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The Ditchling Carol

[ Roud 3216 ; DT DTCHLING ; Mudcat 116285 ; William Robert Spencer (1769-1834)]

Waterson:Carthy sang The Ditchling Carol in 1999 on their third album, Broken Ground. This recording was also included in 2001 on the Rounder Records anthology A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. Martin Carthy noted on their album:

The Ditchling Carol is nowhere near as old as it might appear at first glance. According to Vic Gammon, “… the music is reputedly the work of a shoemaker and church musician called Peter Parsons who was from Ditchling near Brighton and who died in 1901 … Ditchling was quite a centre for musicians from the old church bands, and the choir itself did quite extensive pre-Christmas carol tours which were apparently very popular but were said to have been frowned on by church reformers who did not like them taking their music to other places …” ‘Other places’ included going as far as Dorking twenty five miles or so away, which is nothing these days but these were people who walked to their gigs. The words, he says, were pretty widespread and are a mixture of two versions. His hunch (and he says it’s no more than that) is that they were written around 1820-1840.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang Ditchling Carol in 2000 on their Golden Hind CD Just Say Nowell. They noted on their website:

According to Vic Gammon (“Hail Happy Morn: Two Sussex Church Band Carols in Old Harmony”, English Dance and Song, 49, no. 3, pp. 11-13) the setting here was the work of Peter Parsons who died in 1901. Gammon collated the text from several local MSS. Since the release of this recording, we have discovered that the poem is the work of William Robert Spencer (1769-1834), a grandson of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. He published it in his Poems (1811).

The New Scorpion Band sang The Ditchling Carol in 2011 on their CD Nowell Sing We. They noted:

The words are by William Robert Spencer, and were published in 1811. The setting is by Peter Preston, and the carol as we have it now was collated by Vic Gammon from several Sussex manuscripts. Here we perform it as a “west gallery” piece.


Waterson:Carthy sing The Ditchling Carol

Be merry all be merry all
With holly dress the festive hall
Prepare the song the feast of all
To welcome Merry Christmas

Chorus (after each verse):
And all remember gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

When you with velvets mantled o’er
Defy December’s tempest’s roar
Oh spare one garment from your store
To clothe the poor at Christmas

When you the costly banquet deal
To guests who never famine feel
Oh spare one morsel from your meal
To feed the poor at Christmas

From blazing logs of fuel a while
Your homes are within summer’s smile
Oh spare one log from off the pile
To warm the poor at Christmas

So shall each note of mirth appear
More sweet to Heaven than praise or prayer
And angels in their carols there
Shall bless the poor at Christmas