Johnson, Michael


Collection date: Apr 1910

Area: Warwickshire

Michael Johnson of the ‘old’ Ilmington morris side (1843-1924): Sharp interviewed Michael Johnson in Ilmington at least 4 times (Apr & Aug 1910; Apr 1911 & Apr 1912). He collected 3 dance tunes and 1 folksong (‘Poor Old Horse’ Roud 513). Above all he grilled him about the ‘old’ Ilmington tradition – its personnel, costumes, tunes, figures etc. In Sharp's Folk Dance Notes 1/133 Johnson was a caustic critic of Sam Bennett’s newly recruited side – its stepping, its tunes, Sam’s playing. They had never had a hobby horse in their day, he said. Everything was wrong and William Handy, aged 73 and a former dancer, fully agreed.

At his second interview (Aug 1910 Folk Dance Notes 1/187) Michael said that when he was a boy (c1855), the Ilmington side had lapsed but was revived in 1886 by his uncle Joseph Johnson (1824-1901), who had at the same time helped the Bidford men get going. This Ilmington side performed locally for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. Johnson further explained that one member of that Ilmington side was (John) Frederick Bartlett (a ‘poor dancer’), who was now helping Sam Bennett’s ‘new’ side and passing on various bad habits! Bartlett was condemned because he always bent his knees when dancing, whereas straight legs were right! Fred Bartlett was born in 1869, illegitimate son of Ann E Bartlett. He was named after Ann’s brother John F Bartlett who had died aged 12 in 1857. Bartlett would have been the one of the youngest men dancing with the ‘Jubilee’ side.

In the same August interview Johnson went on to criticise Sam Bennett’s treatment of the ‘Maid of the Mill’ (linked-hanky dance), saying that Sam had made up the middle figure.  In his final interview on 8 April 1912 Johnson gave helpful information about the personnel of sides over the years (Folk Dance Notes 2/135). Sharp immediately went off to visit Michael Handy (see separate profile) in Birmingham to finalise the Ilmington information, ready to be published in the 2nd (revised) edition of the (first) Morris Book later that year. In other words Sharp preferred the ‘old’ side’s versions of the Ilmington dances (publishing 4 of them: Black Joke, Old Woman Tossed Up, Shepherd's Hey & Cuckoo's Nest). He called these dances the '1867 morris' repertoire. However, Mary Neal published two of Sam Bennett's dances in her Esperance Morris Book Pt2 (Curwen, April 1912). These were ‘Bumpus o’Stretton’ and ‘Lively Jig’. 

Michael William Johnson was baptised on 11/6/1843, 3rd child of Michael Johnson Snr, stone mason and his wife Mary. Michael Jr also became a stone mason and a builder. He married Emma Emery, daughter of Benjamin Emery, baker, on 27/11/1867 at St Mary’s Ilmington. They had 7 daughters and 1 son Michael Wm Jr (b1884), who did not wish or was not invited to join Sam’s ‘new’ side in 1906. The Johnson family lived in Frog Lane in Ilmington - 1901 census ref RG13/2947 f81 p3.

Michael William Johnson lived in Ilmington all his life and died on 2/9/1924, aged 81, leaving £281.

Note: It is ironic that in 1910-12 Sharp plumped for the older dancer at Ilmington (Johnson) but the younger dancer at Headington (Kimber), whereas Mary Neal chose to believe the exact opposite – the younger Sam Bennett and the older Joe Trafford (see Kimber profile). The so-called search for authenticity had unexpected results.

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