Pre covid, my friend at the Wassail for a local apple tree.
Wassail? An ancient celebration to encourage apple trees to be fruitful again this year. In Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent it is celebrated by our local Morris Dancing team.
Morris Dancing? In ancient times Local groups of men (now anyone can join) used to get together and dress up, wearing boots or heavy clogs on their feet. Dancing to ancient tunes. Sometimes there is a person dressed as a hobby horse (with a large skirt and a carved horse head worn as a mask?) I don’t know enough about Morris history. I’m sure there is a lot of information out there.
So why this photo? It’s blurry, but it was taken at a Wassail. The Morris men were dancing, and the apple tree was beaten with sticks to get it to grow. And amidst it was my friend in his plague doctors mask, Cape and tricorn hat. And today I found it again and thought… Why not?
A song for the Apple Tree. To an ancient tune….thanks to my friend Bruce for the words!
Old Apple Tree, We are Come to Wassail Thee
Old Apple tree, we are come to wassail thee,
All for to bloom, and to bear thy flowers and fruit so free.
Wassail! wassail! all round our town;
Our cups are white and our ale is brown.
Our bowl is made of a good ashen tree,
And here’s kind fellows as will drink to thee.
Hats full, caps full, five-bushel bags full,
Barns full, floors full, stables full, tallats full,
And the little hole under the stairs, three times three!
Hip, hip, hurrah! shout we.
We found an apple as green as grass on our apple tree this December just after Christmas! It was in a sheltered part of the garden and had clung on round the back of the tree. Now it’s sitting in a bowl on its own. Pride of place. We may have to pour libations onto our trees. Wassail!
Apple found in our garden in December. I wrote about it in a blog about Wassails. We joined in a virtual Wassail at the weekend and drank too much cider. People posted photos of previous years Wassails when they walked about with flaming torches around the boundaries of the parish. No threats were made but there were so many of us we had to have a police escort and cars were stopped as we wandered down the road to the Penkhull apple tree. A few jolly hours to beat back the cold and the dark. In some places in the past they used to shoot shotguns at the trees to make them flower and bear fruit. There are other traditions where they beat the trunks of Walnut trees to get them to bear fruit. We’ve never had that problem with ours. The squirrels always find enough nuts and then we have to find places far away to plant the saplings, we’ve already got too many!
Wassailing is a tradition to celebrate the New year. People would go from door to door knocking on them to rouse their occupants.
The local Morris Dancing troupe started to organise Penkhull Wassail a few years ago. Our Choir joined in and now quite a lot of people walk around the boundaries of penkhull with lighted (flaming) torches. We visit an ancient apple tree in a garden nearby, the Morris dancers dance and we get a drink of hot cider.. Then we continue around and sing and dance outside the local pubs.. . Just for fun. We end up at the local village hall for soup. Sometimes we stop for a barn dance afterwards.
We sing various songs including the Penkhull Wassail and the Gower and the Gloucester Wassail.