Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Apple wassailing, Gunnersbury Park

On Saturday 21 January 2023 apple trees were wassailed in Gunnersbury Park, in the London Borough of Hounslow.  We were told that this was the first time this had been done there.

Shortly before 2.30 p.m. about 25 people, each of whom had paid £7 to attend, gathered in a room in the Museum, to be offered spiced apple cake, and either non-alcoholic punch, or spiced cider.  The leader explained the, apparently Anglo-Saxon, origins of wassailing.

A clove should have been found in one of the slices of apple cake, and whoever found it would become the king, or queen, of misrule for the afternoon.  But no one found the clove, so a young boy was selected to serve as king.  Participants were provided with a choice of noise-making objects – wooden spoons and pans or tins – and encouraged to make a much noise as possible, before processing to the Park’s recently planted orchard.  A stop was made on the way, for a story about an impoverished young landowner who was about to give up his estate until he was directed to find coins concealed in an ancient apple tree.

People gathered around one of the bigger trees, a can of cider emptied into a wassail bowl in which a slice of toast had been placed, and the bowl was passed around with people being invited to make a wish as they held it.  People were also invited to take a handful of birdseed to scatter at the base of, and a ribbon to tie to the branches of, a tree.  After the bowl had been circulated it was emptied at the base of the big tree.

Progressing to a circular rose garden, an attempt was made to get participants to join in the song ‘Here we come a wassailing’, and people were invited to silently reflect on the circle of the seasons.

People then returned to the Museum to finish off any remaining cake and drinks.

Interestingly the audience was a mixture of people of all ages, with few children and no obvious ‘folkies’ or neopagans.

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