Cornish Wassail Song


Here we are a wassailing and Jon simply attributes this as “A fabulous wassail song learnt from Louis Killen.” It seems to also be known as Carol For The Twelfth Day and appears of his Old Songs, Old Friends LP from 77. I’ve managed to find the sleeve notes for that, where this is described as a recent acquisition from Bob Lewis of Chichester, which Louis admits to liking both for its melody and the demands made. It is fairly insistent, but I think also nicely in the tradition of wishing well and bestowing blessings in return for ‘nappy ale’ – a strong and heady brew apparently – and anything else that those indoors can spare. Mainly Norfolk has this but doesn’t add much detail quoting …

No. 37 from the MS belonging to Miss. Minnie Davies Gilbert and Mrs. Patience Harding, great granddaughters of the original collector. The MS of Cornish Carols was compiled for Davies Gilbert by John Hutchens about 1826, as cited in: Canow Kernow., ed. Inglis Gundry, The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, 1966. Pp.18-19.

I confess to having no idea what the MS referred to is. Can someone please enlighten me and add any detail to the origin of this? You might like to look at this link through to more about Cornish Wassailing.
You can buy the December digital album now from all good download stores.


16 Responses to “Cornish Wassail Song”

  1. Joanne Sheppard says:

    ‘MS’ is usually just an abbreviation for ‘manuscript’… (sorry if you already knew that and were asking for specifics of the manuscript in question, of which I sadly know nothing).

  2. Reinhard says:

    Inglis Gundry’s autobiography also has a chapter on Cornish Carols but it does not explicitely mention this carol.

  3. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    Hey…..the clock is an hour fast…I’m listening at 11:30pm 30th!….a bonus indeed.
    A pleasant song to listen to…all that reference to lots of food and drink and well being and good will to all men………no mention of the lads ploughing up your lawn if you don’t contribute!…….ref “Nappy ale”….I think I’ll give that miss thanks!

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    The original link to Cornish Wassailing appears to no longer function, but Reinhard’s chapter on Cornish Carols reveals this about the MS:

    It was a book written out by John Hutchens from the St. Erth district and it had probably been sent to Davies Gilbert about 1827, too late for him to use. (He was the M.P. for Truro, or had been the parliamentary representative for that district.)

    Nothing is known about John Hutchens, except that he copied the carols from an old book, so they were considered “ancient” in the early 19th century. There are 89 pages of words for 39 Carols, of which only 27 have music (one line), but the music-less carols are marked to be sung to those with music. This added a considerable number to those which are deemed “ancient” in, for example, the Oxford Book of Carols.

    ‘Nappy ale’ is old British slang for strong ale as in brown and stale! So called because it makes one nappy(as in sleepy), or because it contains a nap or frothy head. Plain folk would drink ‘bumpers’ (vessels full to the very brim) of strong (‘nappy’) beer, or ‘lamb’s wool’ (a drink consisting of hot ale mixed with the pulp of roasted apples, sugared and spiced.) If you drank ‘small ale’ all the time as your main liquid intake, the festive versions would tend to end up spiced, strengthened, and thickened! Sounds like some kind of Winter porter!

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    Ballad on Ale:

    Can any taste this drink divine,
    And then compare rum, brandy, wine,
    Or ought with nappy ale ?

    Inspired by thee the warrior fights,
    The lover wooes, the poet writes,
    And pens the pleasing tale;
    And still in Britain’s Isle confest,
    Nought animates the patriot’s breast,
    Like generous, nappy ale.

    High church and low oft raise a strife,
    And oft endanger limb and life.
    Each studious to prevail;
    Yet Whig and Tory, opposite
    In all things else, do both unite
    In praise of nappy ale.

    Inspired by thee, shall Crispin sing,
    Or talk of freedom, church and king,
    And balance Europe’s scale;
    While his rich landlord lays out schemes
    Of wealth in golden South Sea dreams,
    Th’ effects of nappy ale!

    O blest potation! Still by thee
    And thy companion Liberty,
    Do health and mirth prevail;
    Then let us crown the can, the glass,
    And sportive bid the minutes pass
    In quaffing nappy ale.

  6. Reynard says:

    The link to the Cornish Wassail seems to have changed to

    — Happy new year!

  7. Diana says:

    Sorry I have nothing positive to say about this song.

    Yesterday I felt like the proverbial “lonely little petunia in an onion patch” – not a soul came on the site, at least not until I had switched off the computer around 9pm. It was very weird!

  8. Diana says:

    Perhaps I was a little hasty in my appraisal – have just been reading the lyrics updated
    today and it makes more sense to me. I believe that getting up at 6 o’clock does not suit me at all.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thanks to Reynard for the Cornish Wassail link. T’other was the only one I could find at that hour of the morning and I couldn’t remember what the original link contained to compare anyway! I think wassailing/wass-ale-ing is wonderful! This is a great song!

    Diana, I mostly only see 6am from the late night side. AFSAD is usually quiet weekends and high holidays, but a few of us always manage to drop by. I try to leave sthg of interest for those who live ‘normal hours!’ The ale ballad above has more verses both at the beginning and the end, but I thought the middle snatch was sufficient! No-one in their cups could get through it all coherently!

  10. Diana says:

    I notice Jane that you are up late or should it be up till the early hours.
    I do not usually get up at 6am it is usually 7 but I was wide awake at 5 with backache and could not get back to sleep so decided to get up and catch up on some reading.
    I expect you will probably be reading this later tonight so if so wish you a happy new year or looking at comments above a “nappy” new year.

  11. Diana says:

    The words are lovely but I think a slightly more livelier tune would have added something.

  12. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Ha,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,I thought the comment section had stopped……..and blow me down…’s back again…HUZZAH!……Happy New Year everybody……..keep on singing,,,,I’ll win that Islington Folk competition next year then!

  13. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Just rechecked the link given by Jane(see below)….it works ok………Reynard’s one is a GENERAL Cornwall info link
    Cor blimey Guvnor……..another year has slipped by

  14. Linda says:

    Happy New Year to one and all and a toast to absent friends……xx

  15. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Taking the opportunity to wish you all A HAPPY NEW YEAR…..2023.
    Unfortunately, some of us might not make it through…….but we will be lurking here in spirit, in the comments, for as long as the site stays clinging to the wreckage.
    Hang on there folks.

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