Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Oak Apple Day, Great Wishford, 2017

Posted on by royvickery |

On 29 May the villagers of Great Wishford, Wiltshire, reassert their right to collect wood from Grovely woods.  At about 4 a.m. people went around the village  a making a great noise, shouting ‘Grovely, Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely’, after which people went to the woods to cut oak boughs.  At about 10 a.m. many of the villagers arrived at Salisbury Cathedral, about 6 miles away.  Here they formed a short procession, and four women dressed in what was supposedly early nineteenth-century village costume performed two dances in the close, before they enter to Cathedral, where a short service was held.

In the afternoon a procession of walking groups and floats paraded around the village, finishing in the Oak Apple Field, where a fete was held.  Most of the houses in the village were decorated with bunting and oak boughs, and a oak branch decorated with ribbons was hung on the church tower.   The fete started with the women performing their dances again, and included displays of morris and maypole dancing, skittles, a barbeque,  and punch-and-judy.  The day concluded with a race around the village.

It seems probable that the event was originally held on Whit Tuesday, presumably it moved to 29 May, Oak Apple Day, following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  There appears to be confusion over what is meant by ‘oak apple’.  The banner which is carried in the parades depicts marble galls, produced by the gall-wasp Andricus kollari, which was introduced to the British Isles in the nineteenth century for use as a source of tannin for dyeing and ink-making.  However, some people wore, and decorated their houses with, the gall caused by the gall-wasp Biorhiza pallida, which is what purists call oak apple, although many people give the name to the more common, and more persistent marble gall.  Where oak apples were used, they were usually wired to oak twigs or branches.

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