To honour an ancient custom in the Somerset village once renowned for producing ‘some of the best cider in the kingdom’.

On Saturday 16 January 2016, a large group of villagers met at Fyrse Cottage to take part in a Wassail Evening.

We all enjoyed a cup of mulled cider whilst our Chairman , Tom Mayberry  gave an introduction to the history of Wassail.

This is what he explained.

Wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking the health of trees on Twelfth Night in the hopes that they might better thrive.

The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.   The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements.  

A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next; the wassail Queen then places toast soaked in wassail from the clayen cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year).  In some counties the youngest boy or "Tom Tit" will stand in for the Queen and hang the cider soaked toast in the tree. Then an incantation is usually recited.

A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the "Apple Tree Man", the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is said to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried treasure.

How far the tradition of wassailing dates back is unknown, but it has connections with Anglo-Saxon traditions; the word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast Wæs þu hæl, meaning "be thou hale"—i.e., "be in good health".  Thus wassailing likely predates the Norman conquest in 1066.  Traditionally, the wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night (variously on either January 5 or 6).  Some people still wassail on "Old Twelvey Night", January 17, as it would have been before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.  

Note to History Group Secretary - did the Apple Tree Man reveal the location of the Stoke St Mary Hoard?

The traditional Wassail Cake was then distributed and the Wassail Queen was identified.  

The Wassail Cake traditionally had a bean  inserted somewhere inside it, and the person who found the bean in their slice of cake was the Wassail King or Queen.  [The Stoke St Mary cake has a Jelly Baby to avoid anyone breaking their teeth!]

Mrs Ginnie Rhodes was crowned Wassail Queen for the night.

The villagers were then led outside by the Wassail Queen who placed toast soaked in cider in the branches of the apple tree for the robins.

She then poured cider around the roots of the tree.

Finally a shotgun was fired through the branches of the tree and those present made “rough music” - whistles, bangs and shouts.

As Tradition dictated, we all then sang the Wassail Song, led by Tom Mayberry and members of the Stoke St Mary Choir.



Old apple tree we wassail thee

And Hope that thou wilt bear

The Lord doth know where we shall be

To be merry another year.

To blow well and to bear well

And so merry let us be

Let every man take off his hat

And shout to the old apple tree!


Old apple tree, we wassail thee

And hope that thou wilt bear -

Hatfuls, capfuls, three-bushel bagfuls

And a little heap under the stairs

Hip hip horray! Hip hip horray! Hip hip horray!

Everyone then returned back indoors for a cider and a delicious spread provided by members of the History Group.  The evening was voted a great success.