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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Song Information

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Book TitleAuthorDateNotes
Song TitleGod rest you, merry gentlemen!
Roud No.394
Collected FromKing Family
LocationCastle Eaton
CountyWiltshire
Collected ByWilliams, Alfred
Alternative TitleCome, all you, merry gentlemen!
Tune
Date
Source PrimaryWSRO: 2598/36 Packet 5 - Miscellaneous: Williams, A: MS collection No Mi 581
Source SecondaryWiltshire Gazette 29th December, 1927 p. 7
Recording
 
Song Lyrics
Verse 1

God rest you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay!
Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day,
To save poor souls from Satan's power long time has been gone astray,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 2

From God our Heavenly Father these blessed angels came
Down to some certain shepherds brought tidings of the same,
That there was born in Bethlehem the Son of God by name,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 3

When shepherds heard those tidings they much rejoiced in mind,
They left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And straight they ran to Bethlehem the Son of God to find,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 4

Now when they came to Bethlehem where our sweet Saviour lay,
They found Christ in a manger where oxen fed on hay;
And the Virgin Mary kneeling down unto the Lord did pray,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 5

And when King Herod heard that this blessed babe was born,
At this he was much grieved, and therefore, in great scorn,
Sent forth to slay young children, which made these parents mourn,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 6

And Joseph he was warned, all in a dream by night,
The young child and his mother all for to take in flight
To Egypt, for King Herod did seek this babe to slay,
And this brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 7

God bless the ruler of this house and send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas may he live to see again!
Both you and all your kindred that live both far and near,
And the Lord send you all a happy New Year!
 
Print Song Lyrics
 
Notes
Note 1

There are many similarities between “God rest you merry gentlemen”, listed as Mi 581 and the song transcribed below to which Williams gave the title “Come, all you, merry gentlemen!” despite the fact that the published text it is much shorter at three verses compared to 7 in the manuscript. In the light of Williams’ statements in the article in the Wiltshire Gazette, given in full below, where he indicates how few examples of carols he found, I have assigned the song to the King Family, as Williams does in the newspaper.

Note 2

THE FOLK CAROL IN WILTSHIRE

[BY ALFRED WILLIAMS]

NOTE – corrections to the text will be made shortly. Illegible words on the microfilm are marked thus [X]

It may safely be said that not for many years has the carol enjoyed such popularity as it has this Christmas time. Whichever way one turns one is confronted with it. We have “community” carols, carol concerts, church choir carols, and, of course, carol broadcasted. It may signify much or little. In so far as the carol is being revived, and is again finding a place in popular, music, it is an excellent sign. But it is more or less an artificial restoration. For the carol outside the church, is in much the same position as the folk song. I mean, of course, the traditional carol. The spirit that kept it alive for untold centuries is dead today. And it would be dangerous to predict that there is any likelihood of it being resuscitated.

It is too late in the day now what folk carols were in circulation in Wiltshire. Such a search, had it been made thirty or forty years ago there is no doubt that it would have produced a rich result. A few of the old [singers?] regularly included a carol or two [X]. But not a great number of them. [X] villages one could find no trace [W] whatever. It is rather curious this: [X] to depend upon a certain local [X] of culture. Most of the villages had a [X] individuality. Sometimes this distinction extended to a group of villages, if they were rather near together. It depended, perhaps, upon the local patrons at some time [X]. This influence lasted for years and [X] raised the tone of the village, where it was found.

I imagine, from experiences obtained when collecting folk songs in 1914-1915, that there were many more carols on the north bank of the Thames, above Oxford, than on the other side. It is not particularly easy to [X] reasons for this. I shall not suggest that the people were more devout [they may have been] but choir singing and church music mainly seems to have received more attention there than they did on the Wiltshire side of the river. I have thought this influence possibly emanated from Oxford, and spread [X] all along the line of villages north of the Thames, from Stanton Harcourt and Standlake to Coln St Aldwyn, and the Ampneys to Cirencester. It is only a theory; but I do not think that I am very much mistaken.

A CAROLLING FAMILY

There certainly was a common folk spirit present throughout the whole of the district, which was singularly different from what obtained on the Wiltshire side of the Thames. As well as the carols – I found only a few traditional carols – there were at one time a large number of good glees north of the Thames. But though I repeatedly asked for them I found none in Wiltshire, except at Castle Eaton, Marston Maisy, and Latton; i.e. on the Thames line. And exactly what I have pointed out happened at Castle Eaton. Church music, there, was well attended to. The family of the Kings [noted for their folk singing] practically composed the church choir. They sang both glees and carols; but they had received a special sort of training. Where the folk singing was carried on principally at the inns, you would scarcely hear carols or glees – only the historical ballad with its innumerable and hopelessly corrupt versions, and songs dealing with the simple life of the farms.

And so, regretfully, we have to confess that we have very few folk carols collected in Wiltshire. At least, I am not aware of any in North Wiltshire, beyond the several I heard from time to time. These were sung by very aged people, and were of an extremely simple kind. An old man of ninety, living near Swindon, used to sing “Come, all you worthy Christians”. At first, one would not take this to be a carol; but it is to be finally resolved into this class. I give the first verse, which is typical of the whole –

“Come, all you worthy Christians, that are so very poor!
Remember how poor Lazarus sat at the rich man’s door
A-begging for those crumbs of bread that from his table fell;
Our Scripture does inform us his soul in heaven does dwell.”

[It is] very simple, but, nevertheless, of that kind likely to appeal to homely folks.

FAMILY OWNERSHIP

The next carol I shall give comes from Paulton, just over the border in Gloucestershire. I obtained it in 1915, of a very old woman , and she told me it had been “in her family “ for one hundred and fifty years. By this she meant that her family had been the sole singers of the carol in that village or neighbourhood for that length of time. This appears curious; but was not unusual. The title to the “ownership” of a folk song was commonly recognised. Individuals were jealous of their pieces, and they were often not allowed to pass out of the family. Farther afield, of course, the song might be known. Again, it might not be met with in a fifty mile radius.

[Folk carol from Paulton]

Verse 1

God sent for us the Sunday,
All with his Holy hand;
He made the sun fair and the moon,
The waters and dry land.

Verse 2

There are six good days in all the week,
All for a labouring man;
The Seventh day to serve the Lord,
The Father, and the Son.

Verse 3

For the saving of your soul, dear man,
Christ died upon the Cross;
For the saving of your soul, dear man,
Christ's precious blood was lost.

Verse 4

Three drops of our sweet Saviour's blood,
Were freely spilt for me;
We shall never do for our sweet Saviour,
As He has done for we.

Verse 5

My song is done, we must be gone,
We stay no longer here;
As I wish you all a Merry, Merry Christmas,
And a happy New Year.

Again we have the traditional copy of “Come, all you merry gentlemen” as it was sung at Castle Eaton, North Wilts, by the King family:

Verse 1

Come, all you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ the Saviour was born on Christmas Day,
To save poor souls from Satan’s path long time been gone away,
That brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 2

When the shepherds heard those tidings it much rejoiced their minds,
They left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And straightway they came to Bethlehem and sang of God so kind,
That brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Verse 3

God bless the rulers of this house and all that dwell within,
God bless you and your children, I hope you heaven will win,
God bless you and your children that live both far and near,
And, good Lord, send us a joyful New Year!

SECULAR CAROLS

As may be seen, these are not of a particularly high quality, as far as literary considerations go. But this, more than anything else, may be proof of their being traditional pieces. There were plenty of better carols, no doubt, if they had been noted half a century ago. I have been told that the travelling people, and gypsies, sang several good carols [traditional, that is] such as the “Carnal and the Crane” and the “Holy Well”, but I was never able to hear of any when I made enquiries. And the old folks have passed away, among the gypsies, as among ourselves.

The folk carol did not always confine itself to the subject of the Nativity, nor was it necessarily religious in spirit. For instance, a carol might be connected with hunting, such as the famous “Carol bryngyng in the Bore’s Head” printed in 1521 –

“The Bore’s Head in Hand Bryng I
With girlands gay and rose mary.
I pray you all syng merelye.”

This was sung every Christmas Day at Queen’s College, Oxford, and the boar’s head was served as the first dish, with fitting ceremony.

In an old Welsh song, used as a carol, reference is made to the “Wassail of Mary,” so it is evident that in this particular case the practice of wassail was confused with the celebration of the Nativity –

“Let all in this house be content that we
May drink a wassail to Virginity.”

Another ancient carol was entitled “A song of the Holly and Ivy” –

“Holly stood in the hall, fayre to behold,
Ivy stood without the door, she ys full sore a-cold.”

We have a very good copy of the folk song, “Holly and Ivy,” circulating in Wiltshire. Judging by the versions, it would be difficult to ascribe a common origin to the two pieces; yet there is something significant about the titles.

Referring to the other folk piece, “Come, all you worthy Christians,” quoted above, there was a curious old carol, called “Dives and Lazarus,” in which Dives is shown being conducted to the lower regions by two serpents. And not satisfied with this figure, the author afterwards shows Dives sitting on the serpent’s knee! But this is too extravagant for the folk representation, which, though it needed something simple, adhered as closely as possible to the truth, or, at any rate, to probability.

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2011.

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