Mummers Plays, or Mumming Plays, are ritualistic performances that might be well over a thousand years old. They are traditionally associated with the Christmas period (Midwinter Solstice). In other parts of the country they are performed at Easter (Pace Egging) and at All Souls Day near Samhain (Soulers). Wantage Mummers have performed their Play since its revival on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1975. It is based on an old tradition from the nearby village of Steventon in Oxfordshire.

Wantage Mummers

Mummers Plays: What are they?

Mummers Plays, or Mumming (Momyng), are traditional, ritualistic performances with links to activities over 500 years old. They are traditionally associated with the Christmas period (Midwinter Solstice). In other parts of the country they are performed at Easter (Pace Egging) and at All Souls Day near Samhain (Soulers).

In the 20th C. mummers’ plays were thought to be survivors of our pagan, pre-Christian origins.  This was largely due to the interpretation by the social anthropologist, Sir James Frazer.  It is a view not supported by modern academic research. Travelling players in the Middle Ages performed “Miracle” or Mystery” plays illustrating scenes from the bible such as the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation and Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, etc. but this was not mumming as we understand it.

The word 'Mummer' is derived from the old English word mum (meaning silent, i.e., miming) or the Old French word mom meaning masked or disguised.  There is a similar word in German, for example a “mummerspiel” is a masked play. In their present form the plays probably date from the mid 18thC although nothing was often written down (as with most folk traditions). They were common in 18/19thC with numerous villages hosting a version of the standard format.

Maintaining the anonymity of the players is a key feature, as villagers thought it bad luck if they could identify a performer. Mummers have therefore always sought to conceal their identity either by masks, blacking their faces or covering themselves with strips of paper or rags and tall hats if theatrical costume was unaffordable.  It is generally accepted that mummers were male.

Wantage Performance

We have performed the Wantage Mummers Play since its revival on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1975.  The play is the mid-Berkshire version of the hero-combat type collected by Lt-Col. Barzillai Lowsley from Hampstead Norreys in Victorian times.  A play of this type was performed in many of the villages around Wantage at Christmas time (Ardington, Lockinge, Hendred, Stanford, Uffington, Steventon, Brightwalton, Chaddleworth, Aston Tirrold, etc.). At one time, hundreds of villages across England had a mummers play to perform: in fact, all counties except Suffolk and Norfolk. Whilst strictly adhering to the “script” collected by Lowsley, the Wantage play has become famous for the ad lib action/sight gags, Greek chorus contributions and Auld Veyther Beelzebub’s Rhyme “to please you all”.  The last traditional play performed in this area was in 1881 when it was staged for Lady Wantage at Lockinge House.

Useful References

The following are freely available:

  • Old Father Beelzebub's complete account of our play, and its historical context, incorporating the latest thinking on the history and evolution of Mummers Plays (revised January 2023)..


Other Useful Links


In Comes I! Forty Years of the Wantage Mummers

In Comes I: The history of the revival of the traditional Mummers Play from the Wantage area and 26 years of Old Father Beelzebub's Doggerel.   (Paperback – 31 Mar. 2016)

£10 (ex P&P) Proceeds donated to the charity supported for this year.

Order Now! Limited number left of this first edition


This Years’ Charity

Yet to be Decided

for those unable to donate in person, please visit:

Wantage Mummers

The Yew Tree

The Yew tree was considered sacred by the Druids, who believed it to represent an emblem of immortality.  In view of the nature of Mummers Plays, we considered this an appropriate choice for our web site.

Taxol is a naturally occurring substance (a diterpene) found in the Yew tree. It inhibits cell division and it is this property that makes it the basis for the treatment of certain kinds of cancer.

We have donated £2,300 in 2022 to ....

Alternative Donation Options

Our sincere thanks for all your support.


Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersSaturday, October 28th, 2023 at 9:46pm
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersThursday, February 2nd, 2023 at 12:20pm
Vale Community Impact advice centre in the Market Square thanks the Wantage Mummers for their generous donation of £2,300, from the proceeds of their Boxing Day performances.
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersFriday, January 6th, 2023 at 10:41am
An amazing 700+ people turned out on Boxing day and £2300 has been donated to Vale Community Impact. Thanks for the tremendous support!
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersThursday, December 29th, 2022 at 5:07pm
Now available to buy - Old Father Beelzebub's 2022 speech!
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersTuesday, December 27th, 2022 at 6:06pm
Catch up with Beau Slasher's interview on BBC Radio Oxford!

1 hour 36 minutes in:
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersTuesday, December 27th, 2022 at 8:03am
Great day, thanks for the pics 🙂