The Halton Souling Play

The Halton Souling Play is a traditional play known to have been performed in Halton in the 1880s. It was revived in 2000, and has been performed every year since then by a gang comprising members of the Earl of Stamford Morris and other local people.

Until that time next year, see the gallery and archives for past outings.

What is the Halton Souling Play?

The souling play is a tradition around Halloween and afterwards or, more strictly, All Souls Day (November 2nd), hence the name. It is a Cheshire speciality.

The traditional English mumming plays found elsewhere are associated with Christmas, Plough Monday or Easter (pace-egging). All varieties feature the hero (Knight George in our case) slaying an opponent (the Turkish Champion in our case), who is later revived by the quack doctor, with the subsequent appearance of various other strange characters (we have Belzebub and Jerry Dout). However, the characters and scripts of the old plays vary considerably from place to place. For more information, see the Master Mummers and Folk Play Research websites. Check at Master Mummers for other gangs and performances in the area, some of whose patches overlap with ours.

A unique feature of the Cheshire plays is the appearance towards the end of the play of the horse and driver. The Cheshire horse always has a real skull and three legs. What it all means is lost in the mists of time (and possibly drink!) but there is clearly the traditional element of death and rebirth, as well as begging.

Souling plays were fairly widespread until the early twentieth century. Nowadays the other best-known ones are performed around Antrobus, Comberbach, Warburton and Chester. The Halton play - last recorded in the 1880s - was revived in 2000 by the Earl of Stamford Morris with the aid of a Millennium grant. Our words are virtually identical to the 1886 version, apart from the ad libs, some of which really are ad lib! Our version of the Halton play is unusual for its song content, but has characters similar to the other souling plays. Some of our lines are the same as other plays, but spoken by different characters. Our performance is more in pantomime style than is usual, and has a mixed cast. The 1880's performers were all male, some quite young!

Somewhat untraditionally, any donations we receive will go to the Halton Haven Hospice.

Souling Play Gallery

You can see photographs of some of our performances in the gallery.