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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

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TitleMummers' play
Alternative Title
WordsHobbs, Steve
Collected FromUnknown
Source PrimaryYoung, Mary Blamire: Village history [Fonthill Bishop, Berwick St. Leonard, Fonthill Gifford, 1957 p 88, 89 WSA 3733/5/1
Source Secondary
The Play
Little text - see notes.
Print Play Verse
Our three villages did not have their own mummers, but they received visits from the Chilmark Mummers who would appear in the King's Arms at Christmastime, 'masks of cambric over their faces' and dressed in 'fustian and white'.

'I remember the mummers and some looked ugly. We young 'uns used to give them a wide berth and the mothers used to tell the children that they were awful, terrible looking men and frighten 'em before they arrived. They used to act some sort of play.'

The play was, in its essentials, the one common to most of England, dating, perhaps, from the years before the mid-winter ceremonials were Christianized and man celebrated the safe passage of the sun through the shortest day. All was now the occasion of some lively horseplay between the actors. First to enter was Father Christmas, hump backed and leaning on two sticks, 'so that he seemed old, a hundred years old and yet he were a smart young chap.'

Father Christmas

In walks I, poor old Father Christmas,
Christmas or Christmas not,
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot,
Put away all your three legged stools,
And all your three legged chairs.
If you haven't got 'em away,
Let 'em bide where they be.
I hope your pockets is full of money
And your cellers is full of beer
And we shall have a jolly good bumping cup full,
Before we goes from here.

He was followed by the 'Valiant Soldier', 'Queen Victoria's guard man', and the Turkish knight and the doctor 'able to cure pains within and pains without', by 'Queen Victoria', and by 'Johnny Jack', who carried on his back a big doll and other smaller ones. He sang a song with a bitter note, perhaps an echo of the 1830's.

Johnny Jack

Here comes I, the Johnny Jack,
My wife and family on my back.
My wife was big and family small,
And out of nine I saved but five,
And all the rest I starved alive.

On one occasion the excellent acting of the boy who played the Queen, deceived an onlooker as to his sex, so that he offered to buy a kiss, which caused much mirth before the Mummers tramped off into the winter night to pay their respects to the Rector, Mr. Coombes and Mr. Morrison.

As well as acting ability, some skills must have been necessary in devising verse, should memory fail. About the same time that the Chilmark Mummers used to visit Fonthill Bishop, a boy, then in another part of Wiltshire, though destined to pass much of his life in Fonthill Gifford, took part in a mumming play. He was the first to enter the room where they perform, and he devised the following lines for his appearance,

Here come I a liga-liga-milidier,
With arms and legs no bigger than a spider,
So shift your chairs and clear your stools,
For behind me come a pack of fools.

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2008.



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