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Allen, Henry

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Cecil Sharp met Henry Allen 27 August 1909 and noted his age as 90 (although he was probably 88). He was then living in Meer Street (Sharp misspells it as “Mere”) just around the corner from Shakespeare’s birthplace and was working as a musician on the River Avon pleasure boats. Allen told Sharp that he had played the fiddle for a set of morris dancers at Ruardean until about 1870, when a man was killed during a fight between rival sets of dancers on Plump Hill (on the main road between Mitcheldean and Cinderford)(1). Unfortunately, during Sharp’s trips to research morris dancing in the Forest of Dean, he asked people whether they knew the fiddler “Arthurs” in mistake for “Allen” – unsuprisingly, they did not. However, one of the other musicians who played for the Ruardean Morris dancers was Tite Smith, from whom Stephen Baldwin learned a hornpipe.

Sharp noted two tunes from Allen. One was Morris Call, a version of which he had already collected from Charles Baldwin at Newent, which Allen described as “Calling on – to call ‘em together”(2). He described this as a march. The other was the dance performed by the sword carrier which is a version of When the King Enjoys His Own Again. Again Charlie Baldwin had a version of this tune, which he called the Wild Morris.

Henry Hugh Allen (1820-1910), fiddle player for the Ruardean Morris dancers, was born about 1821 in Gloucester, probably in the Wooton area near the town centre (near where Gloucester Royal Hospital stands) although at one point he did give his birthplace as Chosen, an area outside Gloucester towards Churchdown. He seems to have been active as a morris dance musician from about 1836, although what the connection was that led to him playing for a team situated nearly 15 miles from his home, we don’t know – we have no evidence that he played for any other sides. He married Eliza Bundy, a butcher’s daughter, in Gloucester towards the end of 1838 and they settled in Brothers Place in the City, where he worked as a shoe-maker. After a sojourn in Nelson Street, Ladywood, Birmingham, a street which boasted 8 public houses, he appears to have abandoned shoemaking in favour of working as a beer seller. However, after returning to Gloucester, his wife, Eliza, died in 1869 at the early age of 49. Henry soon remarried to Susannah Jackson, and together they became the first licensees of the newly-built British Flag pub in Gloucester. The pub stands on the corner of the entrance to the docks and then had an address of Littleworth Street; this has now been renamed as Southgate Street and the pub is still trading under the name of “Tall Ships”. An item in the Gloucester Journal in 1870 reports a court case following a fight at the pub between a seaman and a labourer: “a quarrel arose and the landlord cleared the house” (not, we hope by playing his fiddle!). It appears that Susannah was initially the pub licensee, with Henry’s occupation being described as “musician”, although he later did take on the license and become publican. Susannah died in 1885, following which Henry married a piano teacher, Clara, from Henley in Arden in 1888 and settled at 2B 12 Great Hampton Row, Birmingham. After moving to 53 Shakespeare St in the Old Stratford area of Stratford on Avon, he was described as a “Teacher of Music” in the 1901 census, whilst his wife, Clara, no longer is listed as teaching piano. She died shortly afterwards in 1901. Henry Allen died in Stratford on Avon just over a year after Sharp’s visit, towards the end of 1910.

 

(Notes by Paul Burgess with additions by Carol Davies)