Friday, 27 December 2013

" A room, a room, I do presume" Mumming in the Vale

Today I went to the mumming play put on outside The Bear at Wantage. This particular production is a revival dating back to 1973, however, the text is based on one from nearby Steventon. There are a number of records of mumming plays from the Vale. The Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts lists one from Stanford-in-the –Vale and one from Childrey. The Stanford-in-the-Vale play was rather pleasingly published by the archaeologist Stuart Piggott, whose grandfather was a school master in Childrey, and first recorded by his father (Piggott 1929). He noted that the costume consisted of rags / ribbons, but not blacking up. The Childrey fragment is far shorter and has little additional information (ibid). The Steventon play which the current Wantage production is based on is not listed in the Historical Database as coming from Steventon, but rather is noted in a more general form as a “Mid-Berkshire” play. However, the on-line version of the Thomas Fairman Ordish manuscripts available via the wonderful EFDSS Full English archive make it clear that this was recorded in Steventon by Lieutenant-Colonel Barzillai Lowsley (RE) in 1888. It notes that in the Steventon play, the character usually known as Saint George is called the ‘Africky King’ – as it typical with mumming plays, the Wantage version renames this character and calls him King Alfred (reflecting local Wantage connections with Alfred).

Lowsley, B. 1888. A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases English Dialect Society, London, Trubner, 1888, pp.17-22

Piggott, S. 1929. ‘Collectanea. Mummers' Plays from Berkshire, Derbyshire, Cumberland, and Isle of Man’ Folk-Lore, 40-3, 262-44