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

Green Man Curious

Ed and Will Walking North

Ed and Will

Ed and Will are intrepid explorers walking the ancient and not so ancient pathways of Britain singing for their supper and seeking out ancient songs and tales. On  June 5th, they set off on a new quest, to walk north for Liverpool. From South Somerset, they aim to cross the Welsh mountains for Anglessey, before hitting the modern cultural capital. They will record an album of folk songs in acoustic hotspots that they discover whilst walking. I’ve asked Ed and Will to keep an ear open for any songs or tales that involve the Green man or the Jack-in-the-Green and hope to cross their path at some point this summer.

They are also seeking out historic springs and wells, to get a taste of Britain’s heritage drinking water.

Ed and Will and friends have formed a Charitable Trust, called Flowing Britain, to raise awareness of historic British potable springs and wells, for public education and health. They believe everyone deserves access to safe natural drinking water, within an hour’s walk of their home.

For more info go to their website

And if you see them on their way don’t be afraid… join them and sing along.

It is not getting dark.

Green Man or not Green Man?

Vic Ward sent me some pictures of this sadly weather beaten head from St Peter and Paul Church, Keddington, Suffolk. The question is green man or not green man? Having been fooled by facial hair in the past I’m a little bit cautious. So I’m relying on our members for a decision on whether to class this one as a green man or not and would be grateful if you could complete the poll on this page:

Green Man or not Green Man?

Tichfield St Peters copyright © David Williams

David Williams sent me some pictures of this fascinating figure from St Peter’s Church, Tichfield in Hampshire. It is a capital supporting the archway in the west porch. I visited this church myself back in April of this year to photograph this figure and verify it for the gazetteer. It was originally reported as a green man by Clive Hicks in his gazetteer and I must admit I went along with the description…but should I have?
David commented that “it is not a “Green Man” as it is non-foliate, but an interesting version of the genre. The Church literature describes it as a “Sea Monster” but makes no reference apart from that. I believe that this is unusual as carved heads normally physically spew water as part of their function.
Some carvings of Neptune have this feature, but the Titchfield one lacks the beard that is common on Neptune sculptures.”
And so is it time to look again at those few green men who do not feature easily recognisable foliage in any way and  exclude them from the gazetteer? I would love to hear our members views and so have added a poll below..Green Man or not Green Man? I would also love to hear your thoughts via the comments link on this post.

Museum of British Folklore Pop Up Shop

The Museum of British Folklore’s first Pop-Up shop will be at at Stratford-Upon-Avon Civic Hall, Warwickshire. It will open on Tuesday 4th October and run until Saturday 28th October (Tues – Sat 11:30-5:00)

The fabulous greenman skittle above is a one off  and will be available for £75

As well as showing items from the Museum of British Folklore collection, visitors will be able to purchase a wide range of lovely things to help support the museum and its development. Along with Museum mugs and T-shirts complete with the Jonny Hannah designed logo and icons, there will be a positive plethora of Firework related merchandise. Tote bags and tea-towels, posters, postcards, giant fireworks filled with matches and pencils, firework inspired embroidery kits, cushions and toys, jewellery and even headwear, will all pay homage to the UK’s rich firework heritage. A publication to accompany the exhibition will be for sale priced at £19.99.

In addition, the Pop-Up venue will host a small exhibition about the Museum, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about British Folklore.

The aims of the Museum include:

Drawing greater public attention to the rich and continuing tradition of folklore as a vital component in the social fabric and cultural identity of the British Isles.

Actively encouraging the study of traditional customs and seasonal events as they presently exist in the British Isle focusing on the way indigenous folk traditions are revived, altered or adapted in a contemporary context.

To accurately portray the history and rich tradition of folk practice throughout the ages.

For more information about The Museum of British Folklore go to

For their fantastic new Remember Remember video (featuring a green man at the start) go to

And for details about the fireworks exhibition go to

Wassailing the Apple Trees

Apple Tree Man © Andy Paciorek

I have reproduced COTGM member Bruce Eaton’s brilliant post on Wassailing the Apple Trees from January 2009 below. For those interested in attending an event Wassailing the Apple Trees will take place in many locations throughout the UK in January 2011. I would like to thank Andy Paciorek for the fantastic Apple Tree Man picture above. You can see more of Andy’s work at:

In Carhampton, Somerset Wassailing will take place on Saturday 15th January 2011 (The Saturday nearest to the Old Twelfth Night 17th January). Wassailing will also take place in Brent Knoll at West Croft Cider on the same day.

At Carhampton the wassail celebration takes place in the old orchard behind the Butcher’s Arms, the villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits (seen by some as worms and maggots) Four wassailing veterans then line up near the apple trees and launch into a series of wonderful folk songs about cider, some adapted from traditional songs with the lyrics adapted to give them a cider theme! Then brandishing their traditional cider crocks, they sing the Carhampton Wassailing Song:

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bloom well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagsful
And a little heap under the stairs,
Hip, Hip, Hooray!

The last three lines are repeated and the whole crowd join in the chant. When the singing is over and cups empty, people retire inside to listen to a local folkband.

Feel free to add to this post if you have your own Wassailing event for 2011.

So here is Bruce’s article, after which I have reproduced a few more wassailing songs:

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.

And here are another two Wassailing songs:

Gloucestershire Wassail (Traditional)

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Colly and to her long tail
Pray God send our master he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer! I pray you draw near
And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.


Gower Wassail (Traditional / Phil Tanner)

A-wassail, a-wassail, throughout all this town.
Our cup it is white and our ale it is brown.
Our wassail is made of the good ale and cake,.
Some nutmeg and ginger, the best we could get.

Al di dal – al di dal di dal
Al di dal di dal – al di dal di dee
Al de deral – al de derry
Sing too rel I do

Our wassail is made of an elderberry bough.
Although my good neighbour, we’ll drink unto thou..
Besides all on earth, we’ll have apples in store,
Pray let us come in for it’s cold by the door.

We know by the moon that we are not too soon,.
And we know by the sky that we are not too high,.
We know by the star that we are not too far,.
And we know by the ground that we are within sound.

Now master and mistress if you are within
Pray send out your maid with her lily-white skin
For to open the door without more delay
Our time it is precious and we cannot stay

Here’s a health to our Colley and her croo’ed horn
May God send her Master a good crop of corn
Of barley and wheat and all sorts of grain
May God send her Mistress a long life to reign

Now master and mistress – thanks to you we’ll give
And for our jolly wassail as long as we live
And if we should live til another new year
Perhaps we may call and see who do live here

Green Man Encounter

Sean Breadin drew my attention to a letter in the July 2010 edition of Fortean Times written by Nick Skerten from London:
One summer afternoon in 2007, I was returning from central London and my train had spent a few too many minutes idling at the platform in New Malden station. Lost in thought, I had been looking out of the window at nothing in particular when I suddenly saw something that made me gasp out loud. At the far end of the London-bound platform is a thick bank of trees and shrubs behind a fence. I was astonished to see what appeared to be an enormous face made up of the surrounding foliage looming out at the opposite platform and looking very similar to the typical appearance of the ‘Green Man’, as seen in church carvings. The face was about 5ft (1.5m) in diameter and about 7ft (2m) or so from the ground.
I was amazed how perfect the face seemed to be-though at the same time I knew it was just my brain demonstrating its knack for face recognition in random patterns. I probably gazed in wonder for 20-odd seconds before the most shocking thing happened.
Suddenly, and with tremendous velocity, the entire face withdrew backwards into the vegetation, which caused the surrounding bushes and trees to sway violently. Most strikingly of all, a branch that must have been under the ‘face’ swung upwards with immense force-as if a huge weight had been lifted from it-before smacking into the surrounding greenery and, I suppose, reassuming its original position. This whole motion took about a second and the face had completely disappeared! I could accept that a fox or even a human might have been sitting on the branches and had jumped off, causing them to bounce back into position, but this would not easily account for the very distinct retraction of the face, as if it was wrenched backwards into a tunnel.
The face in no way looked constructed or man-made and seemed to consist of a natural, though utterly remarkable, arrangement. The features of the thing were clear to see and I was particularly struck by the grinning mouth and staring eyes. Quite how the verdant visage was sucked backwards I have no idea. I have often wondered how, or indeed why, anyone would have achieved this bizarre effect for bored South West Trains passengers. The train drew away and I sat back in my chair feeling strangely unnerved. On all my subsequent journeys through the station I have never seen anything like this again.

I managed to get in contact with Nick to ask his permission to reproduce the letter and to see if there was anything else he would add. Nick commented that: “There was no-one near me when I saw this weird thing, which is slightly frustrating! I was travelling back from town after doing some shopping. It was a very sunny day and I suppose the train had been waiting for a good two minutes before I noticed the face in the leaves. I hadn’t been staring out of the window all of that time and it was, as I recall, the moment I looked at the bushes that I saw the face. I’ve always had a good look at that bank of trees whenever I pass through New Malden station on the train, but it’s always looked like a rather standard bush and nothing else. It was, though, the terrific suction that seemed to be exerted on the face as it was wrenched back into the shrubbery that I found so inexplicable. The violence of the exit and the massive swaying of branches and foliage was quite spectacular and just left me feeling really surprised and shocked. I only wish now that I had got out of the train and gone to investigate the opposite platform, but, alas, I didn’t, so I’m left with the mystery.”
Nick was also kind enough to sketch the drawing which is included on this post. Nick’s description is fascinating and I must admit that I can offer no rational explanation for his experience. This is the only record that I can find of a sighting of this kind, ghostly figures dressed in green and the children of woolpit don’t even come close, and the only image that I have seen that partially resembles this is of a brilliant piece of topiary in a garden in Wiltshire. If anyone else has heard of a sighting of this kind either present day or historical we would love to hear from you.

October Plenty (Featuring the Berry Man) Sunday 24th October

The Greenman (In his autumnal guise of The Berry Man) will be walking out with the Lions part at their October Plenty festival on Sunday the 24th Octobe  from 12 noon on the Bankside outside Shakespeare’s Globe.

October Plenty is an Autumn harvest celebration held annually in Southwark. Beginning on the Bankside, by Shakespeare’s Globe, October Plenty mixes ancient seasonal customs and theatre with contemporary festivity, joining with historic Borough Market, Southwark.

October Plenty is a collective celebration of the seasons, weather and food, in a public place, with access to everyone. The event is free, and happens whatever the weather.

The October Plenty events & highlights:

The Corn Queene

A huge Corn Queene effigy heavy with ‘Plenty’ – wheat, barley and other grains, and apples, root vegetables and foliage from the Borough Market – appears in a procession around the front of the Globe, Bankside, with the Company of actors and the time-honoured Hobby Horse in attendance, strung with cakes and loaves and led by the Berry Man.

The Berry Man

The Berry Man – our Autumn incarnation of the original Green Man – decked with wild fruits and foliage, leads the company. He carries an Apple Tree to where it will be placed within the Bankside area, with general songs and music on the street for all.

The Procession

After gathering a sizeable crowd, we then move through the streets to the Borough Market. There in the Green Market there is time to savour the delights on offer: soul cakes, apple biscuits, conker fights, cider from the New Forest, apple bobbing, a great beer selection and the wonderful market stalls as well as more dancing.

The Play

The play performed changes from year to year; we like them to be short-ish and funny-ish. Last year the Company will perform two of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The Nun’s Priest’s story of Chanticleer and Partelote and that which the Reeve tells are amongst the best known and best loved of Chaucer’s stories.

Newly adapted for October Plenty and spiced with festive spirit and song, these plays are performed in Southwark where Chaucer’s pilgrims first gathered – you’ll be laughing and gasping over your cider!

The Story Orchard

We create a little glade of young English apple trees as a space for children to gather. There they can decorate and re-clothe the trees with green wishes (paper apples) and listen to stories about apples, markets, harvest time, bees and London sparrows!

There is a tasting table of old apple types from London by Brogdale Horticultural Trust with decorations created at Roots and Shoots, the Lambeth community gardens environment project where the Corn Queene is created.

More details at:

If anyone can send us some pictures of this years Berry Man for the blog I would be most grateful

Tim Healey on Questions Questions

Eagle eared listeners may have heard Tim Healey on Radio 4’s Questions Questions yesterday with his query relating to the possible eastern ancestory of the green man. Also appearing on the programme was Mercia MacDermott author of “Explore Green Men”. For those who missed it you can listen again at: I’ve also posted a discussion topic on the BBC discussion board.

The Green Children of Woolpit

The BBC broadcast a fascinating programme on The Green Children of Woolpit today. If you missed it then try the  listen again facility on the BBC Radio 4 website.

The Green Children reportedly appeared mysteriously in a field in the village of Woolpit in twelth century Suffolk and were presumed to be brother and sister. They spoke a strange language and had green skin and would only eat green beans. The boy only survived a short time but the girl is said to have adapted to other foods, lost the green colour of her skin and learnt English. She explained that they came from an underground world known as St Martin’s Land.
Thories abound on how the legend originated and whether it is based on fact. From lost orphaned children of Flemish settlers who managed to survive on wild food and became green through a form of anaemia to lost fairy children or aliens. It is also suggested that the legend is an echo of an ancient fairy tale and links with the idea of fertility and re-birth in much the same way that the green man may do.

West Country Lead Green Man

West Country Green Man

This wonderful Green Man is a recent metal detector find in the West Country. If anyone can shed any light on possible age or use of this lead green man we would be most grateful.  The size is 6.4cm high and 6.5cm wide.

It has been reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme but it is a bit of an enigma and they have not been able to hazard a date for it!

Kath Stonedog has suggested that it might be a vessel mount.

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Photograph Copyright ©  Bob Minton