Bamptonians like to enjoy themselves and this has led to an array of events being held during the year - with all visitors welcome! Herewith in order of appearance are the main events – but there are others run by various clubs and societies in the Village details of which can be found elsewhere in this Website under ‘What's On’. Also see the Photo Album for some interesting shots!
The Great Original Shirt Race
Held on the Saturday of the Spring Bank Holiday (formerly Whitsun) and run by 'The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Junketing' (SPAJERS). The rules are very simple in that a team of two dressed in night-shirts and with some means of transport which has to be propelled by one in the team while the other sits in the vehicle and is pushed runs a race through the village stopping at various strategic locations – notably the pubs – to down a measure of ale before continuing with the race. Various types of transport have been used from prams to wheelbarrows and wheelybins!
There's a race for children – refreshments are of course of the non-alcoholic variety much to chagrin of the children – an intermediate event, and a senior race - the latter two normally being combined into a single run. First prize is of course for the team that does the course in the shortest time, but most of the teams are just out to enjoy the day – and the ale. And there are also prizes for the best fancy dressed teams - and you should see some of the outfits worn!
Bampton has three world-renowned Morris Dance teams. On the Monday of the Spring Bank Holiday, the teams start the dancing at around 08.30, and continue through the day at various locations in the Village – including outside the pubs. The programme for the day’s events can be obtained in or around The Market Square. In the evening, visiting teams join in the dancing, and ‘make merry’. And do try the ‘fertility cake’, which is carried around the streets with the dancers.
St Mary’s Flower Guild Annual Flower
St Mary’s Flower Guild Annual Flower Festival takes place during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in the Church. The Festival has a different theme each year and visitors are welcomed from the Saturday through to the Monday, with tea and home made cakes available on the Monday. Please come and take a break and enjoy the flowers. Money raised from the festival enables us to provide flowers for the church throughout the year.
The making of May Garlands by the children of the Village is a custom stretching back centuries. The showing and judging of the garlands takes place on the Monday of the Spring Bank Holiday, at 11am in the Market Square. To make May Garlands is very easy, but time consuming. All you need are two hoops which you cover with wild flowers. These wild flowers can be dandelions, buttercups, cow parsley – in fact anything which is easy to find. Tie them into small bunches and attach them to the hoops with string. Fix the two hoops together so they form a ‘ball’ shape. On top, fix a bunch of flowers - years ago the top posy had to be made up of red or pink peonies. Sit your favourite doll or teddy in the centre find a long stick or broom handle to hook it through and two people to carry it and you have yourself a Traditional May Garland.
Bampton Classical Opera
Believe it or not, but Bampton actually has an Operatic Group, called Bampton Classical Opera. And they are good – rave reviews in The Times no less. They perform annually in Bampton in July at the Deanery – yes outdoors if the weather is good. It is a great event, and very much worth coming along to. Just watch ‘What’s On’ for details on how to obtain tickets. Or click on the following link to access the website: www.bamptonopera.org
Held on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday, and run by the SPAJERS, this takes place at Sandfords Field, starting at 2pm. Apart from the donkey races – where the jockeys are all children – there are stalls selling all sorts of bric-a-brac, and there’s skittles, Aunt Sally, crockery smashing etc. A great day out!
Gardening Club Annual Show
The Bampton Gardening Club runs an annual show in August each year in the Village Hall. The show is always well supported, and the competition is fierce! Apart from the flowers and vegetables, there are also competitions for cakes, jams, pickles, and handicrafts.
The Bampton Mummers
Bampton is famous for its Traditional Morris dancing, but there is another tradition, The Bampton Mummers, that is not quite as famous, but certainly has created as much interest amongst writers of books on folklore, myths and mythology. In spite of all that has been written and researched, there is still a lot of doubt as to its origins and history, but these doubts have had the tendency to maintain the interest of people in the play. Different village Mummer plays will often have identical words. For instance, parts of the Blewbury play, are word for word the same as Bampton's, yet spoken by a completely different character in their play. There are many Mummer plays performed throughout the country; some have been revived after being in hibernation for decades or longer; some have been adopted from other villages or areas; but according to local knowledge, the traditional Bampton play can be traced back to at least the Nineteenth Century. It is quite possible that such plays are older still.
Up until the 1960s, the words were handed down by word of mouth, providing scope, one could presume, for adulteration. In 1970, however, an interesting thing happened which would seem to suggest that the words of the Bampton play - and perhaps therefore also the others - are in fact still the original ones used from when the play was first performed. Actors were in short supply, and the Company was desperately looking around for someone to play Father Christmas, when they managed to acquire the services of one Bobby Wells (son of the legendary Jingy Wells), who had last performed the Mummer play in 1938. Without referring to the script, Bobby used the exact same words that were in the script! Now then, this is not as unusual as it might seem, because it has long been established that, for instance, where poems and verse are handed down by word of mouth only, and not written down, and where the recipient is being strictly tutored by the person handing the words down, then the words are likely to be handed down over centuries without change. An example of this is the children’s rhyme ‘Eenie, meenie, minie, mo’, still taught to English children by their parents, and which is a rhyme based on a counting system which certainly predates the Roman occupation of Britain!
But back to the Bampton Mummers!
The Bampton play has ten characters – with such characters as Father Christmas, Robin Hood, St. George, a ‘doctor’, and a Prussian King - and is performed in two acts, which researchers have shown is unique in itself, since other Mummer plays have only one act. The plot however, seems to be very close to the other plays performed elsewhere, with people being killed, but then revived by the ‘doctor’. The acts of being killed and then being raised from the dead, may have something to do with pagan rituals of the past, and indeed could be an echo of real human sacrifice designed to ensure the return of the sun in times when the nights were longest. Alternatively, it could be linked simply to the death of the old year, and the birth of the new. But the truth is that the origins of the plays have been lost in the mists of time, although you never know when some archaeologist or historian might just uncover something to shed light on the mystery.
Until the late 1950s, the tradition was for the Mummers to visit the ‘Big Houses’ on Christmas Eve, and the Pubs - all eleven of them - on Boxing Day. Nowadays the Mummers only perform on Christmas Eve, combining the big houses and the pubs in one evening. All of the proceeds go to the local society known as the SPAJERS – see elsewhere on this Website. The day is a highly organised event, with the programme having to be strictly adhered to programme, so that all of the performances planned do in fact take place. And the play is well worth seeing, so make it a date in your diary: Christmas Eve, Bampton, to see the Mummers!