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The Gower Christmas Sport

Many versions of this play survive and are listed on two pages of this archive. This page holds the versions from East Gower Dunvant, Killay, Mumbles and Llanmorlais. These were communicated by Ron Shuttleworth, of Coventry. The Killay text comes from a Gower Society article written in 1985 and the others from handouts accompanying Paul S Smith's paper on the Stanley Smith Collection of Traditional Plays, given at the International Conference on Traditional Drama at Sheffield University in 1988.

DUNVANT: W GRIFFITHS' TEXT

On March 21, 1916, W Griffiths wrote from Dunvant Post Office to Sydney Rider at the County School in Gowerton:

"I can however claim to be a trustworthy authority on 'Christmas sport' as it was called in the district, as I have myself played in most of the parts when quite a little boy. And now with regard to its origins in these parts as far as I can discover no one remembers its first coming. It was handed down from boy to boy and locally no adult was permitted to have anything to do with it in stage management or performance. It was commenced about three weeks before Christmas and the boys used to commence preparing dresses and weapons for it about six week before performance started.

"The performers were from 10 years to 15 years of age and were very elaborately decorated. They wore a kind of high Grenadiers busby of different coloured papers cut into thin strips, and round their bodies a kind of broad band of gilt paper and also paper rosettes in imitation of decorations. Each one wore a wooden sword, though sometimes steel fencing foils were used. These were used so vigorously as to draw showers of sparks, steel against steel, and this was greatly admired by the spectators.

"One of the party is dressed up to represent Father Christmas like an old man with a long white beard leaning upon his staff. The other parties were the Valiant Soldier or Bold Slasher Jack, the Turkey's Knight, sometimes called Turkey's Snipe, Old Oliver Cromwell, Tommy Toddy and Beelzebub, the two latter characters generally solicited the money from the spectators. The method of procedure was as follows a house to house performance was given. A house was approached and a gentle knock given at the door, and when it was opened one of the warriors (generally the bravest boy as they did not know what reception they would get) advanced into the middle of the room. moved any stray furniture, clearing the room and saying it in a loud voice:

A room, a room, a gallant room
And in this room I do intend to play Christmas sport.
Christmas sport in former age,
Taught boys and girls to act upon the stage.
If you do not believe what I do say,
Bolt in, Father Christmas. Clear a way.

FATHER CHRISTMAS enters, leaning on his staff:
In comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome in or welcome not;
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
Old Father Christmas has a short time to stay
Ere the Valiant Soldier will take his life away. (Exit)

VALIANT SOLDIER enters: In comes I, old Valiant Soldier
Bold Slasher is my name.
With my sword and pistol by my side I am sure to win this game.

TURKEY'S KNIGHT enters: In comes I, old Turkey's Knight,
From Turkey's land I sprang to fight.
I'll fight this man, with his courage bold
If his blood is hot I'll quickly make it cold. (He turns to the Valiant Soldier).
To whom? To whom thy challenge give.

VALIANT SOLDIER: To thee! To Thee! Thou Turkish Dog.

TURKISH (sic) KNIGHT: Pull out thy purse and pay.
Pull out thy sword and fight.
Satisfaction I shall have
Before I go away this night.

(They put up their swords and fight, which consisted of three cuts and a thrust alternately, which were as vigorously parried and at last by arrangement a thrust from the Valiant Soldier was allowed to get through the Turkish Knight's guard and he fell grievously wounded.)

VALIANT SOLDIER: Look see. Look see. What I have done
Cut down a man ere even sun
Me and seven more, beat eleven score
Marching in so many wars
Fought St George and all his men
Can any doctor be found
To cure this man of his deadly wound.

DOCTOR enters: O yes, o yes,
In comes I, old Ten Pound Doctor.
I can cure the itch, the palsy and the gout.
If there be one devil in this man,
I can kick twenty out. (Kicking the prostrate soldier).
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called Alecampagne (sic)
Drink a drop Jack and live to fight again.

(The Soldier springs to his feet and is followed out by the Doctor, who playfully stumbles over the floor. The next duel is fought between a character Oliver Cromwell and Property Jack. The rhymes I can't remember, but the same process is gone through of the challenge and the response, whereupon "Old Noll" kills his man, who is miraculously revived by the Doctor. Tommy Noddy repeats a few lines. Then comes the finale. Beelzebub appears dressed in character from the wings and says:)

BEELZEBUB: In comes I, old Beelzebub
On my shoulder I carry my club
In my hand I carry my hat
To beg some money to make me fat.

("It seems to have built up in different periods, and additions made of characters which attracted public interest during their respective times. I have often thought that the Turkish Knight was added at a very early time, probably when the Crusades were matters of public interest.

"Then old Beelzebub might have come down from the period of Miracle Plays, though the lines were probably later. Tommy Noddy is another puzzle and is probably more of a biological than historical interest. If I remember, his lines were:

On comes I old Tommy Noddy,
All head and no body.
All feet and no toes,
Give me money and off I goes."


DUNVANT: SYDNEY RIDER'S TEXT


(Rider had another text from Dunvant, but he does not give the name of his informant.)

A room, a room, a gallant room
And this room I do intend to play a Christmas sport.
Christmas sport of former age,
Boys and girls act on the stage.
If you do not believe what I say,
Boult in, old Father Christmas and all clear away.

FATHER CHRISTMAS enters:
In comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome in or welcome not;
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
Old Father Christmas has but a short time to stay
Before a Valiant Soldier will take his life away. (Exit)

SOLDIER enters: In comes I, old Valiant Soldier
Bold Slasher is my name.
My sword and pistol by my side I'm sure to win the game.
My head is made of iron,
My body is made of steel.
My strength is to my knucklebone
I'll fight the Prince of Eel.

OLIVER CROMWELL enters: In comes I, old Oliver Cromwell
Surcum, I suppose
I conquered many nations
With my long copper sword.
I conquered France and Prussia
And also Cumberland
I'll conquer a valiant soldier
Here now to whom I stand.

TURKISH KNIGHT enters: In comes I, old Turkish Knight,
From Turkey land I sprung to fight.
I'll fight the man with courage bold
If his blood is hot I'll quickly make it cold.

VALIANT SOLDIER: To whom to whom thy challenge give.

OLIVER CROMWELL: To thee! To Thee! Thou dirty dog.
No longer shalt thou live.

VALIANT SOLDER: Pull out thy purse and pay.
OLIVER CROMWELL: Pull out thy sword and fight.
Satisfaction I shall have
Before I go away tonight.

(They fight. Valiant Soldier falls).

OLIVER CROMWELL: Look see, look see what I have done
Cut down this man at evening sun
As me with ten more will beat eleven score
Any doctor to be found
To cure this man of deadly wound.

DOCTOR enters: O yes, o yes,
I'm an old Ten Pound Doctor.
I can cure the itch, pick, the palsy and the gout.
If there is one devil in this man,
I'll fetch ten out.
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called helecopane.
Drink up Jack and fight again. (Exeunt)

(Part 2)

HAIRY HIT enters: In come I, old Hairy Hit,
All head and no wit,
Let my wit be ever so small,
I'll do my best to please you all.

HAIRY HOUND enters: In comes I, old Hairy Hound,
Born in London city town.
I have travelled far and I have travelled near,
I hope you ladies and gentlemen will fill us a good quart of strong beer.
And when the quart is empty
We will please call for more.
I hope you ladies and gentlemen
Will pay the old score.

TURKISH KNIGHT enters: In comes I, old Turkish Knight,
From Turkey land I sprung to fight.
I'll fight the man with courage bold
If his blood is hot I'll quickly make it cold.

HAIRY HOUND: To whom, to whom thy challenge give.

(Remainder as in Part One. Turkish Knight takes Oliver Cromwell's part. After "Drink up Jack and fight again", exeunt.)

TOMMY TODDY enters: In come I, old Tommy Toddy,
All head and no body,
All feet and no toes,
Give me money and off I goes.

BEELZEBUB enters: In comes I, old Belzi Bub,
On my shoulder I carry my club,
In my hand I carry my hat
To beg for more to make me fat.
Money I want, money I'll have
If I don't have money I'm sure to starve.

MUMBLES: SYDNEY RIDER'S TEXT

Rider indicates that the Mumbles play is a variant of the Dunvant texts. He does not give the name of his informant.)

A room, a room, a gallant room
And this room I do intend to play a Christmas sport.
Christmas sport of former age,
Boys and girls act on the stage.
If you do not believe what I say,
Walk in, old Father Christmas, and clear all doubt away.

FATHER CHRISTMAS enters:
In comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome in or welcome not;
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
Old Father Christmas has but a short time to stay
Before the King, His Majesty, will take his life away. (Exit)

KING GEORGE enters: In comes I, old King George,
The biggest man abroad.
My head is made of iron,
My body is made of steel.
My strength is to my knucklebone
I fight with sword and shield.

TURKISH KNIGHT enters: In comes I, bold Turkish Knight,
Come from Turkey land to fight.
I've fought King George and all his men
If you don't believe I'll try it again.

KING GEORGE: To whom to whom thy challenge give.

TURKISH KNIGHT: To thee, to thee, thou English dog.
No longer shalt thou live.
Draw out thy sword and fight,
Draw out thy purse and pay.
For satisfaction I shall have
Before I go away.

(They fight. King George falls).
TURKSH KNIGHT: Is there a doctor to be found
To cure this man upon the ground.

DOCTOR enters: In comes I, old Ten Pound Doctor.
I've travelled ninety nine miles and more.
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket
That will cure the hix, pix, palsy and the gout.
Drink a little drop of this slip slop
And jump up again and fight it out.

SLASHER JACK: In come I, bold Slasher Jack.
Bold Slasher is my name.
With sword and pistol by my side
I'll surely win the game.

HUNGRY HOUND enters: In comes I, old Hungry Hound,
Born in London city town.
I have travelled far and I have travelled near,
I can drink of your best beer.
And when the quart is empty
We will please call for more.
Me and ten more will beat eleven score.

NID NODDY enters: In come I, old Nid Noddy,
All head and no body,
All heels and no toes,
Give me money and off I goes.
Money I want, money I'll have
If I don't have money I'm sure to starve.
Money I want, money I crave
If I don't have money I'll go to my grave.

LLANMORLAIS: SYDNEY RIDER'S TEXT

(Rider merely notes: "This is much shorter." He does not give the name of his informant, nor does he mention the fact that this text is unique among Gower plays in that it is the only one from "the Welsherie", the predominantly Welsh-speaking villages of north-east Gower.)

FATHER CHRISTMAS: In come I, old Father Christmas,
Ninety years of age
Hop like a magpie
And light upon the stage.

TURKISH KNIGHT: To thee, to thee, thou English dog.
No longer shalt thou live.
Draw out thy sword and fight,
Draw out thy purse and pay.
For satisfaction I shall have
Before I go away.

SLASHER JACK: In come I, bold Slasher Jack.
Bold Slasher is my name.
With sword and pistol by my side
I'll surely win the game.

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR: In comes I, old William the Conqueror,
Conquers all on sea or land,
I have conquered many
And tonight I conquer thee.


KILLAY: MR THOMAS'S TEXT

(This text appeared in a Gower Society journal in 1985. The author says his informant, a Mr Thomas, remembered: "The players wore old top hats and coats turned inside out with the striped lining all showing. Some of them would have huge boots and great heads that were half the size of their body. Others had long painted swords.")

(One of the party enters and speaks the Prologue) PROLOGUE: Room, room, a gallant room
And in this room I do intend
To act the Christmas sport.
A Christmas sport of former age,
When all boys and girls would act upon the stage.
If you don't believe what I do say,
March in, Father Christmas. (Pistol fires.) Bang! Clear the way!

FATHER CHRISTMAS enters:
In comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome, welcome not;
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.
For old Father Christmas
Got a short time to stay
Before the Valiant Soldier
Comes and takes his life away.

VALIANT SOLDIER enters: In comes I, the Valiant Soldier,
Bold Slasher is my name.
My sword and pistol by my side I'm sure to win the game.
My head is made from iron,
And my body made of steel.
And I'll conquer this Father Christmas Before whom I stand.

FATHER CHRISTMAS: To whom, to whom thy challenge give?

VALIANT SOLDIER: To thee, to thee, thou dirty dog.
Thou hast not long to live.
Pull out thy sword and fight,
Pull out thy purse and pay.
For satisfaction I will have
Before I leave this room tonight.

(They fight and Father Christmas is struck down).

VALIANT SOLDIER: Look see, look see what I have done
Cut down this man at even sun.
Is there a doctor within ten mile round
Who can cure this man of his deadly wound?

DOCTOR enters: Oh yes, oh yes!
In comes I, the Ten Pound Doctor.
I can cure the icks, picks, palsy and the gout.
If there's a devil in this man I'll kick ten out.
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called elecampane.
Drink up Jack and have another game.

(Father Christmas drinks, revives and goes out with the Doctor. Enter Oliver Cromwell.)

OLIVER CROMWELL: In comes I, old Oliver Cromwell,
Circle I suppose,
I have conquered many nations
With my long and coppered sword.
I have conquered France and Prussia
And I've conquered Cumberland,
And I'll conquer this Valiant Soldier
Before whom I stand.

VALIANT SOLDIER: To whom, to whom thy challenge give?

OLIVER CROMWELL: To thee, to thee, thou dirty dog.
Thou hast not long to live.
Pull out thy sword and fight,
Pull out thy purse and pay.
For satisfaction I will have
Before I leave this room tonight.

(They fight and the Valiant Soldier is struck down).

OLIVER CROMWELL: Look see, look see what I have done
Cut down this man at even sun.
Is there a doctor within ten mile round
Who can cure this man of his deadly wound?

DOCTOR enters: Oh yes, oh yes!
In comes I, the Ten Pound Doctor.
I can cure the icks, picks, palsy and the gout.
If there's a devil in this man I'll kick ten out.
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called elecampane.
Drink up Jack and have another game.

(The Valiant Soldier drinks, revives and goes out with the Doctor. Enter the Turkish Knight.)

TURKISH KNIGHT: In comes I, the Turkish Knight,
From Turkey land I've sprung to fight.
I'll fight this man of courage bold
If his blood is hot I'll quickly make it cold.

OLIVER CROMWELL: To whom, to whom thy challenge give?

TURKISH KNIGHT: To thee, to thee, thou dirty dog.
Thou hast not long to live.
Pull out thy sword and fight,
Pull out thy purse and pay.
For satisfaction I will have
Before I leave this room tonight.

(They fight and Oliver Cromwell is struck down).

TURKISH KNIGHT: Look see, look see what I have done
Cut down this man at even sun.
Is there a doctor within ten mile round
Who can cure this man of his deadly wound?

DOCTOR enters: Oh yes, oh yes!
In comes I, the Ten Pound Doctor.
I can cure the icks, picks, palsy and the gout.
If there's a devil in this man I'll kick ten out.
I've got a little bottle in my inside pocket called elecampane.
Drink up Jack and have another game.

(Oliver Cromwell drinks, revives and goes out with the Doctor. Enter Hairy Houn'.)

HAIRY HOUN': In comes I, old Hairy Houn',
Born in London city town.
I've travelled far and I've travelled near,
I've drunk many a good strong pint of beer.
And when my pint is empty
I'll call for more.
And I hope you ladies and gentlemen
Will pay up my score.
TOM TODDY enters: In comes I, old Tom Toddy,
All head and no body,
All feet and no toes,
Give me money and off I goes.

HAIRY WIT enters: In comes I, old Hairy Wit,
All head and no wit,
Let my wit be ever so small,
I've done my best to please you all.

HUMP-BACKED JACK enters: In comes I, hump-backed Jack,
I carry my family over my back...
(Remaining lines forgotten)

BEELZEBUB enters: In comes I, old Beelzebub,
Over my shoulder I carry my club,
In my hand I carry my hat
To beg for more to make me fat.
Money I want, money I'll have
If I don't have money I'm sure to starve.

(A collection is taken and the characters go off.)

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Last updated 08 March 2010 Copyright 1999 Celfyddydau Mari Arts.