The history of St Alban's Mummers
The Mummers first appeared in St Albans over fifty years ago. A group of friends, mainly members of St Albans Morris Men, decided to put on a play every Boxing Day, December 26. They chose a play which had been modified from an earlier text by "Neggy" Wilson, a schoolmaster in the Hertfordshire village of Croxley Green, about fifty years before. It had been performed in the village within living memory, but it had fallen into abeyance.
(For lots more information about the play's origins, and about the revived Croxley Mummers, type "Croxley Mummers" into your favourite search engine.)
A number of venues around the city centre were selected for the performances, and some have remained in use ever since, but others have changed as time moved on. Historic sites have always featured, as, of course, have many pubs. Probably because of the pubs, the first and last shows of the day often had quite different lengths, and quite different texts.
In the early days, the Mummers were almost the only live event on Boxing Day, but laws and habits have changed, so the Mummers now compete for attention with all-day pubs and post-Christmas shopping. However, the citizens of St Albans still turn out in impressive numbers to watch the Mummers, with total audiences of nearly 2000 for the five performances being common. Naturally, the weather affects the attendance, but the Mummers go on, in rain, snow or fog, but usually (surprise!) sunshine. Some of the audience members have been amazingly faithful; we have friends who have moved away from St Albans, but who come back just to see the Mummers. We also span the generations; people who were brought to watch as children now bring their children and grand-children.
The Mummers have also attracted attention throughout the UK and overseas. "The celebrated St Albans Mummers" have appeared in a book of traditional events in Britains. We have been filmed for folk archives in the U.S.A., and formed part of at least one doctoral thesis. Nowadays, so many people record our play on their phones and cameras, we can be found all over the world.
The cast changes as individuals leave, and new members are invited to join. The last founder member retired after the 2011 performances. In general, a member retains his Character until he (or she) decides to relinquish it, but Mummers aren't known for sticking to rules, even their own!
The Mummers have become a major feature of Christmas in St Albans, and the group is determined that the tradition started in the 1960s will remain vibrant for many years to come