Robert Topliff's account

The ceremony, which in its origin is extremely remote, is performed chiefly by pitmen, who at Christmas, emerge from their subterraneous employ, forming themselves into parties, each having a sword by his side, and decorated with all the varied coloured ribbons of his mistress, resort to the more populous towns, whereby their performance, in which they display numberless feats of activity, excite the liberality of the inhabitants. The fool and bessey are two of the most conspicuous characters in this motley group. 'Tis there's by grimace, gesticulation, and vulgar witticisms to provoke the risible faculties of the audience, and to collect at the end of the entertainment, a reward for their exertions; they have with them a fiddler who accompanies the song in unison with the voice, repeating at the end of each stanza, the latter part of the air, forming an interlude between the verses during which, the characters are introduced by the singer, make their bow and join the circle. When they are not able to effect an entrance, they exhibit at the front of the house, which in deference to their finery, abbreviates their performance.

Robert Topliff, A Selection of the Most Popular Melodies of the Tyne and Wear. London, undated (ca. 1815-1820), p. 42