W is for Wassailing – the history interpreter’s historical advent calendar and other anachronisms

Despite generally enjoying watching ‘Merlin’ on BBC TV, I was somewhat irritated yesterday when King Arthur, presumably speaking at some point during the Dark Ages, referred to the United Kingdom!


Waits were the night watchmen who played instruments whilst they patrolled the streets, to warn townspeople of danger. From this they developed into minstrels who gave performances in private homes or innyards. Villages often had their own band of waits.


Wassail was a traditional toast ‘waes hael’ (be well), to which the response was ‘drink hael’ (drink and be healthy). Wassailing, also known as apple howling, was particularly common in the west country. The apple king and queen, followed by a rowdy procession, would go from orchard to orchard blessing the trees. This was accompanied by shouting, the banging of drums and the firing of muskets.


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