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Somerset Wassail / Ashen Faggot Wassail

[ Roud 209 ; VWML CJS2/9/1b , CJS2/9/1911 ; Wiltshire 1112 ; trad.]

Cecil Sharp collected the Wassail Song from Harry Richards at Curry Rivel, Somerset on 6 January 1909 [VWML CJS2/9/1911] . It is #92 in his book One Hundred English Folksongs.

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 24 January 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] .

Dave Bland and Bob Patten recorded a group our wassailers outside a house in Drayton, Somerset, on 5 January 1971. This recording was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology of the joys and curse of drink, They Ordered Their Pints of Beer & Bottles of Sherry (The Voice on the People Volume 13).

Shirley Collins sang the Ashen Faggot Wassail, accompanied by John Watcham on Anglo concertina, on her 1974 Topic album, Adieu to Old England. She and A.L. Lloyd noted:

Another song learned from the BBC Sound Archives. The singer was Sidney Richards of Curry Rivel, Somerset [recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952, BBC 177880], who when asked by the collector about the significance of the custom, mumbled, hesitatingly, “Well, I reckon it were just an excuse for a good boozeup.”

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 3 January 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

John Kirkpatrick et al sang the Wassail Song on the Folkworks project and subsequent 1998 Fellside CD Wassail!. He noted:

The word ‘Wassail’ comes from the Anglo Saxon expression ‘wes hal’, meaning ‘be of good health’. Several kinds of ‘wassailing’ occur in England. This song accompanies the parading of a wassail bowl, filled with drink, from house to house. You are invited to drink from the bowl for good luck, and in return make a contribution of money, or more drink, or preferably both.

The song was collected by Cecil Sharp in Drayton, Somerset, in 1909, after witnessing a performance at the vicarage where he was staying [VWML CJS2/9/1b, CJS2/10/2] . Sharp slightly doctored the verses, using lines from other Somerset wassail songs to make them all of uniform length. I have subsequently doctored Mr Sharp’s doctoring.

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.

Harry Richards sings Wassail Song Shirley Collins sings Ashen Faggot 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 old ashen tree,
And so is the beer of the best barley.

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

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
To your wassail!
Aye, and joy come to our jolly wassail

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
With your wassail!
Aye, and joy come to our jolly wassail

O maid, O maid, with your silver-headed pin,
Pray open the door and let us all in,
All for to fill our wassail bowl and so away again.

O maid, O maid, with your silver-headed pin,
Pray open this door and let us all walk in,
All for to fill our wassail bowl and sail away again.

O maid, O maid, with your glove and your mace,
Pray come unto this door and show your pretty face,
For we are truly weary of standing in this place.

O maid, O maid, with your glove and your lace,
Pray come unto this door and show us your fine face,
We are truly weary of standing in this place.

O master and mistress, if you are so well pleased,
To set upon your table your white bread and your cheese,
And put forth your roast beef, your porrops and your pies.

O master and mistress, if you'd be so well pleased,
To set upon your table your white cloth and your cheese,
With your roast beef and your bord'rings and your pies.

O master and mistress, if we've done any harm,
Pray open this door and let us all pass along,
And give us hearty thanks for singing of our song.

O master and mistress, if we've done you any harm,
Pray open this door and let us all pass on,
And give us hearty thanks for a-singing of our song.

Acknowledgements and Links

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