Inspired by Herbert Halpert, John Widdowson began to collect folklore in Newfoundland in 1962, and became particularly interested in traditional drama. Questionnaires answered by large numbers of students in the province included enquiries about the activities of mummers, both the house visit and dramatic performances. Halpert and Widdowson followed up some of the leads from the responses and recorded a great deal of information on the house visit, much of which is summarised in H. Halpert and G. M. Story, eds, Christmas Mumming in Newfoundland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969). This publication also includes some texts gleaned from printed sources. As fieldwork continued, a number of texts were collected from the oral tradition, along with some details of performance, but it is only recently that efforts are being made to transcribe this data.

When John Widdowson returned to Sheffield in 1964 he had been made aware of the possible existence of mummers’ plays in the Sheffield area. This prompted him to seek local examples and, together with Paul Smith, he also recorded a number of texts in the Calder Valley. This early fieldwork led to the development of teaching and research in the subject in what became the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition at the University of Sheffield, as well as to the hosting of conferences on the topic, and the association between the Centre and the members of the Traditional Drama Research Group, which was based at the Centre for many years.

Scope of the collection

The recordings in Yorkshire included several performances of the Pace Egg plays in Midgley and Hebden Bridge. From 1964 onwards John Widdowson recorded the Christmas custom of mummering, as it is known locally, and of mummers’ plays, both solo and with Herbert Halpert in communities across Newfoundland. He has published several articles on these customs and plays, and together with Paul Smith is preparing an online database of texts, contexts, and performances of traditional drama in the province.

Where the collection is located

The recordings of the Calder Valley plays are deposited in the archives of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition in the Special Collections Department of the University of Sheffield Library. Special Collections, Western Bank Library, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN.  The Newfoundland material is deposited in the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive

Access to the collection

For the collections in the University of Sheffield, please apply to the university library.