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Random Notes Anent the Antiquities, Traditions, Superstitions, and Old Manners and Customs of the Borders. – XVII. – Mummers or Guizards.

[Kelso Chronicle Articles Contents]

   THE word mummer and guizard [guiser] have nearly the same signification. They are both from the Saxon, and mean a masker, or one disguised under a visard. It seems certain that the mummers of England and the guizards of the Borders of Scotland present in some degree a shadow of the origin of the drama. The custom is not yet extinct, and bands of guizards still favour the various farm houses in many of the rural districts with an annual visit and perform a sort of rude drama, in some versions of which both common sense and decency are set at defiance. 

“Then came the merry maskers in, 

And carols roared with blithesome din; 

If unmelodious was the song, 

It was a hearty note and strong; 

Who lists may in their humming see 

Traces of ancient mystery. 

White shirts supplied the masquerade, 

And smutted cheeks the visors made. 

But oh! what maskers richly dight 

Can boast of bosoms half so light.” – Scott

   In the southern counties of Scotland guizarding was, and is still, though much shorn of its pomp and circumstance, performed in something like the following manner:- A number of young men or boys, painted or otherwise, disguised their faces and decked themselves in a fantastic manner, and went through towns and villages, farm-steads, &c., or wherever they thought the inhabitants would allow them a small pittance, for which they performed a kind of dramatic game. Tradition says that it is very unlucky to let the guizards go out of a house where they have performed without giving them some money with which to drink to the rooftree of the family. The guizards always dressed themselves in white, and appeared like so many dead persons robed in their shrouds who had risen from their narrow homes. The faces were commonly painted black or dark blue, which, along with their white robes, gave them a most unearthly appearance. They wore on their heads caps, or rather what we call mutches, adorned with ribbons of various colours. A sword was a necessary appendage. Thus arrayed they betook themselves to the various “big houses” of the district and performed the following drama, which differs considerably from the modern one both in the dresses and speeches of the performers, and in the number and names of the performers themselves:- 


Alexander of Macedon. 

St George of England. 


A Doctor. 

A Boy. 



   Enter SERVANT with a besom, who sweeps the floor, singing 

Redd up rocks, redd up reels, 

Here comes in a pack o’ fools, 

A pack o’ fools who ne’er was here before, 

Mickle head and little wit stands ahint the door. 


Redd room and redd room, 

And gie’s room to sing, 

We’ll show ye the best sport 

Acted at Christmas time. 

   Enter the COMMANDER OF THE BAND, who says – 

Activous and Activage, 

I’ll show you the best sport 

Ever acted on any stage. 

If you don’t believe the word I say 

Call for Alexander of Macedon 

And he will show you the way. 

   Enter ALEXANDER OF MACEDON, who says – 

Here comes I, Alexander of Macedon, 

Who conquered the world all but Scotland alone. 

And when I came to Scotland 

My heart it grew cold 

To see that little nation 

Sae crouse and sae bold; 

Sae crouse and sae bold, 

Sae frank and sae free, 

I call for Gallashen 

And he will fight with me. 

   Enter GALLASHEN, who immediately kills Alexander, and then says – 

Here come I, Gallashen, 

Gallashen is my name, 

With sword and buckler by my side 

I hope to win the game. 

My head is clothed in iron, 

My body’s clothed wi’ steel, 

My buckler’s made o’ knuckle-bone, 

Ad that I’ll make ye feel; 

I call for Great St George of England and he will fight with me. 

   Enter ST GEORGE OF ENGLAND, who kills Gallashen, and then says – 

Here comes I, Great St George of England, 

See my bloody weapon – it shines clear – 

It reaches up to my very ear – 

Let any man come fence me here. 

   Enter a BOY. 

As I was at a fencing school 

I saw a boy turn out a fool – 

A fool, a fool as you may see, 

I deliver him up to fence with thee. 

   This dragon of a boy enters the list with St George, and to the astonishment of the party present stabs him to the heart. The boy falls down on his knees, repeating, as he looks on the dead body of St George, 

Ochone, Ochone, I’ve killed a man 

I’ve killed my brother’s eldest son. 

   The servants who are now called in are ordered to take up the body of St George, but to their surprise, he says – 

I am, I am not slain; 

I’ll rise and fight that boy again. 

   The boy then says – 

To fight wi’ me ye are not able, 

For my sword will split your haly table

   The boy transfixes him as he is in the act of rising to fight him. 



   The chieftains are now all hors-de-combat, and prostrate on the floor. A doctor is now called for by one of the company, who exclaims “Fifty pounds for a doctor.” 

   Enter a DOCTOR. 

Here comes I, a Doctor as good as Scotland ever bred. 

What diseases can you cure? 

I can cure the itch, the stitch, the mala-grumplis, the lep, the pip, the roan, the blain, the merles, the nerles, the blaes, and the splaes. 

What more diseases can you cure? 

I can cure a man who has lain in his grave seven years and more. 

What will you take to cure that man there? (pointing to St George as he lies on the ground.) 

   The doctor offers to do it for ten pounds, and after some haggling a bargain is finally struck for nine pounds and a bottle of wine. He then touches St George, and commands him to rise, giving him at the same time the new appellation of Jack as he rises. 

   The other killed chieftains are re-animated in the same manner by a touch of the doctor’s wand, and instantly spring up, but poor Jack rises slowly and complains of a severe pain in the lumber region of his back. The following nonsensical colloquy then ensues:- 

DOCTOR – What ails your back, Jack? 

JACK – There’s a hole in it wad hold the head of a horse threefold. 

DOCTOR – This is nonsense; you must tell me a better tale than this. 

JACK – I have been east, I have been west, 

I have been at the sherckle-dock; 

And many were there the worse for the wear, 

And they tauld me the Deil marries a’ the poor folk. 

DOCTOR – What did ye see at the scherckle-dock? 

JACK – I saw auld wives flyin’ though the air like the peelin’s o’ ingins, swine playin’ on  bagpipes, cats gaun on pattens, and hen’s drinkin’ ale. 



   At the termination of Jack’s speech the guizards were usually asked to drink with the family, a custom which is now happily discontinued, after which they are presented by each person in the house with a small sum of money. 

   They lastly form themselves into a ring, and as they dance round they all sing the following carol – 

As we cam by yon well we drank; 

We laid our gloves upon yon bank; 

By cam Willie’s piper to play, 

Took up our gloves and ran away. 

We followed him from town to town, 

We bade him lay our bonny gloves down; 

He laid them down upon yon stone, 

Sing ye a carol, for ours is done. 

J. G. S.      

– Kelso Chronicle, 4th December, 1863, p.3.

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