Saturday, 21 December 2013

Mumming and ‘The Case of Peas’

 In medieval times Christmas was the time of the year when, alongside carolling, the rural folk of England (and Wales) would form small groups to perform religious plays in village pubs and townships throughout the land.

They were known as ‘Mummers’  and, for the most part, their plays contained a moral theme.

Old Moll of the Tablette tries to snatch the case of peas from Bodger Corny
One of the most prominent plays in the mummers’ repertoire was the performance called ‘The Case of Peas’.

This has its origins in the scarcity of foodstuffs in the harsh winters of that period.
Vegetables, harvested in the summer months, would be dried, stored and eked out during the winter.

Peas were one of the main sources of protein and energy and it became a customary act of friendship to present one’s friends with a case of peas to help them through the winter.

The main characters in the play were as follows:-

Slasher Dawkins, a villain who seeks to create trouble and strife in the community by crying out: "There are no peas".

Baron Loftass, who is frequently represented as either a clergyman or a seer who prophecies doom and gloom.

Old Moll of the Tablette, provides the key heretical element to the play.

Little Man Vince, who is presented as always looking for his hat (as well as the case of peas).

Bodger Corny, this character provides the much needed comic element.

In the course of the play, Bodger Corny is the first to initiate the presentation of a Case of Peas which is then stolen by Slasher Dawkins who claims:-

“‘Tis my case of peas and there’s no doubt, they’re nice and plain, no frills about. I’ll eat them with my stargazy pie and wash them down with a glass of rye”

Finally, after much debate over ownership of the case of peas, Baron Loftass appears and hands out peas to all in the cast.
The modern day handshake is believed to have its origins in the custom of gifting a case of peas and, even at modern Catholic Masses today, you will see people shaking hands whilst uttering the immortal and historic phrase: “The Case of Peas” which has become abbreviated to: “Peas be with you.”


  1. You naughty man. How will I keep a straight face exchanging peas tomorrow?

  2. The last Modern Mass I went to (years ago, Thank God), they didn't bother with shaking hands with every man and his dog within five miles, they just waved at each other, grinning at the same time. Wonderful, really.

    1. Zephyrinus, what an immensely touching picture that paints. Jennifer Peterson, the chef, also used to wave also at the kiss of peace, but with digits!

  3. Genty got there first! That's exactly what I thought when I read this. and it looked so credible - until I reached the names1

  4. Strewth - ecclesism is contagious!

  5. I thought how interesting until i saw Slasher Dawkins and Little Man Vince ( looking for a red hat i presume?).
    Yes the Peace of the Lord be with you all on this Fourth Sunday of Advent -and also peas be to you as well.

  6. Thank you all and may the peas be with you.