1988: Christmas Mumming in a North Cotswold Town. Section I: Introduction

Craig Fees, “Christmas Mumming in a North Cotswold Town: With Special Reference to Tourism, Urbanisation and Immigration-Related Social Change“, PhD., Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies, School of English, University of Leeds, England (1988).

I. Introduction
Footnotes (opens in new window)

A. Prologue

a. The Purpose of the Dissertation

The function of this dissertation is to provide a platform of research and thought upon which future work both on the history of Chipping Campden and the nature of the mumming play can build. It is by no means complete, and there are people in Chipping Campden who will immediately know where I have got it wrong and missed out information. I hope they will share this. That is the point of this dissertation, to lay out a grid of information and conjecture upon which others can lay the bricks and mortar of better information and better-informed conjecture.

From an academic point of view, mumming play scholarship until recently has provided very little to build on. To carry the metaphor further, it would not be too extreme to say that among the odd stone footings and oak floorboards the foundations of mumming play scholarship have generally combined green timbers and worm-eaten cross-members(1). In beginning its work, this dissertation combines a rigorous search for sources and analyses of them with a contextual study grounded in extensive original background research.

Peter Harrop completed the only previous study of the Campden mumming in 1980, as one of several customs surveyed in his PhD. dissertation, The Performance of English Folk Plays: A Study in Dramatic Form and Social Function(2). As it relates to the Campden mumming this is in many ways a ground breaking and insightful study, marred in some respects, but generally useful and cited throughout the footnotes of this dissertation.

b. What is Chipping Campden?

Chipping Campden or Campden, Gloucestershire, is a small market town in the northern pinnacle of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the seat of the parish of the same name, and the capital for many years of the North Cotswolds. It is twelve miles southwest of Stratford-on-Avon, eight miles east of Evesham, Worcestershire, and well sequestered inside the lower half of a rough rectangle formed by the A44, the A46, the A34 and the A429. The town is serviced directly only by two B roads, the B4081 and the B4035. Its railway station, closed in 1964, was a mile from the town.

This relative isolation has given Chipping Campden a degree of protection from traffic and some of its social consequences, and kept Campden from becoming – so early and so completely as nearby Broadway, Worcestershire, on the junction of the A44 and A46 – a town existing for tourism. Tourism nevertheless plays an important role in Campden, and as Peter Harrop pointed out in his dissertation in 1980, it is easy to feel as if every other shop is selling trinkets and souvenirs(3).

Campden’s beauty is immediately obvious to anyone entering from any direction, the Cotswold stone gathered into an orderly tumble of buildings along the base of a long hill, surrounded with ploughed fields and pastures and filled with trees. Age and changelessness rise out of it like a mediaevalist’s dream, although one need only walk down the main street and listen to the speech to realise that in keeping the dream intact the native population has been largely displaced.

Indeed, anyone familiar with the current housing crisis in rural areas – the influx of relatively wealthy incomers, whose purchases force up local house prices beyond the reach of local people, who must therefore leave the area – will already know something of the history of contemporary Chipping Campden(4). What may be less familiar is how deep the roots of this crisis are in the history of the area, how it is related to the Agricultural Depression of the 1870s-1880s, how the Depression gave rise to tourism, and how critically the social changes involved have impacted on local culture. Those familiar with the work of Frederik Barth and others on the consequences of rapid, externally-induced change on native cultures(5) will be aware of many of the themes elucidated throughout the dissertation, and will be able to follow the development chronologically through the historical and discussion chapters of each section. Chipping Campden, as this dissertation will show, is far from ageless or unchanging.

There has been a Christmas mumming (for a good description of mumming as performed recently in Campden see Appendix Q) in the town since at least the 1860s, which only becomes documented in any satisfactory way between the two world wars. The custom appears to have lapsed between 1900-1914, but was revived immediately after the First World War by a man, and perhaps by several men, who had been in the late 19th-century mumming. Following a BBC broadcast in 1934, studied in Section IV.3, the mumming became well-known and popular locally, and carried this fame with it into the Second World War. After the hiatus of war the custom resumed in 1946 and has been going regularly since, surviving many difficulties and resisting pressures to change. Throughout its known history it has been a custom of working men, of agricultural and building labourers, of gardeners and quarrymen.

c. What is Folk Drama?

It will have been noticed that the term “folk drama” has so far been avoided. The term “folk-drama” was coined, or at least first published, by T.F. Ordish at the end of the last century(6). He needed a term for something which had appeared regularly in past English and Germanic history, which was not quite legitimate theatre, but which had had a major influence on the drama of Shakespeare, for example: the continuous manifestation of the dramatic genius of the race as such. E.K. Chambers adopted the term and popularised it as the expression of the mimetic instinct in lower or unlettered peoples, introducing an almost derogatory construction which turned Ordish’s formulation on its head, and excluded the “folk” from theatre history(7). It is not a category for something actually encountered in the world, therefore, but a literary and quasi-anthropological term for a particular intellectual construct belonging to a particular intellectual era. In my view attempts to compare folk drama to legitimate theatre and to define “folk drama” as a genuine literary or sub-literary phenomenon are therefore misplaced: there is nothing in the field to which “folk drama” corresponds, while the persistence of the term obscures the nature of the phenomena which are truly discovered there.

d. What Is Performance?

That being the case, the need is for a term which does help us to explore and discuss what is discovered in the world without prejudging what that is: a term which does not derive from any particular cultural genre, such as Western literary theatre; which is descriptive rather than prescriptive; and which is grounded in something universal to human being as such.

The word currently being explored among folklorists is “performance”.

“Performance”, like “folk drama”, is an historically bedded term. The intellectual era to which it belongs is grounded in the philosophical breakthrough of Phenomenology, and there is an attempt with “performance” to designate a universal category of experience rather than a model of any particular performance genre. This dissertation aspires to contribute to the growing literature in the performative analysis of culture.

For the purposes of this dissertation “performance” is a mode of everyday being which is founded in the experience of belonging in the world, in which the world is encountered as a presence, and my being discovered as a presence in a world to which I belong. In this mode the world’s presence is one which is directed towards me as a revealing of its limits and possibilities, and I conversely bring out of myself an answering which proposes its own limits and possibilities. In performance as an ecstatic mode, performance is revealed as an answering-revealing, in which I am displayed by myself to the world, and the world is displayed to me, both in our limits and in our mutual possibilities. In everyday life this process is so familiar as to be hidden, but it is also always revealing itself in jokes, in self-consciousness, in personal displays of all kinds: it is a mode of being by which we are constantly moving ourselves about in the world, discovering ourselves, and negotiating and discovering with others about the nature of the world to which we belong: of its past, its present, and its futures.

The crux of performance is attention and its management. Attention is defined by that which is in the foreground of awareness, by that which is immediately present to consciousness. This is the object of consciousness, and an object of consciousness always exists within a world which is called into play along with the object, and is displayed along with it.

By ‘display’ is meant opening something up to view. In a stage performance, as a performer, I attend to a matter in such a way that it is opened up for view, and is then viewed by someone who opens themselves up to view it. “Opening up” is a literal description, and attention, while it can be momentarily seized, cannot be forced. “Paying attention” and the request “may I have your attention” crystallise the understanding that attention is something that is given, not taken.

Something is displayed by bringing it out of shadow, where it is effectively hidden, into the light – making it the object of consciousness, making it manifest. The audience, which has given its attention, attends to that to which the performer draws their attention: that is, the audience attends to that to which the performer attends in the mode of displaying it(8).

Persons can be viewed without having opened themselves up to view. Opening up means inviting attention, or of agreeing to be an object of attention. In this sense, for example, tourism opens entire communities to attention – and thereby introduces a new element into the local performative field. Not everyone who has been opened up to attention, however, has opened themselves up: not everyone wants to be part of what tourists come to see. It is with agreement that “performance” – as opposed to snooping and nosiness, for example – is born.

In performance, the performer voluntarily brings forward certain things to be observed, to be attended to, and to be attended to in such-and-such a way, depending upon the particular technology of performance within which he or she is working. What is brought forward is that to which the performer draws attention as being the object of his or her own attention-for-the-audience, which brings into play a world to which the object belongs and to which the performer belongs as its presenter. The audience is implicitly present in the object to which it attends as belonging to the world within which the object means and is seen (just as the lights, the stage, the props, the actor’s voice, the actor’s hand are, although these are present as letting-the-object-be-seen, or pointing-to-the-object). What the audience sees, in other words, through the object, is itself and its belonging, displayed. Being-present to an object is presence-to-itself qua immersion in a phenomenon.

The audience attends to that to which the performer attends. If a performer attends to the mask, rather than to that which the mask is meant to make manifest, then the audience (that is to say, an immersed audience, a successful audience, an audience which belongs with the performer) will attend to the mask; to the gaffe; to the inexpertise or incompetence which the actor puts on display. They will see the missed entrance, if that is what the performer directs their attention toward, if only by trying to hide it. Likewise, if the performer attends to his or her technique it will be the technique the audience sees, and if the performer attends qua character (a certain organisation and presentation of the self) to the events of the stage, so too will the audience.

The “qua” in the last sentence is deliberately chosen, because performance – although the discussion so far has been drawn in terms from the legitimate theatre (because of personal experience) – is an everyday mode of being of which particular performance genres or technologies are elaborations. The “qua” indicates what, in everyday life, might be called “roles”: a schoolmaster, for example, is one possible role, one way of being; and an individual may have many. This “qua” indicates an organisation of self, a calling into play of a possible way of being in the world, and of being part of the world in which that which is made manifest is also displayed. “Schoolmaster”, for example, is invoked and put on display by a pointer touching a blackboard – it is out of “schoolmaster” that that which is pointed to is determined as an object of attention. The pointer, as a tool for displaying “schoolmaster”, and as a tool for the schoolmaster to direct attention, is a part of the technology of performance belonging to the world of the classroom. So too is brutality, if the schoolmaster uses brutality when the scholar fails to pay attention, for example, or when the scholar gets an answer wrong. A beating in this case demonstrates “schoolmaster-ness” and “scholar-ness”, and also directs attention to the subordinate role of the scholar whose attention, although it must ultimately be given, is considered by rights the possession of the master. In this paradigm attention paid elsewhere is essentially an act of theft and rebellion, justifying the beating. This displays an entire world of social relations and behaviours which is more closely – though not exhaustively – examined in II.2, a world of “masters and men” (although the specific master of whom I am thinking resorted to brutality when the general world of “masters and men” had already started passing into the past of the 19th century). This brings us again to the fact that worlds are brought into play along with the specific objects which are brought into consciousness.

It is by now a truism that every human being constitutes the world differently, or constitutes different worlds. What is manifest in performance, when an object of performance is attended to, is the common or shared. Just as that which is not shared (or manifest) is displayed when attention is refused (as in disdain) or directed elsewhere (as in “boredom”, in which attention is directed past what is on display to what will be happening after or what could be happening instead). Indeed, performative failure, as in boredom and disdain, can be described in terms of unshared worlds.

The schoolmaster of whom I have been thinking, George Dewey, was headmaster of the Boys School in Chipping Campden from 1904 to 1923, and then of the combined mixed schools until his retirement in the following year. I am also thinking of particular children, those he referred to as “Campden pigs, only fit to follow the plough”(9). Those children for whom this remark was intended – those whose attention it seized as directed towards them – would have had to set it to one side in order to attend to the information the schoolmaster put on display; accepted the condemnation in order to pay attention; or paid attention elsewhere, risking the beatings which defined “schoolmaster” and “pig” as much as “schoolmaster” and “scholar”. This is clearly a simplification, but it is intended to draw attention to the real consequences of different worlds in performative encounter; and to the fact that “worlds”, in this sense, arise out of personal history: the performative experience of the labourer is not that of the tradesman, the farmer, or the nobleman. Each dwells within a different performative field.

A performative field is that full range of performance technology employed within a folk community, using Alan Dundee’ definition of a folk community as “any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common factor”(10). Groups and communities defined on this basis overlap and are interwoven, and therefore performative fields overlap and are interwoven.

Technologies of performance are the recognised means employed in achieving and working with attention, and include not only costume or gesture, but spatial relationships, verbal gesture, language itself, the orientation of oneself towards the world (as in “roles”). These technologies are learned within folk communities, and they are conventions, in the same sense that languages are.

A performance technology therefore defines a community just as language does. Performance reveals belonging, and in revealing this belonging ratifies what is shared: when a group of people laugh or applaud together there is revealed a shared world; that which is “revealed” has the structure of the true; and what is shared as true in this manner has the character of something that has been ratified (see II.2).

A performance technology must be known in order to be an effective path of revealing, and must therefore be learned: thus, the performative field, because performance has the nature of negotiation (of bringing limits and possibilities into the presence of shared worlds, thus expanding that which is shared or common) is a teaching as well as a revealing. School children taught to attend to the front of a room, to recognise proscenium-staging as the frame and form of what is put on display and ratified, are prepared as adults to orient their attention towards a head-table at a public meeting, to a lectern in a sermon, to the proscenium stage in a travelling theatre. Boys taught to recite by rote for oranges and buns are equipped to parade in the Volunteers for a tea. Children taught to parade through the town with flags to their fete are modelling and learning to become adults who carry flags in parades to annual club dinners. Children rejected by the school, or who refuse to open themselves up to the performative rules imposed by the school, will carry on performative models learned beforehand, outside, and in the home – and will do so, perforce, in the mode of opposition (which alters the character of the performative models to which they adhere).

The range of performative fields within any complex community is therefore very broad: the labouring family with ten children in a one-up, one-down cottage learn different rules for attending and making themselves known, and have different concepts of performative conviviality from middle-class tradesmen, with their small households and big rooms, and who advise the labourers to adopt a performative technology more like their own: “Nothing could be better in the home than complete courtesy”(11).

Performative worlds are constantly, by nature, in negotiation and constantly changing and re-forming. Working class men go to London to find work, and return from the immenseness and crowds of the city with the experience of music hall, pantomime and London pubs as part of their performative repertoire. Men who return from the trenches of World War One, who have been pressed into intimacy with other men, and men of other classes, do not return with the same concepts of self or social distance and expand their sense of belonging into the public sphere, getting rid of an unwanted cannon, for example, imposed on them by the leaders of the town, and refusing to negotiate with the farmers on the old basis of “masters and men” (see IV.2). The schools bring the children of labourers into contact with Shakespeare, instruct them in legitimate plays, harness them into structured carol singing with the aim of collecting charity for others (see IV.3) – in other words, attempt to develop in them a performative technology based on (and appropriate to) the performative field of an educated/middle class community. Dialect performative fields (as it were) are displaced through instruction in a Received performative field.

As we will see through the course of this dissertation, there is an ongoing tension in Campden between the performative field and hence cultural identity of the community of mummers (identified after the Second World War explicitly with Campden/working class) and that of many of the increasing numbers of immigrants (identified after the Second World War as City/snobs). The current mumming is explicitly a holding onto a native dialect of performance, which is the same as to say a native dialect of culture, community and continuity.

Out of this brief discussion will have emerged a sense of the importance to a full performative analysis of factors which can easily be taken for granted in studying folk cultures: the size of the family as a performative variable, inasmuch as crowding changes the nature and rules involved in managing attention; the importance of meetings and parades in identifying and defining performative variables, and as displays of shared worlds; the significance of performance failure (conflict, boredom, contempt) as evidence of the contact of different worlds taking up or already in positions of non-belonging to one another.

What should also be evident is that a performative analysis must rest on an extensive bed of information, because performative fields – and hence communities – are made manifest through the shaping of individual and common space, through private behaviour and individual encounters, through military drill, parish council meetings, social singing, town parades, stage plays: through the being and display of human being as such, at all times and everyday. What will also be evident is the usefulness of a single focus, such as the mumming, through which to organise a study.


B. A Brief Guide to the Dissertation

The dissertation is divided into six sections: an Introduction and a Conclusion, and four sections which cover the four major eras of Campden mumming since about 1860: Section II, 1860-1900; Section III, 1900-1914; Section IV, 1920-1939; Section V, 1945-1986. Each section is divided into a chapter listing and/or discussing available, mainly written, sources; a chapter characterising the social history of the period; and a chapter discussing key developments or issues in the mumming. For the pre-1900 period, the summary of the mumming mainly involves a reconstruction of available information on known mummers and audience-members; for the period 1900-1914, it is a case of examining closely the later claim that the Guild of Handicraft (a group of Arts and Crafts workshops which relocated to Campden from London in 1902) “revived and reinvigorated” the mumming – and because of the significance of the Guild in the history and historiography of Campden, and because of its role in the story of the current mumming, this is gone into in some detail; for the interwar period, the relevant chapter discusses the revival of the mumming and studies the rise of the mummers into civic prominence as a fixed feature of “Campden tradition”; and for the post-World War Two period the appropriate chapter examines the problems created for the mummers under pressure from continuing acculturation and urban immigration.

The most important chapter in some respects is the historical chapter of Section II, 1860-1900, which sets the stage for the Twentieth Century. Not only is a vitality and sophistication revealed which belies the vision of Campden history imparted by the Guild – Campden as wasteland, as town in the late stages of decay(12) – but it also presents an introduction to the local performative field through the medium, in particular, of the Public Meeting. This discussion will be referred to and drawn on throughout the dissertation, as establishing in broad outline the common performance vernacular upon which changes were imposed, and from which the local performative dialect (so to speak) stems.


C. A Note On The Fieldwork

My involvement with Campden began by accident in the Fall of 1981. I had come to England from the United States to carry out research on a defunct mumming in Yorkshire, the preparation for which was already underway when my supervisor, Tony Green, suggested I visit Campden so that I could see a performance by a living group of traditional mummers. My first trip to Campden was simply intended to make contact with the mummers, to find out if they would be out at Christmas, and to ask if it would be alright to come and see them.

In England, 1981 was the year of the blizzard. I was hitch-hiking toward Campden when the snow began to fall, and I was at the turning called Paul’s Pike, intending to camp, and with a backpack full of recording equipment and camping supplies, when night and the snow began to fall in earnest. I asked at the Pike if I might pitch a tent, and was told to try a place up what I later learned was Kingcombe Lane, and I duly knocked at the door of a smallholding belonging to the Twinberrow family. I asked if I might pitch my tent and was told instead that I should stay in an outside room, a kind of cabin-bedroom for summer use, where I gratefully set my things down. I had no time to be as cold and exhausted as I wanted to be, however, because Mr. Twinberrow ordered me in to tea, and from then on began to order the course of my study. He introduced me to two old mummers, and had me introduced to the leader of the current team. Mr. Twinberrow let me help him around the smallholding, continued to feed me, and in the end suggested that I come back to see the mummers and stay through Christmas. Within several days, and without having planned it, I had gathered several hours of taped interviews and had been morally catapulted into the study of a living tradition a significant distance from Leeds.

It was through this same Dave Twinberrow that I then became involved in a small school about ten miles from Campden – a residential therapeutic community for emotionally disturbed children called New Barns School, for which Mr. Twinberrow acted as a kind of plant consultant do-anything-man. On a Spring, 1982, visit staying in the Twinberrow’s outside room, he had me helping to put a door through a stone wall at the school to create a new children’s bedroom; and it was through him, while working on his land, that I met Susanne, who lived and worked at the school, and who I subsequently married.

Before this, however, I was seeking a place from which I could carry out my fieldwork and search the local libraries and archives on a long term basis. The Cotswolds are an expensive area in which to live, and because of the legal constraints of a student visa, I could neither search for a job nor change to part-time study in the University unless I happened to have one. Having worked my way through college, it occurred to me that I could volunteer to work part time at New Barns School in return for board and lodging, on the misconceived idea that it was an educational institution like others I had known, and that I might easily contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds and buildings, and carry out my research, without the two interfering with each other. In the end this didn’t prove possible – New Barns is not a place in which people have jobs; it is a place in which people live together, and one’s role is determined by the needs of the community and one’s own needs and abilities rather than by clearly defined job-roles and functions. There are no clear limits on the demands it makes, and there are no limits at all on the needs of the children. The virtual collapse of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies after I joined the school made it difficult for me to know where to set the boundaries between the demands of my research and my responsibilities as a member of the therapeutic team(13).

The decision to seek a part-time voluntary position at the school was pre-empted for both the school and myself by my marriage to Susanne, a child psychologist living in the school. From the Autumn of 1982 I found myself attempting to create a research programme and a marriage while working, eating, teaching, and living with children with manifest and demanding emotional and educational needs.

From the beginning it was recognised in the school that I was in England to study for the PhD., and I have never been committed to a full-time rota. A full-time rota involves something in excess of 80 hours a week, however, and in my extraordinary role first as a part-time volunteer and more recently as a paid member of the therapeutic team I have usually been ‘around’ in a formal sense for three days a week, or about 40 hours, and available in a less formal sense – as someone who lives there – for others depending on circumstances.

I had not expected to be carrying out my study in Gloucestershire and therefore began my background research after fieldwork began. I had not expected to be plunged into the maelstrom of being married, nor of living and working with emotionally disturbed children, nor of becoming unmarried after five years, at the beginning of 1987. This is certainly not the recommended way to carry out research, and the people of Campden have in consequence had less out of me than they deserve. But I register this as a datum for future students of folk studies who may wish to understand what they find when they come to study the raw materials of my collection, and perhaps as a minor contribution to the study of folk studies and higher education in this period.

Section II 1860-1900