The Derby Tup
Article type: Correspondence
Peter Millington was contacted by Ian Thomson who was prompted to search the internet, as a result of hearing Mummers in Radio 4's Classic Serial The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. The result for us is a fascinating insight into a performance of the play in the 1950s.
I remembered my childhood in Barrow Hill, a village a couple of miles from Staveley, in the early 50's. On New Year's Eve and on New Year's Day night, we would perform this in people's houses and at the Pub in Barrow Hill. I was born in 1943, and was the youngest of the group. The Tup had a peg-rug for a fleece and a yard brush for a head. The butcher's knives (3 of them) were bread knives. We took turns at being the Tup, and I remember that the rug was always dusty.
The reason I contacted you is that our version 'Me and My Owd Lass' differed slightly from the one on your site.
"Here comes me and our owd lass,
Short of money, short of brass,
Give us a penny and let us sup
And we'll tell you the story of Derby Tup."
The last line of our chorus was
"Fay o lay, nanny goats lay."
The music on the site varies by two or three notes (only), but the rhythm is same.
This tradition ended after a couple of years, and I never heard the words or the music since, or heard of anyone else performing it. I'd no idea that it was common to the Staveley area. It was something I took for granted as a kid. The tune has stayed with me, although I had forgotten the most of the actual rhyme, but I do remember the characters and the story. The verses on your site are as I remember them ~ once I'd read them.
The other reason I contact you is to express my pleasure (and gratitude) that someone has bothered to preserve something that I assumed had been lost.
We forwarded this message to Ian Russell, who has researched Derby Tup plays for many years. He responded thus:
What an interesting letter.
The version of the tup I recorded in Barrow Hill on [New Year's Eve] 1976 at the Barrow Hill Memorial Club and elsewhere (see Folk Music Journal, Vol 3, No.5, 1979, pp. 403-406) had a painted cardboard box on a stick with plastic eyes made from two halves of a football, with a flapping jaw and red felt tongue, and a plastic 'hemp' sack for the body. Unusually it was led by a girl - Denise Waddoups. The others were two boys and a second girl. In 1975, there'd been a fifth character - a blacksmith.
The text differs slightly from Ian Thompson's with a chorus of Fay-lay fay-lay nanny-go-lay!'
We sent Ian Russell's response to Ian Thompson when we asked for his permission to publish his recollections in the Forum. This prompted him to add further information.
Thanks for your reply. Pleased that you're interested.
A further throught on the Tup's costume. The brush head wasn't decorated, nor did it have eyes, mouth etc. The peg rug wasn't decorated either, except for a tail. It had a heavy tail about a eighteen inches long and about three inches thick made out of string, and it was string coloured (creamy white). Imagine a mop-head 18" long and 3" thick, with the strings which form the mop being 2" long; it was flexible but couldn't be bent double, and it was fastened to the peg~rug by a piece of string threaded though the sacking base near the middle edge of a short side of the rug, tied on with string. It wasn't a domestic item, or something that was commonly seen during the year. It looked like a professionally made item, and I now wonder, on refection and viewed upon as an adult, if it had been borrowed from Staveley Works, Barrow Hill engine sheds, or one of the pits.
Permission!! Of course. Unreservedly. I realize in today's world the question has to be asked, but what I've passed to you is not mine, it's ours, it's heritage. It's been in my mind for over 50~odd years waiting for someone/something to jog my memory. Just been looking after it.