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Cecil Sharp’s chance encounter with two workmen, whom he heard whistling Morris tunes in Hammersmith, had far-reaching consequences. William Charles Stagg was one of the workmen. He was the eldest son of the Lower Swell fiddler William Hathaway (see below) and had danced morris at Stow-on-the-Wold. Stagg gave Sharp information as to how to find Morris musicians in Gloucestershire and later copied 18 tunes which Sharp collected from his father, and two others, possibly with a view to using them with Mary Neal’s Espérance Club dancers. Stagg gave his tunebook to Helen Kennedy and the manuscript was copied: the original is now lost. Our copy was given to us by Peter Kennedy.
Sharp’s interview with Stagg sent him to Gloucestershire on his next collecting trip, in March 1907. The day after meeting John Mason at Stow-on-the-Wold he visited William Hathaway at 52 Burton Street, Cheltenham and noted many of the tunes used by the Lower Swell Morris Dancers, some of which he published in Folk Airs.
Paul Burgess, ‘The Mystery Of The Whistling Sewermen: How Cecil Sharp Discovered Gloucestershire Morris Dancing’, Folk Music Journal, 8, 2002, 178-94.
Princess Royal was composed by Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), who called it “Miss MacDermott, or The Princess Royal”. The MacDermott princes traditionally presided at the inauguration of the kings of Connacht. Hence the reference to the “Princess Royal”. William Shield adapted the tune for his song “The Arethusa,” in his opera The Lock and Key, performed in 1796. In the Coswolds it is used as a solo morris dance from several different villages, and in Abingdon as a set dance. It occurs in both minor (as the original) and major versions.