Traditional Drama Forum - No.9 ISSN 1743-3789 January 2004

40 Years of Holbeck Moor Mummers

Forty years on it’s difficult to say who actually came up with the idea of forming the Holbeck Moor Mummers. Brian Senior had come out of the Royal Air Force in 1960 and started the first folk club in Leeds at a small pub called the Union Tavern in the Holbeck District of Leeds. In 1962 this moved to the Grove Inn, also in Holbeck and the club has been meeting there every Friday since.

We were doing some research relating to the song “The Holbeck Moor Cockfight” to see if we could find where the cockpit had been situated and while doing this came upon a brief mention in the old Leeds Mercury of Mummers in the Holbeck district. Brian had seen some Mummers perform at Cecil Sharp House in London. He was also an enthusiast of the English Toy Theatre and had several theatres and lots of plays, he was of the opinion that the exaggerated stances of the cardboard characters and the brevity of the plays could somehow be incorporated in a mumming play.

A couple of scripts were found, again from Cecil Sharp house and a play was put together to last not more than 12 to 15 minutes. This was so we could go to as many pubs as possible in one night and collect as much money as possible to spend on ale. That all stopped with the 1967 Road Safety Act which brought in the breathalyser. Since then we have given all the money to charity.

Holbeck Moor Mummers 1963 and 2002, Holbeck Moor Mummers 1963
Holbeck Moor Mummers 1963.
Left to right: Doctor, King George, Noble Captain, Turkish Knight, Gallant Soldier, and Father Christmas

The characters in order of appearance were Father Christmas, The Noble Captain, King George, The Turkish Knight, The Gallant Soldier and The Doctor. The original team consisted of Brian Senior, Hi Fi engineer, Geoffrey Wainman Wood, Lab technician, Ivan Robinson , student, Steve Ordish , groundsman, Steve Ford , crane engineer and Paul Blake, a van driver. The rehearsals took place at the Grove Inn and the first performance was at the Smiths Arms in Wakefield in December 1962.

Over the next forty years there were several changes of personnel and many temporary mummers drafted in at the last minute to replace someone who was unavailable. We were performing at Manchester University Folk Club and were short of a Turkish Knight. The main guest, the legendary traditional Irish singer Packie Byrne, volunteered and the script was hastily written out and pinned to the back of his shield and Packie brought the house down with his Donegal Irish version of The Turkish knight.

The Mumming Play has been described by some as anarchic mayhem and possibly even dangerous and this was very obvious at a performance one Christmas in 1973 when during a particularly fearsome fight the Gallant Soldier’s sword broke in half, flew across the room and hit some poor innocent female on the face. Pausing only to pick up a napkin to stem the blood she continued to encourage him on to victory! Today we would probably be involved in litigation.

We were once asked to perform at the Ilkey Literary Festival and after the first performance a gentleman came up and said he was J.B.Priestley and could he buy us all a beer and go round with us for the rest of the afternoon helping to collect money!

Holbeck Moor Mummers 1963 and 2002, Holbeck Moor Mummers 2002
Holbeck Moor Mummers 2002.
Left to right: King George, the Turkish Knight, the Doctor, Father Christmas, the Noble Captain and the Gallant Soldier

Of the original team three are still performing. Ivan Robinson, 59, is retired and now restores microcars and vintage invalid carriages. Brian Senior, 66, is retired but teaches photography part time at a Leeds college. Geoff Wood who celebrates his 80th birthday in March spends his time between his vintage Bentley and running the Grove Folk Club. The others in the current team are Gary Germaine, Mick Taylor and Alan Murphy. All are young lads in their late forties and still working for a living.

This Christmas the Mummers only managed to get out on six occasions but still managed to collect over £350 for St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds. At our Christmas appearance at The Grove Folk Club some wag picked up a copy of the script and rewrote the first few lines:

In come I, Old Father Christmas, welcome or welcome not,
Sometimes cold and sometimes hot.
I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
But room! room! for the Noble Captain I spy,
And the sound of zimmer frames draws nigh!

Long may they continue.

Brian Senior


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