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Folk Play Distribution Map: Actors' Names

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Folk Play Distribution Map: Actors' Names
Versions of this map: Interactive Google Map Static Google Map Outline Map
yellow Mummers
fuchsia Guisers
lime Plough names
red Pace Eggers
blue Soul names
aqua "Dancers"
olive Christmas names
teal Tipteerers
gray Others

This map is based on the 10km National Grid squares for which information on folk play actors' collective names is available. Each marker aggregates data for the grid square and may therefore represent one or several locations. Markers may have two or more colours if more than one type of name is present in the grid square. In the interactive Google version of this map, you can click on the markers to see the local variants of the names.

Introduction

This map shows the distribution of the collective names and terms based on collective names that folk play actors use for themselves, or that is used for them by their audiences. It is compiled using the same methodology as the Times of Appearance map, and largely using the same sources [1]. There are, however, some significant differences.

Firstly, fewer accounts of plays record the name for the actors than for times of appearance. This problem is compounded by key secondary sources ignoring actors' names in their lists. English Ritual Drama is of little use to us for this map (E.C.Cawte et al, 1967). Consequently, the distribution is more sparse.

Secondly, the accuracy of the names must be treated with circumspection. The name "Mummers" is particularly problematic. It has been unhelpfully used as a generic name for British and Irish folk plays by folklorists and popular authors ever since the plays attracted attention around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. There has been a tendency, therefore, for collectors to assume that "Mummers" was the name used in a given locality, without seeking confirmation or enquiring as to what name was actually used. James Madison Carpenter was a notable exception to this tendency. Today's collectors would do well to follow his example.

Sometimes authors may write "mummers" with a lower case "m" to indicate the term is generic, but this is by no means a reliable guide. There are occasional exceptions to this tendency which serve to illustrate the point. For instance, a newspaper article describing a play performed at Thorney, Lincolnshire by actors from Nottinghamshire (E.M., 1924) uses the word "Mummers" throughout, with a capital "M", but then towards the end states:

"It is worthy of note that the actors never called themselves Mummers. Their arrival was always announced 'The Morris Dancers have come', although there was no dancing except a few decorous polka-steps heavily footed by Tom Fool and Buxom Nell to celebrate their betrothal." [E.M.'s italics]

To complicate things further, the local actors in some places may have adopted the name "Mummers" precisely because of its use by folklorists and antiquarians - feeling it to be more "proper" than their original local name. Sometimes, both names will exist side by side.

An equivalent situation also applies to the other names, which can occur in two ways. Some names appear to be confined to a single county - e.g. Tipteers in Sussex, Soulers in Cheshire, etc. Therefore there may be an expectation that all actors in the county used that name, which could be an invalid extrapolation. Similarly, outlying occurrences in neighbouring counties may be interpreted as being "wrong", again without justification.

The converse of this scenario is that a collector used to a name in one district may extrapolate its use to a different unfamiliar district. For instance, when Maurice Barley moved to Nottinghamshire after having collected Plough Monday plays in Lincolnshire with Ethel Rudkin, he initially continued to use the Lincolnshire name Plough Jags, whereas other independent evidence suggests that Nottinghamshire actors were normally called Plough Bullocks or even just Ploughboys.

One other significant complication is that most, if not all of the actors' names are shared with other local non-play house-visiting customs. This certainly applies to all of the most common names, and all the localised names that I am familiar with, as has been well described by, among others, Alex Helm (1980, p.4) [2]. This has occasionally led collectors to assume erroneously that some non-play customs are either poorly remembered or degraded folk plays. We now know that this is often not the case - they are valid customs in their own right - although it can be difficult in retrospect to sort out the true plays from the non-play customs. Fortunately, the two forms of custom commonly co-exist side by side, so the distribution map remains more or less the same, at least on a national level.

Methodology

The data for this map has been drawn from a variety of sources [1] and entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet [3] for processing. Some places appear in more than one source, and these were therefore duplicated in the spreadsheet. However, they only produce one point on the map. For a few places, two sources give different grid references (usually for adjacent 1km grid squares). In these cases, the locations have been checked on the Ordnance Survey maps and the grid references corrected accordingly. Otherwise, grid references have been taken on trust.

The Code Letters have been assigned to group together Related variants of actors' names (Plough Bullocks, Plough Jags, Plough Stotts, etc) have been grouped together and colour-coded. However, this has only been done for the more common types of name - i.e. Mummers, Guisers, Plough names, Pace Eggers, Soulers, play-performing Morris & Swords Dancers, and Christmas Boys/Rhymers. These are discussed in more detail below.

Some names are currently too restricted in number and/or distribution to justify their own colour code - e.g. the Jolly Boys of Cumbria, and the Galoshins of Scotland. These have therefore been grouped together for the moment under "Other names", but certain names may yet be promoted as more data becomes available.

Name Groups and Variants

The following list shows the variant forms and spellings for each of groups of names, drawn from the spreadsheet. It is not meant to be exhaustive (further variants will emerge as data is added), but it is representative of the degree of variation found in the field.

  • Mummers - Mummers, Mummers, Mummiers, Mummies, Mumies, Mumming, Mummering, Mummery, Dirty Mummers
  • Guisers - Guisers, Guizers, Guysers, Guyzers, Guisars, Guysars, Guyssars, Gysers, Geisers, Guyshers, Molyguisers, Guizards, Guisards, Guisarts, Guysarts, Guyserts, Gysarts, Gisarts, Guysards, Guise Dance, Guisering, Gaysers, Geysing, Bull Guysering
  • "Dancers" (who may not dance)- Morris Dancers, Modes Dancers, Sword Dancers, Molly Dancers
  • Plough Names - Ploughboys, Plough Boys, Plouboys, Plough Lads, Plough Bullocks, Plough Bullocking, Plough Jags, Ploughjags, Plough Jaggs, Plough Jacks, Plough Jagging, Plough Stots, Ploo Stots, Ploo Stotts, Ploostotts, Plew Stots, Blue Stots, Blue Stotters, Blue Stotting, Fond Pleow, Fond Plafe, Fond Pee Afers, Fond Pleaphing
  • Pace Eggers - Pace Eggers, Pace-Eggers, Paceakers, Pace Egging, Pace-Egging, The Peace Egg
  • Soulers - Souling, Soulcakers, Soul-Caking, Soul-Appling
  • Christmas Names - Christmas Boys, Christmas Lads, Christmas Rhymers, Christmas Rhymes, Christmas Champions, Christmas Sport
  • Tipteerers - Tipteerers, Tip-teerers, Tiptearers, Tipteers, Tiptiers
  • Other Names - Beelzebubbing, Golashens, Galashins, Galashans, Galashen, Hogmanaymen, Johnny Jacks, Jolly Boys, Katterners, Niggers, Nigger Boys, Nigger Minstrels, Niggering, Paper Boys, Redd Sticks, Seven Champions, Tommy Bettys, White Boys, Hobby Horse, Old Tup

The first thing that can be noticed from the above lists is that the spelling of similar names is quite varied, although they at least tend to be roughly homophonetic. In some cases the variations may be intended to represent local pronunciation or dialect (e.g. "Ploo Stotts" for "Plough Stots", and "Fond Plafe" for "Fool Plough"). The semi-literacy of some informants could also be a factor, but even the fluently literate may have had to ponder the best way to spell unfamiliar names such as "Tipteerers". "Guisers" and its variants seem to have been particular troublesome in this respect.

In addition to spelling variations, names may be modified by adding further words, as with "Bull Guysering". However, in some cases the theme is varied by appending alternative words that if not synonyms, indicate a similar function. Thus the various "Plough" names - "Bullocks", "Stots", "Jags", "Boys", "Lads", etc., describe animals or people that draw or guide the plough.

Observations

I will now make observations on each of the play groups.

Mummers

The name "Mummers" occurs to a lesser or greater extent throughout England and Ireland, but not in Scotland. In northern England and certain parts of the south coast this name superficially appears to co-exist with other local names. However, for the reasons already stated above, the validity of the term in these areas must be treated with circumspection. On the other hand, the concentration of "Mummers" in southern England in the Cotswolds and the Home Counties indicates that this was truly the native name in these areas. This is also the case in Ireland - except in eastern Ulster (where the actors were called "Rhymers"). This is not yet obvious on this map, but it is evident on the distribution map of actors names in the north of Ireland published by Mac Cáirthaigh (2008, p.151). Scotland is the only area where "Mummers" seem to be genuinely absent.

Guisers

In the past, I have asserted that the name "Guisers" is just as widely distributed as "Mummers" (Millington, 1999-2004, Note 3). Now, with this distribution map, it is possible to be more specific. Certainly the term is more widely spread than "Mummers" - from Scotland in the north to the tip of Cornwall in the south. However, the distribution is sparser than for "Mummers", and it is not continuous. There are three main zones: Scotland and north east England, the north Midlands, and West Cornwall, plus Tenby in Wales.

How could this pattern have come about? One possibility is a link with mining. Certainly, mining of one sort or another was a key industry in all of the main zones. However, there are one or two anomalies that perhaps need explanation. Firstly, much of the patch in Scotland and the north east England is in fact rural and mine-free. Secondly, there are other intervening mining districts that do not have "Guisers" - for instance the Yorkshire Dales (where lead mining took place). There is historical evidence for Guisers in Scotland in mediaeval times (I.Lancashire, 1984), so my initial hypothesis is that "Guisers" was originally a Scottish term that was then spread south by migrating miners.

"Dancers"

The "Dancer" names - mainly Sword Dancers and Morris Dancers - are interesting because they suggest that major changes may have taken place in the custom at the places where these names are used.

It is true that in some locations, the plays incorporate a significant amount of dancing, particularly linked sword dancing. The dance usually replaces the combat, the victim being "beheaded" by placing the lock (a star of interwoven swords) over his head and withdrawing them simultaneously. It is natural that in these cases the participants should call themselves "Sword Dancers", and consequently the academic term "Sword Dance Play" is used for this type of play. The play from Revesby, Lincolnshire also has sword dancing, but there the name is "Modes Dancers" or "Morris Dancers".

What makes these names unusual is that in many instances, they are also used by groups whose plays do not include a dance. The Thorney play, already quoted above, is one example. Another well-known case are the Ripon Swords Dancers, whose Boxing Day play is also dance free. There are several similar well-attested cases from Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. The possible explanation is to say that these plays must once have had dances, but that they had been dropped from the performance, while the name continued to be used. However, an alternative explanation is that the plays never had dances but that they were performed by a group of people who also danced but in other separate contexts. This certainly happens with today's morris dance groups, who often dance during the summer and perform plays in winter. As to which explanation applies to a given tradition is now probably impossible to say.

Plough Names

The Plough names are generally associated with plays that were performed on Plough Monday, often by actual ploughboys. The generic names Ploughboys and Plough Lads are distributed throughout the geographic range of this group, sometimes as an alternative for a more local name, sometimes as the principal name. The other plough names tend to be associated with particular counties, but the county boundaries must not be treated as hard and fast when it comes to the names.

Plough Bullocks tend to appear in Nottinghamshire and parts of northern Leicestershire; Plough Jags are found in Lincolnshire, especially northern Lincolnshire, and in Yorkshire there are Plough Stots (or Blue Stots) and Fond Plafes.

Pace Eggers and Soulers

Pace Eggers are found at Easter in Lancashire, southern Cumbria and parts of West Yorkshire. Soulers and Soulcakers are primarily found in Cheshire usually between Halloween and All Soul's Day. Although there may be good reason to associate these names with their respective times of occurrence, there is in fact a measure of assumption that is problematic. For instance, it is unlikely that a group called Pace Eggers would perform at any time other than Easter, and conversely it seem likely that performers at Easter would be called Page Eggers. However, some accounts do not make this explicit, mentioning either the name or the festival but not both. I such cases it is unsafe for academic purposes to assume that the time of appearance predicates the name for the actors and vice versa.

Christmas Names

The two main clusters of Christmas names occur in Hampshire on the south coast of England and in east Northern Ireland. In Ireland, they are "Christmas Rhymers", and this name is associated with the title of the chapbook script published in Belfast from the start of the 19th century (Smyth & Lyons, 1803-1818) to the early 20th century (Boyes et al, 1999). Which came first, the chapbook or the name, is not known, but it does seem likely that the chapbook was at least responsible for spreading the use of the name in the Belfast region.

In southern England, the use of the names Christmas Boys or Christmas Lads seems unremarkable, although it is perhaps surprising that they are not found more widely. The Christmas Champions, found in Kent are probably a variant of another name - Seven Champions. This in turn derives from The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, a book by the Elizabethan author Richard Johnson (1596) that was the ultimate inspiration for antiquarian reworkings of some Quack Doctor plays in the 19th century.

Tipteerers

Tipteerers or Tipteers are primarily found in Sussex although they also occur just over the boundaries of neighbouring counties. The etymology of the name is an enigma. E.K.Chambers (1933, p.33) said that it possibly came "from the 'tip' asked as a reward, but more likely from 'tip', a dialectic form of 'tup', which is a common name for a ram.". Chambers' is alluding the Derby Tup plays of the Sheffield district, but there is neither any evidence of such tups having appeared in Sussex, nor any textual similarity between the play scripts.

I suggest that it might come from "tippet", which is a type of hood. Thus, tippeteers would signify wearers of tippets and/or people associated with them in the same way that, for instance, "engineers" is derived from "engine". This would fit nicely with the disguise aspects of English folk plays. There is also an equivalent situation with the custom of Hoodening in neighbouring Kent, where the name may similarly derive from "Hood". This house-visiting custom has parallels with Quack Doctor plays and involves the display of the Hooden Horse - a wooden horse's head.

Other Names

The remaining names are a mixed bag, but there are obvious origins for most of them. Some names are derived from characters in the plays - e.g. Beelzebubbing, Galoshans, Johnny Jacks, Tommy Bettys, etc. Others come from costumes the actors wore - e.g. White Boys, Paper Boys, etc. The various "Nigger" names may refer to characters dressed in the style of "negro minstrel" music hall acts, or they could allude to the black face make-up worn by some teams for disguise. The Hogmanaymen of parts of Fermanagh and Tyrone clearly originate in the time of appearance, as does Katterning (St. Catherine's Day).

Conclusions

This distribution map reinforces the view of earlier writers that the term "mummers' play" is unhelpful in giving undue prominence to just one of the names used for folk play actors. "Guisers" are just as widely, if more sparsely distributed. Therefore, if actors names must be used for a generic term, I suggest that "mummers' and guisers' plays" would be more representative, although of course even this ignores the other localised names. Elsewhere, I have suggested that "Quack Doctor Plays" is the safest term for academic purposes because it overcomes the problems caused by using actors' names and/or times of appearance. Instead, it relies on the name of the one character who is ubiquitous in this type of play, who serves both to define the genre and to distinguish it from other genres (Millington, 1999-2004 & 2003).

This map is an ongoing project, and data from further sources will be added in the future, notably Mac Cárthaigh (2008) and Hayward (1992). From what is known of these sources, the patterns of distribution should become clearer in the north of Ireland and in Scotland. There may yet be surprises elsewhere.

Peter Millington

Notes

  1. Principal sources used to compile this map:
    • The Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts at www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm (P.Millington, 1999-2005)
    • Steve Roud & Paul Smith's (1993) MumBib and MummInd databases.
    • Chas Marshall & Stuart Rankin's The Return of the Blue Stots (2003)
    • The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue (J.C.Bishop et al, 2003).
  2. "Often the same name is used for widely divergent customs. 'Mummers' is the common name for the Play but it is also applied to the black-faced children who to this day, sweep the hearths of houses in the West Riding of Yorkshire and south-east Lancashire on New Year's Eve, making a humming sound all the time. In Derbyshire and Staffordshire the performers in the Play were known as 'Guisers'; so were the men and women in Cornwall who changed clothes, blacked their faces and danced in the streets. Sometimes the latter also performed a Play independently. 'Morris-dancing , a term normally used to describe the men's ceremonial dance particularly in the Cotswolds at Whitsuntide, and elsewhere at other times of the year, is also used to describe a sword-dance in the north-east of England about Christmastime, or simply a Play. 'Pace-egging' can mean either the performance of the Play at Easter or children singing the appropriate song to accompany the collection of eggs, whilst 'Soul-Caking' can mean either the performance of the Play in Cheshire at All Souls or children singing the souling song and begging for 'soul-cakes'. This confusion exists over the whole range of the Play and has become one of its most difficult features to clarify." (A.Helm, 1980, p.4)
  3. The spreadsheet used to compile data for this map has columns for the following fields:

    • 4-figure National Grid map reference
    • Place Name
    • County
    • Country or Nation
    • Actors' Collective Name
    • Code Letter, representing the relevant name group
    • Source of data
    • Bibliographic reference for the primary source, where readily available

References

Georgina Boyes, Michael J.Preston & Paul Smith (1999) Chapbooks and Traditional Drama: An Examination of Chapbooks containing Traditional Play Texts: Part II: Christmas Rhyme Books
NATCECT Bibliographical and Special Series, No.2, Part II
Sheffield, University of Sheffield, 1999

Julia C.Bishop et al (2003) The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue
Internet URL: http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/carpenter/, 2003, Accessed 19th Feb.2005

E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock (1967) English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index
London, Folklore Society, 1967

E.Chambers (1933) The English Folk-Play
Oxford, University Press, 1933

Brian Hayward (1992) Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play
Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992, ISBN 07486-0338-7, p.13

Alex Helm (1980) The English Mummers' Play
Woodbridge, D.S.Brewer, 1980

Richard Johnson (1596) The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom
London, 1596 [plus numerous later editions]

Ian Lancashire (1984) Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: A Chronological Topography to 1558
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-521-26295-X

E.M. (1924) The Mummers' Play: Interesting Survivals in Nottinghamshire: Memories of Plough Monday and Christmastide
Nottingham Guardian, 9th Jan.1924, No.21153, p.6d

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh (2008) Room to Rhyme: Irish Christmas mumming in transition
Border-Crossing: Mumming in Cross-Border and Cross-Community Contexts, ed. by A.D.Buckley et al
Dundalk, Dundalgan Press, 2008, ISBN 0-85221-147-7, pp.146-170

Chas Marshall & Stuart Rankin (2003) The Return of the Blue Stots: An Aspect of Traditional Drama in Yorkshire
London, Dockside Studio, 2003

Peter Millington (1999-2004) Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts
Internet URL: http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm, 1999-2005, Accessed 30th March 2006

Peter Millington (2003) Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries
Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, ed. by Eddie Cass & Peter Millington
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003, ISBN 0-9508152-3-3, pp.97-132
Full text PDF Download - 841kB.

Steve Roud & Paul Smith [eds.] (1993) Mummers' Plays: Electronic Subject Bibliographies 3 Enfield Lock, Hisarlik Press, 1993, ISBN 1-874312-10-9

Smyth & Lyons (1803-1818) The Christmas Rhime or The Mummer's Own Book
Belfast, Smyth & Lyons, c.1803-1818

This map was generated using the Master Mummers Outline Distribution Mapper.
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© 2009, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: peter.millington@mastermummers.org). Last updated: 13-Aug-2013