The Sproxton Play – a wooing play

BACKGROUND

In the East Midland Counties of Linconshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland, the ceremony took a very distinctive form, best called the Wooing Ceremony. Unlike the Hero-Combat versions which attracted comment at an early date, these seem to have escaped notice. It may be that their survival in only a small area of the country prevented them from being better known. Whatever the reason, the earliest known example is from Bassingham in 1823, contained in the Hunter Collection in the British Museum. The version contains all the ingredients of those existing later in the century, and can be defined as follows:

The Wooer of a young ‘Female’ is rejected in favour of a Clown and enlists in the army. The Clown is occasionally accused of being the father of a bastard child of an older ‘Female’ which he denies. The action continues with a champion overcoming an opponent who is revived by a doctor. Much of the action is expressed in song. Characteristic performers include the Recruiting Sergeant, Ploughboy, Lady, Clown and Dame. (From ‘The English Mummers Play’ by Alex Helm).

This text is the only one known which had been collected in full with the music for the songs. It has not, however, the Bastard incident, but as the performances were by children in its final days, the passage may have been deliberately omitted. In the 1890’s it was acted by adult farm labourers, and was taken up by the children between 1905-8. It was performed on ‘Plough Boy Night’ in early January, and for some weeks prior to the performance, they practised in a pig-sty with straw on the floor. (We practice in Vicki’s very nice house with carpets on the floor!).

Stony Stratford Mummers have added three extra characters, taken from the Kirmington (Linconshire) Play. These are Bold Tom, Lame Jane and Music Jack. The character of Molly comes from the Islip (Oxfordshire) Play. These supernumeraries were added to accommodate the number of people interested in taking part, and are used as and when needed.


CHARACTERS

Fool – Sergeant – Farmers Man – Lady – Molly – Bold Tom – Lame Jane – Music Jack – Beelzebub – Doctor

THE PLAY

FOOL
In comes I who’s never bin yet
With my big head and little wit
My head is large, and my wit is small
I can act the fool’s part as well as you all.
Okum, pokum, France and Spain
Walk in Sergeant all the same

SERGEANT
In comes I the Recruiting Sergeant
I’ve arrived here just now
I’ve had orders from the king
To enlist all jolly fellows that follow the carthorse at plough
Likewise tinkers, tailors, peddlers, nailers, all that take to my advance
The more I hear the fiddle play, the better I can dance

FOOL
Faith lad, think I’ve come hear to see a fool like you dance?

SERGEANT
Yes Tommy, I can dance, sing or say.

FOOL
If you can dance, sing or say, well I’ll quickly march away

(Dance performed here. A shortened version of Nutting Girl)

FARMERS MAN
In comes I the Farmer’s Man
Don’t you see my whip in hand ?
When I go to plough the land I turn it upside down.
Straight I go from end to end
I scarcely make a balk or bend
And to my horses I attend
As they go marching round the end
I shout ‘ Come here, jee woah back ‘ .

LADY (singing)
Behold a Lady bright and gay, good fortune and sweet charms
How scornful I’ve been thrown away right out of my true love’s arms,
He swears if I won’t wed with him as we some day p’raps may,
He’ll ‘list for a soldier and from me run away.

SERGEANT (singing)
Come all you young fellows that are bound for listing,
List and do not be afraid,
You shall have all kinds of liquor,
Likewise kiss that pretty young maid.

FARMER’S MAN (singing)
Thank you sir I like your offer
Time and away do sweet like pass
Dash to me wig if I’ll grieve any longer
For that proud and saucy lass.

LADY (singing)
Now since me lover’s listed and entered volunteers,
I neither mean to sigh for him nor yet to shed one tear,
I neither mean to sigh for him, but I’ll have for him to know,
I’ll have another sweetheart and along with him I’ll go.

FOOL
Dost thou love me my pretty maid?

LADY
Yes Tommy, and to me sorrow.

FOOL
When shall be our wedding day?

LADY (sings)
Tommy love, tomorrow.

ALL SING
We’ll shake hands, and we’ll make bands and we’ll get wed tomorrow.

MOLLY In comes I, old Molly, sweeping up.
Merry, Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year
Pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer
I had six children last night, bred them up in a tinder box
I had a slice of bread and lard given me the night before
I eat all that myself
Don’t you think I’m a jolly old Mother to them all?

BOLD TOM
In comes I Bold Tom a brisk and nimble fellow
Forty gallons of your best ale will make us nice and mellow
A piece of your pork pie. For believing me I’m telling no lie
For we’re all hungry as well as dry.

LAME JANE
In comes I Lame Jane, with a neck as long as a crane
Once I was a young maid, now I’m a down old widow
A wig behind and a wig before
Ware out my lads and I’ll sweep the floor

(Molly and Lame Jane perform Broom dance)

MUSIC JACK
In comes I old Music Jack
I’ll give you a tune before I go back

(Two verses of The Holly and The Ivy & Chorus)

FOOL Stop stop stop to me old flip flaps.
I want to ask some of you old riff-raff to me and my old girl’s wedding
What you like best you’d better bring with you
I don’t know what you like best
Some like fish, some like flesh, some like fruit and frummety*
What me and my old gel likes best we’re going to have.

ONE OF THE OTHERS (or several, or all)
What’s that Tommy?

FOOL
A barley chaff dumpling buttered with wool
Cut up in slices fit to choke an old bull
If your saucy old flats ain’t satisfied with that, you’d better go without
So right away lads, we’ll get wed tomorrow

ALL SING AS BEFORE
We’ll shake hands, and we’ll make bands and we’ll get wed tomorrow.

BEELZEBUB
In comes I Beelzubub
Over my shoulder I carry my club
In me ‘and a drip leather pan
Don’t you think I’m a funny old man?
Any man or woman in this room dare stand before me?

FOOL
Yes, I darest, ‘cos me ‘ead is made of iron
Me body’s made of steel
Me hands are made of knuckle bone
No man can make me feel

BEELZEBUB
What? I don’t care if your ‘ead is made of iron
Your body made of steel
Hands are made of knuckle bone
I can make you feel
I’ll smish you, smash you as small as flies
Send you to Jamaica to make mince pies

(Hits him with a club then hits on shoulder. Fool falls to ground as if helpless)

FARMERS MAN
Oh Belzie, Oh Belzie, what hast thou done?
Thou’s killed the finest man under the sun
Here he lies bleeding on this cold floor
Faith never to rise no more
Five pounds for a doctor

BEELZEBUB
Ten pounds for him to stop away
What’s the good of having a doctor to a dead man?

FARMERS MAN
Sixteen pounds for him to come in
Step in doctor

(The doctors at the door)

DOCTOR *yawn*, boys, hold my horses head by the tail and mind he don’t kick you, he’s only a donkey
I’ll show you the bright side of a shilling when I come out again
In comes I the doctor

SERGEANT
You a doctor?

DOCTOR Yes, I a doctor

SERGEANT
How became you to be a doctor?

DOCTOR I travelled for it

SERGEANT
Where did you travel?

DOCTOR
England, France, Ireland and Spain
And I come back to old England again
Just below York ther I cured an old woman called Cork
She fell upstairs, downstairs, over a half empty teapot full of flour,
and grazed her shin-bone above her right elbow, and made her
stocking leg bleed, I set that and made it straight again.

SERGEANT
What else can you cure?

DOCTOR
Ipsy Pipsy Palsy and gout
Pains within and pains without
Set a tooth or draw a leg
And almost raise the dead to life again

SERGEANT
You must be a very clever doctor
You’d better try your experience on this young man.

DOCTOR
Just wait while I take off my big top hat, kid gloves,
and corduroy walking stick, and I feel this man’s pulse

(Then he bends down, picks up his foot, and ‘ takes his pulse’ )

This man’s pulse beats nineteen times to the tick of my watch,
he’s in a very low way indeed, couldn’t be much lower without digging a hole
He’s been living on green tater tops for three weeks all but a fortnight
This morning he tried to swalloe young wheelbarrow for his breakfast
Tried to cut his throat with a rolling pin
I’ll stop him from all them tricks
Give him some of my old riff raff down his chiff chaff
That’ll make him rise and fight
Also I’ll give him some of my epsy doansum pills, take one tonight,
two in the morning, and the box tomorrow dinner time
If the pills don’t cure digest, the box will
If he can’t dance, we can sing,
So let’s rise him up and we will begin

ALL SING
Good mister and good misteress as you sit round your fire
Just Think of us poor plough boys that work through mud and mire
The mire is deep so very deep we travel far and near
We’ll ask you for a Christmas box and a pitcher of your best beer

We’re not the London actors that act upon the stage
We are just country ploughboys that work for little wage
We’re not the London actors, I’ve told you so before
We’ll wish you all goodnight friends, and another happy new year.

End with ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ during which the collection takes place.


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