Location: Kirtlington[?], Oxfordshire, England (SP5019)
Year: Publ. 1886; Perf. 1815 and 1816;
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Mummers


Notes on some Old-Fashioned English Customs: The Mummers; The Morris-Dancers; Whitsun-Ales; Lamb-Ales
Folk-Lore Journal, 1886, Vol.4, No.2, pp.97-101






Father Christmas

In comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome or welcome not.
I hope old father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
A room a room, I do presume,
For me and my brave gallant boys all.
Pray give me leave to act and rhyme,
Now this merry Christmas time.
I'll show you some of the finest plays
That ever were acted on Saint Mary Andrews stage
Step in, King George.


King George

In comes I, King George, a man of courage bold,
With my broad sword and shield I won ten thousand crowns in gold.
Aye, I fought the fiery dragon
And brought him to the slaughter,
And for this great victory I won
The Queen of England's daughter.
Bring any man to me, I'll cut him and hue him as small as flies.
And send him to the cook's shop to make mince pies.
Mince pies hot, mince pies cold,
Mince pies in the pot nine days old.


Turkish Knight

In comes I, a Turkish knight.
From Turkey land I came to fight.
I'll fight thee, King George, the man of courage bold.
If thy blood be hot, I'll quickly draw it cold.
Thou saidst thou cut me and hue me as small as flies.
And send me to the cookshop to make mince pies.
Over many fields as thou made me fly,
But now I am come with a mind to try
To see which on the ground shall lie.

{Enters a fight. Turkish Knight kills King George. King George falls to the ground.}

{Father Christmas cries out-}

Father Christmas

Doctor, doctor, play thy part,
King George is wounded to the heart,
Doctor, doctor, haste away,
See thou make no longer stay.
Five pounds I'd freely give if that noble doctor were but here.


Doctor Brown

In comes I, little Doctor Brown,
The best little doctor in the town.
A doctor and a doctor good,
And with my hand I'll swage his blood,
My pills shall work him through and through,
To cure his body and stomach too.

Father Christmas

Where com'st thou from?

Doctor Brown

From France, from Spain,
And from the greatest parts of Christendom I came.

Father Christmas

And what can'st thou cure ?

Doctor Brown

The hitch, the stitch, the ston, the palsy, and the gout,
The pains within and the pains without,
The molygrubs, the polygrubs,
and those little rantantorius diseases.
Let the wrinkles break
Or the palsy quacke.
Take one of my pills and try them.
Bring any old woman unto me that has been dead seven years,
in her coffin eight,
and buried nine.
If she's only got one hollow rum turn serum turn old jack tooth
in the back of her head.
If she can only manage to crack one of my little pills
I'll be bound in the bond of a thousand pounds
to maintain her back to life again.
This is the case that was never before,
But now, King George, rise up and fight once more.

{Dr. Brown stooping and giving him a pea from a box, then riseing him up, then another fight, Turkish Knight falls to the ground.}

Doctor Brown

If there [is] any man can do more than me
Let him step in if his name is Jack Finny.


Jack Finny

My name is not Jack Finny,
my name is Mr. Finny, I am a man of great fame.

Doctor Brown

And what canst thou do ?

Jack Finny

Cure a magpie with the toothache.

Doctor Brown

And how canst do that ?

Jack Finny

By cutting off his head and throwing his body in a ditch.

Doctor Brown

Barberous rascal !

Jack Finny

No barbary at all, but certain cure.
I can cure this man if he [be] not dead,
So pray me honest friend rise up thine head.

{And as he gets up you all march in a ring and say altogether -}


In comes Tom the Tinker,
Sold him for a winker.
The chimney corner was his place,
Where he sat and dried his face,
Till Tom's hair [was] brown.

{Then march in a straight line and sing songs.}

{There are two mummer characters omitted in the paper. One enters with -}


Here comes I, who hant-bin-it [have not been yet]
With my great head and little wit.
My head so great, my wit so small,
I'll do my best to please you all.

{Gives the double shuffle or some other dance.}

{Then enters the Devil with -}


Here comes I, old Beelzebub,
On my shoulder I carries my club.
In my hand a drinking can.
Don't you think me a jolly old man.

{Then all dance in a ring with the Devil in the middle, who then drives them all out.}


Rowell's Introduction:

"The description of mummers in Strutt's Sports and Pastimes, and in Brand's Popular Antiquities, is inapplicable to the amusement generally known as "the Mummers" in England, both now and in past times, although fast dying out; and as there does not appear to be any published account of the latter, perhaps the following may be worthy of publication as a record of this old pastime.
The mummers, as described by Strutt, were men and sometimes women, disguised in any uncouth manner, at times with the skins and horns of various animals, to startle or amuse an audience by their strange appearances, but with no form of speech or action. The mummers I allude to were more like players, having certain characters and parts to perform, and probably connected with customs handed down to us from very early times and stage performances.
I do not remember seeing the mummers perform more than two or three times, and that must have been in 1815 and 1816; but in those days the speeches of the mummers were as well known to boys as 'Hey diddle diddle I the cat and the fiddle,' or 'Little Jack Horner sat in a corner,' are now known to children as nursery rhymes, and I have no doubt that at this time these mummers' speeches are still known in many parts of the country, although, as ill the inclosed MS., much muddled up.
It was then a custom for parties of men or boys, for a month or so before and after Christmas, to go about as mummers. The first set I saw perform were from a neighbouring, town, and were well got up, being fairly dressed in character; the speeches were given in rich, bombastic style, and they had been well practised in fencing, dancing, and singing. Such however was an exception to the rule, as generally the men were merely disguised with but little or no regard to the characters, and the words spoken with very little knowledge of their meanings.
The following is from an old written paper from which the performers evidently had to learn their parts, and this is probably from an older and more perfect paper, us the errors of the copyist are obvious."

Peter Millington's Notes:

Rowell does not name the place where this text came from, although Kirtlington, Oxfordshire is mentioned in his section on Lamb-Ales. E.C.Cawte et al (1967) p.57 and S.Roud (1984) p.40 both list this text as "Unlocated", Oxfordshire. E.K.Chambers (1933) p.240 on the other hand ascribes it to "Kirtlington?", which I have used here also. The quoted dates of 1815 and 1816 seem so precise as to suggest that they may represent a special period in Rowell's life, perhaps the time he lived at a particular place. An assiduous family historian might be able to pin this period down, and could therefore determine the source of the text.
Rowell's wording does not make it at all clear that it was this text that he saw performed in 1815 and 1816. On the other hand, his statement that the text came from an old manuscript may not be inconsistent with this date.

Notes from Keith Chandler (12th Jan.2001):

As a start to creating a biography of G.A.Rowell, I submit the following.
OXFORD, ST. GILES parish registers:
Elizabeth ROWELLborn 4.5.1830/bap 6.6.1830 [to]George Augustus & Maria (nee Barret),Cabinet Maker, Alfred St.
George Josephbaptised 15.9.1843 [Paper hanger, Alfred St.]
George Augustus ROWELLburied 28.1.1892,aged 87Juxon St.
OXFORD, ST. GILES, 1851 [Census]
IGeo. [sic]Augusta [sic]ROWELL46Paper Hanger 2 menOxford
Maria43Dorset, ?Cockham
George Joseph7ScholarOxford
So, he was born in Oxford about 1804 - I never felt I needed to get an exact date once I had established where and approximately when. Of course, I was looking to see if he had Kirtlington connections also. None are apparent. Both of his children (the age gap suggests there ought to be more, but both parish registers and 1851 census suggest otherwise) were born in Oxford. He also died there, in 1892.
Of course, he may have lived in Kirtlington at some date, but my feeling is that he was a frequent visitor to the Lamb Ale because that's what thousands of people from the locality did in Trinity week.
It does suggest, however, that his experience with mummers would have been in Oxford itself.

Response from Peter Millington (22nd Jan.2001):

Thanks for the info on Rowell. As he was born about 1804, the play text he published won't be the one he saw in 1815/16, wherever that was, unless he was an incredibly precocious child.
I am inclined to agree with your observation that Rowell's experience relates to Oxford rather than Kirtlington, although as he states that the performers came from another town, it is still anyone's guess which place his "old written paper" came from. (Is there a Rowell Collection anywhere?)
I'm still curious to know what's so special about 1815/16 in Rowell's life. I wonder if he had any younger siblings whose birthplace(s) might give a clue.

Further Notes from Chris Little (30th May 2003)

George Augustus Rowell (1804-1892) ... according to the 1881 Census worked as an Assistant at the University Museum (Literature Service), and according to the 1909 Dictionary of National Biography was "..., born at Oxford on 16 May 1804, was son of George Rowell of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who moved to Oxford in 1791..." and "Before his tenth birthday ... was taken from school to assist his grandfather in his trade as a cabinet maker".

File History:

2000-09-30 - Scanned and OCRed by Peter Millington
2004-07-01 - Keith Chandler's and Peter Millington' correspondence added by Peter Millington
2004-11-18 - Notes from Chris Little added by Peter Millington
2021-01-15 - TEI-encoded by Peter Millington


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