William KIMBER (1872–1961)
Headington Quarry morris dancer and musician
42 St Anne’s Road, Headington, oxford
William Kimber was born at Huggins Cottage, Old Road, Headington Quarry, in 1872 to William Kimber, brickmaker and builder, and Sophia Ann (née Kimber), a smock-maker from Horspath. He left school in 1882 to work as a bird-scarer and was later apprenticed as a bricklayer. Like his father before him young William joined the local morris team.
On Boxing Day 1899 the men gave a display in front of Sandfield Cottage, owned by Mrs Birch, mother-in-law of the musicologist Cecil Sharp who was there for Christmas. Inspired by what he saw and heard, he asked Kimber to return the next day to play the tunes on his concertina so that he could note them down. This was the beginning of Sharp’s drive to collect folk dances, leading to the creation of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Enthusiasm for the revival movement swept the country. Kimber accompanied Cecil Sharp on lecture tours to give demonstrations. He performed in the Royal Albert Hall, the Mansion House, and at the Chelsea Hospital in front of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The Music Times in 1911 described him as like ‘a Greek statue … his grace and movements are absolutely classic’. Cecil Sharp said that without Kimber’s ‘practical instruction and capital demonstrations in public, the movement would never have been launched’.
The Headington Quarry morris men, 9 October 1916, with William Kimber and his
concertina in the centre. By courtesy of Headington Quarry Morris Dancers
William Kimber took care to revive the local team when it fell into abeyance several times during the century and introduced generations of children to morris dancing at the local school.
William Kimber in c.1950 with boys from Headington Secondary School.
By courtesy of Headington Quarry Morris Dancers
William Kimber remained an active member all his life, continuing to play the concertina in old age in his inimitable style. A local street, William Kimber Crescent, was named after him in 1958 and in 1959 he unveiled a memorial plaque at Sandfield Cottage (since demolished).
He built a house for himself at 42 (formerly 34) St Anne’s Road, where he lived with his wife Florence, and later with his second wife Bessie, and his eight children. He named the house ‘Merryville’, alluding to his nickname ‘Merry’ Kimber.
He died in 1961 and his coffin was borne by six morris dancers in full regalia. His gravestone in Holy Trinity churchyard (right) bears carvings of his concertina and bells.
- Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Michael Heaney; www.headington.org.uk, details of famous Headington people.
- Pictures taken at unveiling ceremony:
Kimber’s granddaughter and great-grandson
Kimber’s great-grandson dancing a jig
Morris dancing in St Anne’s Road
- Oxford Mail, 1 June 2011: ‘Blue plaque honours morris dance legend’
The ceremony was held at 42 St Anne’s Road on 30 May 2011. Julie Kimber-Nickelson, grand-daughter, gave the tribute and Christopher Kimber-Nickelson, great-grandson, unveiled the plaque and performed a solo jig, accompanied by Pete Scudder playing William Kimber’s concertina. The event concluded with the dancing of ‘Bean Setting’ by the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
WILLIAM KIMBER / 1872–1961 /
Headington Quarry morris dancer and musician /
Key figure in the English Morris /
Dance & Folk Music Revival
lived here at ‘Merryville’ / 1908–1961