Campden Customs

Like most towns and villages, Chipping Campden has a number of customs, events and activities which are unique.  Other towns may have similar events, but each is unique in its relationship to the location where it takes place.

To learn more about Campden Customs, buy our leaflet.  Text by Tess Taylor and Diana Cooper Smith

The Mummers

The Mumming Play is an ancient form of folk entertainment, evolved over the centuries from its roots in pagan fertility ritual. The play is performed at Christmas in pubs and private houses, remuneration received in cash and refreshments – liquid or otherwise!

The choice of characters varies from troupe to troupe but there is always a hero and a villain and, crucially, the Doctor, who can bring the dead back to life, symbolising re-birth.

Mummers are sometimes referred to as “Guisers”. To be in disguise was  important to create an air of mystery and to free the actor of any inhibitions while performing in front of his friends and neighbours. Mumming was an all-male preserve, female roles played by men - even more reason for a convincing disguise.

Mummers handed down their lines by word of mouth, often through generations of the same family.  Tom Benfield re-established a Mumming troupe in Campden after the First World War; the tradition upheld for decades by members of the Buckland family, descendants of Tom Benfield. Before each performance the Mummers would ask the question of each other – was it to be a ‘long job’ or a ‘short’un?’ The latter being the play followed by a quick exit,  while the ‘long job’ entailed individuals performing their party pieces – songs or ‘country’ poems.

Changes in lifestyle has resulted in fewer villages with Mumming troupes. Campden has been no exception and for a number of years has been without its old time enchantment. However, in 2010 Bill Buckland, who had performed with the Mummers as a youngster, re-formed the troupe.

Let us hope that our Campden Mummers inspire future generations to take part in this ancient folk tradition – enabling us on Christmas Eve to open our doors to the age old command : -

“Please to let the Mummers in.”

The Morris Men

The origins of Morris are obscure, and although at one time it was thought that there might be an association with fertility rites, it is more likely they derived from the courtly dances of medieval Europe. Each village had its own side and style of dancing, which was passed down from father to son. Mrs. Hathaway, sister-in-law of Fiddler William Hathaway of Lower Swell, recalled that a Cotswold side comprised six men plus a fool carrying a pig's bladder, music and a man with a 'box' (concertina or accordion). The men are commonly dressed in white, their shirts decorated with rosettes or 'baldricks' (coloured cross bands) and bells tied round their lower legs. Some sides wear hats but the Campden style is rosettes and no hats, and they dance with sticks and handkerchiefs.

Morris dancing could have been performed at Dover's Games from their commencement in the early seventeenth century.  In 1722 a Campden man, on his way home after teaching a Morris side at the Fish Inn on Broadway Hill, spotted a man he'd seen in the inn with a large sum of money.   He attacked and killed the man, was arrested, tried and hanged for murder, being described in newspaper accounts as a 'famous Morris dancer.'

Morris dancing apparently disappeared from Chipping Campden after the closure of the Dover's Games, but in 1895 Denis Hathaway revived and created an entirely new dance form. In 1910 Denis was known to have told Cecil Sharp that the Campden dances proper had been discontinued fifty years previously. The outbreak of World War I brought an end to regular performances, but in 1919 a 'Jazz Band' was formed to raise money for the war memorial and morris dances were performed by members as part of the entertainment. The band disbanded in 1921 but morris dancing gained strength. Denis died in 1926, but brother, Fred and son Bert continued in his wake and there were Hathaway musicians and dancers until the death of Alf Hathaway in 2007.

During World War II, with the men away, the tradition was maintained by girls. The side continues to dance through the summer season with a special role at Scuttlebrook Wake.

Campden Morris Men website

Whit Week Festivities, Floral Parades and Club Days

Robert Dover's "Olympick Games"

Dover's Games are held on Friday after Spring Bank Holiday on Dover’s Hill, a natural amphitheatre above Chipping Campden.

Robert Dover was a lawyer who, in 1612, transformed a small local gathering into the Cotswold ‘Olympicks’, a popular and fashionable event, celebrated in verse by contemporary poets, including Ben Jonson and Thomas Heywood, in Annalia Dubrensia, published in 1636. 

The sports comprised horse racing, hare coursing, wrestling, shin-kicking, tossing the hammer, fencing with cudgels, all interspersed with dancing, feasting and bouts of drinking!  The Games’ fortunes varied over the years, a casualty of war or local objections.  The Games were discontinued in 1852 because of the drunk and disorderly behaviour of the huge crowds it attracted.  In 1966 Dover’s Games were revived and continue to the present day. 

Independent Order of Oddfellows and Britannia Benefit Society

The Independent Order of Oddfellows and the Britannia Benefit Society were established in Campden in the mid-nineteenth century. Britannia's Club Day was held on the Thursday of Whit Week. Oddfellows celebrations followed on the Friday and Scuttlebrook Wake on the Saturday - three consecutive days of fun and festivities.  Houses and pubs were decorated with boughs of oak, flags and bunting.  Eventually, these club day events merged into the Scuttlebrook Wake celebrations. Whit Monday Fetes continued to the present day, organised by St. Catharine's Church.

Jubilee Floral Parade and the 'Living Whist'

In 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the Evesham Journal wrote that for a third year in succession a grand floral parade was held in Campden on Whit Monday and 'this time the little town fairly eclipsed its previous efforts.'  The great feature of the afternoon was a 'Living Whist' pageant which began with a procession of the fifty two cards in the pack, walking in numerical sequence, followed by the court cards. The court cards performed some dances and then four gentlemen sat at a table and played a game, which the card performers acted, as each card was shuffled, cut, dealt or played.

In 2012 CCHS members re-created The Living Whist for Scuttlebrook Fancy Dress Parade.

Scuttlebrook Wake

An annual fair (wake) has been held on the day following the Dover's Games for at least two centuries.  It seems highly likely that there was some kind of fair in earlier times.  Hiring Fairs often included a variety of entertainments.

There was a revival of the Wake in 1886 after a hiatus of around seventeen years.  At the same time three showmen asked if they could bring fairground rides and amusements to the Wake. It is thought that the showmen suggested calling it after the stream that ran through Leasebourne, the Cattlebrook or Scuttlebrook.  With the opening of the recreation ground in 1928, the Wake was under threat but Leasebourne was the popular choice and the showpeople continued to come. In 1940 the showman George Hatwell claimed the continuance of the fair under ancient rights, gaining the gratitude of the Wake's supporters, and as sole attendants George and his family kept Scuttlebrook alive through the war years.

In 1938, the modern format was created, including the crowning of the Scuttlebrook Queen, a fancy dress parade, Morris, maypole & country dancing. Only the fair & children's races were held during WW2 but in 1948 it was re-established & continues in much the same form to the present day.

Page link: Maypole Dancing
Maypole Dancing
One of the traditions of Scuttlebrook Wake
Page link: Whit Week Fetes & Floral Parades
Whit Week Fetes & Floral Parades
Photographs from the archives