Sunday 24th January 2016

“Then here’s to the heartening wassail, Wherever good fellows are found; Be its master instead of its vassal, and order the glasses around” Ogden Nash I believe…


I missed last year’s wassail held in the ever-so-lovely- secret garden so it was great to get the chance to pop in there yesterday, observe all the wassailing related carryings on and get a few photos. But first a brief history of wassailing.

This website, the history of Wassailing and Mumming, has this to say:

“… The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter…. 

One legend about how Wassailing was created, says that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words ‘waes hael’. Over the centuries, a great deal of ceremony developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl was carried into a room with a great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink was sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage was served.

From this it developed into a another way of saying Merry Christmas to each other!”

And indeed most of us will know the popular wassailing carol – it formed a part of yesterday’s fun and frolics:

“Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wassailing,
So fair to be seen:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.”

However,  you won’t be at all surprised to know that there’s another tradition centred around wassailing, and this is what yesterday’s event in the secret garden was all about, and that’s the apple wassail.

According to Wikipedia: 

“The Apple Wassail is a traditional form of wassailing practiced in the cider orchards of South West England during the winter.

There are many well recorded instances of the Apple Wassail in the early modern period. The first recorded mention was at FordwichKent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as “howling”.

On Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to “bless” the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. Among the most famous wassail ceremonies are those in Whimple, Devon and Carhampton, Somerset, both on 17 January.

A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the “Apple Tree Man”, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is said to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried treasure.”

And yesterday’s fabulous event in the secret garden at Queen’s Park was based on the above. So there was a King and Queen of the Wassil, there was drumming from the fabulous Banged to Rites and cider and toast were fed to the apple tree man – once he’d been woken up with all the shouting, drumming and singing – he’d be hungry after all that lot!

Banged to Rites: