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Happy 90th Anniversary

The game is afoot! Today is the 90th anniversary of the very start of Keiller’s first campaign of sustained fieldwork at Avebury.

Alexander Keiller’s ‘Excavation Diary’, 1934, page 65. Accession number 78510467.

On Sunday the 8th of April 1934 the initial trenches were surveyed on the line of the West Kennet Avenue. Keiller’s own excavation diary records this in a rather matter of fact fashion:

‘11.15am staff also WY, PW and FC to site. Elephants [small tents] and Mammoth [large tent] erected. Gear unpacked.

Afternoon. Cutting Ci, Cutting Cii, Cutting Ciii, Cutting Civ, Cutting Cv, Cutting Cvi, Cutting Cvii, Cutting Cviii, Cutting Cix inclusive plotted by theodolite according to new “Central Line Method”.

Evening. Above plotting completed. 

Sunshine: clear: warm till evening: then chilly.’

In his own diary entry for Sunday the 8th of April WEVY (William Young) is a little more eloquent:

‘Spent the greater part of the day, (until dark!) in Mr Peak Garlands field, helping Mr Keiller and his staff who were engaged in plotting out the cuttings in preparation for the commencement of the forthcoming excavations tomorrow morning. The spot where Mr Keiller has selected to begin is at the S.E. end of the existing double row of stones, (seven on the left and four on the right of the avenue as one looks towards Kennett) situated along the foot of Weedon Hill, or Windmill Boll. It is Mr Keiller’s intention to search eventually for the stone holes of those missing from the right hand row, as well, and he has plotted out a skeleton plan to include the existing stones, beginning with cutting 1 at end S.E. end, which incidentally marks the boundary of the field. Each cutting will be 100 ft in length and 80 ft in width across the avenue, (i.e. extending 40 ft on either side of the avenue axis), and will follow, naturally, in direct succession.’

WEVY then marks in his diary ‘The Kennet Avenue Excavations’ in large handwriting on Monday 9th April… so this Avebury anniversary might properly be celebrated on both days.

Today is a fitting day then for introducing a new phase to Avebury’s history: read more about our commissioned artists, Gayle Chong Kwan and Kialy Tihngang.

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An Avebury folk song

In addition to Keiller’s records, papers, and correspondence connected with his activities on the property, the Avebury archive also contains material belonging to some of his collaborators on the Avebury project. Among these are the papers of William EV Young (or WEVY) who was the custodian and later curator of Avebury museum.  

Amongst Young’s sundry papers unconnected to the work of running the museum, under the same accession number are documents about local incidents and superstitions – including extracts from a local Reverend’s diary – and several versions of a folk song. 

The document dates from 1953 and, whilst it may be connected to the renewed post-war interest in folk collection generally, it is more likely to reflect Young’s specific interests in local Avebury lore. This version of the song was sung in the pub in Beckhampton, among other places, by John King of Avebury who died in 1917.  

An apparently earlier typed version of the ‘Ground for the Floor’ as sung by John King of Avebury, 20000594-013-001.

The song is Ground for the Floor – Roud 1269. In terms of genre the song is a ‘rustic idyll’ – characterising the simplicity of a rural life as one of contentment. It was also collected by others; including George Gardiner in Hampshire, Sabine Baring-Gould in Devon, and Alfred Williams from the village of Marston Mersey north of Cricklade, in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century phase of interest in folksongs. 

The lyrics and chorus collected have some degree of variation, which include distinct versions such as that collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, that by Gardiner in the South West, which are all broadly similar in structure, if varying as to the chorus . A more notable variation is the one recorded from George Maynard of Sussex, which differs substantially from the other preserved examples of the song. A tune was transcribed by Baring-Gould, and another is in Lucy Broadwood’s English Country Songs. The only recording of the song seems to be of George Maynard’s version of lyrics, first recorded in the 1960s – which appears on Volume 20: There is a Man Upon the Farm of the Voices of the People collection. 

Further research indicated that the lyrics Young and others collected closely match those of a broadside ballad of the same title, printed in London sometime between 1780 and 1812, and digitised by the Bodleian library.

A late 18th / early 19th century printing of Roud Number: 1269; Bodleain Library, Shelfmark: Harding B 11(2066), shared under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 DEED.