Not, of course, specifically a Sussex carol: the Roud Index lists versions collected from oral tradition in counties including Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Surrey, Herefordshire and Hampshire; while the Bodleian has copies of early nineteenth centuryballad sheets printed in London and Birmingham. Indeed, according to Wikipedia the words were first published by Luke Wadding, a 17th-century Irish bishop, in a work called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684).
But Vaughan Williams collected this version from Mrs Verrall, of Monk’s Gate, Horsham in Sussex, in 1904, and his arrangement of the carol was included in the Oxford Book of Carols, first published in 1928 (he had also incorporated it into his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, first performed in 1912).
I’ve always enjoyed singing this carol, but these days it has a particular significance for me as it’s almost invariably the song which closes our Magpie Lane Christmas concerts in Oxford. As such it brings a mixture of emotion: exhilaration at the completion of a successful concert in front of a supportive home crowd, and a general feeling of goodwill-to-all-men-it’s-almost-Christmas; mixed with a tinge of sadness because this year’s concerts are over, and we won’t be dusting off this repertoire again for another twelve months.
Here the lead vocals are taken by my wife Carol, with my eldest son Joe on fiddle. A very happy Christmas from all of us.
The Sussex Carol
Carol Turner: vocal
Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Joe Turner: fiddle