GLOUCESTER MUMMERS CONVENTION
With Christmas coming on the season for Mumming was approaching, and it was something I was interested to see having read much about it but never seen a performance. Now there may be some of you who don’t know what Mumming is and to be honest it is a pretty difficult thing to explain.
Basically think of Morris Dancers, and add in a bit of Pantomime before pantomime had really been thought of and that is about what you get. As is often the case with many old traditions they were disregarded and allowed to pretty well die out, and the often the ones that you can see are revivals of what people thought they might have been, though some forward thinking Victorians did bother to go round talking to the older people and writing down what they could of it all.
The old Mumming Troupes tended to go out when there was a lull in the agricultural year, and it was a way of raising a bit of much needed cash plus the houses called at by tradition would supply good food and plenty of drink, so just around the Christmas Season was a popular time.
Googling the various troupes of Mummers I thought maybe performing round Christmas time, it turned out that there was a Mummer’s Convention (!) being held over a December weekend at Gloucester in the Folk Museum. There were to be academic papers on the origins of mumming and how it had developed over the centuries, demonstrations, workshops, lots of performances and of course a bit of ‘cakes and ale’. This sounded too good to miss and I duly booked in.
Gloucester City Centre is not the easiest place to access with something the size of Thebus, but I did some internet research and there was a carpark next to Gloucester Docks, where the parking charge was £6 for twenty four hours - or £12 for Thebus who takes up two spaces easily. There were no campsites within any sensible distance especially so late in the year, and parking at the docks would mean I could get into the city on my scooter. Strict Lady was set to take us there, and to be fair she got us somewhere near. And even though I had slept through the alarm clock for the first time in my life EVER and to my chagrin it was the early morning traffic which woke me, the streets were still fairly quiet when we arrived at about seven thirty. Which was a good job as we went round the block by the police station about three times, till I eventually stopped, got out the laptop and more or less homed on on where we were headed. Once I knew where to go Strict Lady suddenly got her bearings and directed me correctly, but by then she was simply agreeing with me rather than directing.
Still, get there we did, and thankfully the carpark was nearly empty, which was a blessing as it was a tight one for something our size. I tried to select a spot on the end of a double row, so I could open the door even when someone parked up in the next space to me, but the way this particular carpark was set out made this impossible, and I just had to jam Thebus in a couple of end to end spaces in the middle and hope for the best. His tyres were half an inch on the lines all the way round.
The Mumming Day was due to start at nine so it was into town early, but that was nice as it meant the streets were quiet and I got a few pictures of some lovely old buildings on the way to the folk museum, which is itself situated in a wonderful timbered merchant’s house, or should that be merchant’s timbered house, anyway you know what I mean.
Many years ago I had spent some time researching old Christmas Customs so I found it really interesting to hear some in depth background detail to the history of mumming. Several troupes of Mummers had come along, and of course we got to see their performances as well. On the evening everyone quite literally trouped round the various pubs, hotels and ale houses, disturbing or entertaining the clientele depending on how old they were. I think most of the twenty year olds and under were more than a little bemused on a Friday night out for a few beers with the lads to have us all burst in on them.
Then on Saturday the various acts went round the city giving live street entertainment for the Christmas shoppers. On the Friday night I had found it difficult to squeeze into Thebus door owing to the cars parked next to us, but on the Saturday, going back early before the evenings entertainment of singing, dancing, and a little boozing, I found the car next to me had parked so tightly that I seriously worried I was about to get stuck in the doorway until he returned, but I did make it inside, though of course no chance of letting poor Phoebe out. Fortunately it must have been someone shopping, so by the time I was ready to leave again he had vacated the spot, which gave me a chance to let Phoebe stretch her legs. She is such a good girl.
Early on the Saturday morning we had a good wander round the harbour before anyone much was stirring. It was a fine frosty morning, and lovely to see the longboats all moored up there, and even some masted ships. I must have been a huge and thriving port in its heyday.
I had hoped to go to Evensong in the Cathedral, but with Christmas coming they had a concert organised for that evening and had dispensed with evensong for the day as a massive stage had been erected in the centre of the nave. But I had a lovely look round soaking up the atmosphere of the beautiful and ancient building, and as they were rehearsing the choir having some wonderful singing in the background.