy that Warman took more frequently to the road.  On 7 April 1861 he and his two children were enumerated in the home of his widowed mother, but on this occasion his occupation was given as 'Itinerant Musician.'  The most likely scenario involves his mother looking after the two boys while he was on his rambles.

Two months later we find him on 17 July at Stoke Lyne, Oxfordshire, probably operating his dancing booth at the feast.  As heard in court at nearby Bicester on 6 September:

Edward Warmington was charged by Supt. Moulden with having, on the 17th of July last, at the parish of Stoke Lyne, pitched a tent on the highway there, called Stratton Lane; case dismissed.35
On this occasion he was found not guilty of the charges, but this was to be the one and only such time.  At the same court on 12 December the following year:
Edw.  Warmington, late of Bletchingdon, was also charged with being with a van and three horses encamped on the same night [the 9th, beside the toll road at Bletchingdon].  He was fined 1l. and costs 14s. 6d., or one month.  The amount was recovered by distress in this case.36
This is rather too late in the year for the erection of a dancing booth, but we may suggest that his talents as fiddle player were put to use in other contexts, such as playing in public houses.  The term 'late of Bletchingdon' is, I believe, a reporter's error for Brize Norton, but he is far from his home village, and it appears that he was now more or less permanently on the road.  The following summer he was operating at Westbury, Buckinghamshire.  The magistrates at Buckingham heard on 4 July:
THE DANCING BOOTH AT WESTBURY.- Edward Warmington, of Brize Norton, musician, was charged by Sergeant Arthur Clear, with erecting a dancing booth on the turnpike-road, on the 8th of June, at Westbury.- Defendant pleaded guilty to the charge - Fined £1, and 17s. 6d. costs, which was paid.37
The fine imposed was steep - the equivalent of a month's wages for an agricultural labourer at that date - but perhaps small by comparison with the amount of money earned during a summer of playing.  On 14 May 1866 he was brought into court on a charge increasingly being levelled against itinerant hawkers and other travellers, that of allowing horses to stray unattended on the public highway.  At the Petty Sessions held in Brackley on that date:
STRAY HORSES...Edward Warman, was charged with having two stray horses, on April 18th, at Astwell and Falcutt.  In this case the defendant pleaded not guilty.  - P.C. Wilson deposed that he saw the defendant's two horses grazing on the road on the day in question.  Defendant was a travelling fiddler, and at the time of the offence was living in a van at Wappenham.  He was apprehended for this charge on warrant, on Tuesday night, by the Barley Mow, Evenley.  - Fined 10s. and 19s. 4d. costs, or one month.  Committed in default.38
Another of the local newspapers offered another version of the court appearance, and appended an ironic comment:
Edward Warman, a peripatetic fiddler, who had been living in a van at Wappenham, was brought up by warrant from Evenley, charged with allowing two horses to stray on the road at Astwell and Paulcott, on April 18.  Defendant was, in default of payment of 10s fine and 19s 4d costs, sent to Northampton Gaol for a month.  Alas for the poor fiddler that he went fiddling in the Brackley division.39
A fine which was lower than that imposed three years earlier was apparently now beyond his financial capabilities and he was committed to gaol for a month.  One possible explanation might be that on this occasion the case occurred much earlier in the summer season, perhaps before he had a chance to gather together sufficient funds.  The charge seems, at this remove, rather innocuous, and certainly unworthy of such a stiff sentence, but entirely in keeping with the observed trend of suppressing any lifestyle which deviated from the perceived norm.  This type of sentence highlights another anomaly: while locked away not only was the prisoner not earning money for his own and his family's support, but was being maintained at the expense of local ratepayers.

Although missing those feasts which occurred around Whitsuntide, Warman's release in mid-June would have allowed him to carry on his profession for the remainder of the summer months.

Another charge of straying horses was brought in August of the following year, the offence occurring on this occasion 'on the highway leading from Fritwell to Somerton, on the 15th of August.'40  The fine of nineteen shillings, admittedly lower than that of previous convictions, was paid, and this is consistent with having cash available later in the season.

By this date his circumstances had evidently altered.  On the day named, 'there were two boys in the van,' presumably his sons George and Frederick.  We may assume that, at ages twelve and eleven, both would have been useful in the dancing booth, perhaps as accompanying percussionists and money collectors.  And for the first time he is described as being 'of Fritwell,' a village close to the market town of Bicester.  With the addition of his sons to his household, perhaps following the death of his aged mother - she was buried on 18 February 1862, at the age of seventy six - he had severed his ties with Brize Norton and relocated to an area where he was accustomed to playing.  For, as Edward Butler appears to have concentrated on a route which took him along the eastern fringe of the Cotswold escarpment, Warman's chosen area was apparently north Oxfordshire, where the border abuts with Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.

On 5 February 1869 Warman was again caught by the police for the usual offence, and a fine totalling 16s.  6d.  was paid.41  An identical charge was brought for an incident on 3 March, but by the time the case reached the Bicester sessions on 18 June his cash reserves would presumably have been sufficient to pay the fine:

STRAY HORSE.- Edward Warman, of Fritwell, dancing booth proprietor, was summoned for allowing his horse to stray on the highway at Ardley, on the 3rd of March.- Warman did not appear and P.S.  Wharton proved the service of the summons.  He then deposed to seeing the horse in the charge of a boy in the parish of Ardley on the day in question, and told the boy to keep by it.  Later in the day he saw the horse straying and the boy fifty yards away.  The prosecution had been delayed as he had not been able to serve the summons.  - There were three convictions for similar offences against the accused, who was now convicted in fine and costs 18s, or fourteen days' imprisonment.42
As a seasoned campaigner, Warman had by now now learned simply to stay away from court on the day the case was being heard, and pay the fine whenever he was tracked down and served with notice of judgement.  This was a wise move when the hearing date coincided with one on which he could be earning money in his dancing booth, and there are examples of other showmen following the same ploy.  In 1870 he was charged on two occasions at Bicester Magistrates' Court, once in the week preceding Whitsun (Whit Monday was 6 June that year), and again the week after.  On the first of these, on 27 May:
STRAY HORSE AT SUMMERTON.- Edward Warman, dancing booth proprietor, Fritwell, was summoned for allowing a horse to stray on the public highway, at Somerton, on the 17th May.  Defendant did not put in an appearance.  The service of the summons was proved, and the case was heard in his absence.  Mr. Godwin of Troy Farm, proved the offence.  This was it appeared Warman's fifth offence.  He was fined to the full extent the law allowed 5s. costs 11s, police 4s, or fourteen days' imprisonment.  Superintendent Moulden said all they could do when they found on the turnpike-road [sic], would be to impound the horse, which they had done times out of number.43
And on the second, 17 June:
THE DANCING BOOTH MAN'S HORSE.- Edward Warman, dancing booth proprietor, Fritwell, who was summoned before the bench on the 27th ult., but who then, as now, did not put in an appearance, was summoned for allowing a horse to stray on the public highway, on the 16th of June, in the parish of Ardley...  When summoned before the Bench it appears to be a standing rule of Warman's not to appear, and when served with a copy of the amount he has to pay, he pays it, and so stops anything further being done in the matter.  The law does not allow the magistrates to fine more than 5s for these offences, and they cannot send to gaol until after distress warrant is executed, and the effects are not sufficient to meet the demand...  The magistrates ordered the payment of fine, 5s; 5s for Mr. Hall's attendance, twice, 3s 6d for witnesses attendance; police fees, 5s; and costs, 10s; amounting aggregate to £1 8s 6d.44
At what point he took to living in a house at Fritwell is not recorded, but it was certainly by the date of the 1871 census.  His son Frederick is living with him, and on the census night itself, at least, Jane Rouse was present.  Described as 'visitor' and 'unmarried,' perhaps she was actually a common-law wife.  The occupation of both males are given as labourer, but it seems likely that Warman continued to travel forth to play on feast days during the appropriate season.  That he is living next door to a man whose family were involved in the morris dance set at nearby Stoke Lyne around the same date is probably fortuitous.

The apparent absence of further court appearances may have been due to greater use being made of a home base, of luck in avoiding the law, or simply an incomplete checking of the potential sources.

He was buried in Fritwell on 20 February 1875, following a quarter century, at least, of earning a good portion of his living as an itinerant musician.

No 7: Joseph Barrett of Abingdon, Berkshire

At a case heard in Abingdon Magistrates' Court on 7 September 1868:

A man named Chapman was committed for 21 days for stealing a fiddle, the property of Joseph Barrett, from a booth on the Abingdon race course.45
Slight ambiguity surrounds this man, but he may almost certainly be identified as the Joseph Barrett born in Appleton, Berkshire, about 1845, and already living, with his parents, in Ock Street, Abingdon, by the date of the 1851 census.  Indices to all subsequent census takings confirm that there are no other men of this name within a wide area.

In common with dancing booth owners George Broadis, Edward Butler and Edmund Warman, there is also a Brize Norton connection present here.  Though born in Appleton, and baptised there on 2 March 1817, Joseph Barrett's father Thomas was resident in Brize Norton when he married Ann Timms, a native of that community, on 19 February 1838.  She was undoubtedly a close relation of the Charles Timms who was a witness at the marriage of William Butler and Elizabeth Broadis on 1 May 1858.

Given this evident intertwining of the dancing booth families, it seems possible that Thomas Barrett had also been a musician.  At present no explanation can be offered for the concentration of dancing booth activity at this village.  One possible avenue was eliminated when no evidence was found of local manufacture of canvas at the date of the 1851 census.

Joseph Barrett continued to live in Ock Street until 1871, at least.  Ten years later he had moved to the Marcham Road, a short distance away, and was still there in 1891.  Nothing further is known at present regarding his musical activity.  Given his close proximity to the Hemmings family who maintained the tradition of morris dancing in Ock Street, however, we may suggest that his services as fiddler may have been called upon at times, if not regularly.  Two years after the stolen fiddle incident, for example:

The ancient custom of electing a Mayor of Ock Street, which fell into disuse for two years past, has been revived this season.  Mr. Emmens, who has before filled the same position, was duly installed amid the chinking of quart jugs, with honours befitting the event.  The following day, Tuesday, his worship, accompanied by certain Morris Dancers, and preceded by the ancient horns, dated 1700, perambulated the town; and to the strains of the fiddle, from which, by the way, emanated very little music, they, notwithstanding the great heat which prevailed, kept up we may say a continuous dance...46
In voicing a negative value judgement regarding the fiddler's playing technique, the correspondent misses the point of traditional dance accompaniment altogether : rhythm is paramount.

Keith Chandler - 27.7.01

Article MT078

[Introduction] [George Broadis] [Edmund Warman] [Joseph Barrett] [Footnotes] [Appendix]


  1. Thomas William Thompson, 'II.- Borrow's gypsies', Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, new series, III, no.3 (January 1910), 165.
  2. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 16 May 1857, 8.
  3. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 30 October 1858, 4.
  4. Sharon Sillers Floate, My ancestors were Gypsies (London: Society of Genealogists, 1999), 24-28.
  5. Thomas William Thompson, 'II.- Borrow's gypsies', Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, new series, III, no.3 (January 1910), 167.
  6. Abingdon and Reading Herald, 19 July 1879, 8.
  7. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 26 May 1877, 8.
  8. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 24 June 1848, 3.  For a detailed analysis of this event across several centuries, see Keith Chandler, '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; Musical Traditions CD ROM, 2001), Chapter 4.
  9. Len Berry MSS.  'Extract from a diary of William Wilson Saunders born 4th June 1809, enttitled [sic] 'a short account of my life' written in 1830.  This extract was sent to Mr. May 16 june [sic] 1929 by Arthur Saunders, 37 Harley Street, W.1, the grandson of W.W.  Saunders, the writer of the diary.' A single photocopied sheet transcribed by the present author at Kirtlington on 2 June 1991.  The original was said to be in the Buckinghamshire Record Office, but could not be located on 31 March 1992.
  10. Oxfordshire Record Office, Minster Lovell churchwardens account book, f.19v.
  11. Huntington Library, California, Stowe MSS., STG Accounts, T3LL 5/6, 18.
  12. Eric Otto Winstedt and Thomas William Thompson, 'IV.- Gypsy dances', Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, VI, no.1 (1912-13), 19.
  13. Abingdon and Reading Herald, 13 September 1869, 2.
  14. Abingdon and Reading Herald, 29 June 1868, 2.
  15. Abingdon and Reading Herald, 19 July 1879, 8.
  16. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 7 July 1877, 8.  No subsequent action by Butler was discovered in the local newspapers.
  17. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 14 August 1852, 2. 
  18. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS.  D.D.  Risley c.70(1), diary of Rev.  William Cotton Risley, Vicar of Deddington, 26 September 1856 - 29 September 1858, entry for 27 May 1858.
  19. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 30 July 1881, 7.
  20. Abingdon Herald, 6 June 1885, 5.
  21. Abingdon Herald, 11 September 1886, 6.
  22. Bicester Herald, 7 August 1868, 8.
  23. Abingdon Herald, 20 August 1887, 4.
  24. Abingdon Herald, 30 April 1887, 8.
  25. Abingdon Herald, 10 September 1887, 2.
  26. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 28 August 1858, 5.
  27. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 1 September 1860, 8.
  28. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 29 August 1863, 5.
  29. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 3 September 1859, 5.
  30. Public Record Office, H.O.107.886, census enumeration book for Kirtlington, 1841.
  31. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 6 October 1855, 8.
  32. For further details on this musician see Keith Chandler, The social history of morris dancing in the English south Midlands, 1660-1900.  A chronological gazetteer (Enfield Lock: Hisarlik Press for the Folklore Society, 1993; Musical Traditions CD ROM, 2001), Introduction and entries for Brize Norton and Spelsbury, both in Oxfordshire.
  33. Bodleian Library, Percy Manning MSS.  MS.  Top.  Oxon.  d.200, f.160, notes by Thomas J.  Carter from an interview with William Bellinger, Stonelands, Brize Norton, September 1894.
  34. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 14 August 1852, 2.
  35. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 21 September 1861, 6.
  36. Jackson's Oxford Journal, 20 December 1862, 6.
  37. Bicester Herald, 10 July 1863, 7.
  38. Banbury Guardian, 17 May 1866, 3.
  39. Bicester Herald, 18 May 1866, 8.
  40. Bicester Herald, 30 August 1867, 7.
  41. Bicester Herald, 19 February 1869, 7.
  42. Bicester Herald, 25 June 1869, 7.
  43. Bicester Herald, 5 June 1870, 8.
  44. Bicester Herald, 24 June 1870, 7.
  45. Abingdon Herald, 14 September 1868, 2.
  46. Abingdon Herald 25 June 1870, 5.

Appendix - census entries (where discovered)


* BRIZE NORTON 1851, book I, schedule 23

George BROADIS      30    Hawker, fidler, etc  Oxon, Brize Norton
Matilda                30 Hawker               Glos, Fairford
Sarah                   4                      Oxon, Brize Norton
George               1                         Oxon, Brize Norton


* BRIZE NORTON  1851, book I, schedule 32

Edward WARMAN       60    Pauper               Oxon, Brize Norton
Mary                   65                      Oxon, Asthall
Edmund              27    AL                   Oxon, Brize Norton
Alfred              23    Journeyman Baker     Oxon, Brize Norton
Rhoda                  20 Servant              Oxon, Brize Norton

* BRIZE NORTON  1861, schedule 84

Mary WARMAN [wid]      77 Pauper               Oxon, Asthally
Edmund      [wid]   36    Itinerant Musician   Oxon, Brize Norton
George    [g'son]    5    Scholar              Oxon, Brize Norton
Frederic  [g'son]    4    Scholar              Oxon, Brize Norton

* FRITWELL  1871, schedule 7

Edmund WARMAN [wid] 45    Labourer             Oxon, Brize Norton
Frederick           13    Labourer             Oxon, Brize Norton
Jane ROUSE [visitor - unmarried]
                       30                      Oxon, Hethe


* 1851 ABINGDON St. Helen, book III, schedule 158 [Ock Street]

Thomas BARRETT      34    Journeyman Carpenter   Berks, Appleton
Ann                    41 Slop Trousers Maker    Oxon, Brizenorton
Elizabeth              12 Scholar                Berks, Wotton
Ellen                   9 Scholar                Oxon, Oxford
Paulin W             7    Scholar                Oxon, Oxford
Joseph               5    Scholar                Berks, Appleton
Mark                 3    Scholar                Berks, Tubney
Peter                1                           Berks, Abingdon

* 1861 ABINGDON St. Helen, book III, schedule 193 [Ock Street]

Thomas BARRETT      44    Carpenter              Berks, Appleton
Ann                    41 Tailoress              Oxon, Brizenorton
Elizabeth              22 Tailoress              Berks, Wotton
Ellen                  19 Tailoress              Oxon, St. Clements, Oxford
Paulina W           17    Mason's Labourer       Oxon, St. Clements, Oxford
Joseph              15    Errand Boy             Berks, Appleton
Mark                13    Errand Boy             Berks, Tubney
Peter               11    Scholar                Berks, Abingdon
Martha                  6 Scholar                Berks, Abingdon

* 1871 ABINGDON St. Helen, book III, schedule 127 [Ock Street]

Thomas BARRETT      54    Master Carpenter       Berks, Appleton
Ann                    61                        Oxon, Brizenorton
Joseph              25    Journeyman Carpenter   Berks, Appleton
Peter Hwd.          21                           Berks, Appleton
Martha                 15 Sempstress             Berks, Abingdon

* 1881 ABINGDON St. Helen, book I schedule 7 [Marcham Road]

Joseph BARRETT      35    Carpenter              Berks, Appleton
Esther                 30                        Oxon, Kidlington
Thomas               2                           Berks, Abingdon
Joseph Herbert       1                           Berks, Abingdon

* 1891 ABINGDON St. Helen, book I schedule 71 [Marcham Road]

Joseph BARRETT      45    Carpenter & Joiner     Berks, Appleton
Esther                 39                        Oxon, Kidlington
Thomas              12    Scholar                Berks, Abingdon
Joseph H            11    Scholar                Berks, Abingdon
Arthur V             9    Scholar                Berks, Abingdon
Edith                   6 Scholar                Berks, Abingdon
Paulin H             5    Scholar                Berks, Abingdon

Transcripts of Crown-copyright records in the Public Record Office appear by permission of the Controller of H.M. Stationary Office.

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