Location: Thenford, Northamptonshire, England (SP5141)
Year: Publ. 1854
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Mummers, Mumming


Anne Elizabeth Baker
Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases : Vol.II
London, John Russell Smith, 1854, pp.429-432 [Reprinted: Thetford, Lark Publications, 1995, ISBN 0-948697-22-9]



{BEELZEBUB comes forward and says,}


In comes old Beelzebub,
On his shoulder he carries a club,
In his hand a dripping pan;
Don't you think he's a funny old man?
Sweep, sweep, make room for me
And all my jolly company.

{ACTIVITY enters and says,}


Activity, Activity,
If any man interrupts me,
I'll cut him down as small as a fly,
And send him to the cook to make mince pie.

{AGE follows, accepts ACTIVITY'S challenge, and says,}


I am the man that dare to bid you stand,
Although you say you'll cut me down as small as a fly,
And send me to the cook to make mince pie,
Guard your body, and guard your blow,
And see which on the ground shall go.
A battle, a battle, between you and I,
And see which on the ground shall lie.

{ACTIVITY and AGE fight, AGE knocks ACTIVITY down, and calls the DOCTOR to assist ACTIVITY, and says,}


Five pounds I'll freely give for the three-farthing doctor.


I am the Doctor.


Where do you come from?


From France and Spain,
To fetch the dead to life again.


What ails can you cure?


Hard corns, soft corns, the itch, the stitch,
The palsy, and the gout;
Pains within, and pains without.
Bring an old woman to me
That's been seven years dead,
And seven years buried,
And seven years put in her grave,
If she will take one of my pills,
It will fetch her to life again.

{DOCTOR calls -}


My man Jack!


Coming, Sir.

{Doctor to Activity}


These are the pills that cure all ills,
And if your neck's broken
They'll set it again.


In comes I, little Jim Jack,
With my wife and family at my back;
Although my substance is but small,
I'll do my best to please you all.
Roast beef, plum pie -
Who likes it better than I?
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year,
A pocket full of money, and a cellar full of beer.


Here comes I
That never came yet,
With my great head
And little wit.
My head is big,
My wit is small,
I'm the biggest fool amongst you all.

{The Fool then plays the hurdy-gurdy, and knocks them all down; and the whole concludes with a general scuffle on the floor. The Treasurer then goes round the company shaking his box for contributions.}


Baker's preamble:

Who list, may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery.
Mumming is an ancient amusement derived from the Roman Saturnalia, and so called from the Danish Mumme, or Dutch Momme, disguise in a mask. Christmas is the grand season for this performance, and I believe it was formerly general throughout the county, though it now only lingers in a few detached villages, as in this age of refinement few only will allow their dwellings to be made the scene of this antic pastime, as the performers enter uninvited, suddenly throwing open the door, and one after the other enact their different parts.
The mummers consist of young men, generally six or eight, who, during the Christmas holidays, commencing on the eve of Saint Thomas, go about in the rural districts disguised, personating different characters, and performing a burlesque tragedy at such houses as they think will recompense them for their entertainment. Brackley is the only market-town where I have even heard of the custom being observed. Some years since, at the seat of the late Michael Wodhull, Esq. Thenford, I witnessed the representation of the following mock play by eight Mummers, all masked.
Dramatis Personae
Beelzebub. - Jacket, with patches of different colours, paper cap, and a besom in his hand.
Activity. - Fox or hare-skin cap and tippet.
Age on the Stage. - Smock-frock covered with rags, high paper cap, and a sprig of holly.
Doctor. - Jacket, with a sheep-skin skirt behind, bell fastened at his back, top boots, high cap with a sprig of holly.
Doctor's horse. - A man who carries the doctor on his back, and supports his hands upon a small stool as he moves along.
Jem Jacks, the doctor's man. - Jacket covered with rags, stuffed with straw at the back; fringed cap of various colours. Carries the doctor's pill-box.
Fool. - Large flat cap, great coat covered with rags, a long stick strung with whipcord, a calf's tail fastened at one and, and an inflated bladder with beans at the other, called a hurdy-gurdy.
Treasurer. - A cap, carries a box or canister for contributions."

Baker's closing remarks:

The other version of this drama, which I have obtained, are so similar to the one given above, that it is needless to insert them. The Mummers are most frequently disguised with discolourations of red, white, and black on their faces, and any grotesque attire they can procure.
The name is often now ignorantly transferred to the Plough Witches who go about on Plough Monday.

File History:

2000-11-13 - Scanned and encoded by Peter Millington
2021-01-15 - TEI-encoded by Peter Millington


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