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Market Place Market Place
Note the new building in the photo on the corner.
Regent Street Regent Street
Note the 'Old Red Lion Hotel'
Chapmangate Chapmangate
Note the independent chapel built in 1807 to the left.
Pocklington Mummers
One of the oldest surviving 'Mummers' died in Pocklington in 1930 and he was the last of a group of Mummers who performed every Christmas time in Pocklington and also many parts of Yorkshire.

Leeds Mercury - Tuesday 24 December 1929

An old Yorkshire Mummer

A lost link with "Merrie England"

POCKLINGTON, Monday. England's oldest Christmas mummer has retired. is Mr. Christopher Scaife, the only surviving member of band of mummers formed half-a-century ago, whose activities extended over wide area of the three Ridings for several weeks around Christmas. The original band numbered five. One by one death reduced the party, until "Old Kit", he is familiarly known, became the sole survivor. For the past few years the old man, who is 83 years of ago, made his rounds on a reduced scale. This year infirmity and sickness prevent him making the usual rounds in his grotesque garb. His tambourine, gaily bedecked coat and feathered hat hang in the kitchen at his home, a relic of the many Christmas mimes of remarkable bard. Old Kit's story bristles with amusing anecdotes. The members of the band were all farm labourers, who, finding work not too plentiful at that period of the year, set out annually about four weeks before Christmas and made tour of a considerable portion of the Ridings.

A Pocklington Rugby Club Fancy Dress Parade
- this Group dressed as 'Mummers'

Purple and Fustian

"Everywhere we went", he says "we received a great welcome from rich and poor alike. The big houses of the Lords and Squires were real places to visit; many a time we were asked to perform before the guests. Usually we were told to go to the servants' quarters and enjoy a good meal. "We had some rough journeys. often it meant trudging over snowdrifts several feet deep on the Yorkshire Wolds to isolated farms". The younger men have tried to form a Mumming band in recent years without success. "it has not the old time touch" remarked a resident; so that the inability of Old Kit to continue his rounds closes another chapter of Christmas in the days of "Merrie England".

Hull Daily Mail - Saturday, 4th October 1930

End of Pocklington "Mummers"

A well known Pocklington character Christopher (Kit) Scaife, died this morning at the age of 84. He was the last survivor of a band of a Christmas "mummers," whose activities commenced in the Pocklington area half a century ago. In recent years the old man man has made his calls alone, his colleagues having died off. He continued up to last Christmas.

What are Mummers?

1836 mummers
An 1836 Mummers Play with Old Father Christmas
and other grotesque characters in the play

Mummers' Plays have been performed in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for hundreds of years. They are folk dramas usually based on the legend of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom. They were originally mime or dumb shows (Thus mummers from the Middle English word mum, meaning silent.) where all the performers were disguised and known as 'Guisers'. All the characters were played by men who kept the same part for many years. Eventually, dialogue was added, but was passed on by word-of-mouth. Consequently, the 'Chinese Whispers' effect over the centuries and the loss of the real significance of the original story, makes present day performances very entertaining but virtually meaningless to most audiences. The principal characters are St. George (…of dragon fame.), Captain Slasher, The Turkish Knight, The King of Egypt, Doctor and several men-at-arms who challenge St. George to a duel and are subsequently slain. The Doctor enters and demonstrates his skill by resuscitating the dead knights. Many historians believe that this drama is a celebration of the death of the year and its resurrection in the Spring.

Billy Harrison recalled "The Vessel Cuppers were a group of Mummers, dancers and singers who used to perform in the East Yorkshire area" Billy remembered them when, as a child, they were a bit fearsome to him. They dressed in weird costumes, so he says, and indeed, stories of them dressing in feathered costumes and blackening their faces could well have been very awe inspiring.


The traditions of Mummers are carried on today - Padstow in Cornwall

Ref: Source,

It was originally part of the pagan heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated throughout Yorkshire and other parts of the country where people would take part in the traditional custom of guise dancing, which involves disguising themselves by painting their faces black or wearing masks. The dark face paint, masks and dark clothing are symbols of the celebration of the winter solstice, and is in contrast to the "white" summer solstice festivals in Cornish towns such as the 'Obby 'Oss festival in Padstow and Golowan in Penzance. The Montol Festival in Penzance is a similar winter solstice celebration, during which people guise dance with darkly painted skin or masks to disguise themselves. There has been controversy in the British media regarding Mummer's Day, due to the blackened faces and the term Darkie Day, with commentators misinterpreting the festival as racist. The name Darkie Day is actually a corruption of the original Darking Day, which refers to the "darking" (darkening) of the faces. Both the face painting and the term Darkie have no connection to black people as a group. Ref Source.