Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Humanities field trips to Wightwick, Worcester, London and Bristol

We have received some extra funding for Humanities field trips, and we're delighted to announce that four are planned in December and January. On 2 December, a day in Worcester (part of the 'Showcasing History' programme) includes visits to the Civil War Commandery, Worcester's great Cathedral and the King's Head, one of the oldest pubs in the Midlands. After Christmas, there'll be a day trip to London on 13 January to visit the Crime Museum's special exhibition, plus ‘No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action, 1960 – 1990’ at the Guildhall; and on 8 January death fans can spend a day in Bristol and see the acclaimed Death Exhibition at the Bristol Museum. 

Edward Burne-Jones, 'Love among the Ruins' (1894) at Wightwick.

English Literature students will love our pre-Christmas visit to Wightwick Manor and Gardens (National Trust) on Friday 11 December. Wightwick is a gorgeous example of late nineteenth-century Aestheticism in art and architecture. William Morris's manifesto for beauty in everyday life accorded with Oscar Wilde's celebration of 'the House Beautiful' and self-conscious cultivation of the senses. Houses were treated as palaces of art. Wightwick is in fact a domestic art gallery, with many paintings (some by Burne-Jones, above), and its furnishings, textiles, stained glass and tiles designed by Morris and Co.

This trip will appeal to anyone interested in the Pre-Raphaelite poets and artists and Arts and Crafts designers. Students taking the HM5000 English Literature option in semester two will have priority, but the trip's open to all.

Full details and booking instructions for all these wonderful trips are available on the Online Store (Infonet access required). Most trips require a small charge to cover costs.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Open Day on Saturday 21 November: come and meet us

If you're thinking of studying English Literature at the University of Gloucestershire, come and meet us on Saturday 21 November at the Francis Close Hall campus.  It's a great chance to find out more about the English Literature BA Hons course, the School of Humanities, the staff and student life, and why we love living and working at the heart of Cheltenham.  You can opt for a degree in English Literature alone, or combine your study of literature with Creative Writing, History, or English Language Language. Take a tour around our campus and Library, talk to Student Ambassadors, and get a sense of our academic community. Teams from Student Finance and Accommodation will be there to answer your questions.

We wish we could guarantee sunshine, but we can guarantee a very warm welcome. You'll meet with lecturers and current students who can tell you all about the courses and campus life. You may even meet the campus cat (depending on how much food is around).

You can book your place here. More useful links:

Open Day Timetable for 21 November

Checklist of questions to ask

Student life

We're looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Guest post: Waes Hael: a living folk tradition in Gloucestershire

Robin Burton of the Glos Trad Project has written a special guest post on the history of wassailing in Gloucestershire, and its rich repository of folk songs and practices. Robin is a singer, a folkorist and a co-ordinator of the annual Stroud Wassail, and has recently run a workshop for Media students enrolled on the MD4303 Songwriting module. Students of mythology (especially those taking HM4301 Fundamentals: Myth and Drama) will be fascinated to learn about these local traditions and may even plan a visit this January. We're tremendously grateful to Robin for taking the time to contribute this history, and the great photos, to our blog.

Waes Hael: The Story of the Stroud Wassail

‘He is wit’s peddler, and retails his ware
At wakes and wassels, meetings, markets, fairs.’  Love’s Labours Lost (1595)

Stories from the Edge of Memory

On November the 19th, 1979, Gwilym Davies, a local folk song collector met an unidentified 75 year old man in a pub.  This man sang him a snatch of song:

Waysail, waysail all over the town,
Our bread it is white our ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made from some maplin tree,
With my waysailing bowl we will waysail unto thee

He went on to describe how groups went around with a wassail bowl collecting money and singing that song around 1914 when the man himself would have been about ten years of age.

A Mrs Muriel Phelps, in a 1979 article in the Folkrite Magazine, also recounts how her ancestors had gone wassailing in Stroud armed with concertinas.   They went out on Christmas morning, calling at houses in Parliament Street and Summer Street, ending up at the Leopard pub in Parliament Street before going home to Christmas dinner.

This all seems to have stopped by the 1920s.

Revival 2015

Fig. 1. Enter the Broad

Then, 100 years or so after the last known Stroud Wassail, a group got together to resurrect the custom.  This was done in a small way in 2014 and in a much grander form in 2015. Given the paucity of information about the Stroud Wassail itself, a group of enthusiasts, including Gwilym Davies, decided to investigate local wassail customs in the Gloucestershire area.   

Originally the word, “Wassail”, is thought to come from the old greeting “Waes Hael”.  This literally means to be healthy or whole.   From the 9th Century it turns up as a greeting or toast and in the expression ‘wes thu hal, Maria’ meaning ‘Hail Mary’.

Over the years there have been many mutations of this word including notably in Gloucestershire the word “Waysail”; which is perhaps a better phonetic representation of the original “Waes Hael” than the more common “Wassail”.

Nothing to do with Apples

Fig. 2. The Lady of Misrule

When most people think of a Wassail, they think of apples and cider.   However the Gloucestershire “Waysails” have nothing to do with either. Instead it is a tradition in which neighbours go from house to house wishing each other good luck for the coming year.  It is typically performed around the Christmas and New Year period up until 12th night.

It has a number of components including:

·       The Broad:  a representation of an ox.  This usually comprises a head on a pole covered with sacking under which a dancer hides.   Often the “broad” goes inside the house to chase out anyone who is reluctant to come out to meet the wassailers.

·         A Wassail bowl:  This is usually made of wood and decorated with greenery.   Sometimes it is used a receptacle for money.

·         The “Lord of Misrule”:  A sort of master of ceremonies who is elected at the beginning of proceedings be virtue of finding the bean in a slice of cake which has been distributed to the wassail company.

·         The concept of disguise:  Often wassailers would get up to high jinks, perhaps playing tricks on those who failed to reward the wassailers with food or drink.  The disguise was to protect them against retribution…

The 2015 Wassail

The day began with a gathering of wassailers and Morris dancers outside of the Subscription Rooms in Stroud.   An “election” was then held to choose the “Lord of Misrule” by inviting the crowd to take a piece of cake.   If you had the piece with the bean in it, then you were elected.

In 2015 we had a “Lady” of Misrule.   Her first duty was to read out a declaration:  “May the locks on your hearts be broken…”

Then the assembled crowd knocked on the door of the Subscription Rooms and the Broad was sent in to chase out those inside.

 Fig. 3. Outside the Subscription Rooms in Stroud

Out came the manager with a tray of beer for the wassailers who sang the wassail songs, together with a number of other songs. Then the whole group departed on a tour of the pubs in Stroud being feted with more and more beer…
A procession was held over to the Museum in the Park where once again songs were sung and drinks consumed.   This was followed by dancing in the courtyard. The day was rounded off by “revels” in the Price Albert Pub.

Fig 4 Revels in the Albert


Everyone concerned had such a good time that the 2016 Wassail is planned to be bigger and better.  This time it will also feature a torchlight procession and mummers plays.  The international mummers’ convention will be collocated in Stroud during the Wassail weekend so there will be mummers from all over the world.  This time schools are also being invited to take part with children making raggy coats and singing songs.

Does it matter that we have added to what was known about the Stroud Wassail?   I don’t think so.  We have created a midwinter festival that is rooted in what is known of the past.  It brings the community together to wish each other health and success.
Why not join us this year in Stroud on January 9th?
Waes Hael!

All photographs are published courtesy of Robin Burton.
Copyright Robin Burton 2015.