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Apple Wassailing in Haslemere

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On Friday 17 January 2020 the National Trust held an apple tree wassailing at their Swan Barn Farm property, in Haslemere, Surrey.

The Haslemere Herald, of 16 January, contained an article with the headline ‘Help to ward off the evil spirits…’: ‘The entertainment from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. involves pagan “spirit warding” at the ceremony performed to banish “evil spirits” from the orchards and ensure a bumper apple crop.  Traditionally, everyone makes as much noise as possible and a piece of toast soaked in cider is hung on the branches to attract the good spirits, while cider is sprinkled around the roots of the tree.’

People started gathering soon after six o’clock, and stood around chatting and enjoying various mulled drinks until about 7.15, when there was a brief introduction to the event.  This made no mention of evil spirits, but concentrated on green issues, urging people to plant a tree or dig a pond, not rely on politicians but take actions as individuals.

After this people who had bought torches lit them and processed to the orchard where they gathered around an apple tree.  Due to exceptionally muddy conditions the procession was shorter than usual, 100, or more, people participated.  Three songs – Oh apple tree (sung to the tune more usually associated with The Red Flag), Here we come a wassailing, and the Gower Wassail Song – were sung with most people participating.  Some people had brought along kitchen pots and pans and spoons, which banged to make a noise; pieces of white sliced-bread were placed on the branches of the tree, and cider was thrown at it.

Then most people returned to the starting point to enjoy refreshments and live music.   It was perhaps noteworthy that at this wassailing, unlike some which attract mainly ‘folkies’, nearly all the people present were what might be described as ‘general public’ – a good mixture of families and people of all ages, except the elderly.

QUERY: Allium victorialis

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

A query has been received concerning the folklore of Allium victorialis, alpine leek, native to mountainous parts of Europe and the Caucasus, and the Himalayas.  The epithet victorialis is said to to refer to the former use of the plant to protect Bohemian miners from evil spirits. Any information would be gratefully received; please send it to

Response:  Many thanks for Michel Chauvet for the following:

In German the plant is called Allermannsharnisch (everybody’s armour), Siegwurz (victory root = victorialis), Bergknoblauch …  In Hans Schöf’s Zauberkräuter (1986) it is said ‘the bulb was worn as an amulet by soldiers in order to protect them from wounds.  This is a typical case of magic following the theory [doctrine] of signatures: the bulb has a reticulate cover like an armour.’

The epithet victorialis must originate from German Siegwurz in the Middle Ages.

Updated 18 January 2020.

Shenley Church End’s Holy Thorn – 3

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Visited the Shenley Church End thorn tree for a third time on 13 January 2020.

Although the tree had four flowers, most flower buds were in the same state as they were when the tree was last visited on 6 January.

The dimensions of the ‘tree’ were measured:  it has an internal diameter of c. 2.15 m, and an external circumference of c. 8.00 m, suggesting that it is ancient,  but no way is known to estimate how ancient.

Holy Thorn, update 7

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The  Britain’ s Ancient and Sacred Trees facebook page displayed a sad image of the remains of the Wearyall Hill Holy Thorn, which is now a short stump, unprotected by railings, decorated with a few green and yellow ribbons and surrounded by a small amount of debris.

In the discussion about this, it was said that ‘in 2012 a new tree was planted and lasted 16 days before being destroyed’.  It was  also said that there was intended to be an event at the Winter Solstice to plant a new Thorn on Wearyall Hill, ‘but this hasn’t materialised yet’.

Many thanks to Jacquie Cox for making her photograph available.

Shenley Church End’s Holy Thorn – 2

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Visited the Shenley Church End Holy Thorn again on 6 January, Old Christmas Day, 2020. Still no flowers fully open, though some buds had petals showing.

Examined the trunks more carefully and concluded that there are three, possibly four, a covering of ivy making it difficult to make a precise count.  The trunks if visualised as forming a circle, create one of c. 1m in diameter, suggesting that the original trunk decayed many years ago, and subsequent trunks have also decayed.

Plant-lore Archive: December 2019

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

A good number of new records – 39 items from 37 correspondents – were received during the month, mainly as a result of correspondence about bachelor’s buttons.  Thank you everyone!  The Archive now contains 8131 items of information from 2508 contributors.

Work on a new book – a dictionary of local plant-names – progressed well, and two minor articles were published:

Cemetery Plants –  Common mallow (Malva sylvestris), Friends of Brompton Cemetery Magazine 66: 12-13.

Rosebay willow herb – London’s ‘county flower’, The Bedside [The Wandsworth Society] 2019: 49.

Image: mistletoe (Viscum album) on sale at the Columbia Road flower market, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 15 December 2019.

Shenley Church End’s Holy Thorn – 1

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Shenley Church End is a Buckinghamshire village which now forms part of Milton Keynes.  The village possesses a Glastonbury Thorn First School, a Holy Thorn Lane, and, rather hidden away off the Lane, a Holy, or Glastonbury, Thorn.  The thorn is a straggly bush rather than a tree, and appears to have about four rather slender trunks.  This probably indicates that it is, indeed, ‘ancient’, the original trunk having split and rotted away, leaving younger trunks.  Judging by the spacing of the trunks, this disintegration of older trunks could have happened several times.

According to an anonymous telephone call received on 23 November 1992: ‘There’s a Glastonbury Thorn in Milton Keynes; it’s been there for years.  It’s said to have grown from a staff planted by the Pilgrim Fathers before they sailed on the Mayflower.  Everywhere they stopped on their way from Glastonbury they are said to have planted one of these thorns.  It always flowers at midnight on Christmas Eve, never before, never after.  I’ve been the night before, and there are no flowers; I’ve been the night after, and there are no flowers, but on Christmas Eve you can physically see them open.  It’s at Shenley …  They wanted to root it up, and build houses, but, after a battle, we’ve got it protected, there’s a fence round it’

The association of the Shenley Thorn with the Pilgrim Fathers seems to be an example of folk history at its least accurate.

Today the Thorn is protected by a metal fence, but otherwise appears to receive little care or attention.  When it was visited on 30 December 2019, it had no flowers, but a lot of flower buds; perhaps waiting to open on Old Christmas Eve, 6 January, the other traditional time for Holy Thorns to bloom.  One twig had the remains of four or five  flowers which had lost their petals.  The trees in Glastonbury usually retain some fruits while they produce their winter flowers, but the Shenley bush had no fruit.

There were no signs to suggest that the bush had been visited recently, or, indeed, in recent years.

Dried apples deter moths

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Viola Bankes was born in 1900 into the family which owned Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle, in Dorset.  Towards the end of her life her reminiscences were collected by Pamela Watkin, and published as A Kingston Lacy Childhood in 1986.  When Viola was four her father died, but, although the children were put into mourning dress, they were not informed of this. When their father’s final illness took hold they were told that he had gone to India, and it was not until she was nine that Viola discovered the truth.

Her formidable mother ran the estate, keeping it in good condition, until Viola’s brother, Ralph, came of age and inherited it.  During their mother’s absence, Viola and her sister Daphne enjoyed greater freedom, including opportunities to explore the lumber room.   Once when doing this they discovered a coffin-like tin box, and on opening it found what they thought were the remains of their father’s bones ‘disintegrating among the folds of his scarlet sheriff’s robes’.  Some years later when they dared to reveal their discovery, they were informed that what they thought were decaying bones were, in fact, dried apples (Malus pumila) put into the robes to deter moths.

Any other records of this use of apples, or any comments, would be appreciated –

Chaldon church Christmas decorations

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |



Christmas decorations at St Peter and St Paul church, Chaldon, Surrey, photographed 27 December 2019.









Graves decorated for Christmas 2019.

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Graves in Earlsfield Cemetery, London Borough of Wandsworth, Christmas Day, 25 December 2019.



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