Apple Tree Wassail Song


One form the West Country and Jon says, “This wassail is traditionally sung on Twelfth Night apparently. I’m joined here by Sam Sweeney, Paul Sartin and Lucy Farrell (recorded on the Bellowhead tour bus!)” It’s one from the Watersons and can be found on their For Pence And Spicy Ale CD, which Mainly Norfolk covers here. Despite the title and the note on the Watersons’ version that this could be sung “at the orchard Man’s door or in front of the trees”, it has more of a feel of a house visit song, starting as it does with “…please to come down and let us all in.” The practice of wassailing the trees to ensure a bountiful harvest and to drive away evil spirits quite possibly involves more action and incantation than singing, although I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has witnessed it. Here’s a Wiki page on wassailing. I note the suggestion that the orchard wassailing took place on old Twefth Night or January 17th although once more I’d welcome some input. Twelfth Night in itself is one of those peculiarities of the festive season that seems to have its roots in a mixture of traditions and it’s worth a quick Wiki stop here as it ties back into the ideas of driving evil away and the whole wassailing, feasting and partying tradition. There’s more to it than just taking the decorations down.

As an aside, how many of you made it to the South Bank for New Year’s Eve? It was immense and I can only report that I had a great time, although was excessively enthusiastic in the jumping up and down stakes due to a more than ample sampling of the Hedonism ale. I felt like I’d run some sort of beer marathon the following day and my legs have only just unsiezed. What a great night though!
You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores.


43 Responses to “Apple Tree Wassail Song”

  1. Joe Offer says:

    There’s a very nice Mudcat thread on this song here:

    The best-known recording of this song is by the Watersons, but the estimable Michael Grosvenor-Meyer recorded it some years ago.

    -Joe Offer-

  2. John Monk says:

    Well that’s Christmas done for another Year! I shall start my wassailing just as soon as I’ve got these antibiotics done. The New Years gig sounded great. Glad you are managing to recover Jon.

  3. John Burton says:

    Hatfulls! Capfulls! Three Bushel Bag Fulls! Little Heaps under the stairs and Cider Flowing out the Gutter Holes! Hip! Hip!
    We do it on old twelth night, following the Tradition of and using the Carhampton Wassail song. Although being in Canada we probably hold the record for the coldest tradition which I think was -25degF. That is only one C from being the oldest (which ours definitely is not) ours seems to date back to 2003 from the photo here
    According to Wikipedia the Carhapmton Wassail itself is also of recent tradition, it was started in the 1930’s by the Taunton Cider Company.,_Somerset
    Good song though, we do that one too, inside as is suggested.

  4. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    I felt I was there……..swinging the old Tankard…….the song seems to lose the plot with the Farmer/cow……more about apple trees would seem more appropriate.

  5. Simon says:

    John Monk just to clear a little confusion it’s Simon (me) writing the introductions. Jon feeds me a comment and is quoted. Anything outside of the ” ” is just the humble assistant I’m afraid, so it was me recovering from the idiot dancing.

    I’m with you Muzza as well, as this doesn’t seem to be very orchard related. The business of the cow also crops up in this more standard door-stepping wassail as sung by Maddy & The Carnival Band in this case and part of the Alternative Advent Calendar. Most of the wassail songs seem to be on similar lines in truth, although it’s worth following Joe’s link and thread. As I’ve suggested above the apple tree wassailing seems to involve more action and incantation than song. If you follow the thread down there are some ritual verses and one alternative apple wassail song, but that only seems to be a verse long. There are rituals involving tipping cider over the roots, or dunking bread in it and adorning the tree, plus making a right racket to scare the evil spirits away. Just below that information is a link to a promised wassail epicentre, which I confess I haven’t had time to follow through but am pleased to know exists. Hopefully it will sort any continued uncertainty, although I’d be most pleased to hear from any current wassailers in person, with thanks to John Burton – sounds a might parky where you are!

  6. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Hey Simon….ref John M confusion……..whadidItell ya ages ago!
    Jon Says/Simon says would solve that………New readers don’t know about ADMIN. Mind you-nobody has picked up on adding their country… whaddoIknow!

  7. Shelley says:

    I haven’t heard this one before, but the structure and words are familiar from other wassailing songs like the Gloucestershire Wassail.

    My trio sings an Apple Tree Wassail which is nothing like this one. The words are:

    Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee,
    And hoping thou wilt bear.
    The Lord does know where we shall be
    To be merry another year.

    To blow well and to bear well
    And so merry let us be;
    Let ev’ry man drink up his cup
    And health to the apple tree.

    (we found it was a bit to short, so added:
    Through wind and snow, around we’ll go
    But singing of the spring
    Of warming sun, and cooling rain
    and the new life they will bring.

    To blow well …..)

    If anyone knows the origins, we’d love to know. Someone gave the words and music to our fiddle player.

  8. John Bryson says:

    Happy New Year to all readers – I’ve got involved in the folk scene the last 18 months, and I find these Wassail songs appealing – super rendition here by Jon and the team. Incidentally I’ve just caught up with Bellowhead’s New York Girls rendition on the Jools Holland New Year show – didn’t see Paul or Sam on the number -was Lucy Farrell (singing here) one of the fiddlers?

  9. Shelley says:

    Paul and Sam were gigging elsewhere. The deps were Jennie-Lee Keetley, Peter Tickell and James Delarre (I think!)

  10. Chris Boyne says:

    Here is Sussex we wassail our own apple trees every old twelvey night (actually old twelvey eve this year ‘cos it’s a Sunday, and we start before it gets dark, so we can see who falls over). By careful use of the old and new calendars, it is possible to make Christmas (or some pagan substitute) last three and a half weeks!
    Waes Hail!

  11. John Bryson says:

    Thanks Shelley

  12. Simon says:

    Which calendar are you following and when is old twelvey eve? Come to that where in Sussex? Sounds like fun and a chance to indulge my recently acquired taste for cider, but the Sunday train travel would doubtless rule it out. I’ll have some south London synchronisity and imagine the rest!!

  13. slag310 says:

    I have a new page open, in time for
    Apple Wassailing on the 17th. It gives the customs,
    and songs with the lyrics and links to
    where you can hear the music. It is at or
    if either one of those works.

    I hope you like it! It gives as much information
    as I could find about the sources of the songs.


  14. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @slag310…..(have you got a sister?) thanks for the great Wassail link. Seems to me that next year,I might have to celebrate Christmas Eve/6Jan/17Jan as those old spirits really need a lot of driving out and I need to do my bit(hic!)

  15. leominster morris man says:

    About 1:45 in you’ll get a good explanation of the wassail and 3 minutes into this you can a hear a bit of this wassail song being sung in an orchard

  16. Alan Rosevear says:

    There is a poor video of Whimple Wassail on U-Tube (well it was dark and there was a lot of cider around); at
    This is on Old Twelvy Night. We wassailed our apple trees on the Saturday before with a mixture of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset Wassails (and ciders). As they say above – extends the turn of the year celebrations well into January.

  17. slag310 says:

    I am trying to get this in here before the end of January…
    Here is the new page for Plow Songs (or Plough Songs) at and even though it’s very late, I wanted to include a page for plow songs because they were sung in Janary for the plow plays, and then more generally they might be associated with the beginning of the planting season. Of couse gardener’s like me are just hanging around in the nice warm house and counting our seeds.
    I have a cunning plan that maybe Mr. Boden will feel like recording some of these if he hasn’t already. I just found his Farmer’s Toast which I think is great.
    PS, I am the sister.

  18. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @slag310(how did you pick that name!)..thanks for the plough song link. as I read the first version, my heart dropped as it looked like Julie Fowlis lyrics!
    Pity that there are no tunes or notation for the songs.

  19. Diana says:

    Another jolly wassailing song – any excuse for a drink.

    After yestersdays fiasco I don’t know whether to go and lie down in a darkened room till my senses return or to take part in the “Worm song” which sounds appropriate.

  20. Simon says:

    Diana you really shouldn’t apologise for chipping in with anything at all. As for yesterday’s Molly/Polly/Dolly Vaughan/Brown/Bann/Parton the origins of these things are often as slippery as eels in vaseline. My comments are only intended as a starting point to add some context or hopefully highlight something of interest about each days song and as you’ll have seen, many are far wiser than me. Reynard (I like that) has a fantastic resource, but I’m sure even he wouldn’t claim to be definitive and I know that even Jon has had to learn an awful lot to complete this project. In the ‘About’ section you’ll see Jon’s desire to promote social singing by posting these songs for others to learn and sing out when and where they can. I have a voice that strips paint, so can only add my enthusiasm for learning about the songs, where they might come from and why they are important. The fact that you are inspired to try and find out more is brilliant.

  21. Diana says:

    Thank you Simon for your kind words. As the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I did try and you know how trying I can be, but to no avail. Yesterday was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right, I suspect everyone has them now and then.

  22. Simon says:

    Those are the sort of days I specialise in!! But never mind, I’m going to take Chris Boyne’s lead above and buy some of Sainsbury’s three for a fiver cider on my way home and toast apples, apple trees, cider makers, cider bottlers and every other b***er until I’ve driven the evil spirits to distraction and they s*d off and leave me alone!!! Er, cheers.

  23. Diana says:

    What else is there to say but enjoy!

  24. Diana says:

    Reynard after your corny joke about the canned knights I have just come across an equally hammy one.

    What kind of lighting did Noah instal on the ark? I am sure you are clever enough to work that one out.

  25. Linda says:

    Love these wassailing songs, Is this the original bus song? By the way I know it.s a bit late but happy new year everybody.

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: I have been on many a wild goose chase with my folky foraging, only to find either there is no known definitive answer, that I can find anyways! – like ‘Mount Moriah!’ – or I trawl through reams of internet research to find Reynard or a Mudcatter has been there before me, oh, eons ago! However, every so often one finds some nugget or gem that adds value to this project, or prompts someone else to do so, which is very gratifying. And, if it makes you feel better, when I saw Jon on the Hedonism tour and introduced myself as from here, saying I was learning loads, he said he was too.

    I know the answer to Noah’s lights, but will leave the poser for Reynard!

    With all the talk of cider et al, I am wondering whether ‘canned knights’ has another meaning – as in ‘mullered!’ Hahahahaha! I passed on Sainsbugs and went for the 3 for a fiver speciality beers in Tescow’s this season… plenty of ‘black sheeps’ for Riggwelter Ramsden, and some Old Tom, of course! Comes in a dinky little bottle with a cat’s head on the front!

  27. Reynard says:

    Well, Jon didn’t mention any lighting in Noah’s Ark Shanty on September 4. Now, the bull and the cow surely produced enough methane that Noah could have lit. But he also could simply have used flood lights as flood was there in abundance.

  28. Diana says:

    Das ist sehr gut. Do hope that it is correct. Afraid my little german isn’t up to your impeccable english – but all at nightschool except me knew your language to some degree and the teacher went at their speed leaving me behind I am sorry to say, but I did enjoy the experience and do retain quite a bit of what I learnt.
    I knew you would spot the answer and your methane idea is ideal, but floodlights is correct. Needless to say I didn’t get this one although I did get some of the riddles which came out of crackers.

  29. Helen Rowell says:

    A Happy New Year to ane an a’ frae Bonny Scotland from the exiled Yorkshire woman and Gargoyle! We saw the NY in as ever with several pints in the Inn then piled out into the village square where the church bell (only 1) rang the old year out and the new year in and the piper played precariously ontop of the old bridge walls! 5 minutes into 2012 the heavens opened and comedy rain fell heavily, so the only singing after that was rousing renditon of Singing in the Rain, then a mad dash round various houses for first footing and to bed at 4.30am. I discovered that night that my new waterproof mascara isn’t!

  30. Slag310 says:

    An update on the Apple Tree wassail songs. The page is now at The site at Yola was hacked and the people at Yola could not fix it. That’s why there is a “very bad word” on every page now, for which I apologize, although I can’t do anything about it. It’s in the CSS code which I don’t have access to. Anyway, Yola had a lot of problems so my pages have been migrated to a new domain where the servers actually work!! And I hope to open lots of new pages with information about traditional music, some serious and some not so serious. Take care!

  31. Muzza+429days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    THank goodness Reinhard gave the answer to Noah’s lighting(5 comments above)…I would never have got that

  32. Muzza+429days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Here’s a bit of jingling and jangling fom Boxing day…drive any spirits out….right at the end there’s an old melodeon player wearing ‘softie southern red gloves’ to keep the old fella warm……..Blokes…I ask yer!

  33. Muzza+429days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Or if you have 15minutes to wile away….a mummers play..the bloke with the whistle and bubbles is a bit loud

  34. John Bryson says:

    Re if anyone has seen wassailing the apples this time of year, this takes place in January in the Rivers Orchard, Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. I was there in 2011, and it’s great fun, plenty of apple drink and seriously delicious apple cake. There is no firing of shotguns over the trees (as in some venues I’ve read about).
    When I went there was spoken word, as well as plenty of singing, with some musical accompaniment.
    This year the event is Saturday January 12th in the evening, if you google the Rovers Orchard it should come up. I won’t be there as I now reside in the heart of rural England in Leicestershire, and I can’t find any trace of wassailing in these parts.

  35. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    So the answer to Noah’s lights was …..’Flood lights’….I had Arc lights’….so that’s me told!

  36. Linda says:

    Some time I would love to go to a Wassail…

  37. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Lindy lou…….get some beers in………..dress up in weird clothes…….black your face……sing a lewd song and beat hell out of the nearest apple tree or lamp post (or car)with a leafy branch……….have fun !!! Q.E.D

  38. Linda says:

    Mentioned Wassailing at work and was met with a lot of blank expressions…….

  39. John Bryson says:

    Paul Sartin is one of the singers on this, and yesterday – Saturday January 6th 2018, Twelfth Night – Paul was in Stratford upon Avon. The RSC are currently presenting Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and to tie in with this the RSC yesterday held their first ever Wassail.
    My Wife Jane and I went over to Stratford from Loughborough where, at 4.00 pm, Paul led and conducted 4 local choirs in a Wassail at King’s Place, followed by a lantern lit procession to The Other Place. Also present were RSC singers and Hannah Young, an RSC actor and local who read two items suitable for the time of year.
    I have to say it was super, and Paul was in fine form

  40. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Cor blimey guvnor….those Yateley Morris videos take me back…..they haven’t danced for the whole of 2020 because of the cursed virus and it looks as though they might just squeeze in for May 1st to welcome the summer! Thank goodness for Zoom that has enabled us to meet ,virtually, every Tuesday…but I fear that most of the lads have become very unfit with the layoff and that will take a bit of hard graft to get back up to speed.

  41. OldMuzza(NESurrey UK) says:

    Ahhhhhhh…….looking back on those old Yateley morris videos does an old fella the world of good.They were lucky with the weather on Boxing Day and New Years Day 2022/2023 and old Muzza managed to turn out and play silly whatsits( perhaps, one last time- who knows.
    Here’s to another year of AFSAD and memories gleaned from all the songs and banter

  42. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Wey Hey…..lucky old Yateley morris men enjoyed good weather for Boxing Day and New Year’s day with heavy rain immediately before and after their performances….Phew!
    They were spared a jolly intervention from me as I was not well…..with luck…I might be around and fit enough for next year!.. counting on AFSAD to keep me going for another year.

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