Mummer’s the word: Charter Day 2015

Charter Day 2015 is less than a week away, on Saturday 7th March. You can see the full programme on the Events pages, but here are the stories behind the performances you can expect to see…

None of our H2A events are designed to be historically accurate – our stuff is daft, colourful pageantry, not period drama – but it all has its origins in real events or traditions. Vaguely. Charter Day is something we invented to mark the anniversary of Wellington’s first Market Charter, granted by Henry III in 1244. We don’t know how the charter arrived with its recipient (lord of the manor, Giles d’Erdington), but in our dramatised re-imagining of that day, the king’s messenger rides into Wellington and reads the charter aloud to the townsfolk. This year it’ll be Wellington resident and ideas man Jon King on the horse. Charter Day poster snapshot 2015 The Shrewsbury Mummers: If you’ve ever spotted Wyndebagge the Minstrel at our Midsummer Fayre in June, then you’ll recognise at least one of the Mummers who’ll be kicking off the Charter Day festivities in Market Square. Historically, mumming was a kind of folk theatre where players performed from house to house, at pubs, or as in this instance, in the street. It has its origins in the Middle Ages, so we might imagine that 13th Century Wellingtonians would have enjoyed something not dissimilar. This particular troupe have performed at Ludlow Christmas Fair and around Shrewsbury in the last few months, and they’re be well worth seeing in Wellington – so make sure you’re in the Square for 11am to see the show. Mummers The Ironmen &  Severn Gilders: Morris Dancing is a regular fixture at the Midsummer Fayre, but this will be the first time these Morris dancers from down the road in Ironbridge will be performing at one of our H2A events. The women’s side – the Severn Gilders – dance in the North-West Morris tradition. The Ironmen, meanwhile, dance the more local Border Morris – which has its origins in the border counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Whilst this style is known to date back at least to the 17th century, what we see today is a reinvented tradition, based on fragments of source material – including the dances themselves – gathered by folklorists like E.C. Cawte since the mid-20th century. The Ironmen formed in the 1970s, and say this about their distinctive appearance: ‘As is traditional in these border counties, we dance with blackened faces which are thought to serve as a disguise, possibly from evil spirits. Fresh flowers (no plastic or silk here!) and feathers in the hats hark back to ancient times, when dances were performed as fertility rituals.’ Indeed, the element of disguise in Border Morris was evident in Shrewsbury in 1584 when it was asked of parish officials “Whether there have bene any lords of mysrule, or somer lords and ladies, or any disguised persons, as morice dancers, maskers or mumm’ers, or such lyke, within the parishe, ether in the nativititide or in som’er, or at any other tyme, and what be their names?“. You can see the Ironmen & Severn Gilders spring into life in Market Square at around 11.45-midday, then again after the Court Leet at about 12.20. Ironmen Morris The Court Leet: This was a form of manorial court which would have met in Wellington – as in other manors – from the early Middle Ages until the 19th Century. Part of its role was to maintain standards in farming and the sale of food and drink, along with other aspects of civil administration. That’s why, at our revived Court Leet every Charter Day, our ‘jurors’ are given the task of appointing the town crier, the market clerk and the ale taster – all roles which were recorded in Wellington at various times since the 1300s. Another nice little historical thread – the town’s real Court Leet would have met in the upstairs room of the old timber frame Market Hall in the Market Square… directly above where our re-constituted, hammed-up Court meets today. 046   The Battle of the Bakers, Real Ale Pub Crawl & Meet the Brewer: With the Ale Taster reappointed, he’ll be eager to get back on the streets judging local foodstuffs. So, The Pheasant Pub & Brewhouse in Market Street is obliging with a bread roll-baking contest for him to preside over. If you’re a budding baker, take two of your bread rolls along to the pub by midday on Charter Day. They’ll be buttered-up and presented for judging at one o’clock. Dave the Brewer is also brewing up a one-off special 13th century-inspired beer – ‘Wellington 1244’ – so even your lunchtime pint will have a Charter Day twist. Following the contest, Jerry the Ale Taster will head off with his entourage for a real ale pub crawl, taking in The White Lion, The Oddfellows Arms, The Railway and The Cock Hotel. He’ll be joined by another local brewer – Mark from Dickensian Brewery at Roden – who will host an informal ‘Meet the Brewer’ session once they arrive at The Cock Hotel around 6pm. So, feel free to join them and try some of Mark’s beers. Bread Roll poster