Cry Havoc Botley Morris

Back in 2006 I joined Cry Havoc, a Cotswold Morris side based in Botley, Oxford as a raw novice.

I'd never really danced before, and was seduced by the promise of a bit of exercise and a cast-iron excuse for hanging around some decent pubs. Years later, I'm an enthusiast, and I do indeed get to hang around some decent pubs.

About Havoc

I originally wrote the following for publication in The Sprout, the Botley newsletter.

If, perchance, you were to wander along North Hinksey Lane on a wintry Thursday evening, you might just catch the strains of a cheerful fiddle and the muffled thump of feet coming from the Botley Womens' Institute Hall. You might also hear intermittent smacks of wood on wood, and, if particularly (un)lucky, voices raised in mercifully brief snatches of song. Somebody, you would think, is obviously Up To Something.

That Something is dance practice, and the Somebodies in question are Cry Havoc, Botley's very own Cotswold Morris side*.

Cotswold is the both the best known and the best documented of the English Morris traditions. If you think of Morris dancing, you probably bring to mind dancers dressed largely in white with bells tied to their lower leg and waving hankerchieves or sticks about. That's Cotswold. Cry Havoc's uniform, white shirt and trousers, purple-lined black waistcoat with the outline of a buzzard on it in white, black bell pads and purple and black baldricks (belts running crossways from shoulder to hip) is contemporary Cotswold.

As we know, the village of Botley has a long and distinguished history stretching back to Saxon times. The history of Morris dancing is also long, but alas shrouded in a good deal of confusion. The first recorded reference, in the accounts of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, dates from 1448, but we have to wait until 1582 and a Puritan diatribe against light, lewd and lascivious dancing for anything more than a name. The oldest Costwold sides operating today, notably Headington and Bampton, can reliably trace their ancestry no further back than the 1790s. In other words, while we know that there was something called Morris dance in the medieval period, and we know that costumes involving ribbons and bells were sometimes used, we have no idea whether the dances done then bear any relation to those danced today. As to the name 'Morris', it seems very probable that it was imported into English from the Spanish word 'morisco', 'Moorish', sometime around the start of the 14th century, but didn't necessarily refer to a dance.

Sadly, the notion of Morris being descended from pre-Christian pagan fertility dances, popularised by romantics in the early part of the 20th century, seems a nice piece of fancy but nothing more.

Botley has no long-standing tradition of Morris dancing. Cry Havoc dates from 1993, when someone had the idea of including a morris dance in a certain local pantomime. Local interest was piqued, and then Botley resident Paul Ferret, formerly of Towersey Morris, set about teaching the new side a repertoire of dances. Paul's pet buzzard, Havoc, was the inspiration for the side's name and the decoration on the back of our waistcoats.

Today the side numbers just under 30 members of both sexes, aged from 20-something to retirement, and ranging in experience from beginners to the old hands. There remains a core of Botley-based members, but others come from father afield, ranging from parts of Oxford to Bicester, Charney Bassett and other exotic far-flung locations.

Cry Havoc's year divides into two halves. October to April is practice season, when every Thursday evening we're to be found at the WI Hall, learning or improving our dances under the tutelage of our foreman, the side member responsible for dancing standards. Once May 1st rolls around, we emerge like so many butterflies into the sunlight, and don uniform, bells and all, to dance in public at events or weekly social gatherings with other Morris sides. The latter are invariably held at an accomodating country pub.

There's a serious side to the summer dancing. Every year members select a charity to be our charity for the year, and all money we raise from paid appearances and collection buckets goes to that charity, plus surplus from membership fees, goes to that charity at the end of the year. In recent years we've usually raised around £1000 for our nominated charity. You can find our schedule of appearances on our website,

We're always on the lookout for new members. It wasn't that long ago that your humble scribe nervously presented himself one October evening at the WI Hall, and come the following April found himself in full regalia waving hankies in public. It's a fun way to keep moderately fit, make new friends and do something that the rest of society regards as just a little bit daft. So, if you fancy giving it a try, either turn up for a practice session or drop our bagman (our organiser) an email at

* A group of Morris dancers is known as a side, which makes it all sound like some sort of competitive sport. This is rather strange. As far as I've been able to discover, Morris isn't remotely competitive.


For the benefit of smartphone users and other geeky types, I maintain a public Google calendar with Havoc-related events.

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