Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

The Button Boy

Scottish Country Dance Instruction

THE BUTTON BOY (R8x32) 3C (4C set) Bill Zobel Allanton Collection

1- 8 1s dance reflection reels of 3 on own sides
9-16 1s cross down to dance reflection reels of 3 on opposite sides and end in 2nd place BtoB facing opposite sides
17-24 1s dance Double Triangles to end facing down (Lady on Man's right)
25-32 1s dance down, Lady dances under Man's arm and dance up to 2nd place own sides

(MINICRIB. Dance crib compiled by Charles Upton, Deeside Caledonian Society, and his successors)

Keith Rose's Crib Diagrams

Dance Instruction Videos

The Button Boy - Scottish Country Dancing Instruction Video

Dance Information

The dance name, The Button Boy, refers to a Royal Navy boys training drill.

The reason this is known to people like me, of the older generation, is that an annual event called the Royal Tournament used to be televised on the BBC. As I recall it, this featured military displays (e.g. massed bands) and exhibitions of various kinds. The Army would have team races to re-assemble a cannon, harness it to a horse, and then race to a certain point. I think the Royal Air Force did a gymnastics display (i.e. with much flying through the air). The Navy did the Button Boy routine in which teams competed to build a mast-like structure from ropes and spars and, once it was completed, they had to climb up the rigging with the smallest person – the Button Boy – at the top. The first to place the Button Boy won, of course.

The tournament was dropped in 1999, as part of major Defence cuts, and may have disappeared from our TV screens well before that. I associate it only with my childhood in the 1950s.

I know nothing about the history of the dance, but my instant feeling as we walked it through was that the initial reels represented the erection of the rigging, the double triangles represent sailors clambering up the two sides of the structure (which was on a lorry, as I recall, but that's by the by), and the final underarm turn is obviously the button boy whirling round precariously at the top and waving at the crowd. I am not aware of any special Scottish connection.

The full drill was mostly associated with the fixed mast at the former shore station training site, HMS Ganges, at Shotley near Ipswich.

(Dance information by John Fairbairn, 2021)

HMS Ganges Mast

A ship's mast stands on the site of the Royal Navy shore establishment HMS Ganges at Shotley, Suffolk in England. It was formerly used for mast climbing practice when the site was a training centre for boy seamen. Every boy at the school had to climb partway up the mast to qualify. On ceremonial occasions the mast would be manned by a team of boys standing on various parts. The one who stood on the truck at the top was known as a "button boy". Ganges closed in 1976 and the mast afterwards fell into disuse, though it is a grade II listed structure.

The Royal Naval Training Establishment Shotley (known within the Royal Navy as HMS Ganges) was established in southern Suffolk in 1905.

The 142-foot high (43 m) mast was erected in 1907. The lower portion of the mast is steel, extending 18 feet (5.5 m) below ground and 30 feet (9.1 m) above ground. This portion was taken from the foremast of the corvette Cordelia which was paid off (decommissioned) in 1900. The upper portion is wood and was taken from the top mast of Agincourt, a former battleship which had served as a training vessel at the former Ganges establishment in Harwich. The mast stood adjacent to the asphalt parade ground and the "Indian Prince" figurehead of the former second-rate ship-of-the-line Ganges was installed near its base.

The mast carries three yards and a gaff. A top platform is located just above the lowest yard where the first step in the mast occurs. A half-moon platform was present at the second step just below the top-most yard.

A 12-inch (30 cm) diameter truck (a wooden ball, disk, or bun-shaped cap at the top of a mast, with holes in it through which flag halyards are passed) was located at the very top of the mast; at Ganges this later became known as the button.

HMS Ganges Mast
HMS Ganges Mast, 2004

In July 1992 Nicola Howard became the Royal Navy's first and only 'Female Button Boy'.

Button Boy - Information Video

Button Boy, Nicola Howard, 1992

Comprehensive collection of mast manning and Button Boy images, held in the H.M.S. Ganges Museum, at Shotley Gate near Ipswich.
Dance information licensed under this Creative Commons Licence 3.0.
Text from this original HMS Ganges Mast article on Wikipedia.
Text from this original Truck - Rigging article on Wikipedia.
Image copyright Keith Evans under this Creative Commons Licence 2.0.

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