Benfield, Charles


Collection date: Sept 1909

Area: Gloucestershire

Charles Benfield at Bould, Glos (1841-1929): age 68, 11 morris tunes, 6 songs and 7 song tunes over 5 days commencing 2 Sept 1909 and ending 31 Dec 1909: In FT2336 ‘Glory Sher’ Sharp wrote: ‘Charles Benfield was fiddler to the Bledington morris until it lapsed about 15-10 years ago. He afterwards taught some younger men but could not induce them to continue. He is an agricultural labourer and a keen morris dancer. His fiddle was bridge-less and bow-less, so he half-hummed, half-whistled this and the following 2 tunes.’ Further notes by Sharp on the Bledington morris can be found in his Field Dance Notes (FDN vol 1 CJS2/11/1 pp89, 96). Bledington village is 5 miles SW of Stow-on-the-Wold.

Charles Benfield was baptised at Idbury church (just inside Oxfordshire) on 3/10/1841, youngest child of James Benfield, sawyer and his wife Isabella. In 1861 Charles was 19, a sawyer also, living with his parents at Bould, a hamlet within Idbury parish. On Christmas Eve 1866 at Idbury he married Emma Steed, daughter of George Steed, labourer. Emma had already borne a daughter to Charles (baptised ‘Mary Ann Eliza, bastard child’ on 3/7/1864). Much later (in the 1911 census) Emma stated that she had borne 12 children, 3 of whom did not survive to adulthood. By 1881 Charles had moved to Bould village and remained there as a sawyer for over 30 years. Bould is just 2.4 miles from Bledington, where Charles led the younger morris side.

Charles Benfield was a key informant of the Bledington morris tradition and Sharp published two of his tunes and figures in Morris Book 3 (1st ed. 1910). Sharp expanded the Bledington repertoire to 7 dances in Morris Book 5 (1913) with the considerable help of George Butterworth. Dancer John Hitchman, a railway plate-layer (b1850 Cherington Warwicks, d1929) contributed the Princess Royal jig to Sharp in Dec 1909 (FT2429). Dancer George Hathaway, a carpenter (b1867 d1948) was young enough to be interviewed by the Travelling Morrice when they visited Bledington in the 1930s and more dances were added to the repertoire.

Charles Benfield himself continued to play fiddle to other collectors. He died in 1929 and was buried on 5th March aged 87.

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