What does a 28-year-old trainee optician have in common with a retired 83-year-old businessman with a passion for local history?

The answer is simple – they are both members of the most famous family in Alton Barnes, near Marlborough: the Popes.

Ben Owen and Ray Pope may be separated by 55 years but they are united in their love of their home village, their commitment to their community and their need to preserve the local traditions.

Ray has two daughters, Heather and Dawn, and five grandchildren.
Of those five, three are grandsons and Ben is the one who has stayed in the village.

His commitment to Alton Barnes is becoming as deep as his grandfather’s.
Ben is following in his grandfather’s footsteps, by becoming a parish councillor with long-term ambitions to do more for the village.

Some Wiltshire folk will have recently seen this relationship in action without realising it – as Ray and Ben are both members of the Alton Barnes Mummers – who perform their annual show during a weekend in December.

Ray said: “I play the King and Ben plays Little Twing Twang. The mummers used to perform the play during the festive season at all the big houses in the village and neighbouring villages.

“We resurrected it in the 1970s and it’s been going every since. The play is not written down anywhere, it’s been passed down purely through word of mouth. It’s that fact which makes it so special for all of us.”

Ben said: “I first got involved when I was a child. Now, there aren’t many villages which have a tradition like this.

“Potterne is the only one locally that I know of and everyone is quite intrigued by it and it’s something special to be involved in.”

The basic plot is that a King gets into a fight with a Turkish Knight, kills the knight and then various other characters come into the play, including a Spanish Doctor, and the dead man is resurrected. Little Twing Twang is the last character on stage.

Ben said: “Little Twing Twang is the character who comes along at the end to gee everyone up and to add a lighter note. The play does have some serious themes such as sorrow and death, so it’s a way of turning things on their head and adding a jovial feel to the end of the performance.”

Ray said: “It’s really a Christmas event which is just good fun. All of us mummers know the play very well and we just want to keep it going for as long as we can.”

Hundreds of people attended the 2013 performances at the Coronation Hall in Alton Barnes, helping raise almost £500 for community causes.

Ray is well known in Alton Barnes and nearby Honeystreet as he keeps a village and family photographic archive in the outbuildings of his home which is literally overlooked by the White Horse.

The small museum is open every day to anybody who is interested.
Ray said: “My family has been part of this village for hundreds of years and I’m very proud of our heritage and that of the villagers.

“I get given old photographs and I’ve even got an aerial map of the area, which was used by the Luftwaffe when they were considering secondary targets to bomb during the Second World War. It was given to me by a German visitor to the archive.”

Throughout his 83 years, Ray only left the village for two years when he was conscripted into the RAF. He and Marie married 60 years ago and together they ran the village news agency and a taxi business for the
surrounding villages. 

Ben said: “My granddad is an amazing man. He’s well-known and well-liked.
“He’s one of a kind, really knowledgeable and he’s the kind of person you would wish to have as a grandfather.”

Following in Ray’s footsteps, Ben has a deep commitment to his village and the area. He’s currently training to be an optician with Haine & Smith in Devizes. He still lives in Alton Barnes and his girlfriend, Luisa, is also a local girl.

Ben said: “The thing is that people do move away and other priorities come into their lives. Like my granddad, I decided I wanted to make a difference in my community.

"Being a mummer is a fun part of that and we also organised a pantomime – Goldilocks and the Three Aliens – all as a bit of fun and a fundraiser.

“But I wanted to take an interest in things and wanted to have an influence and a voice in Wiltshire. People tend to think in a village like this that it’s the older people who make the decisions.

“But it doesn’t have to be like that – it’s refreshing to be a 20-something parish councillor who can add a younger person’s perspective to matters affecting the community.”