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Gloucestershire Wassail

[ Roud 209 ; Ballad Index RcGlWasS ; trad.]

Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band recorded Wassail! several times: on their CDs Carols and Capers (1991) and Carols at Christmas (1998), and on the DVD An Evening of Carols and Capers (2005).

Magpie Lane sang The Gloucestershire Wassail in 1995 on their CD Wassail! A Country Christmas. Their liner notes commented:

A very widespread country carol which exists in 19th-century printed versions. A wassail was a toast reserved for festive occasions, and sung especially at Christmas when wassailers would go from house to house singing for beer, punch or cider.

The Albion Christmas Band sang Gloucester Wassail in 2003 on their CD An Albion Christmas and again in 2009 on Traditional.

Coope Boyes & Simpson, Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes sang Gloucestershire Wassail in 2003 on their CD Fire and Sleet and Candlelight. They commented in their liner notes:

Several different midwinter customs are known as “Wassailing”. Across the North, Wassailing involved showing a doll in a leaf-decorated box and singing carols in exchange for gifts. In the South and into the Midlands, fruit trees are still visited and Wassailed with songs, food and drink to encourage them to grow. This Wassail Song however, was part of the West of England custom in which groups of young people would carry a large decorated bowl from place to place, offering a drink from it in exchange for other drinks and food. Their song toasts all the members of the household and their animals—including the cows Broad Mary and Fillpail. Ralph Vaughan Williams records that the Gloucestershire Wassail tune was sung to him “by an old person in the county”, but also makes reference to a variant he collected from William Bayliss at Buckland and acknowledges verses from a version Cecil Sharp collected from Isaac Bennett at Little Sodbury.

[The sisters] Fi [Fraser] and Jo [Freya] probably learnt the song when they used to go out singing around the Cotswolds on Boxing Day with the Gloucestershire Old Spot Morris Dancers and The Songwainers.

Andy Turner learned Gloucestershire Wassail from the Oxford Book of Carols and sang it as the December 28, 2017 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Maddy Prior sings Wassail!

A wassail, a wassail all over the town
Our cup is white and our ale is brown
Our cup is made of the white maple tree
With a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.

O master and mistress, oh are you within?
Pray open the door-knob and let us come in.
O master and mistress sitting down by the fire,
O won't you see us wassailers a-travelling in the mire.
Travelling in the mire, travelling in the mire,
O won't you see us wassailers a-travelling in the mire.

There was an old man and he had an old cow,
And how for to keep her he didn't know how,
He built up a barn for to keep his cow warm,
And a drop of strong beer will do us no harm.
Do us no harm, do us no harm,
And a drop of strong beer will do us no harm.

So here's to the maid in the lily-white smock,
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the lock.
Who tripped to the door and pulled back on the pin,
For to let these jolly wassailers in.
Wassailers in, wassailers in,
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

(repeat first verse)

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Mark Ellison