Cuthbert Sharp's description

It is still the practice, though less in repute than formerly, during the Christmas holidays, for companies of pitmen and other workmen from the neighbouring collieries to visit Sunderland, Durham and Newcastle, etc., to perform a sort of play and dance, accompanied by song and music. . . . . The dancers are girded with swords and clad in white shirts or tunics, decorated with a profusion of ribands of various colours, gathered from the wardrobes of their mistresses and well-wishers. The captain generally wears a kind of faded uniform with a large cocked-hat and feather, for pre-eminent distinction ; and the buffoon, or “Bessy,” who acts as a treasurer and collects the cash in a tobacco-box, wears a hairy cap, with a fox’s brush dependent. . . . . The party assemble promiscuously, and the captain forms a circle with his sword, round which he walks and sings, each actor following as he is called on :

“Six actors I have brought,
Who were never on stage before ;
But they will do their best,
And they can do no more.

“But though his gold’s all gone,
Again he’ll plough the main,
With heart both light and brave,
To fight both France and Spain.

“The first that I call on,
He is a squire’s son,
He’s like to lose his love,
Because he is too young.

“Next comes a skipper bold,
He’ll do his part right weel,
A clever blade I’m told,
As ever poy’d a keel.

“But though he is too young,
He has money for to rove ;
And he will spend it all,
Before he’ll lose his love.

“Oh! the keel lads are bonny lads,
As I do understand,
For they run both fore and aft,
With their long sets in their hands.

“The next that I’ll call in,
He is a taylor fine ;
What think you of his work ?
He made this coat of mine.

“To join us in this play
Here comes a jolly dog ;
Who’s sober every day,
When he can get no grog.

“So comes good Master Snip,
His best respects to pay ;
He joins us in our trip,
To drive dull care away.

“But though he likes his grog,
As all his friends can say,
He always likes it best
When he has nought to pay.

“The next that I call in,
He is a sailor bold,
He’s come to poverty
By the lending of his gold.

“Last I come in myself,
I make one of this crew ;
And if you’d know my name,
My name is True Blue.”

Sometimes the “Bessy” considers it necessary to give some account of his own genealogy, as follows :

“My father he was hanged,
My mother was drowned in a well ;
And now I’se left alone,
All by my awn sel’.”

The dance then begins in a slow and measured cadence ; which soon increases in spirit, and at length bears the appearance of a serious affray. The Rector, alarmed, rushes forward to prevent bloodshed ; and in his endeavours to separate the combatants, he receives a mortal blow and falls to the ground.

Then follow the lament – the general accusation – and denial.

“Alas! our Rector’s dead !
And on the ground is laid ;
Some of use must suffer for it
Young men, I’m sore afraid.”

“I’m sure ’twas none of I, –
I’m clear of the crime ;
’Twas him that follows me,
That drew his sword so fine.”

“I’m sure ’twas none of I, –
I’m clear of the fact ;
’Twas him that follows me,
That did this bloody act !”

“I’m sure ’twas none of I –
Ye bloody villains all ;
For both my eyes were shut,
When this good man did fall

“The cheer up, my bonny bonny lads,
And be of courage bold ;
For we’ll take him to the church,
And we’ll bury him in the mould.”

Captain       “Oh for a doctor, a right good doctor! A ten-pound doctor, oh!”

Doctor       “Here am I.”

Captain       “Doctor, what is your fee ?”

Doctor       “Ten pounds is my fee ; but nine pounds nineteen shillings and elevenpence three farthings I will take from thee.”

“See here, see here, a doctor rare,
Who travels much at home ;
Come take my pills – they cure all ills,
Past, present and to come !”

“The plague, the palsy and the gout,
The devil within, and the devil without ;
Everything but a love-sick maid,
And a consumption in the pocket.”

“Take a little of my nif-naf,
Put it on your tif-taf,
Parson, rise up, and fight again,
The doctor says you are not slain.”

The rector gradually recovers, which is the signal for a general rejoicing.

Captain       “You’ve seen them all called in,
You’ve seen them all go round,
Wait but a little while,
Some pastime will be found.”

“Cox-green’s a bonny place,
Where water washes clean,
And Painshaw’s on a hill
Where we have merry been.”

“Then, fiddler, change the tune,
Play us a merry jig ;
Before that I’ll be beat,
I’ll pawn both hat and wig.”

A general dance tune concludes the performance, to the old and favourite tune of “Kitty, Kitty, bo, bo!”

Cuthbert Sharp, Bishoprick Garland, or a collection of Legends, Songs, Ballads, etc, London, 1834, i. p. 58,