Saturday 17th January 2009 20.00 The Fleece Inn, Bretforton, Worcestershire WR11 7JE
To bless the antique trees in our orchard for fertility and growth for the coming year’s crop. Singing, Drinking and Blackjack Morris Dancing. Mulled Wine and Mulled Prior’s Tipple Cider plus a supper of warming winter stew with crusty bread.
The word ‘Wassail’ is derived from the Old Norse ‘Ves heill’, from whence came the Old English salutation ‘Wes Hal’, meaning ‘Be In Good Health’. The dictionary tells us also that Wassail is ‘A riotous festivity characterised by much drinking’. But to the true countryman, particularly in areas where apples are grown and especially in rural Devon, this is not just a ‘riotous festivity’ but a ritual which is taken extremely seriously as the apple is an important part of the local economy. So, anything that can be done to help the trees produce a generous harvest is wholeheartedly encouraged and the skill and dedication of the ‘Wassailers’ is all important. When Wassailing was first discovered to be of benefit is not really known but there is mention in a magazine, published in 1791, of “The custom with the Devonshire people to go after supper into the orchard with large quantities of cider, having roasted apples pressed into it”. In Whimple the ceremony took place at Rull Farm on ‘Old Twelvy Night’. In 1931 The Devon & Exeter Gazette in their report dated 23rd January, states that: “The Host and Hostess, (Mr. & Mrs. J. Reynolds) are renowned throughout the district for their hospitality”.
The fact that Wassailing takes place on ‘Old Twelvy Night’ indicates that it has been the custom for many centuries as England did not accept the Gregorian Calendar until 1752 when dates were adjusted by eleven days to realign with the solar year.This meant that Twelfth Night remained onthe 6th January, but traditionalists retained 17th January as the true day relevant to Wassailing.
The Fleece Inn is without equal in England. Owned by the Byrd family since the days of Chaucer, it was bequeathed by Lola Taplin to the National Trust in 1977. The building was originally a longhouse and has remained largely undisturbed in its architecture and atmosphere since the mid 17th Century.
A pub steeped in history like The Fleece, has many stories to tell. Its historical significance to the Cotswolds and the Vale of Evesham is immense, not least for its pewter collection, housed in the “Pewter room” of the pub and on open display for over 300 years.
Change has passed The Fleece by for centuries. When you take your place at a table to dine from the excellent menu or to sample a fine ale, you are priviledged to be sat in much the same surroundings as those who lived in the house more than four centuries ago.
You’ll even benefit from the medieval protection afforded by the “Witch circles”, drawn on the floor in front of each hearth. This local tradition was practiced to prevent witches from entering down the chimneys and has been preserved in accordance with the wishes of Lola Taplin.
In mentioning Lola Taplin, we refer to a remarkable lady. Lola was a direct descendant of the yeoman family Byrd, who built the place in around 1400. Lola’s hospitality was legendary and when you drank in The Fleece it was as though you were being welcomed
into her home. In fact this impression was entirely accurate as Lola lived at the pub for all of her 83 years and ran it alone for the last 30. Lola’s identity is firmly stamped on the pub still as it is largely as she left it when she passed away.
Lola is fondly remembered in the village and locals who knew her fancy that she still watches over the pub and its people.
In fact, local folklore will have it that she is present in the incarnation of an owl that sits on the ridge of the thatched tithe barn across the courtyard from the pub itself.
Source: The Fleece Inn, Bretforton & Whimple History Society
Photo kindly used with permission of the Fleece Inn
The Fleece Inn
The Cross, Bretforton, Near Evesham, Worcestershire WR11 7JE
Telephone 01386 831173
Whimple History Society