The tradition of men and boys dressing up in various costumes (in the case of the Marshfield Mummers, made from newspapers) and re-telling the story of George and the dragon grew from the early Medieval mimes or dumb plays that were performed without words or music.
Interestingly, the idea of ‘keeping mum’ comes from the old English word ‘mum’ meaning to remain silent – hence ‘mumming’.
Because of its oral tradition – whereby none of the plays was written down – the stories changed as the years passed by, but always running through the heart of each play was the notion of good triumphing over evil.
|Mummers perform in Marshfield|
In “Moonrakings: A Little Book of Wiltshire”, Mrs Marsh of Horningsham Women’s Institute recalled her own version of the Mummer’s Plays:
“At one time Mumming was very familiar in the parish. Several young men of the village used to, at Christmas time, traverse the village and outlying villages causing merriment and fun.
“Their dress consisted of gaily-coloured suits of clothes (coloured braid being used for trimming), and cockade hats made of cardboard and paper streamers; their weapons being wooden swords gaily painted to match the costumes. One would be St George, another Father Christmas, Little Man Jack, King Tipple, and so on. Little Man Jack was the villain of the piece.
“It is now over thirty years since there have been Mummers in the village; the custom has entirely died out, a good many now living in the village never having seen them.
|Marshfield Mummer: 1967|
Points West filmed the Marshfield Mummers in 1967 and sadly, Michael Canney’s commentary is no longer with the film – in fact many narrations were broadcast ‘live’ over the film as it was broadcast during the programme and so were never recorded.
The arrival of the mummers in Marshfield appears to have attracted a great deal of attention and, interestingly, a number of people are seen using cine cameras to film the exploits or capturing the sound on portable reel-to-reel tape machines – perhaps those films and sound recordings are still around today?
In contrast to Marshfield’s mumming, Cricklade’s band of players performs its version in the large hallway of a local house.
In fact, this was just as traditional as performing outdoors and there are accounts of mummers arriving unannounced, bursting through the front door, staging their play and then disappearing in to the night!
MORE FILMS FROM POINTS WEST
- Use the right hand links to other local Where I Live sites to see more archive film from Points West.