It was great to find out why the December gathering of the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group was entitled ‘Mum’s the Word’ and witness the performance of a Mummers Play. The troupe took the performance to the Blue Boar for Twelfth Night in 2019. An Aldbourne tradition restored?
Some sources suggest that the idea of ‘keeping mum’ comes from the old English word ‘mum’ meaning to remain silent – hence ‘mumming’; but since there’s very little peace and quiet associated with the Mummers I’ve met, I’ve always wondered if an alternative explanation holds true. You’ve got the Greek word “Mommo”, meaning a mask, to consider. Since the plays when spoken tended to include local references and gibes, it’s possible that the tradition of wearing a mask, to avoid recognition (and retribution!) has it’s origin there. Who knows? Whatever the derivation it’s all jolly good fun! Maybe I’ll find time to have a really good chat to some Mummers I know and do further research before next year. A good starting point is the library and archive at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes and in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. Warning: the Rev Goddard’s notes are addictive – fascinating stuff; loved the reference to ‘up goes the donkey’ which was a topic for Twittering during the Terry Pratchett Exhibition at Salisbury Museum last year – but that’s another story …
The only reference I’ve personally found to Mumming in Aldbourne comes in part from Ida Gandy. Chapter 3 of The Heart of a Village mentions William Walters, who in ‘his early days played in a band of village mummers’. I think this was a mistaken name since a newspaper account from 1933 carries the same words, and relates to William Walker. Thanks to Hannah White-Overton, William’s great-granddaughter, I am able to include a copy of the newspaper cutting below.
waes hael to all and sundry on Twelfth Night and for 2019