THE HISTORY OF MUMMING
The Hartley Morris Men’s Mummers Play
The first Mummers play that Hartley ever knew about came from the village of Firle in Sussex. It was discovered by a friend of Bob Tatman, Alan Skull, in 1969. Hartley performed it for the first time on Boxing Day 1970 and have continued to do so every Boxing Day since. See Sussex Archaeology & Folklore
It is also performed on other occasions and usually combined with dancing.
The two performances on Boxing Day are;
12.00 The Black Horse, Stansted, (TN15 7PR)
1.15 The Rose & Crown, Wrotham, (TN15 7AE)
For a General history of mumming and other traditional folk plays see http://www.folkplay.info
Darent Valley Champions
The traditional mummers plays from the Darent Valley area
The Darent Valley Champions perform the traditional Mumming Plays collected in the Darent Valley area of North Kent. The Champions were formed by the Hartley Morris Men in 1973 to perform the Darent Valley plays in their home village.
There were no performances on 2020, we will update this for 2021
when we know if we can and what venues are available.
Darent Valley Champions 2019 Programme
Shoreham Village - Saturday 21st Dec 2019
8.30pm - The Olde George Inn
9.15pm - The Crown
10.15pm - The King's Arms
We could not put together a tour of Otford as The Crown has now closed.
The History of Mumming Hartley style
In the early 1970s Terry Heaslip, the current Hartley Foreman, having some time on his hands he decided to look into the archives at Dartford Public Library and at Cecil Sharp House to see if he could find any references to Kentish Morris. He failed in this respect, but did succeed in finding the texts of a Mummer's Play from Shoreham. Shortly afterwards Geoff Metcalf, of Ravensbourne Morris Men, knowing of his interest, gave him the words of a very similar play from the Westerham area. Also Reg Hall gave him the text of a play from Sutton-at Hone.
At first little was known of the history of the plays apart from the scripts. Contained within the Westerham script was a brief description of the costumes worn by the characters but the only information about the Shoreham play was that 'in the actual performance, St George and the Turkish Knight were clothed in red soldiers tunics'. With little else to go on and the fact that at that time Brian Tasker was working for Reeds Paper and could obtain an endless supply of coloured paper 'ribbons' it was decided that the Shoreham play should be performed as 'paper boys' in common with Mummers Plays in other parts of the country.
It was agreed that the Mummer's should formally separate from the Hartley Morris Men. A name was needed so Terry Heaslip suggested that as the Shoreham play found in the Cecil Sharp House archives was entitled ‘The Seven Champions’ and the Westerham play ‘The Christmas Champions’, they should call themselves ‘The Champions’. As all three plays came from villages along the Darent River the ‘Darent Valley Champions’ came into being. With the objective of performing as many as possible of the plays in the villages of their origin, and to collect afterwards for good causes within that village.
The first performances of all plays by the Darent Valley Champions was in 1973. It was whilst performing the Shoreham play in the Royal Oak, Shoreham that they noticed an old gentleman in the public bar mouthing the words. He was Herbie Smith, who had performed in the mummers play 'The Seven Champions' as a boy when it was last performed in the village before the war. Parts of Simon Evans recorded interview with Herbie have been used in the Radio 3 Late Junction piece, "Christmas Champions" by Chris Wood and The English Acoustic Collective. This piece was subsequently released on a CD entitled "Christmas Champions" along with other Christmas songs.
The Meeting with Herbie Smith greatly aroused Simon's interest in the subject, and made him wonder if any other traditional Kentish performers were still alive. As a result, he and Charlie Jacobs spent many hours of detailed field research, during which they were able to collect several different versions of each of the four basic "Darent Valley" plays, as well as getting useful references to mumming plays in the nearby areas of Knockholt and West Malling.
From their research more details of the clothing worn were established and it was decided to adopt 'character' costumes for Shoreham whilst the newly rediscovered Brasted play was performed in paper ribbons and blackened faces.
The picture which eventually emerged, following the
River Darent upstream from its source, was as follows:-
(a) Westerham Play
This was collected in 1953 from Mr Jack Medhurst at the Bat & Ball, Leigh by Geoff Metcalf who was Squire of the Morris Ring at the time. Geoff’s notes state that Jack first took part in the play when he was about 16. At the time Geoff obtained this information from him he was 72 which gives his year of birth as 1880/81. This indicates the play was definitely being performed before the end of the 19th century.
Geoff passed it on to Terry Heaslip and it was one of the plays performed by the DVC in the early years. The performers wore "old clothes" as described in the original script. The DVC continued to perform the play for many years together with the Brasted play (version) that Simon & Charlie had researched.
Performances of the Brasted play outlived the Westerham play as pubs in Westerham were getting a bit rowdy near Christmas. The play was subsequently 'reclaimed' by Ravensbourne MM, but they do not perform it in regularly in Westerham. See Ravensbourne Morris Men
See the play live
(b) Brasted Play
At the turn of the century, this play was performed in the weeks before Christmas mainly in the grounds of large country houses in a wide area around the home village of Brasted. They are known to have travelled as far afield as Toys Hill, Ide Hill, Westerham and Sundridge. Traditionally the mummer's had blackened faces and wore "paper-boy" costumes. This is one of two plays performed annually by the Darent Valley Champions until the 1998 when its organiser, Charlie Jacobs died.
The Darent Valley Champions - Brasted Play tour about 1982
St George (Charlie Jacobs) - Father Christmas (Tony Petto)
Old Woman (Long Dave Davis) - Doctor (Mega Pete?) - Johnny Jack (Simon Evans)
Turkish Night (Little Tony Howard)
(c) Riverhead Play
A text was collected from an old performer, but little is known of its background history. As a result, the Champions have never tried seriously to revive it.
(d) Shoreham Play
The original version was found by Terry Heaslip at Cecil Sharp House in an article in the Kent County Journal written by Alan Smith in 1947. The play’s script was taken down from the dictation of Mr. W.J. Atkinson of Rolvenden who took part in the play when a boy at Shoreham. It was noted that his version was performed in the Sevenoaks district at the end of the 19th century. This was a pub-based play performed by working lads in Shoreham. They had no elaborate costumes - merely old clothes decorated with a few ribbons. Alan Smith notes that "in the actual performance St George and the Turkish Knight were clothed in red soldiers tunics" Their catchment area included Otford, Bat & Ball and Eynsford as well as their home village..
The Darent Valley Champions first performed the Shoreham Play in 1973. In 1973 and 1974 the plays were performed dressed as paper boys in costumes adorned with paper streamers.
1974 THE SHOREHAM PLAY IN THE ROYAL OAK, SHOREHAM
L-R: - 'Little' Tony Howard, Tom Hicks (Town Crier), Terry Heaslip (Bold Slasher), Charlie Jacobs (Doctor), Brian Tasker (Father Christmas), Henry Piper (Johnny Jack), Stuart Ansell (St George), Bob Tatman
(Quingquang), 'Big' Dave Hart and Phil Burkin (Turkish Knight) behind.
The present version differs slightly from the Alan Smith text and it has the addition of another character Scots & Scars. This was adopted as a result of Simon & Charlie's research. More details of the clothing worn were established and it was decided to adopt 'character' costumes for Shoreham. The costumes have evolved and changed with each new actor in the role.
This is the only play in the Champions' current repertoire.
2014 THE SHOREHAM PLAY IN THE CROWN OTFORD
L-R - Geoff Wells (Old farther Christmas), Pete Burren (St George), John Drake, (Collector),
Brian Heathfield (Scots and Scars), Merlin Beedle (Quingquang), Nick Miller (Turkish Knight),
Rob Bradley (Bold Slasher) The Doctor is missing from the photo.
(e) Sutton - at - Hone Play
The words were collected from Bill Hawks, Cuckfield, Sussex by Reg Hall and the text passed on to Terry Heaslip. but little could be established regarding costume or area of operation. The Champions used to perform this play each Christmas, but when its main organiser left Hartley for Wadard Morris Men in 1977, it was agreed that he should take the play with him. It is currently being acted by them every year. They performed it for a few years in the village of it's origin.
See Wadard mummers