Traditional Drama Forum - No.3 ISSN 1743-3789 October 2001


News View alone
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Research Projects

In the last issue we announced news of two new projects in the field of folk drama. The first, the cataloguing of the James Madison Carpenter Collection is now up and running. Dr. Julia Bishop of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition is running this project with a team consisting of David Atkinson, Elaine Bradtke, Eddie Cass, Tom McKean and Bob Walser. Each member of the team will be responsible for dealing with a part of the collection. Elsewhere in this issue is a fuller report on this project by Eddie Cass who is cataloguing the folk plays.

Although we have tried to discover more information on the Irish project which we announced in April, we have failed to add to what we have already announced.

Souling in Cheshire

Duncan Broomhead is currently assembling details of the various souling gangs who will be performing in Cheshire this year. Anybody wishing to know more about the various performances should contact Duncan on +44 (0) 1625 827988.

Traditional Drama Conference - Sheffield, 19th - 21st July 2002

Planning for this conference is now well under way. The following speakers have agreed to present papers.

Duncan Broomhead on the Alderley Play; Christopher Cawte on sword dance plays and Earsdon; Peter Millington on the origins of Quack Doctor plays; Tom Pettitt on dramatic aspects of traditional games, gambols and songs; Mike Preston on the oral and written sources of chapbooks; Peter Robson on Folksongs in Dorset Mummers' Plays; Paul Smith on the Papa Stour play; Lisa Warner on Christmastide death games in Russia; John Widdowson on mummers' plays from Change Islands, Newfoundland. There will also be a presentation of the work of the Carpenter Cataloguing Team which will be well advanced by next July. In addition we are expecting papers from Emily Lyle and Terry Gunnell, titles yet to be settled. The organisers are able to consider offers of further papers for the conference.

Accommodation will be in the Halifax Hall of Residence at the University of Sheffield. The week-end is expected to cost approximately £130 all found. Booking forms will be sent out early in the new year.

For further details of this event, please contact Eddie Cass (


We have news of two new books of interest to drama researchers:

James Parle "The Mummers of Wexford"
Drinagh, Wexford, JJP Publications, 2001

Copies of this publication, which is reviewed in this issue, are available from James Parle at "Pine Grove, Drinagh, Wexford, Republic of Ireland. Price: IR£15: £12 sterling: 19 Euros. Postage is additional - £5 to England and £7.50 surface mail to America.

Eddie Cass "The Lancashire Pace Egg play: A social history"
London: FLS Books, 2001

Copies are available from The Folklore Society, The Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London, WC1H 0AB. Price £14.95/US$24 including post and packing.

The James Madison Carpenter Collection View alone
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One of the most exiting projects currently running in the field of folk drama is the attempt to produce a critical edition of the plays collected by James Madison Carpenter in England from 1933 to 1935. As most play researchers will know, Carpenter was in England first in 1928 as he worked on his PhD thesis on sea 'chanteys' as he called them. He then returned to England in 1929 for more collecting and, moving on from shanties, he collected ballads, songs and folk customs. In 1933 Carpenter declared an interest in folk plays and in the next two years he assembled the most extensive set of plays to have been collected from fieldwork up to that time. The James Madison Carpenter Collection was bought by the Library of Congress in 1972.

In the first phase of the project, a team led by Dr Julia Bishop of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition at the University of Sheffield, will produce an on-line catalogue to the whole of the Carpenter Collection. In terms of the play material which is contained in the collection, this catalogue will allow of the searching in a number of ways including sub-groups of folk plays, geographical titles, the names of Carpenter's contributors and the lists of characters. A second stage will provide much more added value in the description of the plays. This may include a more sophisticated naming of geographical locations, the biographical information on contributors and the description of props and musical instruments used in play performances.

The collection is enormous. It contains some 13, 500 pieces of paper, Julia should know, she numbered all but the last 2, 000 in an heroic piece of work during a visit to the Library of Congress in August this year. This numbering was essential to the work of the catalogue team in order to provide a unique identifier for each page in the collection and Julia's work was completed by Michael Taft. In addition to the text items, the collection contains 179 Dictaphone cylinders, 220 12" discs, 40 drawings and some 1100 photographic items. Hitherto, the collection (apart from the graphic items) has been available on microfilm or, for the sound recordings, on tape listening copies. The Library of Congress, however, are now planning to digitise the whole collection and the Carpenter team's catalogue project will enhance the accessibility of the material.

Credit for this project is due to Dr Julia Bishop. She has not only put together a team of scholars to work on Carpenter's collection, but she has raised the largest sum of money ever to have been placed at the disposal of a folklore research team in England. The funding, from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, is sufficient to ensure that the first phase of this project can go ahead. This is due to be completed by the end of October 2002 and it is envisaged that the whole project will be completed in two further stages over a further period of five years. Providing that is that Julia has not lost her skills with the begging bowl!

Eddie Cass

See also the Library of Congress' web page for the Carpenter Collection.

Doctor Peter Lamb - A Mystery Solved View alone
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I have always been mildly curious about the Doctor in the first of the two play scripts from Burghclere, Hampshire published by Reginald Tiddy in "The Mummers' Play" (1923, pp.185-188). In this play, the Doctor is called Peter Lamb, but quibbles over his title in the fashion more usually associated with the the name John Finney.

Father Christmas King George Father Christmas King George Father Christmas

{Dr Lamb walks in.}

Dr Lamb

I have not come across the name Peter Lamb for the Doctor in any other traditional plays, although I must confess that my familiarity with plays from this part of southern England is limited. The provenance given by Tiddy for the text is as follows:

This version was introduced from Dorsetshire and was first acted at Burghclere in 1908. It was communicated in April 1914 by F. C. Hutchins, who took the part of King George and showed me his red tunic with a sash across it like those worn by Foresters.

However, G.E.P.A. (1924) argued that Tiddy had labelled his two Burghclere texts wrongly, and that this first version was in fact the traditional Burghclere version. Steve Roud and Paul Marsh (1980) concurred with this view after comparing texts from nearby villages. The provenance may or may not be relevant to the discovery I am about to describe, and which I made while compiling a database of texts for my PhD research. (The database is available on this website.)

I came across a shilling pocket novel at the British Library entitled, "The Christmas Mummers" and published in 1856. The author is given on the title page as "The Author of 'The Heir of Redclyffe'", but is identified as Charlotte Yonge in the British Library Catalogue. The chapter headed "How Father Christmas kept the secret" contains a narrative of the performance of a Christmas play, including lengthy textual quotations, which appear to have been taken from traditional sources. The character in the novel who plays the doctor is named Peter Lamb:

And after walking round the fallen knight several times, he called,

Forth stepped Peter Lamb, responding,


I suggest that there is a clear connection between the name of Yonge's fictitious character and the Burghclere Doctor. Most of Yonge's quoted text is included in the Burghclere text, the two main omissions being the first introductions ("I wish you a merry Christmas" and "Room, room, etc."), and the discussion on the Doctor's fee and his cures. What is more, these lines occur in the Burghclere text in almost exactly the same order as they appear in Yonge's novel. On the other hand, the Burghclere has additional lines that are not quoted by Yonge - in particular the dispute between Cutting Star and the Grenadier, and lines from the end of the play requesting a reward from the audience. Most of these extra lines are also found elsewhere in other traditional plays.

With Peter Lamb being a fictitious character of Charlotte Yonge's invention, I believe this is evidence of the Burghclere text having borrowed material from Yonge's novel, rather than vice versa. The 50 years separating the dates of the two versions add chronological support to this view. Furthermore, I would contend that the preservation of the narrative sequence in the shared lines is evidence of copying, although to be fair the copying could have been in either direction. The non-Yonge lines clearly came from one or more other traditional sources. Notably, John Finney's introductory line came from a non-Yonge source, and was adapted to use Peter Lamb's name instead. This could perhaps have arisen from a misreading of Yonge's text.

As Yonge hailed from Hampshire, it is probable that her quoted text also came from there. (She later published a traditional text from either Hursley or Otterbourne, Hants., in 1898.) Those of you who are more familiar with the plays of Hampshire, Dorset and their environs may wish to respond.


G.E.P.A. (1924) Notes & Queries, 1924, Vol.cxlvi, pp.435-437,453-455

S.Roud & P.Marsh (1980) "Mumming Plays in Hampshire : 7th Edition", Andover, Stephen Roud, 1980, p.6

R.J.E.Tiddy (1923) "The Mummers' Play", Oxford, University Press, 1923, pp.185-188

[Charlotte Mary Yonge] (1856) "The Christmas Mummers", London, J. and C.Mozley, 1856, pp.87-93

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1898) "John Keble's Parishes: A History of Hursley and Otterbourne" Macmillan, 1898, pp.176-181

Peter Millington

Book Review View alone
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"The Mummers of Wexford" by James (Jim) Parle, Ed. Hilary Murphy.
2001, JJP Publications, Drinagh, Wexford, ISBN 0- 9540927-0-8
B5. 527pp. £12 Sterling: IR£15: 19 Euros.

The term ‘monumental work’ is often used loosely - but is well merited. The price must have benefited from heavy subsidy and in no way reflects the quality of this excellently-produced and profusely illustrated, hard-cased book. Only an obsessed amateur could justify the time spent in research, and Jim Parle’s dedication to his subject is apparent on every page. The book is not about the theory or meaning of mumming. It is a meticulous history of the custom within the county between 1907 and 2000.

Co. Wexford has two forms of mumming if which the first is the Mummers’ Play. The second form is unique to the County and can be broadly described as follows-

Up to twelve participants are called-on by the Captain and each has a long rhyming introduction describing the circumstances and deeds of the character which he represents. Each has a ‘sword’ like a flat wooden ruler about two feet long. In two lines they go into an intricate step-dance accompanied by fast clashing of the swords. Teams dress alike in sashes like baldrics, and special hats. The origin of this custom is obscure and Parle offers little further light. Traditionally it started with survivors from a wreck celebrating their deliverance dancing on the beach.

Originally many of the characters were those found in the play - St George, Cromwell, etc., but circa 1907, the influence of the nationalistic Gaelic League led to these ‘foreigners’ being replaced by heroic figures from Irish history. An early chapter ‘Tracing the Origins’, is divided into ‘Britain and Elsewhere’ and ‘Origins in Ireland’. This comprises quotes from many other writers.

The core of the book (240 pages) is Jim Parle’s identification of over a hundred teams and extensive quotations from his interviews with over 240 involved individuals, who are all widely featured in the many, many photographs. I suppose that few people will read this at one go, but it wonderful to dip into, and gives a unique insight into the part played by mumming in the lives of both the participants and their communities.

One important aspect is the influence of numerous Competitions, which engendered a striving for excellence and great rivalry between the teams. Personally, I should have liked some speculation as to whether these contributed to the exclusion of the play element. If a performance comprises a song, a play and a final dance, it is easier to judge the song and the dance than to judge the play, which may get dropped. I suspect this might also apply to the Longsword play.

The second-largest section (165 pages) is a full diary of events involving mumming between the stated dates. If all this sounds a bit dry, the whole is leavened by texts of plays and the eulogising songs, also ballads about specific mumming teams and events. There are also anecdotes about disgruntled competitors, &c. It is tempting to quote facts and passages, but I will not spoil it for you - buy it and enjoy it for yourself.

The Mummers of Wexford takes an entirely new approach to the subject, in that it reveals, in great depth, the experiences and social attitudes &c. of a defined area. It would be fascinating to see other locations dealt with in the same way, but most people would be put off by the time and mileage which has so obviously been lavished on this project. I can only try to assess its contribution to mumming scholarship, but sociologists &c. might also find it a significant work.

The book’s launch was attended by an unprecedented several hundred guests with wide press coverage, and 700+ were sold in the first fortnight. Time will tell how it will effect the custom’s popularity, but this excellent work could become an important cultural influence, and Parle could yet have his statue in Drinagh.

Ron Shuttleworth

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