Tag Archives: Mummering

Mummer, struck me a violent blow with a broom

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

Mummer, struck me a violent blow with a broom

January 9, 1860 

Mummer created by Stephanie Baker Sutton

Mummer created by Stephanie Baker Sutton

On January 9, 1860 John Charles Snelgrove of Harbour Grace a fisherman swore before Robert John Pinsent, her Majesty’s Justice of the Peace in that town:

“On last Friday night  (January 2, 1860) at about nine o’clock, I was on the main street  in Caplin Cove, Harbour Grace in the District of the aforesaid when some MUMMERS came up  and one of them named Henry Critch of Harbour Grace, Blacksmith, struck me a violent blow  with a broom stick on my shoulder, I told him to leave me alone – but he would not, he struck me several blows more  with the stick and knocked me down and beat me severely on my body and face, leaving marks on my face and body, he broke his broom stick on my body from the force of  the blow he  gave me. I did nothing at all to him. I pray that the said Henry Critch may be required to answer my complaint and be further death with according to law.”

The Justice of the Peace was not amused at the shenanigans of Henry Critch and his “mummer” friends and was quick to convict, sentencing Mr. Critch to pay a fine of one-pound sterling and to be imprisoned ten days.

In the Christmas  tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.

It was not surprising that some, using these disguises, would be up to no good. Some in disguise would use the mummering season to retaliate against those that they disliked or had some grudge to settle.

In order to control the violence associated with mummering such that had been experienced by Mr. Snelgrove, five months after the Snelgrove decision ( June 1861) the Newfoundland government passed an act which dictated that:

“any Person who shall be found… without a written Licence from a Magistrate, dressed as a Mummer, masked, or otherwise disguised, shall be deemed guilty of a Public Nuisance”. Offenders were to pay “a Fine not exceeding Twenty Shillings”, or to serve a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment (Consolidated Acts of Newfoundland, 1861: 10).

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives, St. John’s.  GN5 /3/B/19  Box 24File 1R59 – A  – 3

Recommended Song: Mummer Song:  Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk

Recommended Reading: Any Mummers ’Lowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Flanker Press, St. John’s, NL. 2014. Folklorist Dale Jarvis traces the history of the custom in Newfoundland and Labrador and charts the mummer’s path through periods of decline and revival. Using archival records, historic photographs, oral histories, and personal interviews with those who have kept the tradition alive, he tells the story of the jannies themselves.

Recommended Reading: MUMMERS ON TRIAL Mumming, Violence and the Law in Conception Bay and St. John’s,Newfoundland, 1831-18631 JOY FRASER Memorial University of Newfoundland St. John’s:  http://www.shimajournal.org/issues/v3n2/h.%20Fraser%20Shima%20v3n2%2070-88.pdf

“They had veils over their faces … mummers”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 27, 1862 

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering inSt. John’s, Newfoundland

In Newfoundland the tradition of mummering or jannying is often associated with the mummer’s parade, home visitation, music and the occasional drink!  The tradition has a darker side.

Few people know that in order to mummer in Newfoundland participants at one time needed a license to do so and that for almost 100 years mummering was outlawed!!

In the tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal  their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.

It was not surprising that some, using these disguises, would be up to no good. Some in disguise would use the mummering season to retaliate against those that they disliked or had some grudge to settle.

In order to control mummering and the violence associated with it in June 1861, the Newfoundland government passed an act which dictated that:

“any Person who shall be found… without a written Licence from a Magistrate, dressed as a Mummer, masked, or otherwise disguised, shall be deemed guilty of a Public Nuisance”. Offenders were to pay “a Fine not exceeding Twenty Shillings”, or to serve a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment (Consolidated Acts of Newfoundland, 1861: 10).

On December 27, 1862   in the Town of Harbour Grace, Constable Joseph Nichols arrested and dragged before the local magistrate,   Joseph Pynn and a few of his friends, Constable Nichols told the court:

“they had veils over their faces and was disguised in female clothing and the other in men’s dress, they were acting in all respects as mummers.”

The magistrate was not amused,  Jospeh Pynn was “Fined each 20 pounds sterling  or 7 days  imprisonment.” Pynn and his friends were not about to spend Christmas in jail – the court record shows that “Stephen Andrews paid the fine and all discharged.”

The idea of a license to mummer did not go over very well.  Mummering was a passion ingrained in the culture of the Newfoundland people. The St. John’s newspaper the Public Ledger in January 1862 suggested that 150 licenses had been issued during the preceding Christmas season, but that many more participants in the custom had failed to comply with the new legislation.

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives:  GN5 /3B/19 Box13, File Number 3

Recommended Song: Mummer Song:  Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk

Recommended Reading:  Any Mummers ’Lowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Flanker Press, St. John’s,  NL.  2014.  Folklorist Dale Jarvis traces the history of the custom in Newfoundland and Labrador and charts the mummer’s path through periods of decline and revival. Using archival records, historic photographs, oral histories, and personal interviews with those who have kept the tradition alive, he tells the story of the jannies themselves. 

 

An Act Outlawing Mummering

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 28, 1860

 

Hobby Horse one of the traditional mummer disguises.

On December 28, 1860, in Bay Roberts, Nfld., Isaac Mercer was strolling home from work with his two brothers-in-law when unexpectedly they became victims of a crew of rowdy masked mummers. The three men were beaten until Isaac Mercer’s body went limp. When the brutes scattered and disappeared into the night, Mercer’s friends, bruised and battered, carried him to help. The next day, Mercer was pronounced dead.

The use of disguises also permitted those of the poorer classes to harass the wealthy merchant classes or often allowed rival religious sects the opportunity to vent their hostility while in masquerade. Newfoundland historian D.W. Prowse observed that “men were often beaten badly for old grievances by the fools.”

The mummers are almost always described as carrying some combination of hatchets, sticks, ropes and whips, all of which clearly have the capacity to serve as aggressive weapons. Court records describe  men and women  armed with “bludgeons & swabs dipped in Blubber” which they rubbed into their victims’ faces and clothing, as well as swords and “loaded guns”, carpet brooms, blown bladders  filled with pebbles,  the weapon of choice was a hobby horse, used to charge individuals.

The tragedy of Mercer’s death combined with other abuses that were inflicted while in masquerade fueled a decision that lead on June 25, 1861, to the passing of an act outlawing mummering.  The Act dictated that:

“any Person who shall be found… without a written License from a Magistrate, dressed as a Mummer, masked, or otherwise disguised, shall be deemed guilty of a Public Nuisance”. Offenders were to pay “a Fine not exceeding Twenty Shillings”, or to serve a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment (Consolidated Acts of Newfoundland, 1861: 10).

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives:  GN5 /3/B/19 Box 13, File Number 3 and explore GN 2/1-3 and GN 5. Criminal trials involving mummers and mummering.

New Term: blown bladders: inflated animal bladder used as a mock weapon by Christmas mummers … chasing people and striking them with whips at the ends of some of which were attached inflated bladders.

Recommended Reading:  Any Mummers ’Lowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Flanker Press, St. John’s,  NL.  2014.  Folklorist Dale Jarvis traces the history of the custom in Newfoundland and Labrador and charts the mummer’s path through periods of decline and revival. Using archival records, historic photographs, oral histories, and personal interviews with those who have kept the tradition alive, he tells the story of the jannies themselves. 

Recommended Song: Mummer Song:  Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk

 

 

“Good old days of yore”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 1912 

Mr. Alex A. Parsons, (1848-1932)  in the St. John’s publication Christmas Bells, 1912 took some time to reflect on Christmas “in the good old days of yore.”  He wrote:

“It seems to me that people of the present day  (1912) do not enter into the spirit of the season as did our ancestors in the “good old days of yore”.  I distinctly remember when the approach of “Yuletide” – as we now call it – was hailed with the greatest enthusiasm by all ages and conditions of men, regardless of their surroundings and circumstances.

Mummering was then our most popular amusement at Christmastide.  This usually began on the afternoon of the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26) , and continued every evening and night till the end of the Old Twelfth Day.  Then, an extraordinary display of fancy and unique dresses by the merry masqueraders, accompanied by brass bands, a big “haul of wood”and other demonstrations of a kindred nature;

J.W. Hayward, 1904

brought this great festival to a close.  Surely there are citizens here in St. John’s today who can readily call to mind that exciting scene when mummers paraded along that thoroughfare from one end of Water Street to the other.

But, within the past few years, these kinds of festivities once appropriate to the day have much fallen off.

 The heart-histories of most people are bound up with the happy memories of Christmas Day.  Christmas in the Home!  Think of it, citizens of Newfoundland!  Think of the Christmas days when you were young:  the pleasant home-coming after school, the skating in the frosting morning, sometimes on the harbor, sometimes on Quidi Vidi Lake, sometimes on Burtons Pond, the children’s parties, the memorable Christmas tree, the presents from and to everybody, the round of dances – what man or woman ever forgets those merry, merry days of Christmas?”

Mr. Alex A. Parsons, (1848-1932)  was editor of the Evening Telegram  (1882-1904); and Superintendent of H.M. Penitentiary (1905 – 1925).

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  All the very best with the challenges and opportunities that will come in the  New Year.

Recommended Archives: Search the online database for descriptions of our archival records and view thousands of digital photographs. – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Lost Expression:  Haul of wood:  a co-operative gathering of fuel (wood)  for a clergyman, convent  or school.

Recommended Reading: Jack and the Manger by Andy Jones.  Jack and the Manger retells the story of Jesus’s birth as if it were a Newfoundland folktale. www.runningthegoat.com

 

 

 

 

St. George’s Day

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

April 23, 2013

St. George’s Day

St. George's Feast Day is April 23 but the holiday is on Monday, April 22.

St. George’s Feast Day is April 23 but the holiday is on Monday, April 20.

St. George’s Day is provincial holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, observed on the Monday nearest April 23rd.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the holiday was born out of our sectarian history. The Roman Catholic’s of this place laid claim to St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland and the Protestants laid claim to St. George, Patron of England.

As a saint, or even a historical person, St. George and his exploits are of doubtful authenticity, the most popular of the legends that have grown up around him relates to his encounter with the dragon. A pagan town in Libya was victimized by a dragon (representing the devil), which the inhabitants first attempted to calm down by offerings of sheep, and then by the sacrifice of various members of their community. The daughter of the king (representing the Church) was chosen by lot and was taken out to await the coming of the monster, but George arrived, killed the dragon, and converted the community to Christianity.

Saint George has been adopted world wide as the saint fighting the evil and defending the good, in the end slaying the dragon (representing the evil).

King Richard I of England placed his crusading army under St. George’s protection, and in 1222 his feast was proclaimed a holiday. As the patron of England – it was only a matter of time that his patronage would also cover the  New found land with the arrival of our  English ancestors.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the tradition of St. George is not only confined to his feast day (April 23) but he also presents as one of the characters in the old mummering plays, historically performed over the Christmas season.  In the mummering play he fights hand-to-hand with a Turkish Knight emerging as the hero.

In 1497, during the reign of Henry VII, the pennant of the Cross of St. George was flown by John Cabot when he sailed to Newfoundland.  It was also traditional to wear a red rose on the lapel on St. George’s Day.

Interesting that St. George is the Patron of England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Gozo, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, and Portugal but only Newfoundland and Labrador honour the day with a holiday.

A great place to live!

The most widely recognized St George’s Day symbol is St George’s cross. This is a red cross on a white background, which is often displayed as a flag. It is used as England’s national flag, forming part of the Union Flag, the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Recommended Website:   St George’s Day.com  the website offering information on all things English, that celebrates English Heritage and actively promotes St George’s Day on the 23rd April.  http://www.stgeorgesday.com/

 

“Eight girls disguised came and sang carols…”

Archival Moment

December 23, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Governor Walter Davidson and Lady Margaret were just a little surprised to hear the rap at their door on Tibb’s Eve (December 23, 1914). Government House on Military Road, St. John’s was typically off limits to the public, the proper protocol was that guests would only show by appointment.

It was for the couple and their young family a pleasant surprise, the guests at the door were “mummers”. In his diary for December 23, 1914, Governor Davidson wrote:

“In the evening eight girls disguised came and sang carols to us in the hall. They sing delightfully and stayed for mince pies and coffee.”

As is the Newfoundland custom with “mummers” Governor and Lady Davidson immediately began to try and identify their disguised guests.

 

In the tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.

He was pleased to write in his diary that he was able to discover the identity of five of the eight. He wrote:

“We made out Mrs Colvill, Nell Job: Mary Rendell and the two Miss Andersons’s, all young girls.”

Governor Davidson was quite pleased that the young ‘mummers’ had come to Government House, he wrote:

“It is a tribute to the present regime that they picked up the courage to face Government House of which all stand in awe.”

The reality was that most of the residents of St. John’s were in ‘awe’ of Government House and it is likely that the young women who did show up in disguise were not your typical young ladies. Each of the women, who the Governor identified, from the Job, Rendell and Anderson families, came from some of the more affluent homes in St. John’s. It is also true that a good mummer would never venture out until the afternoon of the Feast of St. Stephen (December 26), and continued every evening and night till the end of the Old Twelfth Day.  These young girls that went to visit Government House were not your typical mummers.

The Governor concluded his diary entry with the note “the attitude (of awe) is always most correct towards Government House per se: but they are no longer afraid.”

Perhaps we should all grab a disguise and head down to Government House. We have a 100 year old standing invitation.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives: GN5 /3B/19 Box13, File Number 3

Recommended Song: Mummer Song: Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering in St. John’s, Newfoundland