ONE of the old folk traditions of Christmas in Andover, as well as in other towns and villages around the country, was the performance of a bizarre play by a troupe of amateur actors, known as the Mummers.

This photograph shows the drama in the Angel yard in 1950, watched by an enthusiastic audience who had gathered round to see it.

The actors at this period were all New Streeters, under the direction of Robert Rolfe who lived at No 55.

Andover Advertiser:  The Andover Mummers performing their traditional Christmas play in the Angel yard The Andover Mummers performing their traditional Christmas play in the Angel yard (Image: Contributed)

The plot was always the same and passed down the generations for hundreds of years without being written down, whereby a great leader – King George or St George of England – after issuing a challenge to all comers fought three separate fights, wounding his first victim and apparently slaying the following two – but not quite.

The first was Bold Rumour, a Turkish knight who was allowed to go back to his own land; the second was another Turkish knight – Foreign King – who was left dying on the ground and the third - Cutting Star – a veteran Russian fighter who, after another sword fight with King George, falls to the ground besides Foreign King.

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Then Father Christmas in his bright red coat appears on the scene to claim that the two mortally wounded men were his sons, accusing King George of murder.

King George denies any guilt, saying that he had no choice but to accept the challenge to fight.

A doctor is then called, who administers some drops of his miracle cure and the two victims come back to life.

Next on to the stage comes Poor and Mean, to cajole the audience into giving some money to help at Christmas time.

Finally, Johnny Jack arrives ‘with my wife and family up my back’ (three dolls tucked into his waistband) who provides some comic relief.

It is he who goes around the audience and collect funds.

The origins of the play are lost to history and no doubt the characters and the details have evolved over time.

Different geographical areas of the country with their own band of mummers had variations in the story, characters and costumes but it is believed that the overall theme is the dying of the old year and the birth of the new with its hopes of better things to come.

Similar thoughts are repeated in Balkan tradition where it was believed that in order to bring something about, it had to be actively encouraged.

Locally, the Mummers’ costumes were hand-made concoctions made from strips of wallpaper and crepe attached to jackets and trousers, while the king wore a crown of paper rosettes.

The knights’ helmets were hats with hanging strips to represent vizors.

However, their swords or bayonets were real – rusted war trophies from Victorian campaigns or World War I, which local men had brought home with them.

In Andover, the Mummers clung to the older tradition of King George, rather than St George, though elsewhere in the country where the play was performed, the advent of the first real King George to the throne had prompted a substitution to St George.

Naturally, the play was performed at Christmas, and the Andover band of players usually started at the Star and Garter hotel at the bottom of the High Street.

Mr Rolfe, when interviewed in the 1950s, said that performances went on for a week and each day they would walk something like 50 miles to all the major hotels, pubs and big houses of the district between Stockbridge and Whitchurch to give approximately 100 performances.

Evidently, the Angel yard was another venue.

Traditions like these are largely governed by the enthusiasm of a few people who undertake to continue them and sadly the annual performance of the Andover Mummers’ play is no longer a feature of local Christmases.

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A report in the Andover Advertiser of December 1964, records that Charles Welsh of New Street, who was then the leader of the troupe, could no longer get a sufficient number of local ‘actors’ and that therefore the play could not be performed that year.

Now and again, the Mummers’ play is revived by a group who are enthused by the tradition and who wish to keep it alive.

Mummers at Overton had a long history of performance similar to Andover, and recently the play has been performed there to the delight of the older generation who can still remember the days when it was an integral part of their Christmas festivities.  

If you are interested in local history, why not join Andover History and Archaeology Society? Details can be found at