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Apple Tree Wassail
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The Watersons sang the Apple Tree Wassail in 1975 on their Topic album For Pence and Spicy Ale. This track was included in 1999 on the Topic anthology The Folk Collection. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:
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.
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 celebrating an English Midwinter, 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.
John Kirkpatrick also sang Our Jolly Wassail in 2022 on his Fledg’ling album Joy & Jubilation where he noted:
Versions of this song have been sung all over Cornwall for longer than anybody can remember—in Truro, Padstow, Grampound, Bodmin, and elsewhere—and they’re still singing it! The wassail bowl is referred to, unusually, as a “bowl dish”, and constant refilling is clearly essential.
Jim Causley sang The Whimple Wassail in 2005 on his CD Fruits of the Earth. He noted:
Jim Causley is extremely proud to present this song to the world! This is the wassail song from my village in East Devon. A little history now: for many years Whimple was the home of Whiteways cyder and the cyder factory was the main source of employment in the area. Whiteways cyder was world famous and the village boasted the largest cyder apple orchards in the country. It sadly all came to an end when Whiteways was bought-up by Showrings of Shepton Mallet, makers of Babycham. In the early nineties the factory was demolished and an uninspiring array of lego houses were built in its place. The industry is gone yet still the wassailing continues I am very pleased to say.
The song is preceded by the Whimple Wassail Processional Tune and buffered-up at the end by a jig what I wrote called Knock on Wood which was inspired by the song Green Broom but also wouldn’t offend Tom Cobleigh and his pals! Verse four I poached from an unnamed Cornish wassail song from the Baring-Gould manuscripts simply because it makes me chuckle. Many thanks to Richard Webber of the Whimple History Society for his kind help. This song is dedicated to all the good people of Whimple!
Jon Boden, Sam Sweeney, Paul Sartin and Lucy Farrell sang the Apple Tree Wassail as the Twelfth Night (evening of 5 January) 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!
Jim Causley sings The Whimple Wassail
Around the trees:
A-wassail a-wassail, the moon she shines down,
Our 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 (after each verse):
With our wassail a-wassail a-wassail!
And joy come to our jolly wassail!
Oh apple tree prosper, bloom and bear,
So we may have plenty of cider next year,
And where there’s a barrel we hope there’ll be ten,
That we may have cider when we come again.
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.
We wish you great plenty and long may you live,
Because you are willing and free for to give,
To our wassail so cheerful, our wassail so bold,
Long may you live happy and lusty and old.
Come fill up our wassail bowl full to the brim,
Come see it all garnished so neat and so trim,
Sometimes with laurel and sometimes with bay,
We’ll all drink our fill in the good old way.
Now for this gold liquor to us that you bring,
We lift up our voices and merrily sing,
That all in our village long may they remain,
The good people of Whimple stay ever the same!
With our wassail a-wassail a-wassail
And joy come to our jolly wassail
And joy come to our jolly wassail!
Transcribed by Garry Gillard from the singing of The Watersons with much help from Greer Gilman.