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Somerset Wassail

[ Roud 209 ; VWML CJS2/10/2 , CJS2/9/1911 ; Wiltshire 1112 ; trad.]

Walter Sealy (b. 1890) and Harry Sealy of Ash Priors, Taunton, Somerset sang the Somerset Wassail in a field recording by Peter Kennedy the anthology Songs of Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain, Volume 9; Caedmon 1961, Topic 1970). Though no date is given, it could possibly be 1957 because Kennedy recorded other songs by Walter Sealy in that year, e.g. Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green on January 24, 1957 (BBC recording 26368).

Bernard Wrigley sang The Wassail Song in 1971 on his Topic album The Phenomenal B. Wrigley. A.L. Lloyd noted:

All over Europe in the uneasy gloom of midwinter, strong lads went through the villages from door to door, singing good-luck wishes and getting a reward, a drink, a bite to eat, a little money even. For this ceremonial moment, countryfolk went to the door in their finery, hence the reference to “silverheaded pins” and such. Versions of the ancient tune are known all across Europe to the shores of the Black Sea, nearly always associated with luck-visit songs. Bernard’s version here was collected by Cecil Sharp at Curry Rivel, near Taunton, Somerset [VWML CJS2/9/1911] .

Nowell Sing We Clear sang the Somerset Wassail in 1975 on their eponymous first album, Nowell Sing We Clear ain in 2008 on their CD Nowell Nowell Nowell. They noted:

Also from the OBC, this carol was collected by Cecil Sharp ca. 1908 from wassailers in Drayton, Somerset in what the English call the “West Country”. Going out on a limb, Sharp speculated that the “Great Dog” referred to a Danish invasion of nearby Langport which would have happened one thousand years earlier.

The Albion Band or Albion Christmas Band sang Somerset Wassail on their Christmas albums A Christmas Present from The Albion Band (1985, with Cathy Lesurf), on An Albion Christmas (2003, also included on Burning Bright), and on Traditional (2009, both with Kellie While). The first CD's liner notes commented:

A traditional song collected by Cecil Sharp in the early years of this century from the Drayton Wassailers in Somerset.

Magpie Lane sang The Somerset Wassail in 1995 on their Christmas CD Wassail! A Country Christmas, and Andy Turner sang it as the January 3, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

The New Scorpion Band sang The Somerset Wassail in 2001 on their CD The Carnal and the Crane. They noted:

The custom of wassailing, or drinking festive toasts from the wassail bowl, is described from the 14th century. The word is of Saxon origin, coming from the toast “Wes Hal” (good health) to which the reply would be “Drinc Hal”. The West Country wassailing tradition is largely confined to the apple-growing and cider-making districts, where the old custom still continues, of

Wassailing the trees that they may bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls,
Little heaps under the stairs -
Hip Hip Hip Hooray!

The trees are circled, cider is poured into the roots, toast soaked in cider hung in the branches, and guns are discharged to scare off any malicious spirits. All of this ensures a bumper crop the following autumn! The time for wassailing is often around Epiphany, 5th January. Our Somerset village band features melodeon, fiddle, whistle and percussion.

Lyrics

Somerset Wassail Nowell Sing We Clear sing the Somerset Wassail

Wassail and wassail all over the town,
The cup it is white and the ale it is brown.
The cup it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the malt of the best barley.

Wassail, and wassail, all over the town
Our cup, it is white, and our ale, it is brown
Our cup, it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the malt of the best barley.

Chorus (after each verse):
For it's your wassail and it's our wassail
And it's joy be to you and a jolly wassail

Chorus (after each verse except otherwise noted):
For it's your wassail, and it's our wassail,
And it's joy be to you, and a jolly wassail.

Oh master and missus, are you all within?
Pray open the door and let us come in.
O master and missus a-sitting by the fire,
Pray think on us poor travellers, a-travelling in the mire.

O master and missus, are you all within?
Pray open the door and let us come in
O master and missus, a-sitting by the fire
Pray think upon poor travelers, a-traveling in the mire.

Oh where is the maid with the silver-headed pin
To open the door and let us come in?
Oh master and missus, it is our desire
A good loaf and cheese and a toast by the fire.

O where is the maid with the silver-headed pin
To open the door and let us come in?
O master and missus, it is our desire
A good loaf and cheese, and a toast by the fire.

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 or two of cider will do us no harm.

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 or two of cider will do us no harm.

Chorus:
No harm, boys, harm; no harm, boys, harm
And a drop or two of cider will do us no harm.

The girt dog of Langport he burnt his long tail
And this is the night we go singing wassail.
O master and missus now we must be gone,
God bless all in this house until we do come again.

The great dog of Langport, he burnt his long tail
And this is the night we go singing wassail
O master and missus, now we must be gone
God bless all in this house till we do come again.

Acknowledgements and Links

The Somerset Wassail lyrics were copied from The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.