Bankside Twelfth Night

When it was quiet, as it often was during January, I would set-up on Globe Walk hoping to get a fare from tourists.

On more than one occasion, on this day, being Twelfth Night, I saw a very unusual tradition, as a man shrouded in a green suit emerged from the River Thames in a rowing boat accompanied by a merry posse. This was the extraordinary Holly Man, the Winter guise of the Green Man (from our pub signs, pagan myths and folklore), decked in fantastic green garb and evergreen foliage, piped over the River Thames, with the devil Beelzebub.

By Shakespeare’s Globe, led by the Bankside Mummers and their London Beadle, the Holly Man ‘brought in the green’ and toast or ‘wassail’ the people, the River Thames and the Globe (an old tradition encouraging good growth).

It was the ceremony of the traditional beginning of the Twelfth Night celebrations that marked the end of the Christmas period before people return to work.

The ‘Mummers’ then processed to the Bankside Jetty and performed the traditional freestyle St. George Folk Combat Play, featuring the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs, the Old ‘Oss and many others, dressed in spectacular costumes.

The play is full of wild verse and boisterous action, a time-honoured part of the season. Cakes distributed at the end of the play have a bean and a pea hidden in two of them. Those from the crowd who find them are hailed King Bean and Queen Pea for the day and crowned with ceremony.

The King and Queen then lead the people through the streets to the historic George Inn Southwark, for a fine warming-up with the Fowlers Troop, Storytelling, the Kissing Wishing Tree, Dancing and Mulled Wine.

Whether this performance, recorded since the Crusades, will take place today I doubt.

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