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Rural community revives medieval celebration

The medieval Wassailing event was captured by award-winning photographer Jayne Jackson to mark the revived tradition in Chettle, a North Dorset rural community.

The midwinter celebration is centuries-old and celebrates the apple trees in the orchards and sees the ‘Head Apple’ leads a procession to an orchard to honour the apple and wake up the spring-time. 

Wassailing is an old tradition in the South-West of England of asking the apple trees to bear a good harvest, offering the orchards toast and song and chasing out evil spirits.

Four brand new songs have been written, inspired by the landscape around the village, and old traditional songs were learnt. The villagers made beautiful costumes, headdresses and props inspired by the nature around them– antlers for the deer, barn owls and evergreens.

Guest artists were invited into Chettle to help inspire this old-but-new ritual. Mercury-nominated folk singer and activist Sam Lee, Human Ecologist and artist Zoe Laureen Palmer, genre-bending classical violinist Simmy Singh, and choir leader Sandie Campbell all worked alongside Dorset-based artists Lorna Rees and Adam Coshan to help collectively create the performance. The event has been beautifully documented in a film by artist, director and filmmaker Sophie Austin which will be out later this year. The project has been produced by Chettle resident Becky Burchell. 

Lead artist Lorna Rees said

“As artists we’re deeply interested in how we collectively reconnect ourselves to the land and the food it produces, through celebrations, rituals, gatherings and culture. We wanted to help make an apple wassailing event to celebrate the trees in these orchards. We also wanted to have a party – to wake up the spring in the bleak of midwinter.”

Chettle dates to Norman times and it’s steeped in Wessex folklore. The CHETTLE WASSAIL is now an annual mid-winter event, observed every year on the weekend nearest to the ‘old twelfth’ (17th January). This project was funded by the Dorset Performing Arts Fund at the Dorset Community Foundation.