Traditional Drama Forum - No.3 January 2002

Doctor Peter Lamb - A Mystery Solved

I have always been mildly curious about the Doctor in the first of the two play scripts from Burghclere, Hampshire published by Reginald Tiddy in "The Mummers' Play" (1923, pp.185-188). In this play, the Doctor is called Peter Lamb, but quibbles over his title in the fashion more usually associated with the the name John Finney.

Father Christmas King George Father Christmas King George Father Christmas

{Dr Lamb walks in.}

Dr Lamb

I have not come across the name Peter Lamb for the Doctor in any other traditional plays, although I must confess that my familiarity with plays from this part of southern England is limited. The provenance given by Tiddy for the text is as follows:

This version was introduced from Dorsetshire and was first acted at Burghclere in 1908. It was communicated in April 1914 by F. C. Hutchins, who took the part of King George and showed me his red tunic with a sash across it like those worn by Foresters.

However, G.E.P.A. (1924) argued that Tiddy had labelled his two Burghclere texts wrongly, and that this first version was in fact the traditional Burghclere version. Steve Roud and Paul Marsh (1980) concurred with this view after comparing texts from nearby villages. The provenance may or may not be relevant to the discovery I am about to describe, and which I made while compiling a database of texts for my PhD research. (The database is available on this website.)

I came across a shilling pocket novel at the British Library entitled, "The Christmas Mummers" and published in 1856. The author is given on the title page as "The Author of 'The Heir of Redclyffe'", but is identified as Charlotte Yonge in the British Library Catalogue. The chapter headed "How Father Christmas kept the secret" contains a narrative of the performance of a Christmas play, including lengthy textual quotations, which appear to have been taken from traditional sources. The character in the novel who plays the doctor is named Peter Lamb:

And after walking round the fallen knight several times, he called,

Forth stepped Peter Lamb, responding,

King.

I suggest that there is a clear connection between the name of Yonge's fictitious character and the Burghclere Doctor. Most of Yonge's quoted text is included in the Burghclere text, the two main omissions being the first introductions ("I wish you a merry Christmas" and "Room, room, etc."), and the discussion on the Doctor's fee and his cures. What is more, these lines occur in the Burghclere text in almost exactly the same order as they appear in Yonge's novel. On the other hand, the Burghclere has additional lines that are not quoted by Yonge - in particular the dispute between Cutting Star and the Grenadier, and lines from the end of the play requesting a reward from the audience. Most of these extra lines are also found elsewhere in other traditional plays.

With Peter Lamb being a fictitious character of Charlotte Yonge's invention, I believe this is evidence of the Burghclere text having borrowed material from Yonge's novel, rather than vice versa. The 50 years separating the dates of the two versions add chronological support to this view. Furthermore, I would contend that the preservation of the narrative sequence in the shared lines is evidence of copying, although to be fair the copying could have been in either direction. The non-Yonge lines clearly came from one or more other traditional sources. Notably, John Finney's introductory line came from a non-Yonge source, and was adapted to use Peter Lamb's name instead. This could perhaps have arisen from a misreading of Yonge's text.

As Yonge hailed from Hampshire, it is probable that her quoted text also came from there. (She later published a traditional text from either Hursley or Otterbourne, Hants., in 1898.) Those of you who are more familiar with the plays of Hampshire, Dorset and their environs may wish to respond.

References

G.E.P.A. (1924) Notes & Queries, 1924, Vol.cxlvi, pp.435-437,453-455

S.Roud & P.Marsh (1980) "Mumming Plays in Hampshire : 7th Edition", Andover, Stephen Roud, 1980, p.6

R.J.E.Tiddy (1923) "The Mummers' Play", Oxford, University Press, 1923, pp.185-188
[http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/90su45h1.htm]

[Charlotte Mary Yonge] (1856) "The Christmas Mummers", London, J. and C.Mozley, 1856, pp.87-93
[http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/85su--yc.htm]

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1898) "John Keble's Parishes: A History of Hursley and Otterbourne" Macmillan, 1898, pp.176-181

Peter Millington


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