The Guisers' Play, from High Spen, Co.Durham [1925]

E.C.Cawte et al (1967) pp.90-93

Folk Play Home Scripts Intro County List Class List Characters

Location: High Spen, Durham, England (NZ1359)
Year: Maybe Perf. up to about 1925
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Guisers


E.C.Cawte, Alex Helm & N.Peacock
English Ritual Drama : A Geographical Index
London, Folklore Society, 1967, pp.90-93

Cast: (Click on any name for the character name index.)

{A knock at the door, and the Black Sheep comes in:}

[Black Sheep]

I open the door, I enter in,
I beg your pardon before I begin
Get up aad wife and strike a light

{The old woman is supposed to be in bed.}

For in this house there'll be a fight
If you don't believe the words I say
Step in King George, and clear the way.

{Enter King George and the lackey.}

King George:

King George is my name,
sword and pistol by my side, I hope to win the game.

Black Sheep:

You sir?

King George:

I sir.

Black Sheep:

Take this sword and die sir.

{There is a fight and the Black Sheep is killed}

King George:

Oh dear, oh dear, look what I've done
I've killed me father's only son
Send for the five pound doctor


There is no five pound doctor.

King George:

Send for the ten pound doctor.

{Enter Doctor Brown}


Here comes in old Doctor Brown,
The best old doctor in the town.

King George:

Who the devil made you the best old doctor in the town? [Note 1]


By my travels.

King George:

What is your travels?


England, Scotland, France and Spain,
I've come to cure that man that's slain.

King George:

What the devil can you cure?


A dead man.

King George:

Cure him.

Dr Brown:

I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called hokey pokey,
take a dose [smell] and rise again.[Note 2]

Black Sheep {sings}:

[MIDI music sound file] [ABC music notation] [Note 7]

Once I was dead but now I'm alive,
God bless the doctor that made me alive.
A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

{Enter Benjy Bob:}

[Benjy Bob]

Here comes in aad Benjy Bob.
On me shoulder I carry me clog
In me hand a dripping pan
I think myself a jolly old man
A jolly old man I seem to be
I've got two brothers as big as me.
One is old and one is fat
Please put a penny in the old black hat
If you haven't got a penny a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny God bless you.

[MIDI music sound file] [ABC music notation] [Note 8]

The roads are very clarty, me boots are very thin,
I've got a little pocket for to put me pennies in,
If you haven't got a penny well a ha'penny'll do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny God bless you.

{Then we get we drink'. Then each person does a turn, and they may be there for an hour, or all night. [Note 3]}


Published introduction from E.C.Cawte et al (1967):

"From Mr and Mrs Fred Forster of High Spen, recorded by W.F.Cassie and E.C.Cawte on 13th October 1955.

At Christmas time the Guisers used to make a tour of the houses round about. The play should be done by five men, but for many years an old woman, Janie Leyburn, used to take the part of the King. Janie died in 1925 aged about 72, and the play was probably done up to the time of her death. [Note 4] All the guisers had 'bits of fancy masks on' the purpose being 'so you wadn't knaa we ye was, ye knaa'. This was especially important when there were women in as well. Janie Leyburn as the King used to put a 'tash' on, and she wore a high shiner, tailey coat, and trousers, and she always had a clay pipe, but the dress of the others was not remembered with certainty. [Note 5]

The children of the village, Fred included, picked up the play, and would, on the spur of the moment, say 'let's go guising', turn their coats and caps inside-out, black their faces with soot (except for the doctor) and go round the village. Fred, who was the Black Sheep, would knock, dash in, and start his lines; usually he was chased out with the fire irons, but sometimes they were allowed to carry on, and were given a few pence."

Published notes from E.C.Cawte et al (1967):

"Notes on above: [Note 6]

This is a very short version of the play, and is similar to several other texts from Co. Durham. It seems to represent the shortening referred to on p. 27, for the essential features of the plot are retained, but the words cut to a minimum compared with other examples. At High Spen, how- ever, the play was sometimes followed by recitations, songs, and other performances not connected with the ritual, so that the entertainment and drinking might last for an hour or more.

The play was recited at considerable speed in broad Tyneside dialect, and no attempt has been made to reproduce this. 'Clarty' means muddy in this context. King George, Doctor Brown, and the Black Sheep's song, reproduce scraps of the Romsey text, which only illustrates how certain verbal formulae are repeated in many texts, the correspondence is not unusual."

Further notes from Cawte's manuscripts:

In kindly granting us permission to reproduce this text online, Dr.Cawte provided additional information and some corrections relative to his original manuscripts (Personal communication to Peter Millington, dated 13th Sep.2004).

The text was originally recorded using one of the first tape recorders, but as the (paper) tape was later re-used by someone else, Cawte's transcript is now the only available evidence.

"I cannot say with complete confidence how the published text ended up as it did, but I do not believe I would have given Janie Leybum a misleadingly precise age, so I conclude that Alex edited my text, either at the time, or had done so previously when he copied it into his notes. He had great faith in the accuracy of his transcriptions. (In passing, his Gainford text here is an edition, rather than a transcription, of the original.) Anyway, it seems better to go back to my original, now in my MS collection at ND 56-59. I suggest you cite that and make the following amendments."

Note 1: "Fred recited the play twice, and once omitted 'the devil'."

Note 2: "He said 'dose' once, and 'smell' once."

Note 3: This note is the manuscript, but not the published version. As Cawte says: "In English, 'then we get our drink' you may wish to add."

Note 4: Cawte's manuscript says more here:

"Also, 'you've got womenfolk with you, and they do their turns after'. [Janie died] thirty years ago, aged more than seventy-two, and the play was probably done up to the time other death, but the Forsters were not certain."

Note 5: Again from the manuscript:

"Either Fred and Hilda could not remember the dress of the guisers, or it was not important (the latter seems more likely, considering their retentive memories and their sincere interest in the old traditions) for they had only a general idea of what the guisers wore. The Black Sheep - 'he's supposed to be down in the world' - wore any old things. Janie Leyburn, as the King, used to put a 'tash' on, and wore a high shiner, tailey coat, and trousers, and she always had a clay pipe. The valet, or lackey (this was more a description than a title) might wear white stockings, it didn't matter much. Benjy Bob was supposed to be an old tramp, and wore old shoes."

Note 6: Cawte remarks, "[The remainder of [these] notes is not in my MS at all, and 'ritual' is Alex language. Probably it was added for comparison with the other texts."

Indexer's Notes:

Note 7: The tempo of the original score is given as a dotted crotchet "= about 108", and for the second part of the song, the tempo is given as a minim = a dotted crotchet. The software used for rendering the scores for the web does not handle these types of expressions, so the nearest equivalents were used.

Note 8: The tempo of this original score is also given as a dotted crotchet "= about 108". The crotchet doublets as published in the book (which were incompatible with the key signature) have been changed to quaver doublets (i.e. two quavers played to the duration of three quavers). Cawte confirms that this is the correct rendition.

File History:
14th June 2004 - Scanned, OCRed and encoded by Peter Millington
17th September 2004 - Cawte's further notes added by PTM

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