Mummers’ Plays and Leigh ca 1930s
Leigh does not seem to have been at the hub of unusual Christmas customs. As far as can be ascertained, over the last hundred years the village has been content to do all the things that have been done in other towns and villages. However, we do get one small mention in the national historical records and that is to do with our Mummers Play.
That’s right, “Mummers” – not “Mummy’s” – in a Leigh Pub, the Fleur de Lis. Details were found at the English Folk Dance and Song Society where they hold the full words and stage directions noted down by an earnest folk-loreist probably in the 1930s.
In fact, the play is a relatively short version of what would have been heard all over England and Northern Ireland (with variants all over Europe) for five hundred years at least and with pre-Christian antecedents.
After an introduction from Father Christmas, our hero, Saint George (sometimes he is King George) has a fight with our villain, The Little Turkish Knight, and kills him. After pleas from The Old Woman, an eccentric Doctor revives the villain with a special potion and everything ends happily with the Mummers asking the onlookers for money.
The actors were dressed in clothes covered with coloured strips of cloth and had their faces blackened. They spoke their words in flat monotone – they were not really meant to be “acting” but rather reciting rather garbled words from a ritual ceremony which had originally been done to celebrate the end of one year and the rebirth of the new and, more particularly, to ask for luck in the coming season with abundant crops and food. The Winter Solstice – or, as it became, Christmas – was the usual time for these ceremonies, although occasionally they were performed at the start of spring (Easter). The Leigh play was noted at the normal Christmas time.
Twice in the last thirty years the Leigh Mummers have revived the play and there are other groups in the area who still perform at Christmas.
Parish Magazine Article: Dec 2003: by Chris Rowley