Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Woad Song

For three days in December, a group of us engaged in a natural dyeing experimental workshop with fresh woad plants grown in the Orchard Garden last summer (and rescued by Julian, Phil and me just before the first big snowfall).

Woad is a traditional source in temperate climates of a blue dye related to indigo. It is a complicated dye to use, with many time-consuming steps, and no guarantee of the outcome!

Rescuing the woad Dec. 4, just before the snow
It is also the dye that the ancient Pictish warriors in northern Scotland are supposed to have used to paint themselves blue in preparation for battles with Roman soldiers. Woad is very smelly, as we found out, and apparently is was the stench of the woad as well as the appearance of ferocious blue-painted nearly-naked warriors that was meant to scare off the Romans.

When I mentioned our workshop to some of my Morris dancing-British folk music friends, I learned about the Woad Song, AKA 'National Anthem of the Ancient Britons'. It's a comic song written in 1914 by William Hope-Jones, and it's all about WOAD!!

(to the tune of the Welsh anthem, Men of Harlech)

1.What's the good of wearing braces,
Vests and pants and boots with laces,
Spats or hats you buy in places
Down in Brompton Road?
What's the use of shirts of cotton,
Studs that always get forgotten?
These affairs are simply rotten:
Better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show, men.
Woad to scare your foemen:
Boil it to a brilliant hue
And rub it on your back and your abdomen.
Ancient Briton never did hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck, or knees, or where you sit on.
Tailors, you be blowed.

2. Romans came across the Channel
All wrapped up in tin and flannel:
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these.
Saxon, you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in breeches:
We have woad to clothe us, which is
Not a nest for fleas.

Romans keep your armours;
Saxons your pyjamas:
Hairy coats were meant for goats,
Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs and llamas.
Tramp up Snowdon with our woad on:
Never mind if we get rained or blowed on.
Never want a button sewed on.
Go it, Ancient B's.

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