While the characters will differ, the plays are about “good and evil”, “light and darkness”, and in Hagbourne “good” is represented by King George and “evil” by Bold Slash, a bold French Officer — perhaps a hint as to the origins being after the Napoleonic wars.
Just when and where the Hagbourne Mummers Play was first performed is unknown but, from material obtained from the “Morris Ring” archives, the characters and words of the play are similar to other plays still regularly performed in the area around Abingdon and Wantage. These plays were handed down by word of mouth through the generations, and the Hagbourne Mummers Play is recorded as being learned by Caleb Hitchman of New Road from his older brother Joseph around 56-58 years ago.
Mummers plays are a common part of folklore throughout England and, with few exceptions, are normally performed at Christmas. While the characters will differ, the plays are about “good and evil”, “light and darkness”, and in Hagbourne “good” is represented by King George and “evil” by Bold Slash, a bold French Officer — perhaps a hint as to the origins being after the Napoleonic wars.
The play is introduced by Father Christmas and proceedings are controlled by the Foreman. The Doctor is on hand to repair wounds and Jack Vinney,a man of Spain, adds further colour. G’rd ‘ead, the fool, provides musical accompaniment on the fiddle and a pot into which the appreciative audience may place their money.
The original notes state that “dressed in paper suits and hats, decorated with crimp paper streamers, the mummers went to the houses of the gentry, always glad to be seen, and were given drinks and money.”
Few people in Hagbourne can remember the play, but at Christmas 1994 a group of villagers revived the tradition with performances in the village pubs and for a house-party at “Kingsholm”; 1995 saw an extended itinerary which it is hoped will be the foundation for this tradition continuing for many more years.
Nowadays, the costumes have been somewhat modernised, and while the desire to drink and collect money is still there, the money is collected for a local charity, decided each year by the players.
The Hagbourne Mummers Play can be seen during the week before Christmas at various venues in the locality.