The Eynsham Poaching Song has a complicated history. The words were collected from Henry Leech, of Eynsham, by Alfred Williams, and published in his Folk Songs of the Upper Thames in 1923. Williams did not collect the music with the words, and it was many years before the words were joined to the tune currently used. Dave Arthur writes (email to Mike Heaney, 25 October 2006):
Around 1961/2 Toni and I were living in Oxford, running a university bookshop, and, following Williams's book were visiting the villages and places named in the notes - Eynsham, Bampton, Ascott-under-Wychwood, Cassington Brook, Wytham Woods etc. For the Transatlantic album [Morning Stands On Tiptoe] we took several songs from Folk Songs of the Upper Thames and fitted tunes to them from other sources. One of the songs we put together was the 'Eynsham Poachers' to a tune we had learnt from Wagg Puddefoot from Buckinghamshire.
The folkinfo.org website records:
Tune (The Buckingham poaching song) sung by George Paradine, Ivinghoe, Bucks collected by R.C. Puddyfoot. The chorus [Laddie-i-o - MH] has been added with the melody.
The song, which we played and sang with melodeon and concertina, had a very 'Morris' feel about it ... at that time ... I was dancing with Nick Manners and some of the early Towersey Morris, and involved in the folk music scene around Oxford (playing occasionally with some of the Headington and Bampton dancers).
John Wippell writes (email to Mike Heaney, 1 June 2009):
At that time, (1966- 68) I was the boyfriend of Jenny, Dennis [Manners’] daughter and Nick’s sister and was dancing with Oxford City. I had ... made up the dance, based on the Fieldtown tradition, including the stick chorus to be danced by Oxford City. However, the first version involved going down on one knee and pointing the stick(gun) towards the top of the set in a movement rather like Bampton Flowers of Edinburgh but ... that after Towersey adopted the dance they left the kneeling out because it was too knackering on the knees! Dave describes how the dance was performed at an event in Oxford as part of a festival organised by Dennis Manners. The dance John Wippell had devised was used, in which at one point the sticks were brought up to the shoulders and 'fired' into the air.
The stick dance to the The Eynsham Poaching Song is still performed regularly by morris dancers everywhere, and some of them even think it's an old Eynsham dance.
Eynsham's own version of the dance came about quite differently. In the 1980s Dave Townsend and other members of the side talked with Ada Gardner, daughter of the Foreman of Eynsham Morris in the 1920s, Fred Harwood. She recalled dances done in the 1920s which had not been noted down by other collectors. Ada did not associate a specific tune with the dance, and we decided to put it together with the song tune which Dave Arthur had married to the lyrics and so was now firmly associated with Eynsham. The result The Eynsham Poachers or simply Poachers. As Dave says, it really is a lovely tune to dance to.
One of the first performances of the dance by Eynsham (quite possibly the first public performance) was captured on video and here is an extract from it. The videotape was shown in Eynsham Morris's local, the White Hart in Eynsham, over a few pints in 2004, and we took the opportunity to take a digital video direct from the screen. Quality (both of the original video and this digital version) is therefore not the best.
Eynsham Morris dancing Poachers [extract], Eynsham, 3 May 1982.
NB: 27 MB MPEG file
Video by Mike Heaney 17 February 2004
There's a still of Crendon Morris performing the stick dance here, during their 40th Anniversary Walkround, 19 May 2007