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Crwmpyn John (Swansea Valley)

(Collected by Bryan Harris from Colin Jones, Ynysmeudwy and by Mick Tems from Lewis John Williams, Godre'rgraig and Tom King, Tonna)

This play was first unearthed by the late Councillor Bryan Harris of Pontardawe, founder of the Valley Folk Club. Bryan died suddenly in 1974, and in that year the Folk Music Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society published an article he had written on the play, and which is included here. Mick Tems added to Bryan's research by finding further informants and recording their texts.


The heavy industrialisation and ribbon development of the South Wales valleys are such that one would expect local traditions to be common to all the areas within each locality. This conclusion would appear to be confirmed by the slightly differing versions of Y Fari Lwyd (a mid-winter luck-visit rite, performed by a group of men, among whom was one covered by a sheet and carrying a horse's skull mounted on a broomstick) and of Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (a New Year's Day luck-visit rite, performed in the main by children, who sang outside the house and who were rewarded with money.)

The Upper Swansea Valley, with its predominantly Welsh-speaking populace engaged in either the steel or coal industries, is typical of this type of locality, and traditions and customs are similar throughout the area and are essentially Welsh in origin. However, in Ystalyfera, Ynysmeudwy and Godre'rgraig (the geographical centre of the three settlements) there was a custom which was not even known in other parts of the community. This was the performing of Crwmpyn John (Hunchback John), a Robin Hood mummers' play.

Performed on Hallowe'en by the boys of the village, the play contained the following characters: Crwmpyn John, Indian Dark, Robin Hood, Doctor Brown, Ching-a-Ling. This version of it was supplied by Colin Jones, who lived in Ynysmeudwy until his marriage and who remembers taking part in the play in the 1950s.

The party would gather at the door of the house, whereupon Crwmpyn John would knock the door and enter without being invited. The others in the party would follow and the play would begin.

CRWMPYN JOHN: In come I, Crwmpyn John
Under my arm I carry my ffn (Welsh for walking stick)
Under the other a frying pan
Oh what a jolly old man I am.

INDIAN DARK: In come I, Indian Dark,
Indian Dark is my name.
My father's killed a thousand men
And I intend to do the same.

ROBIN HOOD: You intend to do the same?

INDIAN DARK: Yes, yes, I intend to do the same.

ROBIN HOOD: In come I, Robin Hood
I'm the best fighter in the wood (alt. Fifty years I've been in the wood)
My head is made of iron. my body is made of steel,
And I'll fight any man on this battlefield.

(Robin Hood and Indian Dark fence, and Robin Hood kills Indian Dark.)

ROBIN HOOD: Is there any doctor in this town?

DR BROWN: Yes, yes, Doctor Brown.
I'm the finest doctor in this town.
I've travelled Italy, Spitally, France and Spain
And back to dear old English once again.

(Dr Brown withdraws a bottle of water from his case and throws it contents over Indian Dark.)

DR BROWN: Rise up, Jack Penny.

INDIAN DARK: My name is not Jack Penny. My name is Will Tuppence.

(Ching-a-Ling cartwheels into the room)

CHING-A-LING: In come I, Ching-a-Ling, From the corner I will spring. Money I want and money I'll have. If I don't have money, I'll be sure to starve.

(They would all then sing the following song, and Crwmpyn John would collect the money.)

So we'll sing a little song and it won't be very long
And it tastes as sweet as honey;
Put your hand in your pocket and pull it out
And pay old Crwmpyn Johnny.

Ching-a-Ling was not included in the Ynysmeudwy version of the play. His lines were supplied by Lewis John Williams of Godre'rgraig, who had also taken part as a young boy.

Although it has been stated earlier that the play was performed by boys, it appears that some girls did take part during the latter years of its popularity. Also, in recent years, it was performed as an adjunct to Christmas carol singing in addition to Hallowe'en. In both instances, it was looked upon by the players as being a means of supplementing their spending money, and their request for money was usually acceded to by the householder.

The players took great care in disguising themselves, and all but Robin Hood and Ching-a-Ling blackened their faces. Crwmpyn John wore the most ragged clothes available including a large hat, which he used for collecting the money. A cushion or pillow was pushed into the back of his jacket to make the crwmp (hump) and he supported himself with a broom under his arm as a crutch. The otjer hand was used to carry a frying pan. Indian Dark would strive to resemble an Indian and would at least ensure that there was a feather in his hair. Similarly, Robin Hood would attempt to look the part, achieving this in the main by wearing a hat similar to the one that has become associated with the character. Somehow or other, Dr Brown would usually succeed in obtaining eith a bowler or a top hat and he would wear a long overcoat over trousers and shirt. He carried a case in which he kept his bottle of water. Ching-a-Ling was meant to be Chinese, and various items of dress were used to attempt to convey this impression. Also, he sought to give his face a yellow hue and an oriental appearance to his eyes.

While it is quite clear that the characters Robin Hood and Dr Brown derive from the tradition of mummers' plays, the connection of the other characters is a little vague on first examination. However, there are innumerable reasons for supposing that Crwmpyn John is yet another Beelzebub, and it is interesting to note that Tiddy refers to Humping Jack in his book The Mummers' Play (1923, p77). Clearly, Indian Dark is the second combatant (note Indian King in the Kirmington Plough Jacks play Tiddy, p254). Despite the fact that he is here dressed as a Red Indian, I would venture to suggest that the appendage Dark was to indicate that he was of Eastern origin, as opposed to North American. From both his actions and his words, it appears as though Ching-a-Ling belongs to the Fool, or Clown, category. It is interesting to note the similarity of his lines with those of Devil Doubt in the Belfast play (Tiddy, p141) and of Beelzebub in the Cinderford play (Tiddy, p161).Finally, in the Leafield play (Tiddy, p214) there is evidence of Jack Pinney being derived from Jack Finney. From there it would be a short step to Jack Penny, and I suspect that at one time he was Dr Brown's assistant.

It is not known how this essentially English custom came to be a part of the folklore of the Uppser Swansea Valley. However, it is known that many people came from Herefordshire and Gloucestershire during the last century to work at the local collieries, and it would appear likely that they brought their own traditions with them. They, in company with other immigrants, rapidly identified with the local Welsh people and became absorbed into the community, even to the extent of using the Welsh language both naturally and freely. Consequently, they were looked upon as beinf Welsh, and it would not be unreasonable to assume that their customs and habits would be absorbed by the native Welsh community. It is interesting to note that Crwmpyn John is pronounced as Crumpin John, the pronunciation an Englishman would be expected to give.


The only differences from Colin Jones' text were:

All characters said: "In comes I" rather than "In come I"

ROBIN HOOD: In comes I, Robin Hood,
Forty years I've been in the wood.
My head is made of iron, my body is made of steel,
And I'll fight any man on the battlefield.
So pull out your sword and fence!

DR BROWN: ...and back to dear old England once again.


On November 4, 1975, Mrs M Jackson of 25 Sybil Street,Clydach, Swansea wrote to Mick Tems

It was with great interest that I read your account in last week's Evening Post re Crumping John. According to my memory you are not quite right, even the name of the little group of verses is slightly different. In my childhood days I lived in the now derelict part of Godre'rgraig. We were a close-knit community about the time of the ending of the First World War. There were two public houses, two butcher's shops, a large lodging house, a post office, a small compact area and it was before the buses ran up the valley. The play I thought was really marvellous, I saw two of my brothers act in it. One of whom has promised to type as much as he remembers and will forward it to you. Three of the boys taking part were Jim King, coal merchant, Ystalyfera; Idris King, Maes-y-Dre, Ystradgynlais; Ernest Miles, Trebanos.

The text from Mr Tom King of 16 Henfaes Road, Tonna, Neath, read:

CRUMPING JOHN enters the house or public house: In comes I, old Crumping John
Under my arm I carry my ffn,
In my hand a frying pan
Don't I look a jolly old man?

JINGLE IN jumps into the room: In comes I. old Jingle In
From the corner I do spring,
Money I want and money I'll have,
If I don't get money I'll be sure to starve.

FIRE BRIGHT enters: Stand up and make the fire bright
For in this room there'll be a fight.

ROBIN HOOD enters: In come I, Robin Hood,
Thirty years I lived in the woods,
Some say less and some say more.
I rob the rich to feed the poor.
My head is made of brass, my body's made of steel,
And I'll fight any man on this battlefield.

INDIAN DARK goes in: In comes I, old Indian Dark,
Indian Dark is my name.
My father's killed three thousand men
And I'll attempt to do the same.

ROBIN HOOD: You'll attempt to do the same?

INDIAN DARK: I'll attempt to do the same.

ROBIN HOOD: Take out your father's sword and show his fame once more again.

(They fence for a few seconds and Indian Dark falls down wounded.)

FIRE BRIGHT shouts: Doctor, doctor, is there any doctor in this town
Can cure this man of his deadly wounds?
DR BROWN: Yes, yes, Doctor Brown.
The only doctor in this town.

(He gives the Indian a drink.)

DR BROWN: Get up, Jack Penny.

INDIAN DARK: My name is not Jack Penny, my name is Bill Penny and I'm the man to collect the money.

(They have a short song.)

We've got a song and it's not very long
But it is as sweet as honey;
Put your hand in your pocket and pull it out
And pay old Crumping John (who uses the frying pan as a collecting bag.)

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Last updated 08 March 2010 . Copyright 1999 Celfyddydau Mari Arts.