Mummers ,,New Forest

by cobbies69

Sunday 10th February 2013

mummers  plural of mum·mer (Noun)

1. An actor in a traditional masked mime,esp, of a type associated with Christmas and popular in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
2. A pantomimist.

Mummers Plays (also known as mumming) are seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers (or by local names such as rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, galoshins, guysers, and so on), originally from the British Isles , but later in other parts of the world. They are sometimes performed in the street but more usually as house-to-house visits and in public houses. Although the term mummers has been used since medieval times, no play scripts or performance details survive from that era, and the term may have been used loosely to describe performers of several different kinds. Mumming may have precedents in German and French carnival customs, with rare but close parallels also in late medieval England.

The earliest evidence of mummers’ plays as they are known today (usually involving a magical cure by a quack doctor) is from the mid to late 18th century. Mumming plays should not be confused with the earlier mystery plays.

New Forest

Mummers and “guisers” (performers in disguise) can be traced back at least to the Middle
Ages in Great Britain and Ireland, though when the term “mummer” appears in ancient
manuscripts it is rarely clear what sort of performance was involved. A key element was
visiting people in disguise at Christmas. De Cresigny and Hutchinson note that ‘There is still
one band of mummers, worthy of the name, which performs scraps from what were once
mystery or morality plays’ in the New Forest in the late nineteenth century.49
Writing in 1996, Dr Eric Jones-Evans recalled the arrival of the East Boldre Mummers to
give their Christmas play in the Royal Oak, at Hilltop in Beaulieu in 1924. At that time

Jones-Evans records that he was of the opinion that Mummers no longer performed in
Hampshire, and was delighted to see the East Boldre players perform on a wintry Christmas
He describes how, when the pub had filled with customers, full of the goodwill of the
season, the Mummers arrived ‘from East Boldre in a horse-drawn covered cart. Dressed in
garish costumes made from coloured crepe paper that concealed their ordinary attire, and
with blackened faces, they trooped into the crowded bar-parlour to strains of

“The First Noel”
50 Original Mummers plays were folk dramas based on the legend of St. George and the Seven
Champions of Christendom. They were originally mime shows (thus ‘Mummers’ from the
Middle English word mum, meaning silent.) where all the performers were disguised and
known as ‘Guisers’. The principal characters are St. George, Captain Slasher, The Turkish
Knight, The King of Egypt, a doctor and several men-at-arms who challenge St. George to a
duel and are subsequently slain. The Doctor enters and demonstrates his skill by
resuscitating the dead knights.
All the characters were played by men who kept the same part for many years. Eventually,
dialogue was added, but was passed on by word-of-mouth. Thus, by the time that Jones-
Evans recalled the play, St George had been transformed into King George and the Turkish
Knight, combined with the men-at-arms, had become two ‘Turkey Snipes’. After the
resurrection of one of the Turkey Snipes, the audience was enjoined by King George to
contribute ‘A few ‘alfpennies (apenny)  an’ pennies (to) buy us some beer’ and the evening ended with
‘carols, comic songs and old music hall numbers – the audience joining in with gusto’, as well
as bread, cheese and ale for the Mummers.

In my days of youth in my village, I experienced these street players regularly. In Spring they just came of the woodwork and appeared,, Morris Dancers,, and then interrupt us while having a quiet drink in the local pub.. They were actually quite fun, although not my thing. But they never failed to draw an audience. I did not know of the name Mummer’s until many years later.

 thank you09     thank you87


3 Responses to “Mummers ,,New Forest”

  1. So cool how cyclic this kind of of performing is. Comes and goes. Reminds me very much of the New York Street Performers which I think its origins are from your country. I wonder if there is any relation?

    I do love this sort of thing, I love live theater, almost as much as live music Live performances and their melding in with the environment is even more entertaining.. I love how the actors interact spontaneously in many ways because of the interactions with their audience.

    I thought this was a dying art form, I was afraid we’d seen the last of this kind of acting in our generation. Maybe not.

    This is a lovely post My kind Sir. Learning about your culture is fascinating to this sheltered traveler who has rarely left her native state. I love living & traveling through posts like these. Thank you for sharing.


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