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Apple Tree Wassail

[ Roud 209 ; Ballad Index xxApTrW2 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang the Apple Tree Wassail on their 1975 album For Pence and Spicy Ale. This track was re-released on the Topic anthology The Folk Collection. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

A luck charm for the Devon and Somerset cider country. To be sung either at the orchardman's door or in front of his trees. Epiphany (12 days after Christmas) was reckoned a good time for the ceremony. “Lilywhite pin” means “silver-bright pin”, again a reference to the finery thought proper for ceremonial occasions.

Roy Palmer prints the Apple Tree Wassail in his Everyman's Book of English Country Songs, and quotes the Illustrated London News of 11 January 1851:

On Twelfth Eve, in Devonshire, it is customary for the farmer to leave his warm fireside, accompanied by a band of rustics, with guns, blunderbusses, etc., presenting an appearance which at other times would be somewhat alarming. Thus armed, the band proceed to an adjoining orchard, where is selected one of the most fruitful and aged of the apple trees, grouping round which they stand and offer up their invocations in the following doggerel rhyme: “Here's to thee/ Old apple tree!/ Whence thou mayst bud,/ And whence thou mayst blow,/ And whence thou mayst bear,/ Apples enow:/ Hats full,/ Caps full,/ Bushels,/ bushels, sacks full,/ And my pockets full, too!/ Huzza! huzza!” The cider-jug is then passed around, and with many a hearty shout, the party fire off their guns, charged with powder only, amidst the branches.

Another recording of the Apple Tree Wassail by John Kirkpatrick et al. can be found on their 1998 CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter.

John Kirkpatrick et al told the story The Apple Tree Man and sang the Apple Tree Wassail on the Folkworks project and subsequent 1998 Fellside CD Wassail!. He noted:

Because the ox and the ass were in the stable at Jesus’ birth, they are rewarded every year with the gift of speech between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning. As well as that being the basis for this little cautionary tale against being too greedy, we are also told how to wassail an apple tree in order to guarantee a good crop the following year.

The story was collected in two separate episodes by Ruth Tongue in the early years of this century in Pitminster, Somerset. The wassail verse is sung every year at Carhampton, near Minehead.

Jon Boden, Sam Sweeney, Paul Sartin and Lucy Farrell sang the Apple Tree Wassail as the Twelfth Night (evening of January 5) entry of Jon's project A Folk Song a Day.

Sarah Matthews and Doug Eunson sang Apple Tree Wassail in 2016 on their CD Song and Laughter and on their 2019 CD Chimes. They noted on the first CD:

A traditional wassail we learnt from our Canadian friends Stefan and Paul Read.

and on the second:

This traditional song has been enhanced by Sarah with two additional verses.


The Watersons sing the Apple Tree Wassail

O lily-white lily, o lily-white pin,
Please to come down and let us come in!
Lily-white lily, o lily-white smock,
Please to come down and pull back the lock!

(It's) Our wassail jolly wassail!
Joy come to our jolly wassail!
How well they may bloom, how well they may bear
So we may have apples and cider next year.

O master and mistress, o are you within?
Please to come down and pull back the pin


There was an old farmer and he had an old cow,
But how to milk her he didn't know how.
He put his old cow down in his old barn.
And a little more liquor won't do us no harm.

Harm me boys harm, harm me boys harm,
A little more liquor won't do us no harm.


O the ringles and the jingles and the tenor of the song goes
Merrily merrily merrily.
O the tenor of the song goes merrily.

Hatfuls, capfuls, three-bushel bagfuls,
Little heaps under the stairs.
Hip hip hooray!


Transcribed by Garry Gillard with much help from Greer Gilman.