Rescue a Carol?

When Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw edited the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 they declined to include Away in a Manger and Silent Night judging that they were ‘too vulgar’, and ‘unlikely to survive the passage of years.’ Now, of course, very few collections of Carols would dare to exclude them.

Carols singersFashions in hymns and fashions in carols change. A while ago we decided to ask a few people connected with St Chrysostom’s if they had a carol or two which “they’d not heard for a while – one’s we may have liked years ago but don’t hear so much nowadays.”

The answers were very interesting. Some were carols sung and loved in childhood but no longer heard. Indeed two of the choices we were unable even to trace using our friend Google (but see below). They were Sr Linfa CHN’s choice of A mantle of frost and a carpet of snow, and a favourite of Fliss Cold was the moon but the heart of man was colder. Could it be that they were very specific to a place or even a school?

Fr Ian’s choice In Nightly stillness isn’t heard nowadays but was popularised in the 1960s by the BBC Radio programme for Schools Singing Togetherthe ‘radio show that got children singing.’

Fr Julian remembered Carols from his ministry in Cornwall that are rarely heard today, for example the Cornish St Day carol Now the holly bears a berry (Sung here, with a verse in Cornish by the Holman-Climax Male Voice Choir), and Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour, traditionally sung, he recalls, on Holy Family Sunday.

2-Lord_At_First UseAlison mentioned how some carols seem to be gently slipping out of general use nowadays, and in that category she included Little Jesus, sleepy sleep – Rocking, a Czech Carol, translated by Percy Dearmer and once very popular.

Alison also gives an example of a carol that nowadays is hardly ever heard but was very popular in Regency England:  The Lord at first did Adam make 

Kristof’s knowledge of hymnody and carols is extensive and at times refreshingly idiosyncratic. He offers two Carols that he’d not want to sink into oblivion; Charity at Christmass – ‘Let such (so fantastical) liking not this‘ and Ben Jonson’s Carol  ‘I sing the birth was born tonight‘ in Rutland Boughton’s setting.

Perhaps each Christmas we could enjoy rescuing a worthy Carol which may be in danger of being forgotten? What would be your suggestion?

(Click here for an earlier blog post about remembering Carols from earlier years of our faith stories).
This updates a blog post of a few years ago.

About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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13 Responses to Rescue a Carol?

  1. Joe Cirou comments:

    I looked up those titles in “Diehl” No luck. Thats the standard reference for hymns in the US. Before the real age of computers it contained all the hymnals and text and tunes in US hymnals until about 1964 including the then proposed United Methodist Hymnal published later in the 60’s and superseded by at least one major edition.

    The book is still in print and has not been updated. S

    The other hymns you list were familiar especially Rocking and The Lord at First Did Adam Make. We have a good Slavic population in the US; so what may have appeared as novelties in the UK are relatively familiar in areas that have Czech and other Slavic groups especially for Christmas.

  2. Sandra Palmer comments: The Czech rocking carol a favourite in our family too .

  3. THANK YOU to Peter Muir who comments:

    I can help with one…

    1 Cold was the moon, but the heart of man was colder:
    Heavy the hand of the Roman on the earth:
    Resting on welcome straw,
    Warm with the love she bore
    Mary prepared for the miracle of birth.

    2 There was no doctor to ease her through the labour,
    There were no nurses to share her thankful sighs.
    Born in the form of man
    Our Way of Life began
    Naked, when he would die before her eyes.

    3 Then He would be all the loneliness and evil
    Of all the ages in one tremendous hour;
    Here in the death of love
    She saw the birth of love,
    Endless in meaning and measureless in power.

    4 So Mary, sing now the song of all creation,
    Sing to the glory of that which can explain
    That in pain we share
    Rebirth is always there,
    Death is a changeling, and life must live again.

    5 So we obey him, and share in this disclosure
    Of that same action which focusses his love;
    Here in a point of time
    We meet in bread and wine
    To taste the glory of him, our Lord and God.

    Peter Firth (fl. 1965)
    12 11 6 6 11 Irregular, mostly Dactylic

    The tune is “Cold was the moon” Appleford with a metre 12 11 6 6 11

  4. Peter adds:

    Fascinating what you find on the internet!

    I offer the link just in case the second carol might be a Plygain carol and the link helps someone else.

  5. Peter says:

    Here is a link to an Irish choir singing ‘The Lord at first did Adam make’

  6. Fr Ian writes. A newspaper report of 1874 says that at Cockfield Parish Church (in County Durham – where once I was Rector) after Christmas Day Evening Service and on the Following Sunday, the choir sang:
    —In Excelsis Gloria ; Here is a joy for every age ; Welcome, Christmas ; The Three Kings of
    Orient ; The Golden Carol ; Sing we every Christmas

    None of which I have heard of – times change!

  7. Mockingbird says:

    I like Coverdale’s Carol, “Now blessed be thou Christ Jesu”, to a tune collected by R. Vaughan Williams.

  8. fssnyder says:

    “Lo How a Rose Er Bloometh” is to me a much neglected and lovely carol.

  9. Hannnah Cornwell says:

    ‘A Mantle of Frost and a Carpet of Snow’ was sung by the Shepherds in the Hanford School Nativity Play every year. I’ve never been able to track it down outside of this context, but it is a beautiful song. I am glad to have a copy it of thanks to an ancient VHS of the play, which is my father transferred on to a DVD.

  10. ibruvverOSB says:

    Behold the great creator makes us a particular favourite of mine. We sing it here, but I suspect we’re in the minority!

    Behold, the great Creator makes
    Himself a house of clay,
    a robe of virgin flesh He takes
    which He will wear for aye.
    2 Hark, hark, the wise eternal Word
    like a weak infant cries!
    In form of servant is the Lord,
    and God in cradle lies.
    3 This wonder struck the world amazed,
    it shook the starry frame;
    squadrons of spirits stood and gazed,
    then down in troops they came.
    4 Glad shepherds ran to view this sight;
    a choir of angels sings,
    and eastern sages with delight
    adore this King of kings.
    5 Join then, all hearts that are not stone,
    and all our voices prove,
    to celebrate this holy One,
    the God of peace and love.

  11. Alison Smith says:

    I learnt a setting of I sing of a Maiden at primary school in the late 60s. Never saw the score as learnt it by ear, never hear anyone but me sing it. Am badgering everyone to let me sing it to them! Want a copy?

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