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The lost playing places of Lincolnshire.

Since at least 1912 when Hardin Craig wrote his first essay on Lincoln, most major scholarship on early drama in the county of Lincolnshire has focused its energies in what might be called "The Quest for Cycle Drama in the City of Lincoln," either supporting or, more often, rejecting Craig's thesis that Lincoln was home to the N-Town Cycle. (1) While the assembled dramatic records (gathered for the forthcoming Records of Early English Drama volume) offer considerable evidence of early religious drama and procession in Lincolnshire, very little, if any, of that evidence suggests cycle drama of the kind seen in, say, York or a few other large cities. However, the records, together with topographical evidence, do indicate that Lincolnshire had many performance traditions and many playing places, some apparently used for the production of large fixed-site plays (similar to those found elsewhere in the eastern regions), others for the mounting of traditional customs, games, sports, and ceremonies. As a way of making sense of the many playing places that have been revealed, I am classifying them initially as dedicated or nondedicated. I am taking dedicated playing places to mean those whose primary use was for play of one kind or another, or those which were so habitually used for a particular kind of entertainment or spectacle that the name of that entertainment attached itself to the place, meaning that people used the spot for a specific event recurringly and traditionally. By nondedicated playing places I mean those (both indoor and outdoor) that were occasionally used as playing venues but whose principal uses ranged from worship to commerce to habitation, and that were not normally identified by a name associated with performance.

Dedicated playing places of several kinds are documented in the records. Archaeologists have identified the location of what they think was a theater in Roman Lincoln, but during the period covered by the records (the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries) Lincolnshire had no working purpose-built theaters. (2) The earliest dedicated playing places to turn up are large, open-air spaces that had originally been sites for trials by combat but which, by the thirteenth century, had evolved into venues for hastiludi (jousting) and for common recreations, including plays. One of them, the Battle Place in Lincoln, was a croft immediately west of the castle, "abutting towards the north on [the] cemetery of St. Bartholomew." (3) In 1274, a hundred roll described it as an area of two acres "where the citizens customarily come to play, the friars to preach, and all to have their easements" (ubi homines de Lincolniensis solebant ludere fratres predicare & alia aisiamenta habere). (4) It was also described as a"Common pasture called Bataylplace." (5) In 1393-1394, the cathedral chapter accused the dean, Dr. John Shippey, of judging wrestling and attending shows on the commons outside the city, presumably this same site. (6)

Lincoln also used a second large open-air space as a playing place, an area known as Broadgate, a piece of ground in the lower city, next to the king's ditch in the parish of St. Augustine, very near to the River Witham and to the playing field of the grammar school (if it was not indeed the playing field itself). In 1564, the city ordered that "a standing play of some Storye of ye bibell schall be played ij days this Sommer tyme," in July, "in broadgate in the seid Cyty" and in 1566 the city ordered the same play to be played again "in whytson holye days." (7) As described in the Corporation Minute Book, the play, having nine or ten stations representing different cities, would have required considerable space to perform. So, Lincoln had at least two large open-air playing places, one a permanent site atop the hill, the other at its foot.

The fenlands market town of Spalding had a similar open-air playing place. A Corem Rege Roll of 1397 refers to "a certain site called 'the Playing Place'" in the town. Several men of Spalding had taken a felon to this location and beheaded him that year apparently with the belief that it was legally permissible to do so, their assumption suggesting that they associated the site with the processes of justice. (8) The Spalding playing place, also called "the Gore" was "a triangular piece of ground" that "extended from the priory walls to the River Westlode and westward to St. Thomas's Road." "The Great Gate of the priory (at the entry to the Crescent, opposite to the Sessions House) was the centre or rallying point." (9) One local historian claims that it was originally used for tourneys by knights of the area, another that it had been "the Tilting-ground and place for athletic sports, being an open lawn between the entrance to the Abbey and the river Westlode, then navigable." (10) An early-eighteenth-century summary of churchwarden accounts now lost says that an extraordinary play and tournament were held there c.1541, "a representacion of the battle between Saint Michael & the Devill & was a Tournement with Some Fire Workes & Machines." (11)

Similar but much more rustic playing fields and other kinds of dedicated "playing" places emerge mainly as topographical evidence in archaeological, local history, and antiquarian studies. Some of those sites retain their names to this day. The village of Dorrington used a "playgarth" on "Chapel Hill" for seasonal revels and customary games. Notably, on 24 August, St. Bartholmew's Day, young women are said to have gone in procession to the chapel where they strewed rushes, then continued to the playgarth where the village gathered for sports, games, and dancing. The event sounds strikingly similar to the pre-Reformation use of the chapel and chapel garth at Gainsborough by the young people's guild in that town (see discussion below). In the town of Winteringham, near the Humber, revelers annually affixed a May garland to an old stump "in the cattle pasture" as part of May games and "a milking feast." In the village of Messingham outside Scunthorpe, the young people customarily "assembled at Perestow Hills" on May evening for games, then, led by a fiddler,"danced their way to town," Horncastle had a "may-pole hill" identified on an early-eighteenth-century map as being at a point near the town where the roads from Tattershall and Lincoln converged. In Haxey, in the Isle of Axholme, youths played the famous Haxey Hood game in "an open field, on the north side of the Church." (12) At Grimsby in 1602, there occurred a play "about witsonday" at which an assault between a glover and his companion occurred. The location of the play is not given; however, the one who was struck fell "to the ground" the wording suggesting an outdoor playing place. The two were sitting together (either on benches or another surface, or on the ground). That people were "resorting to the sight of a play" suggests an open-air playing place freely open to the public, either the churchyard or another open space in or near the town. (13)

Bullbaiting sites were often situated in or near the town square, usually near slaughtering and tanning areas. In Horncastle, a large iron ring known as "the bull ring" was "embedded in a stone in the pavement" of an open space opposite a sadler's shop and proximate to the Bull and the Red Lion inns, at the junction of Beastmarket High Street, Spilsby Lane, and Millstone Street. (14) In Sleaford, the bullring lay in the Market Place, a location near to the church, the Corn Exchange, and the sessions house, and to a "butchers' area, complete with slaughterhouse." (15) In Lincoln, references in the cathedral accounts to the bull stake occur in 1314, 1319, and 1333. Local histories of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries claim that Danes Terrace, about one-third of the way down Steep Hill in Lincoln and formerly called Bullring Lane, was the location of the bull stake. As yet there has emerged no in-period documentary evidence to confirm that assertion, though the name is suggestive. (16) In the small North Lincolnshire town of Brigg, "the open square round the Water Tower, was in old times the Bull Ring" the square being an open part of Elwes or "Butchery" Street. (17) In Grimsby, Bull Ring Place survives today at the point near the Old Market Place where Bull Ring Lane turns into Victoria Street. The Bull Ring is a widened area that retains its medieval configuration and is a natural setting for entertainments of many kinds. Ordinances of the Grimsby Court Leer from c. 1550, 1557, and c. 1580 required that "if a butcher wished to kill a bull, he was not to do so until it had been baited by dogs, as a public entertainment, in the presence of the mayor." (18) Antiquarians claim that revelers also stood the maypole in the Bull Ring, and that "the Corporation possessed the privilege of cutting down a tree in Bradley Wood for the May-pole," which they "brought into the Bull-ring with great ceremony." A letter to the editor of the Stamford Mercury in 1842 says that a bullbaiting was part of "the annual wake or feast in the village where I live. It was held in a place then called the 'Bull-Dyke,' being part of a moat formerly encompassing a castle which time or the work of man's hand had centuries ago destroyed, so that little of its ruins now remain." The writer does not identify the village, but it appears to have been in the vicinity of Stamford, and having the ruins of a castle. (19)

If bullrings tended to be placed in market areas near butcheries, cockpits were often part of inns and taverns, which might be situated anywhere within the town. In Gainsborough, a nineteenth-century valuation of properties describes Ship Inn and its properties in Silver Street, including "the Cock Pitt." A drawing with the valuation shows the cockpit as a circular structure at the extreme north end of the property, described as being "24 - 4 in Diameter" presumably meaning twenty-four feet and four inches. An entry in the Gainsborough Parish Register in 1660 refers to a second site in Gainsborough called "Cockpitt Hill," but as of the beginning of the nineteenth century its location was no longer familiar. In Barton-on-Humber, an inn known as the White Lion had a cockpit as late as 1774. The White Lion was located in the Market Place, which is near the site of the castle, at the spot where West Field Road, Barrow Lane, and Lincoln Gate meet. When King James visited Lincoln in 1617, he went to a cockfighting at the Sign of the George near the Guildhall on Wednesday, 2 April, "where he appointed fiue Cockes to bee put on the pitt to gether which made his Maiestie very merie." Also in Lincoln, an eighteenth-century agreement of sale describes a messuage "in the parish of Saint Michaell on the Mount ... Comonly Called or knowne by the Signe of the Hare & Hounds," which had "a Cockpitt thereto belonging." It was being sold by William Banks, esq., of Revesby to Clement Wood, gent., of Lincoln. In Sleaford, an eighteenth-century map identifies a cockpit "at the end of the George Inn, facing the church"; it was near the river and the school close. In Stamford, the Black Bull, built before 1488 at 16 St. Mary's Street, had two yards, "the eastern one containing a cockpit." Stamford also had a cockpit which, as of 1896 according to a local historian, was being "used as a store-room of the Mercury-office," cockfighting having been outlawed in 1834. Whether this cockpit dates from the medieval or early modern period is unclear. Cockfighting flourished in Stamford during the eighteenth century, a time when "Lord Exeter built the cockpit in the George Hotel in St Martin's, south of the river, to complement the fights which took place in the White Swan, the Red Lion Pit, the Half Moon, the Roebuck ... and elsewhere in the town: Horncastle had an inn known as "the Fighting Cocks" on Far Street near Blind Lane. (20) In Whaplode, a man was presented in 1637 "for fighting cockes vpon ye sabboath day in ye time of diuine seruice," but the location of the cockpit is not given in the citation. (21)

Nondedicated playing places fall into two categories--those in religious spaces (the cathedral, churches, church houses, churchyards, hospitals, monasteries) and those in public spaces or private dwellings (squares, streets, houses). Clerics certainly were already using Lincoln Cathedral as a playing place by the early thirteenth century. In 1236, Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, chastized the cathedral chapter for turning the church into "a house of jesting, scurrility, and nonsense ... with devilish intentions" by enacting the Feast of Fools there, and he forbade celebration of that feast thereafter "in the church of Lincoln" on the Feast of the Circumcision. However, the practice must have continued because in 1390 the chapter offered its own condemnation and once again outlawed the practice. (22)

During the fourteenth century, the chapter staged both Easter and Epiphany plays in the cathedral. A payment in the cathedral account for 1308-1309 confirms that the Easter play was held there; a payment for 1326-1327 further specifies that it was held in the nave. Epiphany plays about the Magi occur periodically throughout the century, from 1317-1318 through 1389 (see REED volume for Lincolnshire in progress). Payments for making a star in 1383-1384 and 1386-1387 indicate that the play involved the use of machinery. The chapter may also have staged Christmas plays in the cathedral during the fourteenth century, perhaps by choristers and others from the grammar school; reference to a Christmas procession occurs in 1300, and to the writing of a song by the schoolmaster for playing at Christmas in 1316. The chapter certainly was staging Boy Bishop ceremonies by 1300 and thereafter. Finally, guild returns for 1389 provide the earliest evidence that local craft guilds were also staging performative ceremonies in the cathedral by that date. As reported in that year, the Cordwainers' Guild annually required the graceman of the guild (its alderman), and its membership (brothers and sisters alike), to process to the cathedral church with Mary, Joseph, St. Blaise, and two angels. The event sounds remarkably similar to descriptions of the cordwainers' pageant and procession to the cathedral on St. Anne's Day as it occurred during the early sixteenth century, though on which day the event occurred during the fourteenth century is not clear from the guild certificate. (23)

During the fifteenth century cathedral drama changed and developed in significant ways. First, Epiphany plays emphasizing the Magi disappeared from the records after 1386-1387, and Easter plays disappeared after 1390. In that same year (1390), a Christmas play emphasizing Mary, Elizabeth, and an angel permanently replaced the Epiphany play. This Christmas play continued, essentially unchanged in the records, through the late sixteenth century, making it the longest sustained kind of performance in the cathedral records. From 1395-1396 on, annual entries in the accounts concerning the Christmas play routinely include references to payments for two prophets, for performances on Christmas morning at matins, and for the purchase of gloves for the actors. The account for 1458-1459 refers to the making of a "visionem in Choro" on Christmas day. The account for 1461-1462 pays for a star and rope (perhaps to propel the star) on Christmas morning. All this evidence strongly indicates that the Christmas event (which seems to have been both ceremony and play) must have made use, in its staging, of both the nave and the choir, and may have involved considerable spectacle. In 1538-1539, payments for Christmas begin referring to Christmas night rather than morning; and a blanket payment in 1543-1544 includes payments for clock, banners, king, and star, though whether any of these but the star was part of the Christmas ceremony is unclear from this and similar entries. (24)

A civic document notes five saint plays, presumably (but not necessarily) staged in the cathedral, between 1441-1442 and 1455-1456. And in 1419 occurs a reference in cathedral records to a Corpus Christi procession with a "visione sacrimenti" making its way from the suburb of Wykford to the cathedral. Corpus Christi plays are recorded ten times during the century, and Pater Noster plays six times. In entries for both kinds of plays, and only for those two kinds, the cathedral accounts include the costs of breakfasts for the canons who had come to watch the play, suggesting at least the possibility that the Corpus Christi and the Pater Noster plays were one and the same, and were certainly separate from the events on St. Anne's Day. A Corpus Christi play and pageants are mentioned in a single entry, much later, in 1554-1555, though whether they were part of a single event, and were staged in the cathedral, is unclear. (25)

But the signal development of the fifteenth century was the appearance, midcentury, of an elaborate ceremony and play dramatizing the Ascension and Coronation of the Virgin Mary, staged on St. Anne's Day (26 July) in coordination with pageants and solemn procession mounted by the city and its guilds and culminating in the cathedral. Entries between 1458-1459 and 1555-1556 variously refer to the making of the Ascension of the Virgin in the cathedral church (1458-1459); to the Assumption and the "vision" made in the church on the Feast of St. Anne (1459-1460); to the Ascension made in the nave (1464-1465 and others); to the Coronation of the Virgin (1485-1486); to the showing and playing called Ascension on the Feast of St. Anne (1488); and to the cleverness ("ingeniosus") of the maker of the "sight" and the "orlege" in relation to the Coronation (1509-1510). This event appears to have been the central jointly sponsored mimetic event in Lincoln at least from the mid-fifteenth century through the mid-sixteenth, and it culminated with a grand staging in the cathedral.

During the early sixteenth century, the chapter also paid for a dove and a clock in the week of Pentacost, but after 1555-1556, the records contain only one unambiguous reference to playing in the cathedral--a payment in 1575-1576 to the players of Lord Essex for singing in the choir of the cathedral church. (26)

The use of parish churches as playing places was an ancient practice in Lincolnshire. In 1236, Robert Grosseteste had condemned the practice of parishioners in gathering at their churches or shrines for watches on the eves of saints' days, since it often led to laughter, jesting, and other abuses which attracted the approval of demons. But many parishes continued to use churches for plays and customary practices blending worship and play throughout much of the sixteenth century. Payments to players for playing in the church survive from Leverton (1594-1595), Long Sutton (1547-1548, 1561-1562, and 1572), Louth (the Queen's Players, 1556-1557), Market Deeping (1573-1574), and Witham on the Hill (1550). (27) The Louth churchwardens' accounts, which record more kinds of playing in the church than any place but Lincoln, also refer to Boy Bishop ceremonies and a Corpus Christi play, both of which included built structures in the church. Payments in 1500 and 1501 refer to the building of the Boy Bishop's "See." In 1519, three men bore Corpus Christi pageants to the church, and in 1527-1528 the wardens paid for rings to hang "haros" clothes in the high choir and for keys to the Corpus Christi hutch. By 1557-1558 the Louth Corpus Christi play had been moved to the market stead. (28) At Grimsby, the pageant ship made by the Mariners' Guild stood within the parish church when not being paraded through the streets on feast days. At Baston, as of 1389, the women of St. John Baptist Guild danced, by guild ordinance, to the church and carried votive lights on St. John's Day. Leverton parish paid dancers who came to the church in 1545-1546; and in Wragby, one Thomas Toniton was presented at a visitation in 1585 for having danced in the church. (29) At Gainsborough, the guild of young people (Trinity Guild), having selected a Lord and Lady of their guild, processed each year on Trinity Sunday to the chapel at Chapel Garth where they continued "vntil towardes nighte havinge there breade and drinck and vsing pastyme & gathering money for the same bread & drincke whereof the overplus aboue the charge of the said bread and drinck was imploied toward<es the> mentenance of the same guilde." Finally, a local history claims that plays were held in the church at Goulceby, but it cites no sources. (30)

Churchyards and church houses too served as playing places. In 1601, the archdeacon of Lincoln's court excommunicated the churchwardens of Keelby "for sufferinge vnlawfull games to be vsed in the church yard on the sabboth daies." Similar presentments concerning use of churchyards are recorded at Bonby (for football), Great Hale (for baiting a bull with dogs), Hougham (for unspecified playing and for a cockfight), Nettleton (for unspecified unlawful games), Stamford (for stoolball and other sports), and Wainfleet St. Mary (maintaining a cockfight). (31) Numerous entries in the churchwardens' accounts of Addlethorpe indicate that they rented out their church house (also variously called the guild hall and the guild house) for diversions of some kind, and conducted gatherings within the church for the sepulcher light. (32) At Humberstone in 1440, pipe-players and dancers performed in the church-yard of the parish church. (33)

There also seems to have been a tradition in Lincolnshire in which hospitals sponsored wrestlings, perhaps as fund-raisers, which would have been held on the grounds of the hospital. The Hospital of Mary Magdalene in Grimsby supplied considerable bread and ale when it held its customary wrestling on the feast of Mary Magdalene ("pane & ceruisia competent prout ex antiquo vsitabat vna cum ludis ad luctacionem eodem die prout antiquitus spectabant"). (34) In 1393-1394, the cathedral chapter accused the dean of holding wrestling matches in the cathedral close, the bishop's palace, and St. Giles Hospital. At the hospital, he had even acted as judge, giving a prize to the better wrestler. A strange entry in a translation book from the mid-fifteenth century derisively addresses a "Hairy Scot" who had lost at wrestling, though whether the reference alludes to an actual event is unclear. (35)

A number of other entries, while not specifically mentioning churches, describe traditional religious celebrations combining drama, worship, processions, and gatherings (charitable offerings) that almost certainly involved use of the church. Processions which carried the sacrament would necessarily conclude at the church; local religious guilds, who organized these events, customarily presented their gatherings to the parish in the church, when the wardens presented parish accounts. Examples are numerous in the records. At Lincoln, processions bore the Sacrament and conveyed pageants from the lower city to the cathedral on St. Anne's Day and other feast days, the event culminating in mimetic ceremonies and services celebrating the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, as described above; at Boston, Grimsby, and Lincoln--Lincolnshire's three port towns--the processions included Noah Ships; Holbeach had a Mary cart with cloud and other playing gear, and a harper playing before the Sacrament; Hagworthingham accounts refer to painted dancing gear, a sheet borne over the Sacrament, and "our lady's coat" suggesting an Assumption play or ceremony that perhaps imitated the one at Lincoln; Sleaford paid for minstrels on Corpus Christi Day, for the regnal of its Ascension play (probably the Ascension of Mary if it follows the pattern common in Lincolnshire), and for "the wrytyng of spechys & payntyng of a garment for god." (36) It is difficult to imagine that these plays, ceremonies, and services did not use the parish church for parts of events that combined spectacle, worship, and play.

Similarly, the presentation of "gatherings" (offerings collected for their own parish or for another) involved use of the church. The Sutterton account of 1523-1524 clearly states that on Ascension Day that parish held gatherings both in the town and in the church, and that these included offerings for Wigtoft. They also paid for players' candles, suggesting a religious play or processional ceremony involving players within the church. (37) Gatherings on Plough Monday are ubiquitous in Lincolnshire, as at Market Deeping which declared its accounts the same day. In 1535, Wigtoft declared a large collection gathered from its plough light. Leverton paid for ale on Plough Monday in 1611. Both Hagworthingham and Althorpe kept a wassail light within the church (the one in Hagworthingham Church kept by the young men). (38) Many Lincolnshire parishes sent their players to cry the banns of their play in other communities, as illustrated in the records of Long Sutton and Leverton. (39) One wonders whether the visiting players declared those banns in the streets or before the assembled parish in the church in conjunction with a service. Further, many payments to "the players" occurred on feast days, suggesting religious plays, some of which likely occurred in the church, the church house, or the churchyard. Clearly it was common in Lincolnshire until the late sixteenth century for parishioners to transform their churches and other religious spaces into temporary theaters from time to time.

Secular spaces, mainly streets, market squares, houses, and greens, also served as playing places. Civic and religious processional shows (often combined) necessarily used the streets as playing places. In Lincoln, the celebration of the Assumption on St. Anne's Day began before dawn with a procession by much of the city up Steep Hill to the cathedral. Similarly, parts of the processional spectacles at Baston, Boston, Gainsborough, Grimsby, and Louth (all mentioned above under churches as playing places) occurred, in part, on the street. In Stamford, the investiture of a newly elected alderman involved a most complex ceremony, with performances, in the streets and several other places. The entire oligarchy of the town repaired first to the house of the new alderman for a "short banquet,' then to the castle yard for the swearing of his oath, then to the Church of St. Mary for a sermon, back to the new alderman's house (this time led by gold and silver maces and the town's waits playing music, with students from the free school stopping him at several points to deliver orations in Greek and Latin), and finally to "a great feast" for town and country at the new alderman's house. Stamford also used the streets of the town for its ancient "bull-running" in which streets were blocked off and a bull pursued by people and dogs, with occasional stops by the crowd at alehouses, until the exhausted creature was slaughtered. St. Leonard Street was "the latter-day centre of the bull-running festivities and a popular venue for 'stop-runs, when it was blocked or 'stopped' off and a bull turned loose, often at the invitation of the publicans:' The Olive Branch Inn was"the bullards' [bull-chasers'] headquarters" During a "stop-run" in 1776, the bull entered the Half Moon Inn on nearby St. Paul's Street, causing "alarm and injury" so the running must have extended into that street as well. (40)

Market squares, village greens, and open fields (depending on the size of the community) also served as playing places. In 1579, the Boston Minute Book ordered"that the play of the passion etc. shalbe suffred to be plaiede in the hall garthe at Ester or Whitsontide when they shalbe moste mete and prepared for the same" In 1558, Louth staged its Corpus Christi play in "the markit stede." (41) In 1601, as part of its Maygames, the village of South Kyme staged an elaborate and satirical morality play on the village green (where the maypole also was set up), "about a stones cast" from the house of Sir Edward Dymock, lord of the manor. In November of 1640, the village of Upton held a "peascod feast" (apparently either a wooing or a harvest feast) on a Sunday in an open field. The village of Threekingham held (and holds) "one of the oldest chartered fairs" in England, nearly eight hundred years old, on nearby Stow Green Hill, "a remarkable piece of ground" in the hamlet of Stow, less than a mile from Threekingham. (42)

The feasting described above in the house of Stamford's Alderman illustrates a typical use, by civic and church officials and by craft and religious guilds, of houses and halls for feasting and ceremonies, with music and sometimes with plays. The Mariners' Guild of Grimsby, for example, required the entire guild, on pain of fines, to attend the guild's annual audit and supper on Plough Night. In Lincoln, the Cordwainers' Guild paid certain players in their hall during their annual feast ("Convivium") in 1530. In 1532 they paid "the players" and expenses for the dinner in adjoining entries. Annually they paid for the dinner of the waits, who clearly were performing at the guild's customary annual feast (as in 1610-1611 and 1613-1614). (43) At Boston in 1525, the elaborate description of expenses at the Feast of Corpus Christi in the common hall of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary includes payments to actors and to the town's waits, for performances either at the feast or during the procession and service, or for both. The corporation's order of 1577 "that there shalbe no mo playes nor interludes [nor] in the churche nor in the chancell nor in the hall nor scolle howse" clearly confirms that plays had traditionally been staged in those venues, including in Boston's common hall. (44) In Louth, the masters of the town always paid the waits four times a year for performing at the dinners held during the sessions of the peace (as in 1605-1606, 1610, and many other years). They also paid them at the "Graves feast" (as in 1619-1620). That the payments were not merely customary but were for performances at the dinners is confirmed by the payment in 1635 "to the waites for their service done at all the Sessions," events obviously held in the hall. The officials at Louth also paid for "the players at Easters Sessions" in 1621-1622, and for "the showe on Whitson munday" in 1624-1625, both of which seem different in kind from the payments to the waits. (45) The Easter payment seems to be for a performance in the hall, but the other may describe a performance out of doors.

Other, unsanctioned, performances are recorded in houses. Five men in Roughton were presented "for plainge in Christmas Tyme in prayer time one Saint Stephens day 6 Octobris 1609" and one of the five "for harboringe of them in his howse." In Spilsby, one John Howson, wearing a mask, preached a sermon while standing atop a cupboard until one of the other maskers struck down the cupboard, which seems to be describing a play that parodied the preaching clergy and which clearly occurred in someone's house or in a hall. Howson may have been the author of a spectacular play mounted about fifteen years earlier in Spalding. (46) The ultimate "houses" in which entertainments occurred were Lincolnshire's castles and palaces. When King John of France was held captive at Somerton Castle in 1360, his entourage included minstrels and a jester; many kinds of performers played for the duchess of Suffolk at Grimsthorpe Castle, as demonstrated in her household accounts for 1560-1562; and wrestlings were reportedly held in the bishop's palace in Lincoln in the late fourteenth century. (47)

Schools also became occasional playing places, as the Boston order of 1577 confirms. The curious custom of barring or shutting out the schoolmaster is recorded at Lincoln (perhaps in 1586-1587, certainly in 1615) and with less detail in Gainsborough (late seventeenth century) as well as Louth (1646-1647, 1649-1650). In Lincoln the custom occurred twice each year, on Shrove Tuesday and about nine to twelve days before Christmas, which would put it somewhat near St. Nicholas's Day. Particulars of the event are obscure, but it was a "mischievous custome" that certainly prevented the schoolmaster from entering the school, and it must have been raucous because it often resulted in the breaking of a number of windows in the school and nearby buildings. But at least in some places it also must have involved games and other diversions for both the boys and the schoolmaster: at Boston the school had cockfighting on Shrove Tuesday; and in Louth the masters of the town paid "for wyne suger & sacke tobacco & Cakes when the scholers shutt out theire masters" in 1649. But it must also have been an irritant because in Gainsborough, in 1696, the governors of the grammar school ordered "that instead of shutting out the Master (at which time great irregularitys have bin committed), he grant them certain orders ... [and] that if any boy or boys shall offer to shut out the Master, he or they shall be publicly whipped:' The boys of Lincoln Grammar also engaged in a second, no less obscure activity which a visitation at the school in 1684 called "the pretended customes of playings at the assizes." A history of the school describes it as "the annual rag or fit of misrule" attended by the master, perhaps involving mock trials and parodies of the assizes that were always held in Lincoln, and perhaps held at Midsummer or in August. At Caistor the orders of the grammar school permitted "a Play-day for the Scholars, which is rarely to be granted at any one's request for more time than one afternoon." (48) Schoolmasters wrote plays in Lincolnshire, as they did everywhere in England, but where those plays were performed is unclear from the records.

By the mid -sixteenth century, puritans and other local reformers were objecting with increasing fervor to the use of religious and civil spaces for playing. In the face of relentless pressure, performance of every kind began a forced migration from churches, church lands, public buildings, and streets into taverns, alehouses, and private dwellings--a process that intensified throughout the second half of the sixteenth century. In Boston, for example, the Passion play of 1579 that was staged in the hall garth (an open area near the school) had been preceded in 1577 by the order "that there shalbe no mo playes nor interludes [nor] in the churche nor in the chancell nor in the hall nor scolle howse." In Louth, although the Queen's Players had performed in the church in 1556-1557, the town held its own Corpus Christi play in the marketplace a year later, a play and festal commemoration that had included the church in earlier decades. (49) But reformers, on religious grounds, opposed traditional performances wherever they might occur. A group at Epworth were presented "for Is] goeinge about with a droome and loude beatinge the same all or the most of eveninge prayer vppon the Saboth daye beinge the 4th of Ianuarie." At Brant Broughton, musician Henry Sills was presented "ffor playinge vpon a fiddle or instrument in the streetes of Brantbroughton vpon the Saboath day before morning prayer being the xixth of Iuly." (50) Both incidents, certainly the one at Epworth, appear to have been attempts to enact a traditional pre-Reformation practice in the street. That enforced constriction in the number and kind of acceptable playing places inevitably narrowed the audience and altered both the purpose and the content of many performances. With even the most traditional of entertainments being characterized as a criminal activity by those who disliked them, play itself increasingly became a tool of protest and invective.

As reformers pursued playing into the alehouses, the proprieters of those establishments increasingly became a magnet for the long arm of the church courts both for the fact and the content of entertainments that they sponsored. Typical was Laurence Kighley of Ewerby, presented "for keeping diuers fidlers playeng and singing & drincking in his howse in praier time on the Saboath daie after Bartholomew day." Similar presentments occurred at Holbeach, Kirkby-on-Bain, Rippingale, and Timberland. Thomas Tripp of Burnham was presented because "hee being a victualler & tipler att Burneholme faire did suffer people to stay play & dance in his boothe in time of comon prayer." (51) People with a grudge to express (against individuals or institutions) wrote libellous ballads, sang them in alehouses and taverns, and affixed them to doors, as happened at Spalding in 1605. One person from Gainsborough sang his ballads and posted them in the marketplace of the nearby town of Kirton in 1608. The ballads of yet a different vengeful soul, this one at Haltham in 1606, were sung and published "in diuerse places and before diuerse persons" Scurrilous performances all, but performances nonetheless. (52)

In short, early Lincolnshire had playing places of many kinds. Some of them were dedicated, fixed-site venues, but most were spaces turned into temporary "stages" by performers of one kind or another for performances ranging from processions and liturgical re-enactments to entries to large-scale plays. There seems to have been no spot or structure that the clever performers could not transform into a momentary playing place. References to the vast number of such spaces that survive in records, printed sources, topography, and architecture offer valuable clues for the study of the many performance traditions that seem to have been ubiquitous in Lincolnshire. Most of the mimetic performances mentioned in the records appear to have been religious in nature, ranging from liturgical services to secular plays and enactments that were at once festive, worshipful, and customary. None of the records point unequivocally to cycles of mystery plays. Rather, the references to fixed-site venues and scaffold staging suggest large, open-air plays similar to those recorded in East Anglia, while civic and guild records suggest elaborate Corpus Christi and Ascension celebrations incorporating procession, service, pageantry, characterizations, music, and plays that mainly represented historical topics, saints' lives, and important episodes in the life of Christ or the Virgin Mary. The surprising number of performances by professional troupes in churches, great houses, and civic venues illustrates something of the complexity of the players' "agendas;' itineraries, and skills, both theatrical and political, while the conflicts that eventually developed over those same playing places offer valuable insights into the county's episodically violent urban, cultural, and political history. Above all, the vast array of places used for playing shows the fundamental and enduring relationship between performance and the county's several topographies--cultural, geographic, religious, political, and aesthetic.


(1) Hardin Craig's efforts to locate the N-Town plays in Lincoln spanned half a century. See his "News for Bibliophiles," The Nation, July-December 1913, 308-09; "Notes on the Home of Ludus Coventriae," University of Minnesota Studies in Language and Literature 1 (1914): 72-83; "An Elementary Account of Miracle Plays in Lincoln," Lincoln Diocesan Magazine 30 (Sept. 1914): 135-39; "The Lincoln Cordwainers" Pageant," PMLA 32 (1917): 605-15; "Mystery Plays at Lincoln--Further Research Needed;' Lincolnshire Historian 2, no.11 (1964): 37-41. See also Stanley J. Kahrl, Plays and Players in Lincolnshire, 1300-1585, Collections 8 (Oxford: Malone Society, 1974 [for 1969]); Stanley 1. Kahrl and Kenneth Cameron, "The N-Town Plays at Lincoln;" Theatre Notebook 20 (1966): 61-69, "Staging the N-Town Cycle" Theatre Notebook 21 (1967): 122-38, 152-65, and "Teaching Medieval Drama as Theatre" in The Learned and the Lewed, ed. Larry D. Benson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), 305-18.

(2) J. B. Whitwell, Roman Lincolnshire, History of Lincolnshire 2 (Lincoln: Lincoln Local History Society, 1970), 22; Christina Colyer, Lincoln: The Archaeology of an Historic City (Lincoln: Lincoln Archaeological Trust, 1975), 12; John Wacher, The Towns of Roman Britain (London: Batsford, 1975), 411.

(3) Francis Hill, Medieval Lincoln (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1990), 359; Lincolnshire Archives (hereafter LA): D&C MS. 169, fol. 235, Lincoln Burwarmote Book.

(4) PRO: SC 5/LINCS/TOWER/17C, mb. 2.

(5) Hill, Medieval Lincoln, 359.

(6) LA: Bishop's Register 12, fol. 477 v.

(7) LA: L1/1/1/2, fols. 185, 193; L1/1/1/3, fol. 10 v.

(8) PRO: KB 27/544, mb. 75.

(9) E. H. Gooch, A History of Spalding (Spalding: Spalding Free Press, 1940), 96-97.

(10) Gooch, History of Spalding, 96-97; [unsigned], "St. Mary & St. Nicholas Church, Spalding," The South Holland Magazine 1, no. 5 (August 1869): 53.

(11) Gooch, History of Spalding, 128.

(12) E. Gutch and Mabel Peacock, Examples of Printed Polk-Lore Concerning Lincolnshire, County Folk-Lore 5 (London: David Nutt, 1908), 261-62, 24,195,202-03,268; David N. Robinson, The Book of Horncastle and Woodhall Spa (Buckingham: Barracuda Books, 1983), 10.

(13) PRO: SP/52/68, item 81.

(14) J. Conway Walter, Records of Woodhall Spa and Neighbourhood (Horncastle: W. K. Morton, 1899), 173-74; and Robinson, The Book of Horncastle and Woodhall Spa, 45. For more on the Bull Ring in Horncastle, see ibid., 22, 27, 30-32, 35-38, 57, 92-93, 96-98, 159.

(15) Simon Pawley, The Book of Sleaford (Finmere: Baron Birch, 1996), 33-34, 47, 56, 58, and inside front cover; for a map, see ibid., 37; and for more on the Market Place and the bullbaitings there, see Edward Trollope. Sleaford, and the Wapentakes of Flaxwell and Aswardhurn in the County of Lincoln (1872; reprint, Sleaford: Heritage Lincolnshire, 1999), 169-70.

(16) Kenneth Cameron, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire, 1: The Place-Names of the County of the City of Lincoln (Nottingham: Place-Name Society, 1985), 55; and Hill, Medieval Lincoln, 153, n 3. Duncan McInnes, History of Co-operation in Lincoln (Manchester: Cooperative Wholesale Society, 1911), says that in "periodical bull-baitings [in Lincoln] ... the bulls were loosed on Danes Terrace, pursued, goaded, yelped at by dogs, and hustled by crowds of men and boys down Danesgate into Broadgate, and tortured and maddened, sometimes for hours, before they were despatched" (15).

(17) A. N. Claye, Brigg Church and Town: Some Historical Notes (Brigg, [1904]), 38.

(18) Edward Gillett, A History of Grimsby (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 104-06; George Shaw, Old Grimsby (London: William Andrews, 1897), 102-03. For more on the Bullring in Grimsby, see Anderson Bates, A Gossip about Old Grimsby (Grimsby: A. Gait, 1893), 33-35; Bob Lincoln, The Rise of Grimsby, 2 vols. (London: Farnol, Eedes, Irvine, 1913), 1:91-93; and M. Davies, The History of Grimsby from Early Times to the Present Day (Grimsby: Burnetts [Grimsby] Ltd., 1942), 43-47.

(19) For the letter that mentions the unidentified boll-dyke, see Alan Rogers, The Book of Stamford (Buckingham: Barracoda Books, 1983), 120-22.

(20) LA: 2 CC 8/152787, single sheet; J. Gurnhill, A Monograph on the Gainsborough Parish Registers (London: Elliott Stock, 1890), 54-56. Ship Inn Yard, a "long narrow plot" with "a frontage to the street of 16.6 feet and ... a depth of 183.3 feet," is now known as the Silver Street Ship Court. The name of the street where it is built has evolved from le Southgate (1459) to Picknall Fee Gate or the High Street (1587) to Silver Street and the Cawsey (late seventeenth century) to Double Row (eighteenth century) to Bridge Street (Ian Beckwith, The Book of Gainsborough [Buckingham: Barracuda Books, 1988], 85-86); Thomas Tombleson, Fragments Relating to Barton. on-Humber, Being Papers Read Before the Literary Institute (Barton-on-Humber: H. W. Bail and Son, 1905), 91; for a late-eighteenth-century map of Barton showing the Market Place, see Robert Brown, Notes on the Earlier History of Barton-on-Humber, 2 vols. (London: Elliott Stock, 1906-1908), 1:30-31 infra. For Lincoln, see LA: DEG 2/7; this document records Wood's giving of five shillings earnest money toward the sale. A document written one day later (LA: DEG 2/8) is the actual deed of sale of the property to Wood for 100 [pounds sterling]); for Sleaford, see Pawley, The Book of Sleaford, 51, 58; Martin Smith, Stamford Then and Now (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1992), 96-97; George H. Burton, Guide to Stamford and Neighborhood, 2nd ed. (Stamford: Dolby Brothers, 1896), 60; Alan Rogers, The Book of Stamford (Buckingham: Barracuda Books, 1983), 74; On the Fighting Cocks' Inn in Horncastle, see Robinson, The Book of Horneastle and Woodhall Spa, 39, 90-91,100.

Local histories identify a number of other cockpits as well. The cockpit at Grimsby was "a slip of land at the upper end of town ... known as the Peppercorn" (Shaw, Old Grimsby, 96-97. At Louth, "Cockfighting is known to have taken place at the King's Head in the 18th century" (Robinson, The Book of Louth, 112). Humberstone had a site (as of 1706) known as "Cockgarth" (Arthur Kirkby, Humberstone: the Story of a Village [Lincoln, 1953], 165).Wothorpe House, built southwest of Stamford (and now in Northamptonshire) in the seventeenth century, had an octagonal cockpit, the remains of which survive (Smith, Stamford Then and Now, 127.

(21) LA: Diocesan Vij 20, fol. 239.

(12) Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Parker Library 453, 106 (translated by Abigail Ann Young); John of Grantham's Book, LA: D & C A/2/7, f 38 v.

(23) LA: Bj/2/4, f 45 v; B)/2/5, f 93 v; Bj/2/7, ff 119 v, 181 ; Liber Niger, LA : D & C A/2/1, f 7 ; Oxford, Bodleian : MS New College C 264, f 262 ; LA: D & C A/2/1, f 7; LA: Bj/2/4, f 96 v; PRO: C 47/41/152.

(24) LA: Bj/2/8, f 31 v; Bj/2/16, ff 207, 293; Bj/3/5, [414], [631].

(25) LA: Diocesan Records, Misc. Roll I, mbs 5-6 ; LA : Bishop's Register 15, f 203 v ; LA: Bj/5/ 7, ff [51 v], [70 v], [13 v], [29 v]; Bj/3/1, f 8v; Bj/3/2, ff 144 v, 164 v, 331 v; Bj/3/2, ff 60, 203 v ; LA : L1/1/ 1/2, f 110.

(26) LA: Bj/2/16, ff 207, 238, 364 v; Bj/3/2, ff 123 v; D & C A/3/1, f 58 v ; Bj/3/3, f 154; D & C A/ 3/4, f 6 v; Bj/3/6, f 280.

(27) Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Parker Library 453, 63-64 (translated by Abigail Ann Young); LA: Leverton Par 7/1, fol. 81; Long Sutton St. Mary Par 7/1, fols. 35, 80, 98; Loath Par 7/2, fol. 124 v; Market Deeping Par 10/1, fol. C4; Witham on the Hill Par 7/1, fol. 1 v.

(28) LA: Louth Par 7/1, pp. 14, 32 (Boy Bishop), 306; Louth Par 7/2, fols. 3-4; Louth Grammar School B/3/1, 29 (Corpus Christi play).

(29) North East Lincolnshire Archives: 1/102/2, fol. 3 v (hereafter NELA); PRO: C/47/39/76, single sheet; LA: Leverton Par 7/1, fol. 45, and Vj 16, fol. 60 v.

(30) PRO: E/178/1315,no. [3], mb. [1]; Brian Williams, A History of the Villages of Asterby and Goulceby (Louth: H. B. Williams, 1993), 57.

(31) LA: Diocesan Vij 10, fol. 14 v; Vij 14, fol. 23 v; Vij 11, fol. 28 v; Vij 21, 194; Vij 10, fol. 14 v; and Lincoln Central Library MS. 5456, 124; as well as LA: Vij 17, fols. 20-25.

(32) LA: Addlethorpe Par 7, fol. 2 et passim; Reginald C. Dudding, "Addlethorpe and Ingoldmells Churchwardens' Accounts," Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 17 (1922-1923): 151-80; Edmund Oldfield, A Topographical and Historical Account of Wainfleet and the Wapentake of Candleshoe, in the County of Lincoln (London: Lungman, 1829), 110-12. For a listing of Easter sepulchers, lost and extant, that presumably were the focus of Good Friday and Easter ceremonies in Lincolnshire, see Pamela Sheingorn, The Easter Sepulchre in England, Early Drama, Art, and Music Reference Series 5 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1987), 199-217.

(33) LA: Diocesan Vj 1, fol. 69.

(34) NELA: 1/102/1, fol. 4.

(35) LA: Bishop's Register 12, fol. 477 v; Yale University, Beinecke Library MS. 3 (34), fol. 5.

(36) LA: L1/1/1/1, fols. 42 v, 131 v, et passim; British Library (hereafter BL): MS, Egerton 2886, fol. 5 v et passim; NELA: 1/102/2, fol. 3 v, and 1/261/1, fol. C15 et passim; LA: L1/1/1/1, fol. 276; Oxford, Bodleian Library: MS. Eng. Misc. B 72, fol. 89 v; "Hagworthingham Church Book," Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 1 (1889): 7; BL: Add. MS. 28,533, fols. 1, 2, 3 v.

(37) BL: MS Rawl. D 786, fols. 112, 104.

(38) LA: Market Deeping Par 10/1, fol. A5 et passim; W. Harrod, The Antiquities of Stamford and St, Martin's (Stamford: Harrod, 1785), 226; LA: LCC Wills 1520-1531, fol. 225 v.

(39) LA: Long Sutton St. Mary Par 7/1, fol. 5 et passim; Leverton Par 7/1, fol. 22 et passim.

(40) Stamford Town Hall: 2A/1/1, fol. 348 v; Richard Butcher, The Survey and Antiquitie of the Towne of Stamford (London, 1646), 26-28 (Wing 6261); Smith, Stamford Then and Now, 83-84, 99.

(41) LA: BB 2/A/1, fol. 185 v; Louth Grammar School B/3/1, 29.

(42) PRO: STAC 5/L1/29, no. [lb], fol. 5; LA: Vj 31, fol. 9 v; Arthur Mee, The King's England: Lincolnshire (1949; reprint, Carlton Nr Barnsley, S. Yorkshire: The King's England Press, 1992), 393; see also W. A. Cragg, A History of Threekingham with Stow, in Lincolnshire (Sleaford, 1913), 5, 26, 122; and Gutch and Peacock, Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning Lincolnshire, 314.

(43) NELA: 261/1, fols. 43 v, C15 v; Lincoln Central Library: MS. 5009, fols. 38, 54 v, 203 v, 205, 209 v.

(44) LA: BB/4/C/1/1, fols. 14 v, 24 v, 25, 26; BB/2/A/1, fol. 179 v.

(45) LA: Louth Grammar School B/3/1, 339, 341,455, 565,475,496.

(46) LA: Vij 12, 75-76; Vij 2, fol. 71 v; Spalding Gentlemen's Society, Minute Book I: Maurice Johnson Papers, fol. 74 v.

(47) Bibliotheque Natiunale de France: manuscrit francais 11205, fols. [24 v], [42 v], et passim (I am indebted to Graham Runnalls for his kindness in checking on site the accuracy of the entries from this manuscript); on King John of France at Somerton Castle, see J. G. Ruddock, Boothby Graffoe and Somerton Castle (Lincoln, 1980), 24-27; LA : ANC 7/A/2, fol. 52 et passim, and Bishops Register 12, fol. 477 v.

(48) A. F. Leach, "Schools," in The Victoria History of the County of Lincoln, vol. 2, ed. William Page (London: St. James Street, 1906), 443, 445,457, 465-66; Charles Garton, "Lincoln School 1090 to 1300: A Draft History" [typescript] (Williamsville, N.Y., 1980), 527-28, 954-55, 1001, 1008-10, 1012-13, 1052, 1063-65; J. Gurnhill, A Monograph on the Gainsborough Parish Registers, 34-35.

(49) LA: BB 2/A/1, fol. 179 v; Louth Grammar School B/3/1, 29.

(50) LA: Diocesan Viij 1, pp. 30-31; D&C Vj 24, fol. 55 v.

(51) LA: Diocesan Vij 15, fol. 75; Episcopal Visitation Book, Vj 10, fol. 116 v; Vj 30, fol. 118-118 v; Vj 21, fol. 122 v; Diocesan Vij 21, fol. 4 v; Vij 21, fol, 57 v.

(52) PRO: STAC: 8/186/12, fol. 9 (no. [6]); STAC 8/168/31, f 4; STAC 8/124/20, single sheet.


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Author:Stokes, James
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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