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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

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TitleMummers' play
Alternative Title
Collected FromUnknown
Source Primary
Source SecondaryTrowbridge and North Wilts Advertiser 23rd December, 1865
The Play
No text
Print Play Verse
Battle amongst the Christmas Mummers

Time out of mind Christmas has been ushered in with music and with song ... one of the oldest carols begins:

Now lordlings listen to our ditty,
Strangers coming from afar;
Let the poor minstrels move your pity,
Give us welcome, soothe our care.

The following incident will show that the mummers who visited our town on Saturday evening [rather early to usher in Christmas] if they sang the above ditty moved emotions other than pity in the breasts not of the lordlings but of the underlings of Melksham; received a welcome they did not look for; and went away with theor cares unsoothed.

It has been the custom here, and in the neighbouring village of Wraxall, at this time of year, for youths of the plebean class, to array themselves in the ragged remnants of some paperhangers workshop, equip themselves with wooden swords - sorry representatives of the mummers of the 'good old times' - and perambulate the locality in search of all they can get in the shape of eating or drinking - a decided preference being shown for the latter - in reality, taking advantage of the time-honoured custom they attempted to represent - to beg.

Some two years ago a party of these ragged relics of by-gone custom went from out town to Wraxall, but the Ragged Wraxall Regiment objected to the intrusion on the grounds that the Melksham Mummers came to poach in the Wraxall preserves; and the consequence was that the intruders were unceremoniously ejected from the village and compelled to return home beerless.

This year the Ragged Regiment of Wraxall returned the visit ... the Unicorn public house was the headquarters they honoured with a visit and the news of their arrival having been noised abroad among the rejected ones of 1863, the muster roll was called to repel the invaders.

Boniface was only too glad, on sniffing the battle from afar, to get rid of bedizened Wraxall warriors who were holding a council of war in his taproom; and so they were turned sans ceremonie into the Queen's Highway, there to face the wrathful rejected of 1863, who might have mustered at the Lion to stimulate themselves for the fray.

For a time it was difficult to tell on which side the chances of war laid, as nought could be seen but the wretched rags of the Wraxall regiment flying in all directions - they found their paper armour no protection from the fury of their assailants; but they sold their rags as dearly as possible by a vigorous use of the wooden swords, with which they effected some ugly cuts on the faces of their enemies.

The battle extended to the Town Bridge, where the advance of the invaders was hotly contested, and the bridge was quickly strewn, not with corpses, but with the remnants of the Wraxall paperhangings.

The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown,
The Lion beat the Unicorn up the bridge and down,
None gave them white bread, none gave them brown,
The Lion beat the Unicorn completely out of town.

For once the nursery rhyme was literally fulfilled, much to the terror of [that part of Melksham called] 'the city', who were puzzled to understand this novel 'paper war'.

The battle and the breeze it necessarily occasioned in the usually quiet town of Melksham soon got to the ears of the 'Queen's Blues', but as the Wraxall regiment was in full retreat. With scarcely a rag to cover them, and as their pursuers had been sorely punished with the wooden swords, and as moreover none of the good citizens of Melksham had been annoyed beyond the mere hubbub for which this novel encounter had for the moment created, Saturday night moved on the even tenour of its way without the necessity of filling the police cells with fugitives from the fray, the result of which, we presume, has established and set the question of territorial rights of both parties for ever.

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2008.



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