If you are reading this page using a screenreader, we support ARIA landmarks for quick navigation too

Wiltshire Community History

Folk Play Information

There were 1 items found.

TitleMummers' play
Alternative Title
WordsWilliams, Alfred
Collected FromUnknown
Occupation
Age
Date
LocationAston
CountyOxfordshire
Source PrimaryWSRO: 2598/36 Packet 3 - Gloucestershire: Williams, A: MS collection No Gl 191
Source SecondaryOxford Times December 24th 1926 p 8
Recording
 
The Play
Characters of the Piece

Father Christmas, Valiant Soldier, Royal Russian King and Turkish Knight, Doctor, Jack Vinney


Enter Father Christmas

Father Christmas

'In come I. old Father Christmas,
Welcome or welcome not,
I hop old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
Last Christmas Day I turned the spit,
I burnt my fingers and feel on't yet.
The sparks went over the table,
The skimmer beat the ladle,
'Ay, ay,' says the gridiron, 'Can't you two agree?
I am the Justice. Bring them to me.'
A room, a room, sing hey down derry,
I am come this Christmas time to make you all merry.
If there's any offence, I'll go hence,
If not make room for me
And my jolly company.
Come in, the Valiant Soldier.'

Enter the Valiant Soldier

Valiant Soldier

I am the Valiant Soldier bold,
And Slasher is my name,
With my sword and my buckler by my side
I hope to win the game.

Father Christmas

Slasher, Slasher, dossent be too hot,
Before thou knowest who thou'st got.

Valiant Soldier

What grows on Land's End?

Father Christmas

Wheat and rye.

Valiant Soldier

Then there shall be a battle twixt thee and I.
To which first on the ground shall lie.
So mind thy head and guard thy blow:
Mind thy eyes and face also!
Come in the Royal Russian King!

Enter the Royal Russian King

Royal Russian King

I am the Royal Russian King,
I am the Turkish Knight,
And I come from the Turkish land,
And I am bound for to fight.
I don't value thee nor no other man,
Neither English, Dutch, French or Spain,
If any man thinks he can do me harm let his voice ring!
I am the Royal, the Russian King.

Valiant Sailor and the Royal Russian King fight. The Royal Russian King falls.

Royal Russian King

A doctor! A doctor! I really would give five pound
If a good doctor could be found.

Enter the Doctor

Doctor

I will not come for five pound.

Royal Russian King

What will you come for then?

Doctor

I will come for ten pound.
I am a doctor, a doctor good,
And with my hand I can stop the blood.
I have cured in England, I have cured in Spain.
And I am come to old England to cure again.

Valiant Sailor

What can'st thou cure more than any other man?

Doctor

An old magpie with the tooth ache.

Valiant Sailor

How dost do that?

Doctor

First I twist off his head,
Throw his body in the ditch,
Then chop him up as small as flies,
And send him to France to make mince pies.
Mince pies hot, mince pies cold,
Mince pies in the pot nine days old.
Come in Jack Vinney

Enter Jack Vinney

Jack Vinney

My name's not Jack Vinney.

Doctor

What's your name then?

Jack Vinney

My name's Mr Vinney, a man of land and property.

Doctor

Come in then Mr Vinney.

Jack Vinney

Here come I, that's not been hit,
With my great head and little wit;
My head so big and wit so small,
But I'll endeavour to please you all.

As I went up along a straight and crooked lane I saw a pigsty tied to an elden bush. Built with apple dumplings and slated with pancakes. I knocked at the maid and out came the door. She asked me if I could eat half a pint of ale and drink a crust of bread and cheese. I said - 'No thank you, Miss!' but meant 'Yes, if you please!'. So she brought me out a cold leg of nothing and no taters and that's where I got my big belly. I went on a little further and there I saw two old women a-sifting tobacco. One threw a piece through a cast iron platter and beat the bottom out, and another flung a piece through a ten foot wall and injured a poor, dead dog. I had massy on that poor, dead dog and I turned him slap dab inside outwards and sent him to Buckland Hill backwards a-barking.

All dance
 
Print Play Verse
 
Notes
Note 1

Alfred Williams – This play I printed in the Oxford Times two years ago.

Note 2

There are minor textual differences between the two forms of the play. The words of the song printed at the end of the Oxford Times article do not appear in the manuscript.

Note 3

Oxford Times December 24th 1926 p 8: Alfred Williams: An Oxfordshire Mummers Play.

With the approach of Christmas we being to think of the carol singers and the mummers who every year used to meet and practise is a shed, barn or stable before they perambulated the village and asked permission to perform at the farmhouse or cottage. Not that we hear much of either carol singers or mummers at the present time. Drastic changes have set in everywhere, and folk observances are well-nigh extinct not only here, but all over the country. And yet there is more organised interest in local customs and observations than ever before. Many who would not deign to listen to a party of mummers at Christmas time would yet read an account of them with interest and pleasure. We are not indifferent to the folk inheritance; notwithstanding our finer culture, at heart we are steeped in the old spirit. After all, what is the real foundation of our present day habits, rules, rites and ceremonies? Are they not all based on tradition? Of course! They are all a species of folk lore, or they were so before they were moulded into their present shape by what we call the evolutionary process.

Nowhere on the country was there more folk activity than in the neighbourhood of the Upper Thames between Oxford, Cirencester and Malmesbury. This applies to both banks of the river, and includes parts of the four counties of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Berkshire. From Eynsham to Stanton Harcourt; and thence past Standlake, Aston, Bampton, Clanfield and Alvescot, taking a line roughly to the Thameshead, there was unbounded music and merriment, and many popular customs. The same applies to the village on the south bank, though there were very important differences. These differences are quite striking, and sometimes startling. The river provides a key to the mystery. But this is not the time nor the place into which to enter upon a discussion of the subject.

There are many versions of the mummers play in circulation even in the Upper Thames district, but no doubt they might all be traced to a common origin. I have collected five or six different pieces between Oxford and Cirencester, but near the Thames the best known were the play of “Robin Hood” and another which bore the title “Father Christmas”. The piece called “Robin Hood” [given in full in my Round About the Upper Thames] was popular at Standlake, Bampton and Lechlade. Near Cricklade we have another copy of a mummers play in circulation which contains references to the Islamic emperor of Spain. All the pieces are old in their origin, but the versions have undergone many changes and vicissitudes.

It is the fashion to complain of the rudeness of folk plays and folk music. But is it not that very crudeness which excites our interest in them Simplicity is the distinguishing feature of all folklore. But this does not mean that crudeness is a necessary part of it. This often came in later owing to imperfect traditions, interpulations, and poor copying. At ordinary seasons of the years certainly we are not in the mood to listen to third rate music, songs and ballads that may be little better than doggerel and the intelligible rhapsodies of street actors. But at Christmas time we relax and for the sake of being genial show ourselves ready and willing to submit to anything that is sanctioned by a lengthy observance.

The origin of mumming is too obscure for anyone to offer an east and satisfactory explanation of it. No doubt it originated in a solar myth: this is to say that it bore some relation to the astronomical order and the contents of the calendar. It appears to have come to us from the East. Nowhere in the world are there more folk customs, games, shows and crude dramatic entertainments than among the Aryan populations of India, who are our historical ancestors. In the Hindi Jatras, or “birth tales” we find the counterpart of the English Miracle Play, only older by many centuries. In the Big Veda, also, is the germ of true drama and many, if not most, of our popular rites. We have outgrown these things, but in the East their popularity is boundless, and it shows no signs of abating.

Mumming undoubtedly means “acting”. The word is probably identical with the old German word, “mummen” which means “to mimic”. Mumming was, therefore, understood on the Continent centuries ago. In the days of Queen Elizabeth mumming was called “disguising”. Young men and women exchanged dresses and, forming a company, went from house to house singing and dancing for which they expected to be rewarded with gifts of money and refreshments. At the New Year festival of the Hindus, during the interludes, boys and young men dress up in feminine attire and sing and dance, creating diversions for the company exactly as was done here. In a mumming piece which I discovered near Faringdon one of the characters is dressed as a woman; so here we have a relic of the “disguising” as it was called. No doubt this used to be a general practice.

It is curious that in England mumming was often confused with wassailing. Something of the kind took place in the region of the Upper Thames, because the Wassailers of Cricklade dressed infancy costumes and wore coloured ribbons, such as was usually done by mummers. But it was not the rules generally to dress in gay costumes, or to wear any but the ordinary clothes in the wassail rites.

The mummers play given below was popular in the Bampton and Aston district.

Enter Father Christmas

‘In come I. old Father Christmas,
Welcome or welcome not,
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
Last Christmas Day I turned the spit,
I burnt my fingers and feel on’t yet.
The sparks went over the table,
The skimmer beat the ladle,
‘Ay, ay,’ says the gridiron, ‘Can’t you two agree?
I am the Justice. Bring them to me.’
A room, a room, sing hey-down-derry,
I am come this Christmas to make you all merry.
If there’s any offence, I’ll go hence,
If not make room for me
And my jolly company.
Come in, the Valiant Soldier.’

Enter the Valiant Soldier

I am the Valiant Soldier,
And Slasher is my name,
With my sword and my buckler by my side
I hope to win the game.

Father Christmas

Slasher, Slasher, pray dont be too hot,
Before thou knowest who thou’st got.

Valiant Soldier

What grows on Land’s End?

Father Christmas

Wheat and rye.

Valiant Soldier

Then there shall be a battle twixt thee and I.
To see which first on the ground shall lie.
So mind thy head and guard thy blow:
Mind thy eyes and face also!
Come in the Royal Russian King!

Enter the Royal Russian King

I am the Royal Russian King,
I am the Turkish Knight,
And I am come from the Turkish land,
And I am bound for to fight.
If any man thinks he can do me harm
Let his voice ring!
I am the Royal, the Russian King.

Valiant Sailor and the Royal Russian King fight. The Royal Russian King falls.

Royal Russian King

A doctor! A doctor! I really would give five pound
If a good doctor could be found.

Enter the Doctor

I will not come for five pound.

Royal Russian King

What will you come for then?

Doctor

I will come for ten pound.
I am a doctor, a doctor good,
And with my hand I can stop thy blood.
I have cured in England, I have cured in Spain.
And I am come to old England to cure again.

Valiant Sailor

What can’st thou cure more than any other man?

Doctor

An old magpie with the tooth ache.

Valiant Sailor

How dost thou do that?

Doctor

First I twist off his head,
Throw his body in the ditch,
Then chop him up as small as flies,
And send him to France to make mince pies.
Mince pies hot, mince pies cold,
Mince pies in the pot nine days old.
Come in Jack Vinney

Enter Jack Vinney

Here come I, that’s not been hit,
With my great head and little wit;
My head so big and wit so small,
But I’ll endeavour to please you all.

As I went up along a narrow, straight and crooked lane I saw a pigsty tied to an eldorn bush, built with apple dumplings and slated with pancakes. I knocked at the maid and the door came out. She asked me if I could eat a pint of ale and drink a crust of bread and cheese. I said – “No thank you, Miss!” but meant “Yes, if you please!” So she brought me out a cold leg of nothing and no taters and that’s what gives me my big belly. I went on a little further and there I saw two old women a-sifting tobacco. One threw a piece through a cast iron platter and knocked the bottom out, and another flung a piece through a ten foot wall and injured a poor, dead dog. I had massy on that poor, dead dog and I turned him slap-dab-inside-outwards and sent him to Buckland Hill backwards a-barking.

Here all join hands and dance together singing:

Green sleeves, yellow lace,
Pretty boys dance apace
For the fiddler is in great distress
For the want of a little money.

Transcribed and edited by – Chris Wildridge, 2011.

Actions

Search

This website

Contact details

Contact Wiltshire Council

Write to us or call us

Wiltshire Council
County Hall
Bythesea Road
Trowbridge
Wiltshire
BA14 8JN