The Bodmin Wassailers
I have lived in Bodmin all my life and, until he passed away, my grandfather Chris Bulstrode had hosted the Wassail. When I was 13 I was asked by the Wassailers if I would be interested in joining them for their yearly tour of the town on Twelfth Night. They felt it would be fitting to invite me along.
Nearly 20 years on I am a proud member of a tradition that is growing stronger and stronger with the huge effort of a wonderful group of men and hosts, who keep this amazing, ancient tradition alive.
I remember seeing and hearing the Wassailers during my childhood and youth. My best friend at school's dad was one. Then, when I started taking a serious interest in folk customs, Lar [Cann] and I followed them around one night. We were invited to join.
For me, the Wassail means being proud to take part in and be part of a unique and ancient custom that’s brought joy and happiness to the people of Bodmin through the centuries. Long may it continue.
My father Ted Green did it, and his brother Tommy. I wasn't asked for awhile, but once I was there was no hesitation. It was in the early 90s.
It means a hell of a lot to me, especially as I had to kind of step in once my uncle was finished with it. I remember when I was a kid seeing my dad get all dressed up before he went out. It was a big thing for the family – Mum was always talking about it. But I only started to learn more about it after Dad had passed away. I realised what it was all about and hoped to become part of it one day.
In 1973, as part of Bodmin Folk Club, I helped send the Wassailers up to Cecil Sharp House in London to be recorded. Then, in 1975, I took my wife-to-be to the White Hart pub to see the Wassailers in action. They were a little short-handed so Tom Green asked me to give them a hand until the rest arrived. I was only too pleased to do so. As I left them Tom invited me to join the following year.
I feel very proud and privileged to be one of a great band, upholding such a long-standing tradition.
My father [Paul Scoble] is a Wassailer and I joined as what the Wassailers call a "coat boy" in 2013. I had my first day as a fully signed up member in 2014.
There are two aspects to what it means to me to be a Wassailer. Firstly, I love the here and now of it, where everyone involved in the day enjoys what we do and you get a sense of bringing the town together. Secondly, you just can't get away from the history of it and I feel proud and lucky to play my very small part in this very special day.
I grew up living next door to [now-deceased Wassailer] Charlie Wilson, and in the same street as [also now-deceased Wassailer] Des Jago, so I had a little knowledge [of the tradition] from quite a young age. I was a tower bell ringer at St Petroc's Church with another Wassailer, Tommy Green, and saw them sing at one of the Bodmin Folk Club evenings at the Garland Ox pub. I then got involved myself following a conversation with [Wassailer] Pete Marlow at Bodmin Beer Festival.
I find it a great honour to have been chosen to carry out such a long-held tradition and a real privilege to be able to partake in an event that so few have been able to.
I got involved through [Wassailer] Dan Carter. I’d always been keen to be involved, so when Dan offered to suggest me as a new member, I was chuffed to bits. When I asked if I could join and was accepted into the team, I was elated.
The wassail means an awful lot to me. First and foremost it is simply a superb custom, and it is a uniquely Bodmin custom, which makes me very proud. But also it is borne from an older custom from this island. It is these deep roots that add weight to the amount it means to me – I am part of an ancient tradition of good will and merry-making, something so important to a healthy society.
I have made my career in folk music and in 1992 I set up Folk South West, supported by the Arts Council as the folk arts development organisation for the South West of England. I still see it as one of my roles to tell people about the traditions of where they live. Two years later I was invited to observe and participate in the Bodmin Wassail. I was told how to dress, and I knew I would join in with the singing but I didn’t know either of the main songs. I also knew that there was a reasonable chance alcohol might pass my lips during the course of the evening. I must have passed muster because a year or so later I was invited to be a “permanent” Wassailer. But the whole point of tradition is that people look after it and hand it on, so nobody is permanent and because of that the tradition lives.
I still find it almost overwhelming that I am involved in this very old tradition. I knew Vic Legg, Lar Cann and Peter Marlow long before I started, but my first year out was Desmond Jago’s last year. I am very pleased that I still have his top hat. What a wonderful thing tradition is.