White Horse, Biddestone

You’ll be thinking we are turning into pub crawlers at this rate given how many pub dance outs we’ve had lately, although it is a very traditional morris thing to do. We don’t do them very often ourselves, but we’re always happy to come along and join another side at their local. In this case it was Hips and Haws at a lovely pub in quite an upmarket Cotswold village in Wiltshire. The weather wasn’t convinced it was a good idea and tried to rain on the parade, but we chased it away and had a good hour of dancing entertaining each other.

We often dance with Hips and Haws who are sort of our North West morris ‘neighbours’ in Chippenham (although they also do some stepping). They have a similar kit to our first kit – a pinafore over a white shirt – in red with black and white trim. They also wear lace up black clogs with red laces – very effective. I was discussing hats with one of their side afterwards, which they don’t wear, and ours are all very different depending on their owner. It did get me to thinking about the differences between morris sides, their kit (depending on tradition they follow) and their names. This sent me off on a research trip on the internet (the Morris Hub is very useful for morris-related information) to find out the names of some other sides around the country (and world).

The first thing I found was that there are an awful lot of them – and I was only looking at the list of the Morris Federation members – so I limited myself to a quick survey of the As and Bs on the list. We have a slightly strange name that doesn’t indicate our location at all, but probably the most common name for a side comes from the place they are based – Bath, Aylesbury etc. Sometimes this is masked by using an old version of the placename, such as Aelfgythe – this side is named for the wife of King Edmund the Magnificent who gave her name to Alvechurch where they are based.

A few sides use the name of a person, who may be a local celebrity of some sort – Bishop Gundulf’s Morris in Gillingham celebrates a Bishop of Rochester; Betty Lupton’s Ladle Laikers celebrates the lady who doled out the spa waters in Harrogate in a ladle; and Black Annis celebrate a witch – so everyone from bishops to witches are eligible it seems. Of course, we celebrate a teetotal mill-owner which now seems a little more normal!

Animals also get referenced, such as Appleyard Morris (for the Silver Appleyard Duck) and Black Bess for Dick Turpin’s horse. Even vegetables get a look in: Belle d’Vain is named for a plum from the Vale of Evesham; Asum Gras Molly is named for Evesham Asparagus (in the local dialect). Perhaps there’s something about vegetables around Evesham?

Of course, there are always the ones who have an uncertain origin, an ‘in joke’ origin, or a play on words. Such are Alive & Kicking (because they were still going after the side folded then restarted); Babylon (named for the road that crosses the Somerset/Dorset border where they’re based); or Bakanalia, Bare Bones, Armaleggan (with added Grr!) or Belfagan who either aren’t telling or aren’t really quite sure themselves. Of course, you could always ask them at the next Morris Fed AGM that Belfagan are hosting in September in the Lake District.

I wouldn’t like to say which is the weirdest, funniest, punniest, strangest, most boring, most interesting, or most incomprehensible – that’s your choice, but I had fun looking them up.

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