Wiltshire Folk Arts
19 Whistley Road, Potterne, Devizes, Wiltshire, SN10 5QY
Office: 01380 726597
Bob : 07714 550990
The Potterne Christmas Boys raised £1030.41 from this years (2012) performances and had a great time doing it too!
The Christmas boys are also on a christmas card and featured on the 2011 Calendar at Hedingham Cards. Please go to their site for your Xmas gifts )
A short resume of a typical mummers play, by Nigel Owen - the Valiant Soldier in the Potterne Mummers :The bell sounds bright and the pub waits. The Mummers are announced, and in comes Father Christmas, in his long white night-shirt and scruffy top hat, leaning on his stick, with a hump on his back. He speaks of beef and beer, and calls in King George, the hero.
A tall, bold man, in a long rag tatter coat and a gold crown, carrying a sword and shield. King George silences the crowd, and calls in old Turkey Snipe.
With a rage of an entrance and a blur of moving tatters, clutching the biggest curved sword you ever saw, he challenges King George. They fight, blow by heavy blow, narrowly missing the pub regulars, till George finds his mark and Turkey Snipe lies dead on the scrubbed floor boards, just in front of the fire.
The Spanish Doctor comes in, a mystery all in black, and carrying a small case, from which he produces a bottle to cure all ills. He shoves the bottle down the throat of the Turkey Snipe, who miraculously jumps up, and leads them all in a song to revive the spirits. The crowd hesitates, unsure if this is the end, but suddenly the Doctor calls in Old Almanac, and faces turn again to the door.
Beneath a heap of ragged tatters, an old man struggles into the room, walking with an old gnarled stick. He boasts of his big head and little wit, but with him still being "the best man amongst ye all", showing his knuckles to the Doctor, who pushes him away, and calls in the next champion.
Enter the Valiant Soldier, who boasts of his heroic fights, until he sees Father Christmas. He instantly launches into the old man, and runs him through with his sword, leaving King George to call for a Doctor again. But before the Spanish Doctor can come to his aid, the Soldier exclaiming "I am a doctor" ! He hits Father Christmas three times across the back with the flat of his sword, and the old man is revived again, and joins the company in song.
Then the soldier turns to the door, and calls in Little Man Jack. Poor, cold, and bowed, he staggers in, carrying his family on his back. His tale of loss is the saddest of all, yet when he challenges the company, the soldier takes offence and joins to fight him. Father Christmas quickly separates them, and reminds all that it is the time of good cheer, and suggests a rousing song will get the locals to part with money or beer, so they sing: "We're seven jolly boys, come here to do our play, and when as we have done our bit, we'll all us go away".
The Christmas boys then parade round in a circle, singing proudly, until they head to the door, with a final "Merry Christmas". Father Christmas goes round with the hat, and, this being a happy ending, the landlord pours a fine glass of foaming ale for each of the mummers.
Key characters in the plays include the heroes, who vary somewhat, and are usually King or St.George and father Christmas. The adversaries include Valiant Soldier, Turkey Snipe (Turkish Knight) and there are usually several others that drop in that include Little Man Jack, Little Man John and old Almanac and there is always a Quack Doctor, who carries the reviving elixir brought in to revive the loser of the sword fight between a hero and an adversary.
The Potterne play was revived in 1953 by a local schoolteacher, Bernard Baker, and has been kept going by Mick Hiscock, The Moonraker Morris, and others since. They usually go out on four or five nights in the week before Christmas, visiting between two and four local pubs each night, either in Devizes, or the surrounding villages. We always finish on Christmas Eve, at around 9pm, in the George and Dragon, currently the only pub in the village of Potterne. (The Bell closed soon after our appearance there in 2000 !) SEE LATEST NEWS ON MUMMING
The Inglesham Play collected by Alfred Williams and performed 1840 to 1850 had the following characters in it:
Tanner / Arthur O'Bran / Arthur a Brand / Arthur a Bland
Doctor / Mr. Cleverlegs
Jack Vinney / Mr. Vinney / John
The cast in Alton Barnes in 1930, collected by Douglas Kennedy, had this unlikely lot in it:
Father Christmas / No.1
King William / No.2 / King William King / William the King.
Turkey Snipe / No.3
Doctor / No.4 / Spanish Doctor
Valiant Soldier / No.5 / Whip Him and Slash Him
Saucy Jack / No.6
Little Twing Twang / No.7
As you can see, even in one county alone there is much variation and with each year there are, of course, the usual extras thrown in to fit with local history and humour. However the original story is in there somewhere, albeit somewhat disguised.
For the past 3 years we have suffered a severe reduction in the performances that the Potterne mummers can do
Please read the following extracts from the campaign files which will give you some idea of the problems we face and then if you support our plight please put pen to paper or e-mail to us, your local MP or direct to the DCMS
" Taken from a letter sent to mumming groups around the country 22 nd October 2007
The Licensing Act 2003 comes to the fore again with respect to Mumming plays.
It is a common misconception that Mummers Plays are included under the excellent exemption that the Morris dancing enjoys.
However in the licensing act it clearly states that there is a requirement for a license to be in place for the performance of a play, wherever it is performed.
Obviously this was clearly intended for organized and widely promoted performances of plays of the theatrical kind and not the traditional short transitory performances of Mumming Plays that we perform.
The main issue seems to be that they are in essence Folk Plays and therefore by default get included in the box ticking system of obtaining licenses for publicans.
Unfortunately many of the landlords of our fine establishments, country-wide, did not think (and were not advised either) to tick that one box that would have secured our ability to continue our traditions without having to purchase a license for them.
Now I am coming to the point of this letter.I have considered petitions and have come to the conclusion that they are a bit of a waste of time.
What we need is evidence in the form of supportive letters from the performers, organisers and supporters of Mumming and folk plays from all over the UK and beyond to be able to confirm to DCMS that there is a real determination and passion to carry on these traditions in the same manner as Morris Dancing.
It would appear that to change the law as it stands will take an awfully long time but there is a way that we can get some satisfaction by lobbying the government to reduce the fees required to amend the current license.
As it stands now, to amend a license would cost landlords between £100 and £630 (dependent on rateable value of establishment).
If we can get the government to reduce these fees then most landlords, it seems, would be more in favour of supporting the idea it.
I will work out a sliding scale of recommended charges, based on rateable value and number of items to change, but we'll do that later.
First we need to find our levels of support. I would ask if you could either drop me a line, e-mail or even a text message to show your support. Please include your Full name and postcode and if you have an email put that in too as I will be able to keep you in touch with how we are progressing much easier.
My intention is then to send these to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt. Hon James Purnell MP for consideration.
I do not expect that this will be done in time for this year's bulk of performances but now is the best time to catch everyone's attention whilst it is in the forefront of our minds.
Further, if you are already doing something about this in your area please let me know as the more people that know about it the better chance we have of getting something done.
Thank you for your time in reading this and hopefully lending the campaign your support."
Here is a copy of a letter that we sent to Kennet District Councillors in 2006. Many replied in saying that they would look into it but 2 years down the line - not another word !
I represent the Potterne Mummers who perform an annual short play, at Christmas, in public houses in the Kennet District each year to raise money for the Air Ambulance and other notable local charities.
The play is a traditional one that has it's roots going back to the 15th century in Potterne and the surrounding area. It takes just 15 minutes to perform with seven performers and is similar in nature to many others performed annually throughout the country. The Potterne Mummers have performed this unbroken for the past 35 years since it's last revival.
The reason I write to you this evening is two-fold.
Firstly to bring to your attention the difficulty we have in performing this year due to the new licensing restrictions imposed by the 2003 licensing act.
The Council's licensing officer, John Knight, has interpreted the law with regards to the mummers performances as "Performance of a Play" which needed all the public houses and other such venues in question to have ticked the relevant box on the license application form. Many did not because they, as did a huge number of people I have since spoken to, thought that the exemption for Morris Dancing also included Mumming plays. These are in essence performed by members of Morris Teams.
I have spoken to leading members of the Traditional Folk Arts world, including Feargal Sharkey (Chair of the Live Music Forum), Steve Heap (general Secretary of Folk Arts England and other leading luminaries on the subject and they all agree that Mumming Plays should in essence either be treated as a Morris dancing activity or come under the "incidental music" exemption.
Secondly, I would ask that you consider what a tremendous gift it would be for you to agree with us and encourage your licensing officer to re-interpret the performances as something that are incidental to the activity in which the venues is already licensed.
There is a lack of precise guidance on how to treat Mummers Plays under the 2003 Licensing Act, and I feel that, as Councillors, it is within your discretion when implementing the law locally to exempt Mummers Plays. Clearly, it would be most useful to your Licensing Officer were Councillors to confirm this stance, subject to any guidance being issued by Government. The tradition could then go ahead and once again raise valuably needed collection for the Air ambulance and allow a centuries' old tradition to continue in the way it always has..
I would like to finally say that we have no complaint whatsoever with the council, their officers or staff in this matter who have acted in good faith to implement their interpretation of the law.
I would be happy to discuss this matter further with you or your fellow councillors. Many thanks for your time"
We did write to our MP Micheal Ancram who did reply and sent a letter to Tessa Jowell and she did reply. However it would seem unlikely that any major change would happen until the review comes round in 2010 if a gap can be found amongst Olympic fever!.
We did mention to Tessa Jowell the idea of making the amendment of the license cheaper for minor changes.
It would be really great to think that our thoughts were taken up but co-incidently DCMS put forward a proposal for a simplification plan to reduce the cost burden on license holders for minor amendments. It looks as though that would be the governments favoured option to allow small changes to licenses and would save an awfully large number of Temporary Event Notices being purchased for just one 12 minute Mummers Play.
We are keeping an eye on what's happening and, rest assured, we will be in touch to let you know the next stage of the campaign.
Thanks for your support and dont forget I can be very easily reached by text or mobile on 07714 550990
Cheers for now
(The Spanish Doctor)
Peter Millington's brilliant website is at :