Monday, December 25, 2023

The Sheffield carols

What could be more true to the spirit of Christmas than standing in a crowded pub and singing Christmas carols?

Especially if the tunes are only to be heard in a few towns and villages near Sheffield, in South Yorkshire.

The mass singing in some of the pubs in North Sheffield and North Derbyshire, which takes place in the second half of November and all December, is often referred to as The Sheffield Carols. It has been described as one of the most remarkable instances of popular traditional singing in the British Isles.

The songs predate modern carols by over a century and are sung with alternative words and verses to those we are hearing more and more these days, as Christmas approaches.

They were originally sung in churches accompanied by self-taught artisan musicians, but from the 1830s onwards they were driven out across the country by the Oxford Tractarian Movement. In many parts of the country the tradition of local carols then started to die out, however, in South Yorkshire the tradition has survived.

The Sheffield tradition of carols is not quite alone in the UK. There are other pockets where traditions have survived, notably North Cornwall. Other Christmas singing traditions can be found in Gloucestershire (including mummers plays and wassailing), the Lake District (Dent Folk Carols weekend), Odcombe (a small Somerset village, where the carol traditions have survived), and more. You can find links to more information on the Local Carols website.

Here is one example of a popular Sheffield carol, Pentonville, sung in the Royal Hotel in Dungworth in 2020:

Here is A beginner’s guide to the Sheffield carols which includes links to several more YouTube videos.

You can also hear 16 carols from the Derbyshire carol workshop in Haversage from 2015 on the Village Carols website. Village Carols is a non-profitmaking organisation which exists to record and promote local carol singing traditions. Their website includes links to songbooks and CDs, articles on folk carols, an index of carol lyrics, plus locations of the pubs where carols can be sung each year.

There is still time to join in the singing! There are sessions on Christmas Day through to 28 December, plus 1 January. You can find details on the TradFolk website (scroll to the bottom of the page).


However you spend Christmas, I hope there will be lots of singing.

Merry Christmas to you all and thanks for reading!


Chris Rowbury


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