The Blessing of the Barley Queen

We're growing barley, and we're celebrating it in an old fashioned way

‘The Blessing of the Barley Queen’ is to be held on Saturday 27 April, following the blessing of the land, and will include drinks, food, and some good fun folk music.

Our newly-crowned Barley Queen will join the local vicar to give a ‘blessing of the land’ to our very own barley crop situated under the watchful eye of Alburgh church tower, who will then be carried by tractor back to the brewery, where she will be welcomed by all, and the merriment will begin. Things might get a little weird (in a fun way), but nothing Alburgh hasn’t seen before, for we are reviving an age-old tradition in celebration of the Bond family of South Farm giving us our very own patch of barley, that we will malt later in the year.

‘Barley Queen’ – never heard of it and still have no idea of what I’m going on about? Here’s the backstory…

Last October, a very enthusiastic 40-something named Alastair from Northampton and wearing a Parka jacket, showed up at the brewery waving photocopies that he insisted on sharing with me. He caught me on a good day. The documents were copied from a Walter Rye essay, who I have since learned, wrote a series of essays,  in the late 1800s, relating to Norfolk, and was interested in families, antiquities and traditions. Now, in these papers were (admittedly small and vague) references to goings-on in the Waveney Valley, in amongst a much larger piece on general pagan traditions in Norfolk.

Here’s what  I managed to get:
‘a lady mature in years and wisdom’…’give her blessing on the land’…in the ‘arable lands in the south of Norfolk’.

It features amongst other articles on pagan practices which made a revival in Victorian times, and so I have filled in the blanks and added some meat to what ‘probably’ went on based on what we know about druidism and what we know about Norfolk. And I have named her the ‘Barley Queen’. I have been unable to verify the quotes, and am still waiting for Alastair to return (hopefully for the event!), and after discussions with locals, no-one knows about the practice. However, local villagers have told me of similar rituals and celebrations that took place, and in fact the Apple Wassail still takes place in Denton to scare away evil demons from the cider apples.

So we have a new/old thing! Our first Barley Queen to be crowned will be Jen, and she will bless the crop calling upon the four elements of Air, Fire, Earth and Water. To redress the balance and hedge my bets, the vicar of Alburgh and Denton (and countless other parishes), Rev Christopher Hutton will join us with a Christian blessing. The crops have a good start, as they sit directly on the St Michael and St Mary leyline, that starts in Cornwall, heads through Alburgh church, and onwards, so we expect great things when we are able to turn this barley into beer, but I’ll cover that story in another blog.

The Blessing of the Barley Queen – at Grain Brewery 12 until 7, on Saturday 27 April.
2.15pm – The Barley Queen leaves the brewery by tractor (children may join her in the trailer if they wish)
2.30pm – The Barley Queen and Rev Hutton bless the land
3.00pm – The arrival of the Barley Queen at the brewery
3.00pm onwards – Celebration, including hot food and music from The Wicked Hamptons


Phil Halls
11 April 2024