Yorkshire Evening Post (22/Dec/1923) - Christmas Fifty Years Ago

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


By Ben Turner, M.P.

Fifty years ago, as a lad of ten. I enjoyed my Christmas time. It was far different then. The villager lived the simple life; cinemas were unknown. Theatres did not come within the purview of country boys and girls. Pantomimes were undreamed of.

We had our Saturday halfpenny now and then, and our Christmas gifts were apples, oranges, and nuts, and our stockings, when hung up. did not get much in them.

Picture books of the present day variety were rare, and yet we made our enjoyment as youngsters as vigorous as lads do now. We had our "Raper Dancing" events. We went out "mumming" for a week or two before Christmas as well as a week after. They were events that cheered the young heart.

The favourite piece then was "St. George and the Dragon." We got our little troupe together, and secured tin swords, manufactured paper caps, and dressed up in the old clothes that made us the "guys of the village."

I can remember impersonating two characters in the piece, and saying with gusto my lines:—

Here come I, little Devil Doubt,
If you don't give me money, we'll clear you all out.
Money I'll have, and money I crave,
If you don't give me money, we'll sweep you all to the grave.

Or the Old Doctor's business:—

The itch, the pitch, the palsy and the gout,
If a man gets nineteen devils in his skull
I'll cast twenty of them out.
I have in my pockets crutches for lame ducks,
Spectacles for blind bumble bees,
Pack saddle and panniers for grasshoppers,
And plaisters for broken-backed mice.
I cured Sir Harry of a nag-nail almost fifty yards long;
Surely I can cure this poor man.
Here, Jack, take a little out of my bottle,
And let it run down thy throttle;
If thou be not quite slain,
Rise, Jack, and fight again.


Of course, there were contentions between us as to who should be St. George or Slasher. I hear there are such contentions on the real stage. We prepared for the "Mumming" for a month before we went out. We learned recitations and old fashioned songs.

We had our lantern to take out with us, which was made from a turnip. It was shaped like a face with eyes, ears and nose cut out to resemble somebody's ugly face, but held a candle for illuminating our way.

Among the songs I sang were "Just before the battle, mother" and "Poor old Jeff." Among the recitations wars John Hartley's "Dufin' Johnny" and his "Bite Bigger," and Sam Laycock's favourite, "At No. 1 i' Bowton's Yard mi Granny keeps a school."

There was also the old, but silly, bit that we got out, namely,

There was an old woman at Skelmanthorpe,
At Skelmanthorpe did dwell,
She loved her husband dearly,
But another one quite as well.
Tiddy fol-lol, etc.


I lived up at Liphill Bank, Holmfirth, and on one night we would do my grandmother's house at Blacksyke and my aunt's house at Upper Liphill Bank. We got twopence for that journey. It wasn't a sing outside and "Get off with you." but "Come into the house," when we perform on the sanded floor and receive an orange, some nuts or a piece of Christmas cake, or, if after Christmas, a penny for the pool.

One, two or three nights during the season we would visit the two public houses in Burnlee. I remember one night reciting twice, staging three songs, and taking my part as the doctor in the what we called "Raper Dancing or Peace Egging."

There wasn't any bad language while we were in there. Our fathers or our neighbours were there and they knew us all, and all of us enjoyed it. We shared the proceeds at the and of the season. One year it ran to 1s. 2d. each but as we all had "subbed" 10d. each, our balance at the end, after the payment of expenses of a few coppers, was 4d. each. Fourpence in those days was equal to being a miner in Klondyke, or a millionaire in Park Lane.

I have always a tender spot to-day for the "mummers." There were some out the other night with an old song that touched me. It ran:

Aght o' wark, aght o' wark,
We've noather brass nor 'bacca
Nowt to spend, nowt to lend,
Things are looking dark.
Clooes popped, booits popped,
Isn't it a likker,
Ivrrything's a worry when a chap's aght o' wark.

It is a grey time for many people, but when Christmas comes, let the youngsters have as much enjoyment as they can get, and let us all remember how we enjoyed creating our own enjoyment at Christmas fifty years ago.