Wishford Magna

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A unique manorial custom takes place in Great Wishford, Wiltshire, every Oak Apple Day (29 May). Under the terms of a charter of 1603, the inhabitants of Wishford are allowed to take wood from nearby Grovely Wood as well as various other rights and duties as regards access and such things as pawnedge for ‘all their hogges and pigges’. The charter states that it is merely confirming rights and privileges existing from ‘time out of mynde’. It is further stipulated that to perpetuate these rights the inhabitants should, as they had done in ‘auntient tyme’, ‘go in a daunce to the Cathedral Church of our blessed Ladie in the Cittie of new Sarum on Whit Tuesdaie in the said countie of Wiltes, and there made theire clayme to their custome in the Forrest of Grovely in theis wordes: Groveley Groveley and all Groveley’. And so they still do. At some point, presumably in the late 17th century, the custom was moved from Whit Tuesday to Oak Apple Day. On that day, the inhabitants of the village rise early, and set out for Grovely Wood to cut branches to decorate their houses and to carry in the procession later in the day, and help themselves to any other wood they need. Later, a party led by the rector proceeds to Salisbury Cathedral where four women in 19th-century costume, carrying bundles of wood, dance on the Green. In the Cathedral, on the steps to the High Altar parts of the charter are read out and those present shout their ‘Grovely, Grovely, Grovely and All Groveley’ to assert their rights for another year. The custom has quite naturally acquired other trappings such as a procession, May Queen, fancy dress, and marching band. The whole affair is organized by the Oak Apple Club which was formed in 1892 specifically to ensure the continuance of the local rights and to ward off periodic attempts to remove them. The Club's motto is ‘Unity is Strength’. A further part of the day is the hoisting of a large oak bough, decorated with coloured ribbons, to the top of the parish church tower. This is called the Marriage Bough, and brings good luck to those married in the church in the coming year.

The History of Oak Apple Day in Wishford Magna (c.1972);George Frampton, Grovely! Grovely! And All Grovely! The History of Oak Apple Day in Great Wishford (1992).

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