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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Bisley Well Dressing Day

Inspired by Rosemary Gemmell's lovely post about May Day in Scotland, I realised that later this week our village will celebrate Well Dressing Day.

The ancient wells in Bisley, Gloucestershire were fully restored in 1863 and ever since, on Ascension Day every year, the entire village comes to a halt while the primary school children go on a procession carrying wooden letters spelling out the word ASCENSION, along with the year, and other figures in the shapes of hoops and stars.

Youngest daughter Georgia in Year Five, with the hoop we made together.

During the days leading up to the event, the children cover these letters and shapes, first in moss, then in flowers, with parents going into school to assist. Although I have never been gifted at flower arranging - and was especially bad at making the moss stay in place - the experienced parents and grandparents always help out. 
It has become a custom
passed down through many generations of the families
who have lived here for hundreds of years.

Fully decorated in 2001. Younger children have laid the posies along the ledge. Wild garlic grows in abundance on the grassy bank behind the wells.

Olivia, far left, was one of the oldest in her final year, so she was able to carry one of the two stars with the eldest boy. These children dress in traditional school uniform from the time the custom began.

The procession to the wells is accompanied by the local silver band and many villagers watch from their windows or come out to join in the walk. The vicar gives a blessing at he wells and all the children sing 'Water of Life'.

When floods caused havoc a few years ago, contaminating a local water treatment plant, the village was without mains water for two weeks. I don't know how we would have coped without the wells. We walked there several times a day with empty bottles and filled them to use at home, then back again to fill our ponies' buckets every evening.

My children are all grown up now, but we still walk to the wells at the end of Ascension Day to take in the beautiful sight of the flowers. I may not join the procession these days, but while I'm at my desk I can hear the band strike up and hope the sun continues to shine, as it always did for my children on this special day for Bisley.
Eldest daughter, Alexandra, in 2001, carrying the 'O' we made, together with Georgia, very shy, carrying her posy.


  1. How lovely, Joanna, wonderful memories and gorgeous photos. It is lovely that the old custom carries on and children love doing this sort of thing so much too xx

  2. Thank you so much, Teresa. They do really love these customs and it gives the village a sense of continuity and enhances the community spirit. The wells look gorgeous while the flowers last and lots of visitors come to have a look. xxx

  3. What a beautiful post, Joanna - I really enjoyed reading about the wonderful custom and the photos (and daughters) are lovely! It must a very pretty place to live and I love the idea that the well still provided fresh water when needed so much.

    1. Thank you so much, Rosemary. It really is a pretty village, although I would have loved to have lived here long ago before there were so many cars driving through it! I certainly blessed the wells when we were without water at home and it's always lovely to be near them because of the constant sound of the fresh water flowing, as well as the beautiful sight of the flowers every year after the dressing. I will go and see them today as the ceremony was held yesterday. Although the water keeps the posies fresh on the ledge, it's always best to have a look at the main figures before the warm weather makes them wilt. xxx

  4. Hello Joanna. What a lovely tradition. Our village in Germany just celebrated May day. Well, they start celebrating on the 30th April and see in 1st May - the Germans will do anything for a party :) It's also the day that the young men let their girlfriends or potential (wishful) girlfriends that they're loved. They do this by attaching a huge branch filled with colourful ribbons to their loved one's home. Or the more expensive option is a huge (and very expensive) heart shaped floral design. It's quite amazing. Naturally there is lots of music and drinking involved :) Another tradition happened yesterday, which was the German father's day (bank holiday). On this day many men get together for the whole day - yes they leave the children with their wives and go 'party' from breakfast until the early hours of this morning. I must admit, I can't keep up with all these party times and mostly stay home :) Aren't I just a bore? :) Lovely post. Thank you for sharing, Joanna.

  5. Wow, what fantastic traditions, Nicola! Thank you so much for telling me about them. Ideas for stories come to mind, especially all those partying men on Father's Day! I'm like you - I never go partying these days and am much happier being at home - and you're definitely not a bore, in fact far from it! Prost! xxx