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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

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TitleMummers' play
Alternative Title
WordsMorris, William
Collected FromUnknown
Source Primary
Source SecondaryMorris, William: Swindon fifty years ago. Swindon Advertiser 1885 p 141, 142
The Play
No text
Print Play Verse
Note 1

William Morris - 'In addition to the outdoor sports, there were the indoor amusements, and most notable of all among these were the Mummers, which, forty of fifty years ago, were to be met with in every town and village in North Wilts during the winter months, up to Christmas Eve. These Mummers who used to go about from house to house, and more particularly to the public houses, during the winter evenings, performing a rude kind of play founded on the legend of St. George and the Dragon, consisted of six or eight men, who used to wear various kinds of disguises, and who during the season would throw the money they got for their performances into a common fund, which they would distribute at the close of the season pro ratio among themselves. Sometimes the company would aspire to nothing more than a recitation set down for each character, but occasionally there would be found a company numbering some ten or twelve persons, including a fiddler, a comic singer and a dancer, and then the performance would be of a more elaborate character, and the services of the company could only be obtained by previous engagement, for their 'rounds' were so formed as to include a visit to all the principle residences and farm houses in the neighbourhood. The words of the play performed by these Mummers were partly traditional, and partly local, and were handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. The plot of the Mummers' play, as I recollect it, was very simple and quite orthodox. It opened with a general challenge to any knight in Christendom to come forth and dispute some point which was elaborately set forth. The challenge having been accepted, a deadly conflict with swords followed. Fabulous sums of money and everlasting fame were then offered to anyone who should restore the dead knight to life again, which had the effect of bringing forth some wonderful doctor who had a magic pill, one of which being thrust into the mouth of the prostrate body restored animation and the statu in quo ante, which consummation was duly celebrated by singing, dancing and what other forms of rejoicing the company was capable of. As my father was at this time the only bookseller in Swindon, I well recollect that every year, just before winter set in, there would be end of applications for 'Mummers' books'. But these we could never supply, for the simple reason that they were not in existence; and there was therefore no help for it but for those who would play the Mummer's part to get some old Mummer to repeat the words of the several parts over and over again until the learner had got them by heart. Of course, this mode of transmission from the old 'un to the young 'un had its disadvantages. But it had its advantages also, for it admitted of such addition to the dialogue as wit, or fancy, or the circumstances of the times dictated.'

Note 2

Chris Wildridge - 'The piece also includes the Wiltshire play collected by F A Carrington and published in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, Vol. 1 1954 p 8, 81. The above was also published in John H Chandler's Wiltshire Christmas, Alan Sutton, 1991.'

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2008.



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