click photo to enlarge
So, are the Morris dancers of England an endangered species or not? A few weeks ago a newspaper article suggested as much. It sparked a flurry of investigative journalism by other newspapers, radio and TV, and reporters found themselves getting to grips with this arcane pastime. At the end of the media's rummaging in the unfamiliar world of common figures, distinctive figures, bagmen and fools, the general consensus seemed to be that there was nothing to worry about, and the Morris was quietly (and sometimes noisily, to the sound of bells, swords and staves) thriving.
Traditions and pastimes change down the centuries, some dropping out of favour only to re-emerge as something consciously revived or re-discovered. The same is true of games. Who would have thought that the end of the twentieth century would see the re-appearance of croquet, a game that reached a peak of popularity towards the end of the nineteenth century? Yet, this apparently genteel lawn game played with mallets, hoops and ball, seemed to suit the times, and many middle-class dinner parties across the land concluded to its clack and clatter.
A question I pondered the other day was, "Will domestic archery make a comeback?" The Victorians, particularly women, greatly enjoyed this pastime, and when the men went to play billiards or blast pheasants from the sky, the ladies would often retire to a distant lawn and launch arrows at targets. It was a recent visit to Brodsworth Hall, Yorkshire, a Victorian country house and grounds now in the care of English Heritage, that set me thinking about this. Near the edge of the extensive gardens, in what must have originally been a quarry, was a long, flat grassed area with a small, one room, Victorian/Georgian building called The Target House. This was the place where the Victorian owners and their guests practised bowmanship (and presumably stored the targets.) My photograph shows part of the main elevation of the building with what appears to be an eighteenth century, classical, Venetian window filled with incongruous (probably later) Gothic glazing bars. Below is an ornate bench with a cast-iron frame. The remainder of the building with its slate roof, chimney and too-large, ornate barge board also seems to be later.
So, will archery make a comeback? The other reason I ask is that last year I bought a recurve longbow, arrows and target, re-awakening an interest that I had in my teenage years. Could it be that, for the only time in my life, I'm on the leading edge of a trend, and in a couple of years English gardens will once again resound to the thwack of arrows hitting compressed straw? Perhaps not!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 21mm (42mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On