Views of Whimple village

 

Wassail 2011

Monday 17th January 2011 - Wassailing
This year's wassailing will start at the New Fountain Inn at about 6.30 p.m. for the usual 'rehearsal'. The assembled company will then move off at about 7.00 p.m., to Wymcott for the first wassail ceremony,courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. I. Hardcastle. The procession will then proceed up Church Road to Lower Woodhayes Orchard for the second wassail ceremony. The procession will then move back to the the Square,via Dince Hill Close, where the procession will gather near the tethering stone to remember the Society's first chairman, John Shepherd. Then the party will move onwards through Town Lane to the site for the third ceremony, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. P. Bowden. The procession will then continue to the orchard adjacent to Knowle Cross Farm for the fourth and final ceremony of the evening, courtesy of Jim and Mary Chard. The last port of call will be at the Cricket club for traditional wassail refreshments ( a small charge for refresments will be made this year due to much increased numbers of wassailers). We would urge everyone to enter into the spirit of the evening by wearing traditional dress and bringing 'instruments' that will make sufficient noise to waken the trees and ward off the evil spirits in the apple trees.


What is Wassailing?
The word 'Wassail' is derived from the Old Norse 'Ves heill', from whence came the Old English salutation'Wes Hal', meaning 'Be In Good Health'. The dictionary tells us also that Wassail is 'A riotous festivity characterised by much drinking'. But to the true countryman, particularly in areas where apples are grown and especially in rural Devon, this is not just a 'riotous festivity' but a ritual which is taken extremely seriously as the apple is an important part of the local economy. So, anything that can be done to help the trees produce a generous harvest is wholeheartedly encouraged and the skill and dedication of the 'Wassailers' is all important. When Wassailing was first discovered to be of benefit is not really known but there is mention in a magazine, published in 1791, of "The custom with the Devonshire people to go after supper into the orchard with large quantities of cider, having roasted apples pressed into it". In Whimple the ceremony took place at Rull Farm on 'Old Twelvy Night'. In 1931 The Devon & Exeter Gazette in their report dated 23rd January, states that: "The Host and Hostess, (Mr. & Mrs. J. Reynolds) are renowned throughout the district for their hospitality".
The fact that Wassailing takes place on 'Old Twelvy Night' indicates that it has been the custom for many centuries as England did not accept the Gregorian Calendar until 1752 when dates were adjusted by eleven days to realign with the solar year.This meant that Twelfth Night remained onthe 6th January, but traditionalists retained 17th January as the true day relevant to Wassailing.

Whilst the purpose of Wassailing is the same in all areas where it is performed, there are local variations to the routines. When the ceremony was performed in Whimple in the early 30's the Mayor played a significant role. There are very few rural communities who can boast such a figurehead but it is recorded that Whimple appointed Mr. Snow in the early 1900's. He was a retired butcher formerly of Woodhayes but he then lived at Town Cottage, and a photograph of this distinguished looking portly gentleman has recently been uncovered. Freddy Crook was the last Mayor recorded as being associated with Wassailing. His house was appropriately nicknamed 'The Guildhall' and was sited very close to the Congregational Church on the one side and, a little further away, the New Fountain Inn on the other. Apparently, purely for the exercise, he preferred to walk the longer distance.

When Jimmy Reynolds moved from Rull Farm the Ceremony no longer took place and although apple crops were substantial for many years there has been a steady decline more recently. It is just possible that this could have played a part in the demise of Messrs Whiteways Cider Company so this serious situation had to be remedied before any further reduction in crops took place. Cider has been described as being "Good and Wholesome Liquor enough, provided it be used with moderation and, it may be said, that in general it is better for Health than Wine". "We know by experience that most of those who drink nothing but this Liquor are stronger, haler and look better than those that drink wine; of which my Lord Bacon gives us a notable example". He mentions "Eight old people, some of which were near a Hundred Years old, and others were an Hundred and upwards. These old People,"says he, "Had drank nothing else but Cyder all their Life Time and were so strong at this age that they danced and hopped about like young men". A report in Noake's Worcestershire Relics reads, "At Whimple in Devon, the rectors were both cyder makers and cyder drinkers. The tenure of office of two of them covered a period of over a century and the last of these worthy divines lived to tell the story of how the Exeter coach set down the bent and crippled Dean at his door who, after three weeks 'cyder cure' at the hospitable rectory, had thrown his crutches to the dogs and turned his face homewards 'upright as a bolt'. So, it would appear that the benefits to the NHS far outweigh the 'rotten socks' syndrome which is reputed to occur in extreme cases of over indulgence. With this in mind, Whimple Wassailing was re-started in 1993 under the auspices of Whimple History Society who sawit as their duty to try to revive this industry so vital to the well-being of the area and, of course, the national interest. Our ritual follows the traditional well-tried and tested ceremony of our predecessors with the Mayor in his robes of office and the Princess carrying lightly toasted bread in her delicately trimmed flasket, whilst the Queen, wearing her crown of Ivy, Lichen and Mistletoe, recites the traditional verse.

The original Whimple Incantation
has been retained:-


Here's to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full,caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An' all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!


Her Majesty is then gently but manfully assisted up the treein order to place the cyder-soaked toast in the branches whilst the assembled throng, accompanied by a group of talented musicians, sing the Wassail Song and dance around the tree. The Mulled Cider or 'Wassail Cup' is produced and everyone takes a sample with their 'Clayen Cup'.

 

The Guns are fired and a general rumpus is created by the crowd banging their saucepan lids and playinga variety of percussion 'instruments' of all shapes and sizes to wake up the tree ready for the next crop.

 

Of course, serious training has to take placebeforehand as we found to our cost in 1993. Because 'Old Twelvy' was a Sunday we went out on January 6th. (Well, we didn't want to cross swords with the Passen!) I suppose it was this combined with the fact that we didn't know all the words, but the result was disaster! - CROP FAILURE!! 1994 saw an improvement in confidence, more vocal volume and greater dancing precision which resulted in a heavier yield and, consequently, more of the finished product with which to perform in 1995. The Passen came too and displayed his dancing expertise so he must have enjoyed himself and thought it was worth while. To thank the Wassailers for their very hard work and dedication we allow ourselves a little indulgence at a local hostelry to round off the evening in a convivial manner. During the course of the ensuing 'conviviality' a number of members of the gathering display their talents in various ways. To be certain of correct grammar and to filter out any other possible irregularities recitations are vetted beforehand, songs are scrutinised and stories edited but the dancers perform uncensored because they usually display great dignity and poise in their choreography, particularly the traditional Broom Dance. So, the Ceremony was revived and still takes place with great enthusiasm each year. The position of Mayor was resurrected, although the post has currently remained unfilled since the passing of our last Mayor, John Shepherd.Support for the Mayor comes from the Village Beadle whose duty it is to maintain order throughout the proceedings and various other revelries during the year. 'Tommy-George Perry', who is of 1914 vintage, used to carry out these duties with sombre reverence in his black Top Hat and Frock Coat. He has been responsible for pruning many acres of apple trees in his time, with a certain amount of vested interest. He says that hislongevity could be due to the fact that he has had to maintain 'quality control' over the results of his efforts over the years. However this post has also become vacant on Tom's retirement. Mrs. Myrtle Dockings, who is a trained Ecclesiastical Needlewoman, put her skills to great test by creating Mayoral robes of the finest quality, which she delicately trimmed with imitation cat fur. The whole outfit is adorned with a Chain of Office which has a splendid pendant in the shape of a cyder barrel. Subsequently, 'His Worship' has been presented with a brass ceremonial halbard by the celebrated local Peer, 'Baron Peter of Hampshire'. The halbard came mounted on a small desk stand as though it had been presented to its previous owner in recognition of a gallant deed having been performed. But without a staff it was of little use so there was a moral obligation to remedy the situation and ingenious adaptation of a disused snooker cue restored the item to a useful purpose. With freshly gathered Ivy, Lichen and Mistletoe, which are also products of theapple tree, the variety of headgear sported by the Wassailers is dutifully adorned and the scene is now set. The Mayor, with his Sunday Best boots highly polished and regalia complete, The Beadle's Top Hat neatly groomed and The Queen & Princess elegantly enrobed in emerald green, we now feel that the village is able to compete with the pomp and ceremony of the best in the land. But we have an advantage! We are helped, of course, by the product of the well nurtured and excellently wassailed Apple Tree!
The Wassail Song........... verses sung around the apple tree

Apple tree prosper, bud, bloom and bear,
That we may have plenty of cider
next year.
And where there's a barrel, we
hope there are ten,
That we may have cider when we
come again.
Chorus:-
With our wassail, wassail, wassail!
And joy come to our jolly wassail!

A-wassail, a-wassail! The Moon,             
she shines down;
The apples are ripe and the nuts
they are brown.
Whence thou mayest bud, dear old
apple tree,
And whence thou mayest bear, we
sing unto thee.
Chorus.......... .
Oh Mistress and Master, our wassail begin,
Please open your door and let us come in;
Besides all on earth you'll have
apples in store;
Pray let us come in for 'tis cold at the door.
Chorus.......
......and the verses sung at each homestead

Come fill up our wassail bowl full to the brim,
See, harnessed and garnished so neat and so trim,
Sometimes with laurel and some times with bays,
According to custom, to keep the old ways.
Chorus.........
Now for this gold liquor, to us,
that you bring,
We lift up our voices and merrily sing,
That all good householders, long may they remain,
And long to continue the same to maintain
.

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