Above: St George

On Boxing Day and on St. George’s Day (April 23rd,) Tarka Morris Men perform a traditional Mummers’ Play in the pubs around Bideford.

Mummers (sometimes called Guisers, Christmas Rhymers or even ‘Morris Dancers’ though they often don’t actually dance) may be as old as the Morris itself. Like the dancing, the Mummers’ plays are thought by many to celebrate the turning of the yearly seasons. In ‘hero’ type Mummers’ plays like the Tarka version, there is always at least one character, who is first killed, then restored to life, and is killed again. We don’t do things by halves round here though, so we have three of them!

The play was collected from an ancient book that referred to a ‘Cornish Mummers Play’. Unfortunately the title of the book eludes us, but we kept a copy of the play, listed below.

The heroic St.George is the character who symbolically defeats Winter’s evil and upholds the good in the Tarka play. Like many other Mummers’ troupes, we also include Father Christmas who brings good cheer to all and passes the hat round at the end. When we perform the play on St. George’s Day, Father Christmas is replaced by ‘Jack in the Green’, the Spirit of Spring. An important part of the Mumming tradition is that the characters always speak in rhyme…… (well, of sorts that is.)

Our performances are always unique, due to a well rehearsed ability to forget our lines.We’ve learned the ability to ad-lib, this adds greatly to the enjoyment for both performers and audience!


The players are:

The Dragon
Father Christmas
The Doctor
The King Of Egypt
The Turkish Knight
The Giant
The Spectators

The scene:
The spacious kitchen of a country squire’s house on a snowy Christmas Eve. The mummers having arrived, chairs and tables have been drawn aside leaving an open space for the villagers who have prepared the play (the some crude comedy that has been given annually for Generations)for this festive occasion. Father Christmas whenever possible uses the table as his Throne, ascending or descending by means of a chair or stool and there sits in state, while the Squire, wife, friends and servants make themselves comfortable as best they can. There is Abundance of all things that make Christmas cheer, including holly and mistletoe (not to mention Christmas ale). And a good Yule log burns cheerfully, as it ought to do at such a merry time.

Enter the Turkish Knight)

Turkish Knight (brandishing huge scimitar,)

Open your doors and let me in
I hope your favours I shall win
Whether I rise or whether I fall
I’ll do my best to please you all
St. George is here, and swears he will come in,
And, if he does, I know he’ll pierce my skin.
If you will not believe what I do say,
Let Father Christmas come in – clear the way

(Enter Father Christmas)
Father Christmas
Here I come old Father Christmas
Welcome, or welcome not;
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
I am not come here to laugh or so jeer
But for a pocketful of money and a skinfull of beer:
If you will not believe what I do say,
Come In, the King of Egypt: clear the way

Enter the King of Egypt.
King of Egypt
Here I, The King of Egypt, boldly do appear!
St George, St. George, walk in, my only son and heir
Walk in. My son St. George and boldly act thy part.
That all the people here may see thy wond’rous art.

Enter St George
St George
Here come I, St George, from Britain did I spring
I’ll fight the dragon bold, my wonders to begin
I’ll clip his wings. He shall not fly
I’ll cut him down, or else I’ll die

Who’s he that seeks the dragon’s blood
And calls so angry and so loud?
That English dog, will he before me stand?
I’ll cut him down with my courageous hand?
With my long teeth. And scurvy jaw,
Of such I’d break -up half a score
And stay my stomach till I’d more.

(St. George and the dragon fight, and the latter is killed.)

Father Christmas.

Is there a doctor to be found?
All ready, near at hand,
To cure a deep and deadly wound
And make the champion stand

(Enter doctor.)

Doctor (hobbling In and carrying a bottle.)

Oh yes! There is a-doctor to be found,
All ready, near at hand,
To cure a deep and deadly wound,
And make the champion stand.

Father Christmas.

What can you cure?


All sorts of diseases,
Whatever you pleases.
The phthisic the palsy and the gout;
If the devil’s In., I’ll blow him out.

Father Christmas.

What is your fee?


Fifteen pound, It is my fee,
The money to lay down;
But. As ‘ties such a rogue as thee, I cure for ten pound.

(Holding up bottle.)
I carry a little bottle of alicumpane;
Here, Jack, take a little of my flip-flop;
Pour it down thy tip top:
Rise up and fight again.

(The doctor performs his cures the fight is renewed, and the dragon is again killed. Exit doctor.)

St George

Here am I, St. George,
That worthy champion bold
And with my sword, and spear
I won three crowns of gold.
I fought the fiery dragon
And brought him to the slaughter
By that I won fairy Sabra,
The king of Egypt’s daughter
Where is the man, that now will me defy
I’ll cut his giblets full of holes, and make his buttons fly.

The Turkish knight. (Advancing boldly.)

Here come I the Turkish knight,
Come from the Turkish land to fight.
I’ll fight St. George, who is my foe;
I’ll make him yield before I go.
He brags to such a high degree,
He thinks there’s none can do the like of he.

St. George.

Where Is the Turk, that will before me stand?
I’ll cut him dawn with my courageous hand.

(They fight. The knight is overcome, and falls upon one knee.)

The Turkish knight.

Oh, pardon me, St. George! Pardon of thee I crave
Oh, pardon me this night and I will be thy slave

St George.

No pardon shalt thou have while I have foot to stand,
So rise thee up again and fight out sword In hand.

(They fight again and the knight is killed.)

Father Christmas

Is there a doctor to be found?
All ready near at hand
To cure a deep and deadly wound,
And make the champion stand?

Doctor. (Hobbling In again)

Oh yes! There. Is a doctor to be found?
All ready, near at hand,
To cure a deep and deadly wound,
And make the champion stand.

Father Christmas.

What can you cure?


All sorts of diseases,
Whatever you pleases,
The phthisic, the palsy and the gout;
If the devil’s In, I’ll blow him out.

Father Christmas.

What’ is your fee?


Fifteen pound, It Is my fee,
The money to lay down;
But, as ‘ties such a rogue is thee;
I’ll cure for ten pound.

I carry a little bottle of alicumpane;
Here, jack, take a little of my flip flop

(Again the medicine works wonders the Turkish knight rises and fights again, and is slain once more then the Giant Turpin enters.)

Giant Turpin. (Brandishing a tremendous bludgeon.)

Here come I, the giant, bold Turpin Is my name,
And all the nations round do tremble at my fame
Where’er I go, they tremble at my sight:
No lord or champion long with me would fight.

St. George.

Here’s one that dare to look thee in the face,
And soon will send thee to another place,

(They fight, and the giant is killed. Medical aid is called in, and the same dialogue takes place between Father Christmas and the doctor as before. The giant is cured, killed again, and then the Doctor is given a basin of gruel and ungratefully kicked out.)

Father Christmas

(Descending from his throne for the last time and looking around with expectant eyes.)

Now, ladies and gentlemen, your sport is most ended,
So prepare for the hat, which is highly commended.
The hat it would speak, If It had but a tongue;
Come    throw in your money and think it no wrong.

(Father Christmas goes round with the hat, his face plainly showing the amounts he obtains from the donors. When he collects from the squire, his face beams with delight.)

The curtain falls.