Mummers in Lancashire in the 1950s
This is something I remember about mummers in Rochdale. It's from about 1950 or 51 as I know I was a small child. It's a very vivid memory for me still, so it must have impressed me at the time.
Evening was drawing in and it was twilight, it must have been winter time, possibly sometime around Christmas or the New Year.
I was at home with my parents in our living room and a coal-fire was burning in the grate. There was a knock on the door and my father went to answer.
He said "Oh, it's the Mummers," and opened the door wide to let them in.
I was quite afraid and clung to my mother. Three or four men (and a women I think) came in. They were dressed in darkish clothing which looked all ragged and dirty. Their faces and hands were smeared with soot.
The men wore cloth caps on their heads. They had bowls of soot in their hands and a dirty rag which they mimed as if they were wiping all over the furniture and the floors as they went all around the room. All the time after they entered the room they made a humming noise like Mmmmmmm Mmmmmmm Mmmmmmmmm.
They didn't speak at all the whole time and had very serious expressions.
After going around the room they congregated around the fireplace and rubbed soot all over it. Then they got up and were on their way out humming as they went. My mother gave them some money and I think some mince pies, but some sort of food anyway. They touched their caps to her and then they were gone.
My parents explained to me that it was very good luck to have the mummers come into our house and they left the soot on the fireplace until the next morning when they lit the new fire.
My parents had obviously seen mummers before and knew something about the tradition of it. I can't remember ever asking them about it when I was a grown-up. I dearly wish I had!
I've since learned that soot is a very potent substance for fertility in ancient traditions. I've also tried to find out about mummers but only ever heard about the ones who do the plays which seems to be a totally different tradition from the one which I saw enacted. The mummer's plays always strike me as rather sanitised compared to the very ancient and primitive rite which I saw.
I've heard from several people who have experience of something like this and have been told that the tradition continued in parts of Lancashire until the 1970s.
If anyone who is researching family history or knows something about the Mummers tradition in Lancashire especially Bury, Rochdale and Milnrow area would like to contact me please email firstname.lastname@example.org Please put "CB Family History" in the subject.