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

Team Mikayla

a Charity Gifting to Children Fighting CancerIf you would like to donate remotely, 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 £2,250 in 2023 to ....

Donations Still Possible

Our sincere thanks for all your support.


Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersSunday, June 2nd, 2024 at 10:28pm
Bar and pizzas from 6pm
Fab evening. Thank you to Julian and Sue worth for organising it 🥰
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersWednesday, January 10th, 2024 at 10:24am
We're in today's Wantage Herald, Team Mikayla...
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersMonday, January 8th, 2024 at 8:33pm
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersSaturday, January 6th, 2024 at 2:39pm
Our pleasure!
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersSaturday, January 6th, 2024 at 11:11am
Following the 2023 performances, Auld Veyther Beelzebub has handed over a cheque for £2250 to Team Mikayla! Thanks for all the support!
Wantage Mummers
Wantage MummersFriday, January 5th, 2024 at 1:38pm
The Side is sad to share the news of the loss of our friend Pete Ambidge, a loyal supporter of Icknield Way Morris Men and the Wantage Mummers for 38 years.

Pete was one of our most experienced men and an excellent dancer who, in his time, took on the role of Fool, Foreman, Bagman and Squire. He was always interested in Folk and at one time lived next door to half of Cosmotheka before they became famous. He joined White Hart Morris Men 1976 as an extension to these interests before moving to Oxfordshire and joining Icknield Way MM in May 1985. Pete was also an avid supporter of Wantage Mummers and organised the performances for many years.

Pete had a great singing voice and was always in much demand `post dance' for well-known songs, such as South Australia and the Hippopotamus Song, and singing in the Summer at St Edmund Hall (Teddy Hall), at Oxford May Morning . His ability to get an entire pub standing on their chairs by singing Sunshine Mountain was legendary and well reflects the spirit of The Morris. We will all miss him very much.