The Forester’s Plough Play

by Joe Earp

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The Foresters Morris Men (full title “The Foresters Morris and Sword Dancing Club”) was formed in 1952, and was the first Morris Dancing club in Nottingham. Since the side are near to Sherwood Forest, they have Robin Hood as their logo.

The Foresters Morris Men perform a Plough Play each January usually at Nottingham Castle. Plough Plays are traditionally performed on Plough Monday which is the first Monday after Twelfth Night. Plough Plays are very old (could possibly be ancient) and are a form of Mummers’ play local to the East Midlands.

The Foresters were one of the first teams to revive the custom of performing Plough Plays in post war years. The Foresters play started many years ago as an amalgam of local plough plays from Tollerton in Nottinghamshire, Long Bennington and Staunton (Lincolnshire); over the years of performance it has become well and truly their own.

The characters in the Foresters play and their usual actors are:

  • Tom Fool 
  • Recruiting Sergeant 
  • Farmer’s Man 
  • Lady Bright and Gay 
  • Dame Jane
  • Beelzebub 
  • Doctor 

Tom Fool

In comes I, who’s never been here before,
There’s six more like me at the door,
Some can dance and some can sing,
By your consent they’ll all come in.
My head is big, my wit is small
But I plays Tom Fool the best of all.
Hokum, Pokum, France and Spain,
In comes the recruiting sergeant, at his name.

Recruiting Sergeant

In comes I the Recruiting Sergeant
I’ve arrived here just now with orders from the King
To enlist all young men that follow horses,
cart, waggon or plough,
Tinkers, tailors, peddlers, nailers
All the more to my advance,
The more I hear the music play
The better I can dance.

Tom Fool

What you dance?

Recruiting Sergeant

I can dance sing or say

Tom Fool

If you shall dance sing or say,
I will quickly walk away.

Farmer’s Man

In comes I what farms the Land,
Look at the tool I’ve got in my hand.
I uses this to hoe out weeds,
In tatties, carrots, onions and swedes.
The work is hard, the hours are dire,
up to your welly tops in mud and mire.
I’d leave all this for a place by the sea.
Nottingham’s not a place for a fella like me. 
or:

In comes I the Farmer’s man
Don’t you see the whip in my hand
As I go forth to plough the land
And turn it upside-down
Straight I goes from end to end
‘Till I go gently round the bend
And to my horses I attend
Woe there!

Lady

Behold a lady bright and gay,
Good fortune and sweet charms.
How carelessly I’ve been thrown away
Out of my true love’s arms.
He says that he won’t wed with me
And I must understand,
He’ll list all for a soldier
And go to some foreign land.

Recruiting Sergeant (sings)

Come all young men with a mind for enlisting,
List and do not be afraid,
You shall have all kinds of liquor,
Likewise kiss this pretty fair maid.
(says) Are you free willing and able young man?

Farmer’s Man

I’m free and I’m willing.

Recruiting Sergeant

Then on your hat I tie this ribbon
And in your hand I place this shilling.
You are now a King’s man.
Stand to attention, left right, left right!

Lady

And now my love’s enlisted
and joined the volunteers.
I mean no more to cry for him
Nor even shed a tear,
I mean no more to cry for him
But just to let him know,
I’ll meet another sweetheart
And along with him I’ll go.

Tom Fool

Do you have any love for me my pretty fair maid?

Lady

Yes Tommy to my sorrow.

Tom Fool

Then when shall be our wedding day?

Lady

Why Tommy dear tomorrow.

Dame Jane

In comes I, Old Dame Jane,
With a neck as long as any crane.
Dib dab, over the meadows
Long I’ve sought thee,
Now I’ve caught thee,
Tommy, take the child!

Tom Fool

The child Jenny, its none of mine

Dame Jane

Look at its eyes, its nose, its chin,
It must be yours, just look at its grin.

Tom Fool

What is it, a lad or a boy?

Dame Jane

A boy.

Tom Fool

Well, mine’s all lads,
Take it and swear it to the village pump
You old ratbag.

Beelzebub

In comes I Beelzebub,
On my shoulder I carries me club,
In my hand a dripping pan.
Don’t you think I’m a jolly old man!
Is there any an old woman that can stand before me?

Dame Jane

I can, my head is made of iron,
My body lined with steel,
My hands and feet of knuckle bone.
No man can make me feel.

Beelzebub

If your head is made of iron,
Your body lined with steel,
And your hands and feet of knuckle bone,
I think I can make you feel. (Hits Dame Jane with club)

Lady

Oh Beelzy, Beelzy, what have you done?
You’ve killed the old lady and lamed her son.

Tom Fool

Five Pounds for a doctor.

Beelzebub

Ten to stay away.

Doctor

Fifteen pounds and a BUPA card and I’ll come in.

Tom Fool

All right but hurry up

Doctor

In comes I, the doctor.

Tom Fool

And how comes you to be a doctor?

Doctor

By my travels.

Tom Fool

And what, pray are your travels?

Doctor

Italy, Whitely, France & Spain, Twice round Nottingham and back again.

Tom Fool

And what can you cure, noble-handed doctor?

Doctor

Ipsy, Pipsy, Palsy, Gout, Pains within and pains without, Heal the sick and cure the lame, Raise dead men back to life again.

Tom Fool

You’d best try your skills on this recumbent hag Lays bleeding on the ground.

Doctor

In my bag I have a bottle, I’ll pour it down the old girl’s throttle. She, she isn’t dead, just in a trance. Rise up Dame Jane and join the dance. 

All Sing

Good Masters and Good Mistresses,
As you sit by your fire.
Remember us poor plough boys
Who plough through mud and mire.
The mire it is so very thick,
Our boots are very thin,
We have a little pocket here,
Won’t you put a penny in?
And now our play is ended,
You see our Fool has gone,
We make it our business
To follow him along.
We thank you for civility
And what you gave us here.
We wish you all goodnight
And another happy year.

An audio version of the play can be listened to at:

More information about Plough Plays and Mummers Play can be found at:

http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
This entry was posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies. Bookmark the permalink.

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