Collection date: Jun 1906
John (usually Jack) Robbins was the fiddler for the Bidford morris men (1868-1947): It was probably Robbins who played when Sharp saw the side on 2 June 1906 at Foxlydiate House, nr Redditch. Sharp collected 8 tunes (FT947-954) but (unusually) did not credit the name of the musician. In his Folk Dance Notes vol1 p256 Sharp was using D’Arcy Ferris’s (1910) recollections from 1886 and quoted (incorrectly) that the Bidford musician was ‘Tom Robbins, a youth of 17, was the piper – he had found an old shepherd’s pipe but it was nearly useless from age and so he fiddled for most of the dances.’ There was no Tom Robbins in Bidford at the time and there is plenty of evidence that matches Jack Robbins to the 1886 event and to many subsequent musical events in the town. For example, he trained a drum and fife band and also formed a small orchestra. He was later recorded by the American collector James Madison Carpenter in about 1933.
Jack Robbins came from a musical family – both his father and grandfather played stringed instruments. Jack was born on 20/1/1868 at Bidford, only son of John Robbins Snr, shoemaker and his wife Ann. He had an older sister Ellen, who moved to London, married and settled there. Jack was listed as a boot and shoemaker (in every census). He would not have seen the ‘old’ lapsed Bidford morris dancing but was persuaded to go and have tuition in the pipe and tabor from James Arthur*, the piper of the Ilmington morris men. D’Arcy Ferris was keen to have the ‘authentic’ pipe and tabor to accompany his new Bidford side. But, as explained above, it seems that Robbins could not find the right instrument and reverted to his fiddle.
Jack Robbins married Selina Emily Gould in January qr 1891 (ref 6d 877) and they lived at High Street Bidford, raising 2 children William and Daisy. Jack died on 31/12/1947 aged 79, leaving £1,236 to his widow Selina.
*James Arthur had died before Sharp began to investigate the Ilmington morris tradition but he is mentioned in Sharp’s Folk Dance Notes vol2 p135. He was the grandson of George Arthur (1769-1836), who is thought to have strongly restored the Ilmington morris tradition in 1805. James (John) Arthur was baptised on 21/7/1828, eldest of 7 children of Thomas (Barnett) Arthur, stone mason and his wife Elizabeth. James became a master carpenter and was married twice – first to Leah Marsh on 7/2/1850 (5 children) and then in July qr 1877 to Mary Ann Hook, a widow who brought 2 young daughters from her previous marriage. James Arthur was buried at Ilmington 11/12/1906 aged 78.
See Keith Chandler’s article on John Robbins https://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/mus19_16.htm
See Elaine Bradtke: John Robbins and the Shakespearean Bidford morris tune repertoire (2012) published by the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen for a musical analysis of the Bidford tunes compared to the tunes of Ilmington and Bledington: www.aura.abdn.ac.uk
See J.Phillip Taylor: Spotlight on Bidford-on-Avon's Morris Tradition (2016) pub Stratford
See also profiles of D'Arcy Ferris and of Lady Isabel Margesson
The Shakespeare Bidford Morris Men (founded 1959) and a new Ladies team both maintain the Bidford morris tradition: http://www.shakespearemorris.org.uk/about.htm