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Report from Jessica Lloyd re Estella Canziani Bursary 2022

— Posted on 11th January 2023

Randwick Wap 2022 Field Study Report by Jessica Lloyd

Thanks to the Estella Canziani Post-graduate Bursary for Research 2022, I was able to undertake field research on 7th May 2022 at the Randwick Wap in Gloucestershire in order to understand the custom and its meaning to those in attendance. This was conducted as the first field trip for my ongoing PhD research into folklore and identity in southwest England. I have decided to conduct interviews at folk customs in the region to better understand what these events mean to the people who are attending, organising, and supporting them so as to appreciate the meaning of folk customs from the ‘folk’. I have included the Randwick Wap in my research as an example of a southwest custom with unknown or unclear origins that was affected by the different stages of folk revival or resurgence, having been halted in the late-nineteenth century due to the associated drunken behaviours and revived and reinterpreted as a May festival in the 1970s. The event takes place on the Saturday of the second weekend of May, with 2022 marking the 50th anniversary of the revival of the Wap. The increase in attendance that was noticed by a number of respondents was an illustration of the local interest and support of the event. As it was an anniversary, the former Queens and Mayors had all been invited to return, receive a medal of recognition, and walk in the procession. The draw of the Wap was demonstrated by the number of returning members of the Wap court, some of whom had travelled considerable distances to participate once more.

At midday, I walked to Randwick War Memorial where attendees and participants were beginning to congregate. The atmosphere was one of excitement, with a contingent of photographers from local news outlets manoeuvring to capture the event. Those participating in the procession, or involved in the organisation, were easy to identify by their historically inspired costumes. Some had roles, such as Sword Bearer or Town Cryer, whereas others had taken the opportunity to dress up to mark the occasion. At 12.30 the chairs for the Mayor and Queen, appointed by a village vote, were brought to the War Memorial to begin the procession. A member of the Wap Committee announced the 2022 Wap, and the Mayor and Queen were ‘annointed’ with water on their heads by their predecessors.

At this, the procession began with the Mop Marshall (formerly the Mop Man, renamed for this year) clearing the road with a bucket of water and a mop that was drenched and flung to usher people out of the way. The Mayor and Queen were carried on their chairs down the hill to the Mayor’s Pond, while the Mayor also scattered water on the crowds from the bowl and ladle that was used to anoint them. Once at the pond, the Mayor and Queen’s chairs were placed in the water and the Queen poured water over the Mayor’s head from the bowl. This was followed by the Mayor’s song, the tune of which has been known to change over the years (this year it was the Sussex Carol, but a former Queen was adamant that Greensleeves had been the tune during her childhood). The Mayor and Queen were carried back up the hill to the location for the cheese rolling, a steep hill off from the main road. The procession then travelled down to the village hall and green, where stalls were set up including food, drink, funfair games, live music, and local shops and organisations.

The Randwick Wap is an example of the power that a revived custom has to unite and inspire a community. Since its revival in 1972, under the guidance of Rev. Hon. Nial Morrison, the Wap has become engrained in the cultural life of the village. As with so many folk customs, the exact origins and format of the first Wap are unknown beyond possible connections to the building of the village church in the 1300s. From 19th century newspaper articles, we know that the celebrations were a more raucous and inebriated affair that attracted criticism and ultimately led to the event ceasing in the late 1800s. The May celebration that returned to the village in the 1970s was certainly more family-friendly and had adopted some recognisable folk custom attributes, such as the Queen. But the unique aspect have remained and thrived, distinguishing the event as something that is uniquely and proudly Randwickian (a phrase that emerged during my field interviews). Over its 50 years of revived celebration, the Wap has provided a rallying point for village spirit and is an anticipated date in the calendar. Two of the former Wap queens that I spoke to commented that the anticipation and excitement for the upcoming May celebration was like the build-up for Christmas. While the origins are unclear, the connection that the Wap has created between people and place in the village became apparent as soon as interviews began.

When I interviewed attendants and participants, the pride and pleasure in the Wap shone through. It is seen as providing a way to stay in touch with the village’s past, while strengthening social relationships. In connecting to tradition and history, the Wap has provided a unique way for the people of Randwick to engage with their home and with each other. For me, this feeling is central to the themes that I am exploring in my research. The exact history of the Wap has not been established and yet the event has come to represent the nature of the village through a perceived connection to the past. While the connection to the past is important, changes and alterations have been welcomed and recognised as a means of ensuring the ongoing observance of the Wap. The Wap is an ongoing narrative of the values and relationships that the people of Randwick want to represent their village identity. The best way to summarise it is, to quote one interviewee, ‘very Randwicky’.

Postcards from the Field Work

The 2022 Randwick Wap Queen and Mayor, awaiting their anointing by their predecessors. The court gathers to begin the procession down the hill to the Mayor’s Pond.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the event, former Wap Queens and Mayors were invited back to receive a medal for their service and support, and to walk in the parade once more.