Well Dressing

Well Dressing PosterLast Saturday, 1st July, a village near where I live in Staffordshire held its biannual Well Dressing. This custom was revived in 2012. The second local event was held a year later in 2013 and since then it has been held with a two-year gap, in 2015 and again this year.

The custom of well dressing is believed to have its roots in pagan times when the local community would decorate and bless the wells to give thanks to the gods for clean water. Some people believe that, rather than being a pagan custom it stems from the time of the Black Death (1348) when people would give thanks, again for clean water.

Originally the ceremony was confined to one or two villages in Derbyshire Peak District in the 19th century, having been introduced in Buxton in 1840 but it has since spread to  other villages, mostly in the neighbouring counties of Staffordshire, South Yorkshire and Cheshire but it has also spread to a few villages in Shropshire and Worcestershire, as well as the village of Kemsing in Kent where it was introduced in 2011.

The Croxton event near my home celebrates a different theme on each occasion. This year it was ‘Supporting the Community’. There is a trail of about 5 wells which have been refurbished in recent years and are dressed by different organisations within the community. The main well is blessed by the vicar of the local church, linking it to Christianity for modern consumption, and there are other events and activities available on the day to celebrate the occasion, as you can see from the poster.

First Croxton Well DressingThe  dressings are created on a board, usually a pallet filled in with clay, making them very heavy, and the are ‘coloured in’ with petals – hence the alternative name ‘well flowering’. Here is a photo of the very first Croxton well dressing (2012) at the main well and sponsored by the local Women’s Institute who are very active in encouraging the tradition to continue.

I did not manage to go along on the day but hope to follow the trail before the boards finally fade. There is a walking and cycling route established to view them so perhaps it will be out on the bike.

Rhyming Slang

St Mary-le-Bow church

St Mary-le-Bow Church

I read recently that Cockney Rhyming Slang is in danger of dying out because young people today have no interest in it. Now I’m not a Cockney, you have to be born within hearing distance of Bow Bells (the church bells of St. Mary-le-Bow) in the Cheapside district of London’s East End for that. The bells can be heard for a maximum radius of about six miles. I’m not even a Londoner, having been born in the north-west midlands, not far from where I now live, although I have moved around in the intervening years. However I have always been a rhymester, rhyme fascinates me and so rhyming slang fascinates me.

The explanation given for the development of this form of slang is supposed to be that the East End market traders could hold a conversation with each other in this coded language and casual customers or bystanders would not know what they were talking about. So in the interests of keeping this tradition alive I share with you here a list of some of the rhyming slang terms I am familiar with. I assure you there are many others as a Google search will demonstrate.

North and south – mouth
Todd Sloan – alone
Apples and pears – stairs
Daisy Roots – boots
Butcher’s Hook – look
Porky Pies – lies
Skin and blister – sister
Barnet Fair – hair
Trouble and strife – wife
Loaf of bread – head
Whistle and flute – suit (of clothes)
Titfer-tat (ie tit for tat) – hat
Lionel Blairs – flares (flared trousers. Lionel Blair was a dancer/entertainer)
Plates of meat – feet
Half inch – pinch (as in steal)
Johnny Horner – corner
….and last but not least…
Jimmy Riddle – piddle (ie a comfort break!)

Typically these phrases would often get shortened, so you might say ‘Let me have a butchers’ for ‘let me have a look’, or ‘Nice titfer’ if you admire someone’s hat. ‘You’re telling porkies’ means you are telling lies, ‘on my tod’, means on my own and the ubiquitous ‘use your loaf’ means use your head, think about it, apply brain.

As I have said, there are many more such phrases to be found on the Internet in addition to those above, and even some alternatives to those I have given. Let’s keep the tradition alive!

 

Waes Hael

Wassail Bowl

Picture courtesy of Google Images

‘Waes Hael’ is an Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning ‘good health’. In modern English this has come down to us as ‘Wassail’. Since ancient times groups of people have gone out ‘Wassailing’ on either New Years Eve or Twelfth Night.

By custom wassailing can be divided into two distinct groups. One custom was to go from door to door bringing good wishes to the household and the other custom was to go wassailing in the fields and, especially in the cider producing counties of the West Country, into orchards to bless the trees to ensure a good crop for the coming year.

The wassail itself was originally a drink made from mulled ale, wine or cider blended with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two. It could contain roasted apples and this gave it the alternative name ‘Lambs Wool’ because the pulp of the apples looked a bit like fleece floating on the drink. Many recipes for wassail, both traditional and more modern, can be found on the internet. The drink was served in a large bowl or goblet made from wood, or sometimes pewter or silver, passed from one person to the next. (Jesus College at Oxford University has a wassail bowl which is covered with silver and can hold 10 gallons!)

At each stop the ‘Wassailers’ would sing special wassail songs or carols and it is from this tradition that we now have carol singers doing the rounds singing Christmas Carols in the days leading up to Christmas. Each area of the country had its own particular wassail carols, several of which have come down to us today. In some areas the tradition only ceased as recently as the 1960’s and this is perhaps why at least two of these songs have become well-known and I learnt them both as a child.

One of these is known as The Gloucestershire Wassail. Here is the first verse:

Wassail, wassail all over the town.
Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made of the good maple tree;
with the wassailing bowl we drink unto thee.

There are several different versions to this song but the version I am most familiar with continues with verses wishing good health to various livestock owned by the householder, such as ‘So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek,’ and ‘Here’s health to the ox and to his right eye,’: – you get the gist.

More familiar, and perhaps more suitable for New Years Eve is simply known as The Wassail Song, or ‘Here we come a-wassailing’. For those who are interested the words and music for both of these Wassail Carols are free to download from ChristmasCarolMusic.org. Here you will also find lists of recordings of these songs – including versions from bands such as Blur and Steeleye Span.

Here now is the full version of The Wassail Song as I learnt it, again there are others:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars who beg from door to door,
but we are neighbours’ children whom you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

God bless the master of this house, likewise his mistress too,
and all the little children that around the table go.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

Waes Hael to one and all!

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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