All Things Green Man & The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

Archive for Jan, 2014

Historical Jack-in-the-Green – January

Jack in the Green

Each month I will be publishing a random newspaper article that featured the traditional Jack-in-the-Green. Each of these articles is a magical window into a bygone era. For more information about the Jack in the Green both current and historical visit our main website at:

Bedford Row, Holborn London

1836, 3 May: HATTON-GARDEN. – MY LORD AND MY LADY, OR JACK IN THE GREEN LUMBERED. – Yesterday George Sharpe, Edward Ellis, William Davies, and George Vincent, sweeps, were brought before Mr. Bennett and Mr. Halls, charged by Richard Bird, the street-keeper of Bedford-row, Holborn, with having created a disturbance, and assaulting him. The prisoners were dressed up in an eccentric style. Sharpe and Ellis were clowns; Davis [sic] was papered and spangled as “My Lord,” and Vincent, as “Jack in the Green.”

Bird stated that yesterday morning, about twelve o’clock, prisoners entered Bedford-row with a fife and drum, followed by an immense crowd of persons, when they commenced dancing and disturbing the whole of the neighbourhood. He ordered them to remove, when they refused ; and, on making an effort to move them, Davies struck him, and he was immediately surrounded and beaten by them, and he would have been murdered had it not been for the arrival of the police. A witness corroborated this evidence.

Mr. Barnett [sic] asked Davies what he had to say?

Davies (in a gruff voice) – Vy, my Lord, I’m a serveep ; my father was a serveep afore me ; and ve alvays vos ‘lowed to go about in May. The beadle pushed us along, ven I sartainly did strike him, but he hit my child on its head.

Eliza Sharpe, who held a child in her arms, said that Bird struck the child on its head with his staff, and pointed out a bruise on its forehead, but she could not say that he did it wilfully.

Mr. Barnett [sic] asked Bird why he used his staff?

Bird – I was obliged, in self-defence. They were all upon me, your Worship.

Mr. Bennett – You have acted rather intemperately ; you ought not to have used your staff.

Mr. Bennett – You have acted rather intemperately. You ought not to have used your staff. [sic]

Davies – We axed him if we might have a dance, and vile ve wer in the reel round “Jack in the Green” he cum’d and turned us avay for nuffen votsamdever ; there are some o’ these chaps vot goes about, vot are not serveeps (pulling up his trowsers), but if yer Lordship vants to be satisfied on that ere subject only look at my knees, (showing large corns on his knee-pans) I assures yer Vorship ve are reglar flue-flakers, and I’ve been up the smallest flues in the country. I was born a serveep, I’ve lived a serveep, and I’ll die a serveep. (Laughter.)

Mr. Bennett – I certainly must say that it is very irregular for such persons to go about the streets creating a mob and disturbance, but it is an ancient custom, and they ought not to be interfered with. (To Bird) – I do not mean to censure you ; but if you had not interfered you would have acted more wisely. If you call upon me to punish them for their conduct I must do so; but, under the circumstances, you having used your staff, I think you would act more wisely not to press the matter.

Bird said he would not, and the whole of the prisoners were discharged, and, on leaving the Court, Jack popped into the Green ; and, after regaling themselves at an adjacent public-house, they proceeded opposite the office and struck up a tune, and continued dancing in a most ludicrous manner until they got out of the neighbourhood.

The Morning Post, 4 May 1836, page 4.

World War One Green Men


At the beginning of December The Company of the Green Man was approached by John Hampden Grammar school in High Wycombe to ask for the Company’s support in their request for lottery funding. They are requesting funding to repair and restore a set of lockers which date back to 1919. The lockers are carved out of English Oak and have 19 panels on them; most of the panels have a green man carved into them.

Back in 1919 the school, then known as The Wycombe Technical School, set up a unique scheme to train returning veterans who were disabled in the First World War. The scheme aimed to train each man for the skilled profession of furniture crafting to enable them to work in the local furniture trade. As part of the scheme, the veterans made a set of memorial lockers for students of the school who died in the war.  The lockers are in need of repair and as part of the WW1 centenary the school is hoping to get lottery funding to have them restored.

I was honoured to offer the support of The Company of the Green Man. One of the main objectives of the Company is to assist where possible the protection and preservation of architectural images of the green man.

Below is an extract from a local paper published in 1919

Furniture Exhibition at Wycombe 

Artistic Productions by Disabled Sailors and Soldiers 

“With regard to the Exhibits, all of which are exceedingly meritorious, perhaps the most noteworthy is a very handsome memorial cupboard, to be used as lockers by students in the Carving Room. The cupboard has been effectively designed by Mr T Shaw Wilson, A.R.C.A., and the work carried out by the following disabled men (under the tuition of Mr R W Parker): – Messrs. H. Watson, S. Morton, W. Brackley, W. Hare, C. Couling, H. Barley (makers), R. Wisdom, T. Carter, G. Goodchild, A Kearley, G Perfect (carvers), and Horace Trendall (who was responsible for the lettering). The cupboard forms a Memorial to the Students of The Technical School fallen in the War. 

 It contains four panels, symbolic of War, Peace, Art, and Literature, and each is distinguished by an appropriate medallion. On the cornice are the names of the great battle areas – France, Belgium, North Sea, Gallipoli, Salonika, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Italy, and Africa; the frieze bearing the quotation: “They counted not their lives dear unto themselves.”

Date: 16th May, 1919 Publication: Bucks Free Press


Wassailing the Apple Trees by Bruce Eaton

The ancient tradition of ‘Wassailing’ the apple trees on the 17th January (Old Twelfth Night) is particularly associated with Somerset and the South West of England, and is one of a number of folk customs termed ‘Wassailing’.  In this instance the aim of the wassail is threefold, to drive evil spirits out of the orchard, to invite the good spirits in and to wake the apple trees up from their winter slumber.  It is also a time to drink copious amounts of scrumpy cider and have a pig roast and a bonfire.

The evil spirits are dealt with easily enough by banging on pots and pans, blowing whistles and maybe firing off a shotgun or two.  This accomplished the wassilers now sing to the apple trees to wake them up.  There are many traditional wassailing songs and different localities have there own versions.  The song below is sung each year at the Butchers Arms pub in Carhampton, Somerset, where they claim to have the oldest continuous apple tree wassail in the country, and is a fairly typical example.

Old apple tree, we wassail thee

And hope that you wilt bear

For the Gods doth know where we shall be

Come apples another year

To bloom well and to bear well

So merry let us be

Let every man take off his hat

And shout out to the old apple tree

Old apple tree, we wassail thee

And hope that you will bear

Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls

And a little heap under the stair

Three cheers for the old apple tree:

Hip, hip, hooray

Hip, hip, hooray

Hip, hip, hooray

Obviously the ‘little heap under the stair’ is more cider brewing.  In some ceremonies the trunk of the tree is knocked on hard with a stick to help wake the tree.  This may also have the beneficial effect of dislodging harmful insects.  Finally the good spirit of the orchard is invited in.  The good spirit is not, however, represented by our old friend the Green Man, but rather by the robin.  Toast soaked in cider is hung amongst the branches of the trees as an offering to the birds.  The robins are also very good at hoovering up any parasitic insects that were dislodged the previous night.

Wassailing the apple trees as a custom very nearly died out in the late 20th century, but clung on in Carhampton and a handful of orchards across Somerset.  In recent years, however, there has been something of a Renaissance in these folk customs and wassails have been cropping up right across the West Country and even further a field.  But what is the antiquity of this custom?  The term wassail is derived from two Old English components, namely ‘waes’ and ‘hael’, meaning literally ‘good health’.  The traditional reply to this ancient toast was supposed to be ‘drinc hael!’ and is first recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain written c.1140.  Some authors dispute this and see ‘waes hael – drinc hael’ as a 12th century confection rather than a genuine Anglo-Saxon toast. In The English Year (2006) Steve Roud looks at the linguistic evidence.

‘Wassail as a general salutation existed in Old Norse as well as in Old English, but the use of the word as a drinking toast is not found in any of the Teutonic languages, and appears to be a peculiarly English formation from the Eleventh or Twelfth century… Later use of the word, in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, show that it had undergone a considerable extension of meaning, with wassail meaning a party, or the drink that was enjoyed there, or the words said when drinking, or even the songs that were sung.’

(Roud p.556)

This is no doubt the reason that we have a plethora of folk customs all termed ‘Wassailing’ and is why we cannot trace the antiquity of wassailing the apple trees through etymology.  My personal feeling is that the ceremony pre-dates the name given to it and I strongly suspect pre-Christian and possibly pre-English roots.* And where is my evidence to support this claim?  Well that, like the origin of the Green Man, is proving rather elusive.

[1][*] The expansion of the English kingdom of Wessex into the territory of Dumnonia, a British kingdom which encompassed south Somerset, Devon and Dorset, only happened late in the 7th century, by which time Wessex had officially converted to Christianity.

This article was first published on this blog in January 2009

The Green Man at the Twelfth Night celebration events: Sunday 5th January

Twelth Night

The 2014 TWELFTH NIGHT Celebrations will be held from 2.30pm on Sunday 5th January 2014.

Twelfth Night is an annual seasonal celebration held in the Bankside area of London. It is a celebration of the New Year, mixing ancient seasonal customs with contemporary festivity. It is free, accessible to all and happens whatever the weather.

The Twelfth Night celebration events:

The Holly Man from the Thames

To herald the celebration, the extraordinary Holly Man (the Winter guise of the Green Man from pagan myths and folklore) decked in fantastic green garb and evergreen foliage, appears from the River Thames brought by the Thames Cutter, Trinity Tide (boat subject to weather!) rowed by hardy volunteers.

The Bankside Wassails

With the crowd, led by the Bankside Mummers, the Holly Man ‘brings in the green’ and ‘wassails’ or toasts the people,  the River Thames and the Globe – an old tradition encouraging good growth.

The Mummers Play

The Mummers then process to the Bankside Jetty, and perform the traditional ‘freestyle’ Folk Combat Play of St. George, featuring the St George, Beelzebub, the Turkey Sniper, the Doctor, Clever Legs, the Old ‘Oss and many others, dressed in their spectacularand colourful  ‘guizes’. The play is full of wild verse and boisterous action, a time-honoured part of the season recorded from the Crusades.

King Bean and Queen Pea

At the end of the play, cakes are distributed  –  a bean and a pea hidden in two of them. Those who find them are hailed King and Queen for the day and crowned with ceremony.

They then lead the people in procession through the streets to the historic George Inn in Borough High Street for a fine warming up with Storytelling, the Kissing Wishing Tree and more Dancing.

The Wood Beyond the World – January – Looking Forward and Back

January - looking Forward and Back © Sally Priston

January – looking Forward and Back © Sally Priston

Happy new year to all our members contributors and readers of this blog.

Sally Priston’s work is based around nature, folklore and the changing seasons, she works in 2D in watercolour, ink and pencil generally, and also on wood, using pyrography. We are publishing one of her pictures around the first of each month from June 2013 until May 2014. If you would like to get in touch with Sally or would like to purchase any of her art please drop us a line at