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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

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TitleMummers' play
Alternative Title
WordsBalch, E E
Collected FromUnknown
Source Primary
Source SecondaryAntiquary 44 1908 p 380 – 381
The Play
[Enter Father Christmas]

Father Christmas

I hope your pocket is full of money,
And I hope your cellar is full of beer,
And I hope I shall get a little
'fore I go from here.

[Enter the Duchess of Northumberland]

Duchess of Northumberland

Here comes I, Miss Duchess, with my broom, broom, broom,
To sweep the room clean for the Duke and the
Captain to have room for to fight.

[Enter Duke of Northumberland]

Duke of Northumberland

Here is the Duke, the Duke of Northumberland,
With my broadsword in hand.
Where is the man? I bid him stand.
I'll cut him in humerus, and as small as a fly;
I'll send him to the cook-shop for to make mince pie.
So walk in Captain.

[Enter Captain Curly]

Captain Curly

Here comes the Captain, Captain Curly!
Duke, I heard your voice from out the chimney.

Duke of Northumberland

Pray, what did you hear, Captain Curly?

Captain Curly

I heard the challenge of Captain Curly.
Here comes I, so light as a fly;
I've no money, but what cares I!
Here comes I from the Isle of Wight,
Unto the Duke of Northumberland;
Here comes I to fight.
So mind yourself and guard your blows;
Off comes your head, if not your nose!

[They fight, the Duke is wounded]

Captain Curly

The Duke is wounded to his heart,
Five hundred pounds I wouldn't put down
If a noble doctor can be found.

[Enter Doctor Finley]

Doctor Finley

I'll cure the hickly, pickly palsy, or the gout.
I'll cure old Jack Daw with the toothache,
Or old Mag-Pie with the headache.

Captain Curly

Pray, how do you do that Mr Finley?

Doctor Finley

By twisting their heads off,
And sending their bodies into a ditch.

[The Duke is dosed by Doctor Finley]

[Enter Johnnie Jack]

Here comes I, little Johnnie Jack,
With my wife and family at my back.
My wife's so big, my family's so small,
If I hadn't come when I had
I'd have starved them all.
Out of five I saved but one;
All the rest is dead and gone.
So, ladies and gentlemen, have pity on me,
Poor Johnnie Jack, and his great wife and he.

[Enter Bighead]


Here comes I, that's never been yet,
With my big head, and little wit.
My head's so big, my wit so small,
I've brought my fiddle to please you all.
Print Play Verse
Note 1

Chris Wildridge - 'The text for the Stourton mumming play is extracted from the body of the article which intersperses the play text with the following commentary. There discontinuities in the play structure which can be filled with even the slightest knowledge of mumming.'

Note 2

E E Balch - '... yet one may question whether the old mumming play did not make for more simple and genuine merriment. This play was handed on by word of mouth, never, I think, written; and the small company of actors guarded their rights jealously. There were seven characters; Father Christmas, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Captain Curly from the Isle of Wight, Doctor Finlay, Johnnie Jack, and Bighead, or 'Girthead'.

Father Christmas acted the part of chorus, opening with a speech in which he hinted broadly at the wishes of the mummers ... the characters entered one by one, and each introduced the next y the invitation, 'So walk in, ...'

The Duchess was a lady of domesticated habits, singularly free from the pride of rank, for she entered next, carrying a broom ... The part was of course taken by a boy, resplendent in a long trained dress.

The fight followed on a truculent dialogue between the Duke and Captain Curly. [One wonders what principle of selection determined the localities from which these gentlemen arrived. Were Northumberland and the Isle of Wight the most remote which readily occurred to the mummers.] ...

After the Duke has been wounded, and duly dosed by Doctor Finley, there entered the most interesting character - Johnnie Jack. He carried a number of small dolls on his back. ...

No amount of questioning elicits any explanation of the origin of this character, or of the dolls on his back; but behind the burlesque figure and the doggerel lines there surely lurks the dim hero of some forgotten legend.

Lastly comes Bighead ...

And the mumming ended in a country dance.

The humour throughout was of the broadest description ...

Proof of the antiquity of the play is to be found in the presence of some words which have been mangled until they have lost all meaning, but which are faithfully repeated.'

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2008.



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