Tales of Oxfordshire
The Rollright legend is as follows. A king and his army had conquered all England as far north as Little Rollright when they met a witch who said:
‘Seven long strides thou shalt take
If Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalt be’.
Knowing Long Compton was just over the next hill, the King took seven strides - but a mound obscured his view. Cackling, the witch cried ‘Since Long Compton thou canst not see, thou and thy men horestones shall be’. The King and his army have been waiting 2000 years for someone with strong enough magic to release them.
While Mediaeval Banbury had 3 crosses, only one remained by 1602, and this was destroyed by a Puritan mob. The present cross was built in 1859, commemorating the marriage of Princess Victoria and Prince Frederic William of Prussia. The statues of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V were added in honour of King George V’s coronation in 1911. A cock horse can mean coach horse – or a high-spirited one – or a child’s hobby-horse. The 19th century London-Banbury coach used to stop at the bottom of Stanmore Hill to bolt on a fifth horse – usually decorated with ribbons. The local children would gather to watch, and chant ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury cross’.
Various gruesome tales are associated with Minster Lovell, a Yorkist stronghold. A 16th century Lord of the Manor, escaping the forces of the Lancastrian Henry VII, is supposed to have starved to death in a secret room having entrusted the key to a servant who was either killed or betrayed him. According to another story, the young bride of one of the lords disappeared on her wedding night during a game of hide-and-seek. Her bones were found years later in an old chest whose lid had been too heavy to lift.
It is not known whether Fair Rosamund died at the hands of Queen Eleanor, but the Queen was unpopular, and any unpleasant rumours would have spread quickly. However Rosamund died, Henry II had a magnificent tomb erected in the chapel, which was constantly attended by the nuns. Bishop Hugh of Lincoln (Hugh as in St Hugh’s college), shocked by such devotion to the memory of a mistress, insisted on her remains being moved outside the church. As soon as he had gone, the nuns gathered them up into a leather bag, which they kept in a lead coffin in their chapter house until the dissolution of the nunnery.
The term “morris” may come from ‘moorish’, as dancers in ancient fertility rites blackened their faces. Nowadays, the dancers dress in white clothes with bells and streamers for decoration. They can be seen in Oxford on May Day and other public holidays. Local teams follow the tradition of the Cotswold morris, using handkerchiefs, sticks and handclaps for teams of 6 men, as well as jigs (for single men or pairs).
The May Day crosses in Charlton on Otmoor are a christian version of pagan celebrations of spring.