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A History of Randwick

By E. P. Fennemore
1893

Chapter 9

RANDWICK WAP.

"Fools are stubbo'rn in their way,
As coins are harden'd by alloy
And obstinacy's never so stiff
As when 'tis in a wrong belief."
HUDIBAS

THIS Festival has been annually held in Randwick, from times immemorial; Village tradition says the custom originated at the building of the Church, some six or seven hundred years ago, in this way. At the supper given to the workmen, the "hod" man ate and drank to such an excess that he became noticeable to the other workmen, who there and then took him to the pool and washed him in its waters. A writer in 1818 supposes the custom had something to do with priestcraft, while others again think it originated in Saxon times, and that the word "Wap" is a contraction of Wapenshaw, or Wappenshaw. Be that as it may, the Wap is annually celebrated on the Monday following Low Sunday, that is, the Sunday after Easter. In olden days it formed a general holiday for all the villages near, as a fete would now-a-days. Children saved their halfpence to spend at Wap, as they now do at Whitsuntide. The " Street" was crowded with standings, as at a fair, while " hot mutton pies," "short cakes," "wiput," and other special eatables, were hawked by those who, having paid the usual fee of one penny for each basket they carried, were allowed to do so. One old lady who annually hawked at the Wap, by name Hetty Lockstone, being honored by a bowlful of water from the mopman, indignantly exclaimed: "I've bin at Runnick's Wap hundreds a times and never was sorrd like this afore," which raises the laugh to this very day. Several people in the village laid in stores of cider to sell at the Wap, and hung out a green bough by way of a sign. Many people also made quantities of "wiput" (a sort of bread pudding) which is a special eatable on this occasion, also "short cakes," - one old villager having assured the writer that his mother made as much as 12 by the sale of these two specialities.

Hordes of gipsies always arrived with their many attractions! such as fortune-telling, dancing, fiddling, etc. The young girls and wives of the officers attended the Wap, clad in white with gay sashes round their waists. In fact so interested were they all, old and young, in the festival, that a writer in 1818 saw a woman of eighty join in one of the dances.

The Wap commenced on Saturday night, by the "crying the Mayor,"-that is, the name or names of the persons chosen for the honour, were "cried" round the principal parts of the village, so that all might be ready to record their votes for their own special man. Three names were always submitted, and the following was the form of words used :-" Oize, and another Oize. This is to give notice to all gentlemen freeholders, belonging to the parish of Randwick; and if any one should know any just cause why (here follow the names of the candidates), of shouldn't stand mayor for this year ensuing, they must appear at the High Cross on Monday next, in the forenoon, or otherwise hold their peace. God save the Queen." (These are the exact words used for hundreds of years, and also last year, 1892.) On Sunday, known as "Wap Sunday," the village always received a large influx of visitors, many of whom went to Church, so that on this Sunday, at least, it was filled to overflowing. This suggested to the fertile mind of one of the Churchwardens some forty years ago, who was then keeping a village shop on the premises known as the "Rising Sun," that a collection for church expenses be taken. One minister, preaching on this particular Sunday, told his hearers (to put it in the local vernacular), "The devil 'll wap ee."

On Monday morning the Wap commenced in real earnest. Many were the surmises as to weather, and the villagers were early astir, sometimes by four or five o'clock. The hustings were raised at " the Stocks," and here the Clerk of the Wap recorded the vote of each man, as he orally delivered it. It seems that at one time there were two things supposed necessary to be possessed by the candidate for the mayoral chair, viz., a gold watch and forty pounds. Each freeholder possessed one vote, while an "old lord" had two. These votes were recorded in the "Poll Book," which is even now in existence (1893), but which is jealously guarded from the eyes of strangers, who are never allowed to see it. The present one only dates from 1813, and is thus inscribed:

THE
POLE BOOK FOR THE
LORD MAYOR OFF
RANDWICK.

The first page or two contain some verses of the National Anthem with music "For two voices, set by Mr. Purcell," "to be sung as soon as the Lord Mayor is crowned," and the song which is always sung on the occasion of the Wap, also set to music (this will be found on another page) "to be sung at the pool," while the mayor is seated in his chair in the water.

The next two pages give a list of the free-holders of Randwick*, one hundred and ten in number, after which the names of those who voted, the name of mayor, mopman, high sheriff, and sword bearer are given for each consecutive year, from 1813 to 1862 inclusive.

In 1813 the book says: after giving (* To become a freeholder, the sum of is. or in some cases 6d. had to be paid.)

MayorHigh SheriffSword bearerMopman
Joseph WhiteDaniel CookeWilliam VinesWilliam Cratchley

"The three officers was Chus'd in, one by the Lord Mayor and other two By the freeholders of the City !"

Under date 1821 is the following:---

Gain'd 22 Votes in one hours pole by which means James Pearce became Lord Mayor.
William Pearce Chus'd in I sheriff By the Lord Mayor.
William Barnes, Sword-bearer, Chus'd in by the freeholders.
William Pearce, Mopman, Chus'd in by the freeholders.

After the votes are recorded and counted, the mayor is ' sworn in.' Then follows a feast of wiput and beer, the newly-elected mayor providing a gallon, and each of the village publics a gallon."

After this feast a start is made for the mayor's pool. First came the mopman, who cleared the way for the procession with a wet mop; then four boys who carried whitened rods tied with knots of ribbon; next came "his lordship," seated in his chair of state. His dress consisted of a well-powdered wig, surmounted by a dragoon's helmet, while on his shoulders was a gay sash or scarf. His sceptre was a wooden bowl, from which he sprinkled water on the spectators. On his right walked his High Sheriff, and behind two fiddlers, a tambourine player, and a man with a drum. After these there came a vast concourse of people, in the midst of which walked two men, the one bearing a scarlet streamer, or flag, the other a blue one. Having reached the pool, which is at the rear of the village, and which is annually cleaned out and the water blocked up, previous to the ceremony, the chair of state is set down by its side, and the following song is sung, verse by verse, to the tune of the " Old Hundredth," by the assembled crowd:

THE SONG.

"When Hercules began to spin
Apollo wrought upon a loom;
Our trade to flourish did begin
Though conscience went to selling broom.

"Then had Helen's wanton son
Eaten his food with sweet content;
He had not then disturbed the peace,
But he to Greece a wooing went.

"As Helen then sat carding wooll,
Whose beauteous face did cause such strife,
He had not then broke through these rules,
Which caus'd so many to lose their lives.

"When cedar trees grew stout and strong,
And pretty birds did sing on high,
Then weavers liv'd more void of strife
Than princes of great dignity.

"When princes' sons kept sheep in fields,
And queens made cakes with oaten flour,
And men to lucre did not yield,
Which brought good cheer in every bow'r.

"Though the giants so hughant high
Did fight with spears like weavers' beams,
And men in iron beds did lie,
Which brought the poor to hard extremes.

"But David with a sling and stone,
Not fearing great Goliath's strength
He par'd his trains and broke his bones,
Though he's nine feet and a span in length.
Let love and friendship still agree
To hold the Banns of Amity."

This song is known as the "new song," the writer being assured by one of the "old lords" of the Wap that there was formerly a much older one, which was sung five or six hundred years ago. This "new song is, however, entered in the Poll Book, and is much sought after by the curious. Part of it evidently refers to the local clothing trade, while the reference to Helen, who sat carding wool, and her face having caused strife, seems to refer to the Siege of Troy.

After the singing of this song the four bearers of the mayoral chair (which, by the bye, is a very massive one, with very long legs, to enable the men to carry it easily, as well as to keep "his lordship" out of the 'water*),(*This is not the original chair, as the whole lot of toggery belonging to the Wap was destroyed some years ago, owing to a disagreement between the "old lords.') hoist it on their shoulders and walk straight into the pool, where they set it down:

Four rustics rais'd again the chair
Where sat my lord with solemn air,
And into Randwick's muddy pool
Stalk with the stupid gaping fool;
There like great Neptune's self he sate;
While round him march'd in lordly state
(He with the mop) his sheriffs all.

When many a rustic 'gan to bawl,
"He comes! he comes "the crowd began
O'er wall and hedge and ditch to run;
And they who o'er it all jumped first,
Cry'd the de'il take the hindermost.*

(*From "Lord Mayor of Randwick, or All Fools' Day," by Scriblerus Secundus.")

Hedges and walls were levelled in their flight, and although the road was thickly lined with people, yet when the mopman ran hither and thither with his mop, which he had previously dipped in the muddy pool, they fled in all directions, while the air resounded with the noise of the racing multitude.

Afterwards the mayor was borne back to the place of starting, and the evening, aye, and often the week, was spent in merry-making. The houses, in which the sale of cider was going on, were now crowded even to the garrets, while the beds and bedsteads were slung from the rafters, to make room for the numerous guests.

To such an extent was this merry-making carried, that after the Wap some one was deputed to ascend Randwick Hill and watch the chimneys,to see who could afford a fire; and those who had so far exhausted their resources as to be unable to afford one would burn a handful of straw, thereby causing a smoke to ascend the chimney and so deceive the watcher.

On the Wednesday "the wappers," headed by the band, marched round the parish, to receive from the farmers their annual allowance of cider. In the evening they all assembled at "the Chimner" (a public room near the Stocks), and very curious means were resorted to for procuring money with which to buy drinkables.

In 1847 or 1848 a gentleman living at Pool Cottage, disliking the proceedings, obtained legal advice and wrote to London to see if the practice could be put a stop to. He only elicited the fact that the people of Randwick had been granted a charter, giving them full permission to hold the Wap, or keep "Lord Mayor's Day" (as it is sometimes called), on condition that a mayor was elected, and carried in the chair to the pool every year. If they failed in this but once, the practice could be legally stopped. The villagers have never, however, failed to carry their mayor, and the custom has annually been carried out.
(* In 1892 the collection for Church Expenses, on Wap Sunday, was abolished, and the Church bells were not rung at the ceremony. The next year, 1893, no mayor was carried to the pool, which seems to have done away with the old ceremony.)

"Bury me," said one old Wapper (Danny Bassett), "just inside the churchyard wall ; then I shall hear the mayor go down."

(As it was the custom in some other parishes to elect "Mock Mayors," a ceremony not unlike this, some have thought that this wap was identical with this Mock Mayor ceremony.)

The following may is be found in "County Folk-lore" (Gloucestershire), and is taken from the Gentleman's Magazine, for May, 1784:--

"As I was last year passing through the village of Randwic, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, my attention was attracted by a crowd of people assembled round the horsepond, in which I observed a man, on whom I imagined the country people were doing justice in that summary way for which an English mob is so famous though I was at the same time surprised to hear them singing, as I thought a psalm, since I never knew that to be a part of the form of such judicial proceedings. I soon, however, was informed of my error and learned that it being the second Monday after Easter, the people of the parish were assembled according to an annual custom (the origin of which no one could tell me) to keep a revel. One of the parish is, it seems, on the above mentioned day elected mayor, and carried with great state, colours flying, drums beating; men, women, and children shouting; to a particular horsepond, in which his worship is placed, seated in an arm chair; a song is then given out line by line by the clerk, and sung with great gravity by the surrounding crowd. The instant it is sung, the mayor breaks the peace by throwing water in the face of his attendants. Upon this much confusion ensues; his worship's person is, however, considered as sacred, and he is generally the only man who escapes being thoroughly soused. The rest of that day, and often of the week, is devoted to riot and drunkenness. The county magistrates have endeavoured, but in vain, to put a stop to this practice."-J.L.