Towersey Morris

Our Founder, Denis Manners, 1920 - 2009

Denis Manners

On 2nd January, 2009 Towersey Morris lost its dear old founder, Denis Manners. He was 88, still loving life and humanity, though missing his wife, Sheila, who had died the previous summer. She had first become his girlfriend in 1946, sixty two years earlier.

Denis’s involvement with the Morris started when he lived in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, in the 1950’s. He soon joined Oxford City Morris, which was becoming revitalised after some years when its only activity had been its Squire dancing a jig on Magdelen Bridge on May Day each year, just to keep the side in existence. Soon after, Denis himself was Squire, a post he held for seven years.

Denis, Sheila and their children moved to Towersey, where Denis built his home, “Long Odds” right next to The Three Horseshoes and brought Oxford City there to dance. “The local yobbos”, as Denis always called them, laughed at the dancing and Denis told them they’d have the right to laugh if they could do better. Quite incredibly, Denis’s charisma, personal magnetism and goodwill caused these young lads, not to sneer some expletive laden rejoinder, but to become the founder members of Towersey Morris Men, and Denis to become virtually a second father to them all.

It may be that Denis was such a great Morris man at least partly because he was so much more than a Morris man. Not only did he have his lifelong interests in socialism and the peace movement, (a belief he only suspended to take up arms against Nazi Germany), but he had thrown himself wholeheartedly into Towersey village, with its ruinous, toiletless village hall. After one of the legendary “Long Odds” weekend breakfasts, where guests were quite likely to outnumber the family, Denis, Louis Rusby and Roy Bailey (yes, that’s why almost every Towersey Village Festival has him headlining a concert or two) slipped through the gate that Denis had installed between his garden and The Three Horseshoes and sat down to consider the problem. “We should hold a festival to raise funds.” said Denis, and so they did. Didn’t they just. Denis ran it for the first twelve years, by the end of which time it was a national institution, and of course it’s going from strength to strength to this day.

As age made convenience more important to them, Denis and Sheila moved into Thame, where they were living in 1998, when Denis was awarded the MBE for his services to Morris dancing. Though not a great believer in the honours list, he felt it was partly a recognition of the Morris’s place in English tradition, and also that it would be churlish to turn it down. Buckingham Palace though, was not a place he intended to grace with his presence and he opted to be invested by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire at Thame Town Hall. With Towersey leading, all the Morris sides Denis had been involved with danced his limousine (chauffeured by Nigel Cox, current Bagman of Whitchurch) down the High Street. Dancing before, dancing after, the wonderful Morris tunes, it was a huge celebration of what Denis meant to us all. The Lord Lieutenant loved every minute and talks about it to this day.

In 2006, Denis, Sheila and Jenny, their daughter, moved to Nottingham to be close to the main body of the family, though he visited Towersey several times a year, including the 5.30 a.m. dancing the Sun up on May Morning. Of course, August Bank Holiday weekend was always spent at Towersey Village Festival, where Towersey, the first Morris side he founded, (he also founded Crendon Morris Men) danced every year, and although the last of his yobbos had ceased to be active in the Side, he never missed the chance to catch up with us.

Roy Bailey, Denis’s great friend, and the patron of Towersey Village Festival, sings a song with the lines,

“And the only measure of your time on this Earth,

Is the love you leave behind you when you’re gone.”

If that be true, Denis William Manners was without doubt a great man indeed.