Oh, here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green,
Oh, here we come a wassailing so fairer to be seen.
God send a happy, God send a happy,
Pray God send you all a happy New Year.
We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours’ children who you have seen before.
God bless the master of this house, God bless the mistress too,
God bless its dwellers one and all with peace and plenty too.
Recorded by Mrs Ann Wright in Aldborough during 1973 and passed on to Steve Gardham on the 23rd of October 1973.
This is a traditional song
The following fuller version for comparison can be found in Nigel Hudleston’s Songs of the Ridings - Pindar and Son, Scarborough, 2001, p185 as sung by Bert Dobson of Todmorden, with another version on the following page.
Here we come a wassailing amang the leaves so green,
Here we come a wassailing the fairer to be seen.
Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year,
And God send you a happy New Year.
We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours’ childer as you have seen before.
Bring us out a table and spread on it a cloth,
Bring us out a mouldy cheese and some of your Christmas loaf.
Good master and good mistress, while you’re sitting round the fire,
Pray think of us poor childer a wandering in the mire.
God bless the master of this house likewise the mistress too,
And all the little childer that round the table go.
Although we are deliberately avoiding the strong Yorkshire tradition of caroling as this has its own dedicated website, no Yorkshire song collection could possibly avoid including at least one version of The Yorkshire Wassail. Practically every village in Yorkshire has its own version and, though the words show little variation, there can be almost any permutation of the eight or so standard stanzas, and the chorus and tune can vary considerably.
Though nearly every county of England and Wales has its own distinct Wassail song, some more than one, it is The Yorkshire Wassail which is the most widely known across the whole country, probably the world, due to its early publication and its subsequent inclusion in all of the standard national carol anthologies. In some parts of England this led to the strange paradox of the local Wassail song being sung in the villages, and middle classes in nearby towns singing The Yorkshire Wassail. Fortunately the Yorkshire family group The Watersons have more than redressed this imbalance by recording the main varieties of Wassail songs from other parts of the country.
The best known version appeared in Christmas Carols New and Old, 1871, p78, words edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley, music edited by John Stainer. The tune given there is practically identical to that sung by Bert Dobson. Most of the well-known Yorkshire anthologies contain a version. In Holroyd’s Collection of Yorkshire Ballads published by C F Forshaw in 1892, p300, the version there is accompanied by the note ‘….children with their ‘Wassail Bob’ made of rosemary tree. There can be little doubt that these simple lyrics date from pre-Reformation times, and originated in the years between the 12th and the 15th centuries.’ Although the custom of ‘Wass Hael’ is no doubt pre-Christian the song can’t be much older than the 15th century. Even though the ballad form is nowadays thought to have evolved from the carol, this happened in France not in Britain.
J Horsfall Turner’s Yorkshire Anthology of 1901, p277, gives different versions and two versions of the chorus. He adds his Bradford childhood recollection ‘As a very little boy I used to join other boys and girls at New Year’s time in singing the above. A holly bush with ribbons, oranges, apples, dolls suspended was carried from door to door.’
In my native East Riding it has its own distinct tune and chorus and the country people recalled it being sung right up to the outbreak of World War II by gypsies and poor people from the Hull dockland area. These ‘Vessel Cuppers’ went round the farms and villages during the festive season, usually carrying baskets with seasonal decorations inside. Following the song they recited the following rhyme:-
‘Ah wish you a merry Christmas an’ a happy New Year,
A pocket full o’ money an’ a cellar full o’ beer,
An old fat pig an’ a new-calved coo,
Please, maister an’ missus, how do you do!
Me shoes are very dirty, me stockings are very thin,
But I have a little pocket to put a penny in.
If you haven’t a penny a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t a ha’penny well God bless you!’
In the 1930s the custom was on the wane until only one or two old people came round with a doll in a shoebox.
Stanzas found in other Yorkshire versions include:-
‘Our wassail-cup is made of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer of the best barley.
We have a little purse made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change to line it well within.
Call up the butler of this house, put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer and the better we shall sing.’
The original recording of this song is deposited in the British Library Sound Archive at C1009/11 C36 [access copy 1CDR0009340 BD6] and this recording was digitized by the British Library Sound Archive as part of the Traditional Music in England project sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further details can be obtained at www.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/traditional_music.html, along with details of many other recordings of traditional songs made by Steve Gardham and others from other parts of the UK.
This version was originally published in Gardham, An East Riding Songster, Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, 1982, p8.