Tudor Wassail at Michelham Priory

On a freezing, sunny afternoon, I arrived at Berwick railway station. No tweed to be seen: this was Berwick in Sussex, and I was on my way to a moat-ed, medieval priory, to take part in a Tudor Wassail with the Brighton Folk Choir.

Usually a one-Wassail-a-year kind of lad, this was me branching out, learning the same songs with slightly different arrangements, and embracing my geographic reality.

Traditions, invented or otherwise, are all about a sense of place. In the anthropocene epoch, the cyclical rhythms of nature can easily be obscured.

It is nice to be grounded, sometimes, under the stars, on the freezing ground, surrounded by songs, and fire, and people in Tudor costume brandishing digital cameras.

The cycle to Michelham was easy, and I arrived warm and in time for the closing moments of the family Wassail, and to the sight of our choir leader fiddling for a Morris Troupe.

We had a Green Room in the old house itself, and it was a lovely thrill to be taken up there by a site employee, who gave me a private tour of the place and told me about various ghostly goings-on I didn’t believe in.

There was time to kill before the evening festivities, and as the skies darkened and the temperature dropped the courtyard, gardens and great barn all gradually filled with Morris groups and drummers.

Some of these were distinctly METAL; the lovely crossover between goth, medieval reenactor and wielder of fiery torch gradually and happily revealed itself.

Our gig was to take in an Elizabethan-style tent up by the entrance, where we performed, to about two people.

The idea was we’d Wassail arrivées, but it was so damn cold people were rightly heading straight down towards the barn and tearoom.

So we made a group decision to do a guerilla Wassail, singing by the fire in the courtyard of milling Morrisers, getting a couple of tunes in before the drumming and the fire began.

After tea, sausage bap, a chat, tea, sausage roll, a phone call, some amateur star gazing, hot chocolate, tea, and cider for those that way inclined, we joined the great procession to the orchard, where the ceremony took place.

After a speech from the organiser, who I am told made his own tights, we made as much noise as we could to ward off the bad spirits from our fruit trees, and we sang the Sugar Wassail.

It was all exceedingly atmospheric, and a good time was had by all.

Thanks hugely to Joanna for being such an amazing teacher and organiser, and to the other members of the choir for making a n00b feel so welcome.

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