Folk Play Distribution Map: Traditional Times of Appearance

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Folk Play Distribution Map: Traditional Times of Appearance
Versions of this map: Interactive Google Map Static Google Map Outline Map
yellow Christmas
fuchsia New Year
lime Plough Monday
red Easter
aqua Halloween
blue All Souls
gray Other
  1. Known composite scripts prepared by known authors have been omitted.
  2. Chapbooks, broadsides, and other commercial texts have been omitted.

This map is based on the 10km National Grid squares for which information on times of appearance is available. Each marker aggregates data for the grid square and may therefore represent one or several locations. Markers may have two or more colours if more than one season of performance is present in the grid square. In the interactive Google version of this map, you can click on the markers to see the local names for the relevant seasons.


It has long been known that the traditional times of appearance of British and Irish Quack Doctor plays vary according to region. For instance All Souls is the preferred date in Cheshire, and Plough Monday in preferred in the East Midlands. However, only recently did anyone try plotting a national distribution map for times of appearance; the precursors to this map (Millington, 2005, Cawte et al, 2007). This is surprising, given that sufficient suitable data had been available since 1967 when English Ritual Drama [ERD] was published (Cawte et al, 1967, updated 2007). Instead, maps were only plotted for types of play. Having said that, Brian Hayward (1992) did plot a distribution map for Scottish times of appearance.


The data for this map has been drawn from a variety of sources [1] and entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet [2] for processing. My basic approach has been to start by processing the lists of plays in ERD, and then add records from other sources, especially sources that are already in a digitised format.

Some places appear in more than one source, and these were therefore duplicated in the spreadsheet. However, they only produce one point on the map. For a few places, two sources give different grid references (usually for adjacent 1km grid squares). In these cases, the locations have been checked on the Ordnance Survey maps and the grid references corrected accordingly. Otherwise, grid references have been taken on trust.

Related names for times of appearance (e.g. Plough Monday, Ploughboy Night, etc.) have been grouped together and colour-coded. However, this has only been done for the more common times of appearance - i.e. Christmas, New Year, Plough Monday, Easter, Halloween and All Souls. Odd villages here and there have other times of performance that appear to be unique to them - perhaps the local village feast day. These appear as "Other", and would be worthy of further investigation in a separate study.

In the special case of plays where the time of appearance is not explicitly stated, but which have the character Father Christmas have been assigned to Christmas. This applies mainly to records from southern England, especially those from the James Madison Carpenter Collection. To test the validity of this approach, I plotted a trial map of just the Christmas and Father Christmas records. This showed that nearly all the Father Christmas records occurred in 10km grid squares that also had records explicitly performed at Christmas. The assumed link between Father Christmas and Christmas performance therefore appears to be valid.


It has been noted before that the distribution of Quack Doctor plays in the British Isles is uneven (e.g. Cawte et al, 1967), and this is evident in this map too. It is difficult to say whether areas are blank because the plays were never performed there, or because no one has looked for information there. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The number of known plays has always increased significantly wherever people have made a systematic effort to gather all the available information on the plays of a particular region. In Ireland for instance, only a handful of plays were known before the investigations of Alan Gailey. Helm's first checklist (1954) had only 6 plays for the whole of Ireland, but by the time ERD was published, this number had grown to over 130 locations, and the concentration of the plays in Ulster and Wexford had become evident (Cawte et al, 1967). Similarly, Helm's 1954 list had only 8 plays for the whole of Scotland. By 1967 this had grown to a still sparse 35. Hayward (1992) increased this number to 105, which only then was sufficient to permit the identification of distribution patterns. Within England too, the number of records for many counties has shown equally impressive growth.

The conclusion to be drawn from this discussion is that whenever people have looked for evidence in a particular area, they have usually found it. It is therefore not sufficient to state that plays do not occur in a particular area unless it can be demonstrated that an assiduous search for evidence has been unsuccessful. Cawte et al may have demonstrated this for Shropshire and Herefordshire (Cawte et al, 1967, p.31). It seems probable that the voids in northern Scotland, East Anglia, most of Wales and the bulk of southern Ireland are also real.

This map confirms the regional variations that are already known. The red area shows that Pace-Egging at Easter is concentrated in the north western counties of England - Lancashire, Cumbria and parts of West Yorkshire. South of that, the blue patch indicates the Souling plays of central Cheshire (actually often performed a few days earlier at Halloween). Scattered light blue markers show Halloween performances in Scotland, with purple squares indicating the other Scottish date; New Year. The green patches show the concentration of Plough Monday performances in the English East Midlands and to a lesser extent in Yorkshire. Elsewhere, and very much in the majority, performances took place at Christmas.


Christmas performances occur to a greater or lesser extent throughout the whole geographical range of the plays, and the other performance dates seem to overlie the Christmas distribution. This suggests that Christmas could have been the original performance date, and the regional variations may have developed later. There is some evidence to support this in the East Midlands. The earliest known Plough plays were performed in the 1820s at Christmas (Baskervill, 1923). It was only later in the 19th century that Plough plays were acted on Plough Monday.

Although this is an ongoing project, the present map is probably already fairly representative. Data from further sources will be added in the future. From what is known about earmarked sources, it seems likely that these will flesh out and consolidate the existing distribution patterns rather than reveal anything radically new.

Peter Millington


  1. Sources used in compiling this map:
    • English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index (Cawte et al, 1967) - probably still the key reference guide to information on British and Irish folk drama, although more comprehensive guides have been published for particular counties
    • Corrections and additions to English Ritual Drama published in three parts by E.C.Cawte in Roomer (1981, 1982 & 1985).
    • The Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts (Millington, 1994-2006)
    • Steve Roud & Paul Smith's (1993) MumBib and MummInd databases.
    • My own bibliography of Nottinghamshire folk plays and related customs (Millington & Jones, 1999-2005).
    • Chas Marshall & Stuart Rankin's The Return of the Blue Stots (2003)
    • The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue (Bishop, 2003).
  2. The spreadsheet used to compile data for this map has columns for the following fields:
    • 4-figure National Grid map reference
    • Place Name
    • County
    • Country or Nation
    • Time of Appearance
    • Code Letter, representing the season of performance
    • Source of data - name of the database or list
    • Bibliographic reference for the primary source, where readily available


Charles Reed Baskervill (1923) Mummers' Wooing Plays in England
Modern Philology, Feb.1924, Vol.21, No.3, pp.225-272

Julia C.Bishop et al (2003) The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue
Internet URL:, 2003, Accessed 19th Feb.2021

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock (1967) English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index
London, Folklore Society, 1967
[Merged with the ensuing amendments in Cawte et al, 2007]

E.C.Cawte (1981) Amendments to 'English Ritual Drama'
Roomer, 1981, Vol.1, No.5, pp.23-26

E.C.Cawte (1982) Amendments to English Ritual Drama - Part 2
Roomer, 1982, Vol.2, No.2, pp.9-16

E.C.Cawte (1985) Amendments to 'English Ritual Drama': Part 3
Roomer, 1985, Vol.5, No.2, pp.9-22

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm, N.Peacock & P.T.Millington (2007) Electronic ERD: An Index to English Folk Drama
Internet URL:, 2007, Accessed 12th Nov.2009

Brian Hayward (1992) Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play
Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992, ISBN 07486-0338-7, p.13

Alex Helm (1954) The English Folk Play: A General Survey
Manchester, E.F.D.S.S., 1954

Chas Marshall & Stuart Rankin (2003) The Return of the Blue Stots: An Aspect of Traditional Drama in Yorkshire
London, Dockside Studio, 2003

Peter Millington (1999-2018) Folk Play Research: Texts and Contexts
Internet URL:, 1999-2018, accessed 24th Jan.2021
Retitled in 2018 - formerly 'Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts'.

Peter Millington & Idwal Jones (1999-2018) Nottinghamshire List of Folk Plays and Related Customs
Internet URL:, 1999-2018, Accessed 24th Jan.2021
Moved from in 2018, where it was entitled 'Bibliography of Nottinghamshire Folk Plays and Related Customs'.

Peter Millington (2004-2021) Folk Play Scripts Explorer
Internet URL:, 2004-2021, accessed 24th Jan.2021

Peter Millington (2005) Geographical Distribution of Folk Play Times of Appearance - Work in Progress
Internet URL:, 2005, Accessed 10th Apr.2016

Michael J. Preston (2003) Reading Chapbooks Closely: Gleaning Evidence about their Composition, History, and Relationship to Oral Traditions
Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, ed. by Eddie Cass & Peter Millington
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003, ISBN 0-9508152-3-3, pp.133-176

Steve Roud & Paul Smith [eds.] (1993) Mummers' Plays: Electronic Subject Bibliographies 3 Enfield Lock, Hisarlik Press, 1993, ISBN 1-874312-10-9

This map was generated using the Master Mummers Outline Distribution Mapper.
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© 2009, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: Last updated: 19-Feb-2021