When is Randwick Wap in 2022?

The 2019 Randwick Wap Queen

The 2019 Randwick Wap Queen - Credit: randwick.org.uk

An ancient Cotswold custom, revived in the seventies, the Wap attracts visitors to Randwick from near and far. Ahead of this year’s Wap, we see how villagers preserve the past, while looking forward to the future

No one knows for sure when or why the first Wap was held in the pretty hillside village of Randwick, near Stroud. The word ‘Wap’ dates back to Saxon times and could be an abbreviation for ‘wapenshaw’, or show of weapons, to check that the community could defend itself. Some say the custom was an ancient spring ritual combined with the annual summoning of villagers. This gathering may have grown into a week-long celebration to mark the completion of the parish church of St John in the 1300s.  

Whatever its origin, the earliest written record of the Wap can be traced back to 1703. By the late 1800s, however, Randwick’s festivities degenerated into drunken anarchy by all accounts, so the Wap was banned. For eighty years the tradition was consigned to the annals of history until the 1970s when the parish’s late vicar, Rev Nial Morrison, and an eager band of supporters revived it based on a colourful eye- witness account in Fennemore’s History of Randwick – a delightful local guidebook, written in the late 1800s. 

The Mayor and Queen's chairs outside the church in Randwick

The Mayor and Queen's chairs outside the church in Randwick - Credit: Candia McKormack

These days, this annual quirky Cotswold custom is a fun-filled festival which attracts thousands of visitors and provides a perfect platform for the fundraising efforts of many local charities.  

The celebrations begin on the first Sunday in May, with the cheese rolling service – not the riotous race down nearby Cooper’s Hill, but a slightly more sedate affair in the churchyard. Three Double Gloucester cheeses (made this year by local award-winning cheesemaker Jonathan Crump) are blessed before being rolled enthusiastically three times ‘widdershins’ or anti-clockwise, around the outside of the 12th-century church by the Wap’s junior personalities: the Flag Boys, Honour Guard, Princesses and Flower Girls. One of the cheeses is then cut up and eaten by the congregation. The other two wait another six days to meet their fate. 

The Wap itself is held on the Saturday following the spring service, but personalities are all elected by local residents weeks before and announced at what’s known as ‘Chusin in’. For many, the Wap is a summer highlight, as hundreds gather to watch a colourful procession wind its way down to the Mayor’s Pool where the new Mayor and Queen are soaked in water in a ceremony that has changed little since this 1784 report appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine

“One of the parish… is elected mayor and carried in great state, colours flying, drums beating, men, women, and children shouting, to a particular horse-pond, in which his worship is placed , seated in his 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 finished the mayor breaks the peace by throwing water in the face of his attendants. Upon this much confusion ensues.” 

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Following the singing of the Mayor’s song, the procession wends its way to the Well Leaze to roll those remaining two cheeses down the steep bank. The procession winds along the narrow, bunting-decked lanes to the village green. 

READ MORE: Festive traditions in the Cotswolds you need to see to believe.

There will be a display of photographs and memorabilia from the past 50 years to celebrate this special year. In that time dozens of villagers have contributed to the event’s success. We will thank them all on the day with medals presented at 12.30pm at the War Memorial for all ex-Mayors and Queens since 1972 who can attend. 

The procession continues to the Chapel Fields and village green for food, drink and dancing. Other highlights include the much-loved dog show, music by local bands from Stroud, Morris Dancers and musicians from the county and comedy performance by Susie Donkin. 

The 2019 Randwick Wap Mayor

The 2019 Randwick Wap Mayor - Credit: randwick.org.uk

After the past two years of Covid, the organising committee are hopeful of a large turnout from the village and nearby areas. Visitors from further afield are asked to park on the village green and not on the narrow roads leading to the village or walk from Cainscross or Whiteshill to help the event be sustainable and carbon neutral in waste and transport. 

And as for those last two cheeses? If you hurry along to the Wap Tent on the day, you’ll be able to buy a piece and have a very literal taste of this ancient tradition.  

This year’s cheese blessing service will be held on Sunday, May 1, followed on Saturday, May 7 by the Wap. Visit randwick.org.uk

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