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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

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TitleMummers’ play
Alternative Title
WordsBonham-Carter, Gerard
Collected FromShrewton Mummers
Source Primary
Source SecondaryHowlett, A Eric: Wiltshire Mummers. A E Howlett, London Road, Shrewton, 1936
The Play
Stage directions are in brackets within the text of the play.

[All the mummers come into together, singing:]

Here we are again, Happy as can be,
All good friends, and jolly good company.
Never mind the weather! Never mind the rain!
So long as we’re together,
Hulloh! Hulloh! Here we are again.

[Johnny Jack enters to open the Programme.]

Little Johnny Jack

Ladies and Gentlemen! I now introduce you to Father Christmas and his Mummers.

[When Father Christmas enters, he calls his men together, and they make an archway with their swords. At the back, facing the spectators, Father Christmas kneels on one knee and Johnny Jack stands by him with his hand on his shoulder. All sing “While shepherds watched their flocks by night” to the old tune called the nativity.]

Father Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer.

[He falls to the floor]

Oh Dear! Oh Dear! Oh Dear! Oh Dear!

[All stand round and sing ‘Poor old Jeff]

[Valiant Soldier comes in saying]

Valiant Soldier

What’s the matter wi’ thy poor back then Father!

Father Christmas

Only got a hump on ‘im, sir.

Valiant Soldier

What makes thy blubbers look so blue?

Father Christmas

Oh! The weather is so cold,
And I be growing old.
What a day! What a day-y-y-y!

Valiant Soldier

Shall I help you up?

Father Christmas

No, I don’t want none of your help, I’ll have Johnny Jack.

[Johnny Jack helps up Father Christmas]

Father Christmas

In comes I, poor old Father Christmas,
Christmas, or Christmas not,
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot
Plum Puddin’, Mince pies,
Roast Beef, Roast Duck, Who likes them better than Prince Albert and I?
I’ve acted old, I’ve acted young,
I’ve acted in captive to all our foes,
So room, room, I require this night,
To see four noble warriors come forward and fight.
There is Prince Albert, The Turkish Knight,
Valiant Soldier, and Saint George.
So room, room I say,
Let that noble man, Prince Albert, walk this way.
Walk in here Prince Albert.
Act thy part,
Show the Ladies and Gentlemen
Thy valiant heart.

[All sing “God bless the Prince of Wales”]

[Prince Albert enters and says]

Prince Albert

The valiant man,
With sword and spear in hand,
If thy blood run hot,
I will quickly make it run cold.
What mortal man
Who dares to stand
Before me with my sword in hand,
I’ll cut him as small as so many flies,
And send him to Jamaica to make mince pies.
So room, room I say,
Let that Turk walk this way.
So walk in here thou Turkish Knight,
Just from that Turkish land to fight,
And challenge Prince Albert with all thy might.
Act thy part,
Show the Ladies and Gentlemen
Thy valiant heart.

[Turkish Knight appears. Prince Albert rests his sword across his left arm and walks around the room. Turkish Knight walks after him, smiting his sword.]

Turkish Knight

In comes I, the Turkish Knight,
In Turkish land I learned to fight.
I’ll fight thee Prince Albert with all my might,
Although thy guards be army men,
Army men, merchant men, men of war.
Many a battle have I been through
Since Prince Albert reigned our King.
So let thee and I this battle try,
See which on the ground shall lie.
Life for life, sword in hand,
If thou art ready, I’m the man.

Prince Albert

Come on, thou Constantine villain,
I will give thee some Turkish Delight.
If thou slay me dead I’ll have it out.

[Sword fight commences. Prince Albert fall, badly wounded.]

Prince Albert

Pardon, Sir!

Turkish Knight

No pardon will I give thee,
No money will I pay.
So rise up off thy bended knee,
And have us fight this battle out today.

[Prince Albert rises. The fight continues, and Prince Albert again falls. The Turkish Knight puts one foot over the body of Prince Albert, holding his sword in the air.]

[The Valiant Soldier now re-enters and saying]

Valiant Soldier

In comes I, Valiant Soldier, bold and brave,
Cut-and-Dash is my name.
Swords and bucklers by my side,
I hope to win this game.

[Father Christmas walks after him, and says]

Father Christmas

I hope thee will.

Valiant Soldier

My head is made of iron,
My body is made of steel.
I’ll fight thee with hand and knuckle bone
Before I quit the field.
In comes I, all rags and jags,
Sticking dead men, and cutting off legs.
Roast beef, plum puddin’, mince pies, roast duck, roast goose.

Father Christmas

Gi’ I lots o’ puddin’,
Puddin’, pudding, puddin’,
Gi’ Father Christmas lots o’ puddin’.

Valiant Soldier

So let thee and I this battle try.
See which on the ground shall lie.
Life for life, sword in hand,
If thou art ready, I’m the man.

[Fight commences between Valiant Soldier and Turkish Knight. Valiant Soldier falls, wounded, beside Prince Albert. Father Christmas falls down broken-hearted, weeping over the two men.]

All sing

So he whispered goodbye
To his comrades so dear,
His head on his knapsack gently lay
And when you get home
You can tell them I’m gone,
And lying in a British Soldier’s grave.

[Father Christmas rises, and, taking hold of the Turk’s arm, calls him a Turkish villain, and threatens him with a large stick.]

Father Christmas

Oh Dear! Oh Dear! What ha’st thou done,
Thou ha’st killed and slain mine only son.
You Constantine villain,
I will have my revenge later,
If I was a young man I’d fight thee now.

[He throws out the Turk, and continues]

Is there a noble Doctor to be found,
To rise these two young men,
Lying bleeding on the ground?

[Enter the Doctor]


Oh Yes! Oh Yes! There is a doctor to be found,
To rise these two young men,
Lying bleeding on the ground?

Father Christmas

How comest thou Doctor?


By my travels.

Father Christmas

Where d’ost thou travel?


Hippity, skippity, Scotland, Ireland, Spain,
Twice all that, and back to England again.

Father Christmas

Young man, you have been a long way,
You are like them all, they all come back to old England.
What could’st thou cure then Doctor?


The itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout,
The pain within and the pain without,
The old Devil in, I can bring him out.

Father Christmas

Not all the medicine in the world
Would bring the Devil out of me. Is that all?


No. Any lady feeling sick, I can cure her quick.

Father Christmas

Is that all?


No. Any man with a toe broke, I can set it again.

Father Christmas

Is that all then Doctor?


No. Cut off your head and stick it on again.

Father Christmas

Oh, don’t do that then, Doctor,
I’m only poor old Father Christmas.
What’s thy fee a Doctor?


Sixty guineas, but fifty I will take from a poor old man like thee.

Father Christmas

Oh Doctor! Don’t be too hard on me,
I shall never be able to pay that, so know.


Oh yes you will

Father Christmas

Well, thee talks so fine, so work thy will.

[With this the Doctor takes a bottle of medicine out of his bag, shakes it up, and says]


I have a drop of glorious rat poison by my side,
A drop to the head and a drop to the heart.

[Doctor then places his hand first on the heads and then on the hearts of the fallen champions]

Father Christmas

You can never do it. You are all dressed up and nowhere to go.
I believe thou bist a quack. You’ll never rise these young men.


Arise you two young men, that lie bleeding on the ground.

[They do not rise, and Father Christmas says]

Father Christmas

Get out of the way, let the old man have a go.
My medicine is better than yours.
All they want is a Number Nine and Gymnasiums.

[He rolls them about the floor, rubs their chests, and says]

This is how Mother rolls the puddin’.

[He gets up and tells them to rise, but they do not]

Oh Dear! Oh Dear! I am beat.
You’d better have another go.


Arise, you two young men, that lie bleeding on the ground.

[They arise, and Father Christmas says to the Doctor]

Father Christmas

Thou’st been and done it then?


Yes, Dad. What I take in hand I can cure.

Father Christmas

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Wonders will never cease.
Ladies and Gentlemen! This Turk has fought and won
Prince Albert and the Valiant Soldier.
We have a man here will come in,
Fight the Turk, Take away his sword,
And win back the sword for old England.

[All again form an arch with their swords. Father Christmas places his hand on St. George’s shoulder, and the two come forward together under the raised swords. They march up to the spectators and then retire, stepping backwards under the swords. They halt, Father Christmas holds his right hand upwards, with his left on ST. George’s shoulder.]

Father Christmas

Ladies and Gentlemen! St. George of old England.

[All sing “Rule Britannia]

Saint George

In comes I, Saint George,
With shining armour bright,
The famous soldier, also working Knight.
Seven long years in a closed cage was kept,
Out of that into prison let,
And I lay down my weary bones,
My body was like a rock of cold stone.
I fought a fiery dragon,
And brought it to its slaughter,
And for this won the King of Egypt’s daughter.
First I fought in Portugal,
Second I fought in Spain,
Later I came home,
To fight this boasting Knight again.
So let thee and I this battle try,
See which on the ground doth lie,
Life for life, sword in hand,
If thou art ready, Saint George is the man.

[Fight commences. Terrible fight! Turkish Knight drops his sword, which Father Christmas picks up. Turkish Knight seizes St . George’s sword. They twist it this way and that, and forward and backward, each champion having both hands on the sword, and finally hold it aloft back to back. St. George then wrenches the sword away.

The terrible fight begins with clashing of sticks according to rule, so many strokes above, so many strokes below, or alternating above and below, and ends with a similar struggle for St. George’s sword, which, in the movements and swaying of arms and bodies, is like a sort of dance.]

Turkish Knight

Mercy! Mercy! Pardon, Sir!

[St. George threatens to cut off his head. Father Christmas intervenes and pushes back St. George]

Father Christmas

That will do my boy, that will do Saint George,
You have won this sword from Turkey for ever,
Now show this Turk that you are not only a swordsman,
But an English gentleman, by your manners.

[Turkish Knight rises. The Turk and St. George stand side by side facing the audience. Father Christmas stands behind, holding the Turk’s sword high over their heads and cries - ]

Father Christmas

The sword of old England.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are only Christmas Mummers. Christmas is a time when malice and hatred should be kept away. Men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.

[He drops his sword, and raising both hands says]

I wish you Father Christmas’ wish,
Peace on earth, Goodwill to men.

[St. George and the Turkish Knight clasp hands. They stand in front, the rest behind. Little Johnny Jack lays the two swords crossed at their feet, and then for the moment retires.]

All sing

Say you forget and forgive,
For old times’ sake.
Don’t let your enmity live,
Life’s too short to quarrel,
Hearts too precious to break.
Forgive and let us be friends,
For old times’ sake.

Father Christmas

Ladies and Gentlemen!
I now introduce you to the last,
But not the least of our little pack,
Little Johnny Jack.
Walk in here little Johnny Jack,
Act thy part,
Show the ladies and gentlemen
Thy valiant part.

[Little Johnny Jack comes in [or forward] with dancing, music and buffoonery. He dances a short dance after the manner of a Scottish sword dance, with steps between the crossed swords, which are lying on the ground]

Little Johnny Jack

In comes I, Little Johnny Jack,
Although they call me Saucy Jack,
Happy Jack, Little Jack, Lazy Jack,
And Jack of Jinny Jacks,
With my wife and family at my back.
Out of nine I have got but five,
And they are almost starved alive.
Some are dead, some are gone to the workhouse,
The rest shall go when I get home.
So Ladies and Gentlemen,
If you have any pity for me and my wife,
Hand out your bread and cheese, and give us a knife,
A drop of your Christmas ale will make us all sing.

All sing

Johnny Jack went out to play,
In the meadow yesterday,
After Mother told him not to go
Where the watercress does grow.
Now he has to stay in bed,
Such a cold is in his head.
Sneezing makes his face all red,
Tishum! Tishum! Tishum!

Little Johnny Jack

Our sport is all ended,
Our box is recommended,
And I wish you all a Merry Christmas,
And a Prosperous New Year.

[Songs and choruses follow]

Two favourite choruses

You won’t catch me on a gee-gee’s back again,
It’s not the sort of place that you can doze on.
The only ‘oss that I think I can manage,
Is the one that Mother dries the clothes on.

And didn’t we have some fun, et cetera,
Brandy, tea and rum, et cetera,
Ham and lamb, Tripe and jam, et cetera,
We’re going to have another,
Will you come, come, come.
Print Play Verse
The text and notes are from two copies of the booklet, both supplied by the Keeper of the Morris Ring Folk Play Archive, Ron Shuttleworth, being donations from Hugh Ripppon and Dr Eddie Cass, with whose kind permission they are reproduced.

The title page of the Rippon copy of the booklet contains the following:

The version played at Shrewton, Wilts, as repeated from memory by Frederick Joseph Perrier, a former mummer, and taken down in shorthand by A Eric Howlett, March 1936.

Then a manuscript note:

[But] there was no repeat performance [?] Gerard B-C told SBC

The recto of the title page is a repeat of the verso but with the following manuscript note:

At the instance of Gerard Bonham-Carter, of Shrewton House, who had it printed and made the notes – He died 12 Dec 1956 – He told SMB-C his niece that though the play was performed the [previous Chri – deleted] year he collected it, after a long interval, it had again lapsed.

Manuscript notes by Gerard Bonham-Carter are interspersed within the text of the play. For the purposes of continuity I have extracted the notes and indicate for each where they appear in the published text.

Johnny Jack enters to open the Programme.

He is the smallest of the mummers. He is the fool and the buffoon. He wears a big square hat adorned with ribbons, and kilt slashed with colours, and covered with coloured ribbons. He has bells around his waist and wrists and ankles. He carries seven dolls tied on his back, and he carries a tambourine.

[NOTE – a marginal manuscript addition -] Beelzebub formerly was always one of the personages, and he was the first clown. Little Johnny Jack being only the second clown, but Beelzebub has ceased to appear, and has no part in this version.

The characters were Prince Albert, Turkish Knight, Valiant Soldier, Saint George, Doctor, Johnny Jack. F. J. Perrier says that King Richard Lion Heart was also one of the characters formerly, but not in his time.

... I’ve acted in captive:

F. J. Perrier recites it thus – It is perhaps the French en captive [as a prisoner] handed down from Norman times.

All sing “God bless the Prince of Wales

There appears to be here some confusion between Albert, Prince Consort, and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales [Edward VIII]

... British Soldier’s grave.:

F. J. Perrier says that this song was popular at the time of the Boer War, 1899 – 1902, and was then interpolated into the Mummers Play.

... I believe thee bist a quack

Bist – spelled as pronounced. Compare German Du bist [thou art]

... Number Nine

This is an old Army joke. Number Nine was a well known medicine, a black pill, probably containing calomel, which, it was said, was prescribed by medical officers for every kind of complaint. Physical Drill [P.D.] has now taken the place of Gymnasium.

... All sing “Rule Brittania” is the original spelling, corrected to Britannia.

... A drop of your Christmas ale will make us all sing.

Possibly there may be some connection between the buffoonery and dancing of Little Johnny Jack at the end of the Mummers’ Play, and the so called Harlequinade which traditionally follows a Christmas pantomime. Both Mummers Plays and Pantomimes must originally have been dumb shows.

The notes to the Cass copy differ and are as follows:

The title page of the booklet contains the following:

The version played at Shrewton, Wilts, as repeated from memory by Frederick Joseph Perrier, a former mummer, and taken down in shorthand by A Eric Howlett, March 1936.

Then a manuscript note above the date:

On the instructions of Gerard Bonham-Carter of Shrewton House.

The recto of the title page is a repeat of the verso but with the following manuscript note:

Above the title:

Gerard Bonham-Carter – November 1936

Between Howlett and March 1936:

On the instructions of Gerard Bonham-Carter of Shrewton House


There are three other extant copies of the play, all included on the website. The version published in Wiltshire Folklife, 18, 1989 came from a recording made in 1958 from an un-named informant, but possibly Fred Perrier who provided the other extant texts. One, issued by Peter Kennedy: Wiltshire village songs and customs, Folktrax 406, 1969. David Kettlewell transcribed the version held in the VWML which is also dated 1969. All three texts differ in detail.

The 1936 transcription of the play appears, therefore, to be the oldest version of the play yet discovered. The implication in the booklet is that the play was performed by a full cast of characters in Shrewton House as the note on the title page recto says, ‘... though the play was performed the year he [GB-C] collected it, after a long interval, it had again lapsed.’

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2012.



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