Brett Thorn from the Buckinghamshire County Museum has been kind enough to send us a multiple shot of the mount which may help to answer some of Kath’s Questions. Our thanks again to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (further details at http://www.finds.org.uk/ )
Following on from the blog entry on 3 September 2009 I’ve managed to find another one, from Oakley in Buckinghamshire. Rather than the Weymouth leafmask however, this is the head of “a male bearded figure issuing from two sprigs of foliage” as the Treasure Annual Report for 2005-2006 puts it. You can view the Finds Document here (Item 508). It is silver gilt – hence the impressive golden colour! – and dated to the late C14 orC15.
If anyone can make it, this lovely wee thing, only 27mm * 27mm, is currently part of an exhibition Legends of the Wildwood at the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury. You can view details of the Legends of the Wildwood Exhibition here. The exhibition closes on 9 May 2010 and Archaeology Curator Brett Thorn says that even when that display is ended, anyone who wishes to see it in person is more than welcome to make an appointment to visit the stores to do so.
One reason that these small pieces are important is that they give us possible examples of the Green Man being used outwith an ecclesiastical context. Admittedly they need not be secular but there is that possibility! In this they are akin to the beautiful knife handle found in excavations in Perth.
I wonder if it is complete as it is, or if the stem of the leaves show signs of breakage? The photo, which we include with permission from the Portable Antiquities scheme (further details at www.finds.org.uk ) seems to show that the top is silver gilt too, which would mean that the foliage didn’t originally extend further. Contemporary images of the Tree of Jesse usually have the trunk springing from a reclining figure’s loins or body rather than the head but…
Thanks go to Brett Thorn and the Buckinghamshire County Museum http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/ for help in assembling data for this entry. The Portable Antiquities scheme encourages people to register their finds and so make them available to others (like us!). Finds without context lose so much of their real value.
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.’
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.
[*] 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.
When he began carving, COTGM member Mick Waterhouse turned to churches to find what he considered the finest of the craft to study and copy. It was there that he came across the archetypal “Green Man” image that has appeared in architecture and decoration through the ages.
This Image, the combination of foliage with faces and the human form, runs through much of his work and expresses his feelings on the significance of man’s influence on and place in the organic cycle, as well as hinting at an ancient mystecism that medieval craftsmen left in their work.
Mick works in locally found timbers, especially Oak, which he finds lends itself to the “tooled” finish he prefers. You can see more of Mick’s work on our flickr site or at: http://www.sculptureatbicester.org.uk/MickWaterhousePersonalPage.html
I came across COTGM member Andrew Smith’s website and loved his Green Man pub sign so much that I asked him if he would kindly allow us to show it. Andrews site is at
www.thesignsmith.co.uk (Go on you know you want one!)
The following report is taken from the pages of the South Bucks Star of September 26th, 1986:
Phantom of the Forest
A GHOSTLY figure dressed in green startled two motorists as they drove past a crematorium just before midnight.
The apparition suddenly loomed up at the side of the road sending shivers down the spine of driver Mark Nursey and his girlfriend Allyson Buleptt, who was in the car behind.
Mark, of Hepplewhite Close, High Wycombe, said: “The most uncanny thing was the way it stood. It seemed to be wearing what I can only describe as a big green jumper. I couldn’t make out the head or hands. It seemed to be stooping but was about 5ft 11ins tall and well built.”
The ghost was seen outside Hughenden Crematorium, Four Ashes Lane, Cryers Hill.
One theory is the figure was the spirit of the forest, a green man, as depicted on a number of pub signs in the Chilterns. He is also related to Herne the Hunter, spirit of the forest as depicted on TV’s Robin of Sherwood.
A green man is also said to haunt the woods at Fingest. Ghosts are traditionally seen around midnight – the witching hour – and around graveyards.
Another clue to his appearance may be a ley line passing near the haunted spot. Ley lines – alignments of ancient sites such as churches, stone circles and holy wells – are thought by some to possess mysterious powers.
Strange Folklore Society, based in High Wycombe, is investigating a ley line that starts at the end of Four Ashes Lane.
On the line is a pond said to be inhabited by a dragon, St Mary’s Church, Princes Risborough and a holy well desecrated last year by black magicians.
Speen Witch’s Stone – said to cover buried treasure but guarded by the ghost of a witch or highwayman – is also on the ley line. The green man ghost in Four Ashes Lane was standing just yards from the ley line.
After reading the previous article another witness came forward and this is the report that appeared in The Star of October 17th, 1986:
“ANOTHER witness of the phantom of the forest has recalled his terrifying ordeal. The seven-foot tall green ghost was seen by warehouseman Phil Mullett just yards from where 21-year-old Mark Nursey saw the figure on Four Ashes Road, Cryers Hill, near High Wycombe.
Mark’s sighting, reported in the Star, September 26, happened just before midnight by Hughenden Garden of Rest on the road. His girlfriend Allyson Bulpett also saw the ghost. When Phil, 28, of Dashwood Avenue, High Wycombe, read the account he realised Mark had seen the same figure he saw eight years previously.
Phil said: “It gave me quite a shock to read it. The account was so close to my own. It was about 9.30pm when I drove into Four Ashes Road and on turning my car lights on full I saw this green person appear from the right hand side of the road. It drifted out to the centre of the road and turned towards me. It waved its arms, not to frighten but as if to warn me to keep back. It drifted into the hedge on the other side of the road but as I got closer it came out again to the centre, turned and lifted its arms. I knew I was going to hit it. I think I cried out or shouted something.”
Phil braked and although he must have hit the figure when he got out look there was nothing there. He said the figure was bright green but appeared to have no legs or hands. The body was solid and it stood about seven foot tall. Instead of a face there was just a misty grey round shape. Strange Folklore Society is investigating the sightings.
Although presented in typical tabloid fashion (Has anyone actually ever seen a ghost in a greveyard at midnight!!!) the above experiences are nonetheless fascinating, does anyone else know of any similar reports? Please add as a comment or e-mail me at email@example.com