Traditional Drama Forum - No.12 ISSN 1743-3789 March 2005

Research Article

A Play Text from Penkridge, or Gailey, Staffordshire

A play text from Penkridge was listed in English Ritual Drama, citing the Ordish Collection, but there is reason to doubt this attribution.[1] The text was sent to Ordish by Mrs.Horatia K.F.Eden of Rugby, who had collected a number of texts, including ten from oral sources. It was Mrs Eden's practice to send transcriptions rather than originals.

In 1955 Alex Helm sorted the Ordish collection, which by then included some sheets from the Wright papers.[2] He numbered the records from each county, and put each in a separate folder with a sheet listing the contents.[3] Two box files remained unindexed, containing letters and notes. It seems to have been Folk-Lore Society practice to add to these two files any play text received later.

In 1977 I made photocopies from the Ordish collection, and bound them in six volumes.[4] By then some of the original manuscripts were missing, and it seemed best to supply photocopies of Helm's transcriptions. Most of the documents can be cited either by county and item, or by volume and folio, though only the latter can identify the page. Documents in the last two box files can only be cited from the photocopies, which are all in volume VI.

Mrs.Eden mentioned both Penkridge and Gailey in her correspondence with Ordish:

  1. In undated comments on several texts
  2. ‘Dives appears in the MS version from Gailey near Penkridge. So do Alexander, the King of Egypt, Prince George, the Doctor and Beelzebub’. (Wales/Ireland/Scotland [sic] 18; V 174)

  3. ‘Ms Versions of the Mumming or Peace Egg Play in possession of Mrs Eden, Hilbrow, Rugby’. Includes
  4. ‘From Penkridge, Staffordshire. Characters Alexander, King of Egypt, Prince George, Doctor, Beelzebub’.

    The amanuensis left the place blank, and Mrs.Eden added 'Penkridge'. (VI 3A)

  5. Letter from Mrs Eden to Ordish 24 November 1902 about her holdings of texts. Includes
  6. ‘Also 10 MS. versions, ... Penkridge, Stafford’ [i.e. Staffordshire] ... (VI 32-5, (f.33))

In his list of Staffordshire material which he added to the Ordish collection. Helm included ‘Penkridge Play Text from Ms. C.C. Noel James’. (IV 131).[5] By 1977 this text was missing, but Helm's typed transcription is headed ‘Eaton House, Penkridge, Staffs, 26.12.1899. Folk Lore Society Material from MS Noel James from an actor’.[6] (In his own records Helm seems never to have identified information from the Ordish collection.) The performers in this text agree with those named by Mrs Eden, apart from Dives, whom she mentions once. Presumably she is referring to a passage rather like a sword-dance calling-on song, near the start of the text, naming a Noble King, a Doctor, and Old Divious. Of these, only the Doctor appears by the same name later in the text. There seems to be no reason to doubt that Helm was copying a manuscript from Mrs Eden.

So, Mrs.Eden said the play was either from Penkridge or from Gailey near Penkridge, and Helm noted it was from Eaton House, Penkridge. The accessible directory nearest to 1899 is 1904.[7] There is no record of an Eaton House at Penkridge, but at Gailey there is ‘Thomas Woodhouse, farmer, Eaton House’.

As the play came from Eaton House, which was in Gailey, it seems reasonable to conclude that Mrs.Eden was not much interested in precise places, and thought that Penkridge was near enough, though she knew the play came from Gailey.

There is a clearer example which supports this view. Her own list of plays (VI 33) names one from Leamington Hastings, Warwickshire, but the list written by her amanuensis (VI 3A) says ‘From Broadwell, in the parish of Leamington Hastings’. Unfortunately this text was also missing in 1977. The heading of Helm's copy starts ‘Leamington Hastings, Warwickshire, play text’.[8]

There is later evidence of this unconcern for precise locations in the published text of a pace-egging song headed ‘Fragment from Ormskirk’.[9] The text starts ‘This fragment and the accompanying notes which were sent to me by Lord Hampton were collected by Mr.Wilfred Mahood, of Lathom Park, Ormskirk ...’ The song text has the title ‘The Pace-egging Song, as sung at the present time in Lathom and Burscough, Ormskirk District’. Yet the tune is headed ‘Pace-egging Song from Ormskirk’. It is not clear which of the three writers was responsible for the inconsistency. Nor is it clear whether the play text from the Altrincham Guardian, which follows, should be attributed to Lathom and Burscough, or Ormskirk (which might be assumed on a quick glance), or elsewhere.[10]

Before Helm had access to the Ordish collection both these texts were printed, using the original manuscripts.[8] The second is there attributed to Broadwell, but the first only to ‘Staffordshire’, which Mrs.Eden wrote on the back of the paper. Evidently she added the details of provenance to the copy she sent to Ordish. Comparison of the two available copies leaves me speculating, with no helpful conclusion, on the editing principles of both Gatty and Helm.

E.C.Cawte

References

1. Cawte, E.C., Alex Helm and N. Peacock (1967) English Ritual Drama. A Geographical Index
London: The Folklore Society, 1967, p.58
2. Thomas Fairman Ordish was a member of The Folklore Society who, in the 1890s and early 1900s, amassed a large collection of folk play material with the intention of writing a book.
3. Alex Helm (1955) Report on the Ordish Papers'
Folk-Lore, 1955, Vol.66, pp.360-362
4. Originals and the bound volumes are in the Folklore Society Library.
5. 'Ms.' was a common abbreviation for 'manuscript'. 'C.C.' is not clear, unless it be two initials of Mr.James, or (as it were) Mr.Noel-James.
6. Helm Manuscripts, Vol.X, pp.119-122
Manuscript Department, University College London Library
7. Kelly's Directories (1904) Kelly's Directory of Staffordshire
London, Kelly's Directories, 1904
pp.179 (Gailey), & 308-10 (Penkridge)
8. Helm Manuscripts, Vol.VI, p.145
Manuscript Department, University College London Library
9. D.K. [Douglas Kennedy] (1930) Plays and Fragments ... 7. Fragment from Ormskirk (Lancashire)
Journal of the English Folk Dance Society, Series 2, 1930, No.3, pp.35-36
10. Ivor Gatty (1948) The Eden Collection of Mumming Plays
Folk-Lore, 1948, Vol.59 No.1, pp.16-34
See pp. 23-26 (Staffordshire), & pp.32-34 (Broadwell)

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