Mumming…what is it?


A good question!

In the 21st century CE, mumming, in its most common form, consists of a group of men and/or boys going round and performing a short play and collecting money for their efforts. The plays usually involve some sort of combat between two of the characters, one of whom is ‘killed’ only to be brought back to life by a Quack Doctor.

What it is most certainly NOT is some sort or revival of a mythical pre- christian or pagan rite celebrating spring/summer/winter/ the dog’s birthday or some other such nonsense. There is quite simply no record of any such activity associated with mumming connected in any way with any ‘old’ religion; or as it has been put

‘To meet the requirement of the theory [of pagan/pre-christian origin], mummer’s plays had to have existed in England in relatively constant form since prehistoric times, unnoted by medieval chroniclers, Renaissance poets, censorious Reformation churchmen, or even the merely curious’

(Georgina Boyes ‘The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival. Manchester University Press. 1993)

It seems to have started in Britain around the end of the seventeenth century and is, in essence a socially legitimised, albeit often legally frowned upon, form of begging!

“A legitimized wealth transfer transaction located in the field of popular culture”

(Eddie Cass.  The Lancashire Pace Egg Play – A Social History.             FLS Books 2002.)

The intention is that these pages will, in time, feature anything associated with the noble art of mumming and, rather like the words some of my performances with The (Insert Name Here) Mummers, they will be in no particular order!

Pace Egggers Felony! (Allegedly)

ALLEGED FELONY BY “PACE EGGERS.” – On Saturday, at the borough police court, before the Mayor and T.Hart, Esqrs., George Neville and John Boyd were charged with stealing a tin warmer, the property of Robert Pickering, of the “William the fourth” public house, Nova Scotia. It appears that on Thursday night, a number of “pace eggers” entered Pickering’s house, and the defendants were among them. They were causing a disturbance in the street when the attention of the police was attracted to them; and Sergeant Fielding started in pursuit of Neville, and another whom he believed to be Bond. While Neville was running, he threw from him the warmer, and when apprehended told the officer he got it from Bond. The evidence being considered insufficient to establish the felony, that charge was not pressed; but the defendants being both drunk and creating a disturbance, they were both fined 5s. and the expenses.

The Blackburn Standard. Wednesday 8 April 1863