Posts tagged ‘Janet Blunt’

December 28, 2022

Week 308 – The Adderbury Wassail

A couple of people have asked me recently if there were any Wassail songs collected in Oxfordshire. A quick search of the VWML catalogue brings up 10 records, but most of these actually refer to the same song – the two verse fragment collected by Janet Blunt from William ‘Binx’ Walton of Adderbury in December 1917. Of the others, none can definitively be said to be an Oxfordshire song:

In his book Village Song & Culture: A Study Based on the Blunt Collection of Song from Adderbury North Oxfordshire, Michael Pickering writes

Binx tried hard to remember this song for Blunt in December 1917, but could remember only two of the three verses in their entirety. Of the first verse, only the opening came back to him: ‘Good mortal man, remember…’
This is a familiar wassail song line, and we can safely assume that the nature of those following was didactic.

In looking for additional verses to add to the two which Walton did remember, I came across this nice version by former Adderbury Morris Squire Tim Radford. But noting that he’d got a couple of the verses from the Albion Band, I thought I’d choose some others, just to be different. The “mortal man remember” phrase I associate with the Hampshire Mummers’ Song ‘God Bless the Master’, and it turns up also in this Sussex Mummers’ Carol. I’ve borrowed my first couple of verses from there (verses which I think can fairly be categorised as “didactic”); added a generic “God bless the master…” verse as verse 3; and then I finish off with William Walton’s two verses. This means I get to sing the splendid line “A bit o’ your good vittles ma’am” at the end of the song, finishing off, appropriately enough with

We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year.

Sentiments which I heartily endorse.

William Walton's Wassail Song, from the Janet Blunt MSS.

William Walton’s Wassail Song, from the Janet Blunt MSS.

The Adderbury Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

December 21, 2017

Week 270 – As I sat on a sunny bank

Last night we had a really joyous carols and tunes session at the Bell Inn, Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic pub at any time (disclosure: I play in a band with Sandy, the landlady – but I challenge anyone to visit the pub and fail to be impressed). Last night, with about two thirds of the Christminster Singers, plus various friends and friends of friends, we really raised the roof with a selection of rousing carols from Dorset, Yorkshire – and Oxfordshire. It was particularly pleasing to be able to sing a few of the carols collected in Adderbury around a hundred years ago by Janet Blunt – ‘Adderbury Church’, ‘High let us swell’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ (which featured here four Christmasses ago). But here’s one we didn’t sing…

Janet Blunt collected several versions of ‘As I sat on a sunny bank’ / ‘I saw three ships’ in Adderbury. All used some variation on the well-known tune – apart from Sam Newman (a native of Wiltshire) who sang it to the tune of ‘Buffalo Girls’. This one was noted down from Clara Gillam, the parlour maid at Blunt’s home Halle Place, aka Adderbury Manor, and I learned it from the Blunt MSS via the Full English website.

The earliest known appearance of the carol in print was in 1666. According to the New Oxford Book of Carols the story is based  on

the Mediterranean journeyings of the supposed relics of the magi, the ‘Three Kings of Cologne’, the splendour of whose final voyage has remained vivid in European folk memory. The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great and discoverer of the True Cross, carried them to Constantinople in the fourth century, from where they were later taken by St Eusthathius to Milan. In 1162 the skulls were gifted to Cologne Cathedral by Friedrich Barbarossa, and Bishop Renaldus brought them there, to rest in the jewelled caskets in which they remain to this day.

The notes in the book also refer to this version of the carol in Baring-Gould’s manuscript collection, which was noted from a boatman on the River Humber by the artist Lewis Davis, and preserves the link with Cologne:

I axed ’em what they’d got on board
They said they’d got three crawns [skulls]
I axed ’em where they was taken to
They said they was ganging to Coln upon Rhine
I axed ’em where they came frae
They said they came frae Bethlehem

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

I follow the song with ‘Christmas Day In The Mornin’’ a tune from Bruce & Stokoe’s Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, where it is associated with the words

Dame get up and bake your pies,
Bake your pies, bake your pies;
Dame get up and bake your pies,
On Christmas Day in the morning.


As I sat on a sunny bank / Christmas Day in the Mornin’

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina, one-row melodeon in C

November 30, 2014

Week 171 – As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

The rules of the blog say, as soon as we’re into Advent it’s OK to start posting up Christmas material. So to get the ball rolling here’s a recording of Magpie Lane, from one of last year’s Christmas concerts.

I learned this song from the EFDSS Take Six archive – now part of the Full English. It’s from Janet Blunt’s MSS, and she collected it from the indefatigable William Walton of Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. Blunt’s transcriptions of the various carols she had from William Walton – Newton’s Double  is another – are remarkable in that they have 2 or 3 harmony parts as well as the tune, the octogenarian Walton being able to recall the various parts he had sung over the years. The bass vocal / cello line here, and additional vocal harmony line in the chorus, are all as noted from William Walton; the only thing we’ve added is the short instrumental ‘symphony’ between the verses (and one extra verse, from the five originally published in 1785 – see below).

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

Unlike some of the other Adderbury carols, we know exactly who wrote this one. ‘As shepherds  watched their fleecy care’ was composed by Joseph Key, an excise officer from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, and first published in Five Anthems, Four Collects, Twenty Psalm Tunes, [etc.]. Book III.  This was actually published in 1785 by his widow, Elizabeth Key, Joesph having died the previous year. There is information about Key and his published works on the website of Warwickshire West Gallery choir Immanuel’s Ground, where it notes that “His wife, no doubt dependant upon the income from his music, and possibly quite capable of taking singing classes herself, continued to publish his music for another six years after his death.”

Sophie, the cellist in Magpie Lane, had actually sung on a recording of this piece while a student. That was on While shepherds watched: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches and Chapels, 1740–1830 by Psalmody with The Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman. The approach on that disc is informed very much by a classical music aesthetic. We treat the song far more like something from the folk tradition.

The recording below was made last December in the reverberant acoustic of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking. There was a good recording of the song from last year’s Holywell Music Room gig too, but the cello is particularly sonorous on this recording – Ian Giles’ bass notes are also captured rather well, I think. Many thanks for fellow Magpie for recording all our Christmas gigs, and sharing the recordings.

We’ll be back in both Oxford and Woking next weekend – followed by Towcester on the 14th and Ringwood Folk Club on 16th Deecmber. Check out all the details at

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 7th December 2013.

Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Jon Fletcher – vocals
Mat Green – fiddle
Sophie Thurman – cello

December 24, 2013

Week 122 – Hymn for Christmas Day / Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol / Newton’s Double

Hark! hear you not a cheerful noise
Which makes the heavens ring with joy

Well happy Christmas everybody. And here to cheer you on your way are live recordings of Magpie Lane singing three Christmas carols with Oxfordshire connections.

First up, ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’ from a nineteenth century Berkshire manuscript. We came across the song quite by chance, towards the end of the recording sessions for our 2006 album Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Dave Eynstone, in whose studio we were recording, showed us a hand-written, leather-bound manuscript book which he had recently inherited, and in the front of which was inscribed

Thomas Eynstone  Cotthill  Berks 1840
Late of Drayton who Departed This Life
January February the 7th 1876
Aged 65 years

Alfred Eynstone  Black Horse  Berks 1876

Thomas Eynstone was an agricultural labourer from Cothill – just West of Abingdon – which has actually been in Oxfordshire since 1974. His manuscript book contains over 175 religious pieces – metrical psalms, anthems, and three pieces entitled ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’, one of which (No. 25) is Joseph Stephenson’s well-known ‘Hark, Hark What News’. This piece is No. 26, and it was completely new to me at the time. Subsequently, however, I found that the New Oxford Book of Carols also had a version, taken from A Book of Psalmody, published by Matthew Wilkins of Great Milton in Oxfordshire c.1760. Apart from the fact that the words were set to music twice by the American composer, William Billings, the NOBC editors had very little information on the piece. In Dave Townsend’s recently published Oxfordshire Carols he has transcribed ‘Hark, Hear You Not’ from A Collection of Church Musick, published by Elizabeth Wilkins, c.1775 – this would appear to be either Matthew Wilkins’ widow, or his daughter (they were both called Elizabeth). Dave doesn’t have anything to add on the provenance of the piece, but notes that it has now been found in another Oxfordshire West Gallery manuscript, belonging to Richard Herring of Marsh Gibbon.

Googling “Hark! Hear You Not A Cheerful Noise?” yesterday afternoon, however, I came across a YouTube “video” where someone had uploaded the recording of the hymn from our CD Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Putting to one side the fact that this breaks various copyrights (and no, adding a disclaimer “This video is for entertainment purposes only. I do not own the copyright for the music or image used in this video” does not get you off the hook) there was an intriguing note that it was “Written by English composer William Knapp (1698-1768) in 1744, appearing in the musical work entitled “Anthems for Christmas Day””. My first reaction was “No, that’s wrong”; but further Googling revealed that it does indeed appear to be the case. Francis Roads has compiled a list of Knapp’s works which shows that ‘Hark! Hear you not a chearful noise? An hymn for Christmas Day’ appeared in Knapp’s Anthems for Christmas Day (London 1744).  Now the Christminster Singers are very big on Dorset composer William Knapp – indeed we recorded an entire CD of his compositions. It would appear that recently, and not for the first time, we have been singing and enjoying one of his works without realising that he was the composer. Of course copyright law was not very fully developed in the eighteenth century, and Matthew Wilkins, like other publishers of “West Gallery” collections, seems to have had no qualms about reproducing works by composers such as Knapp in his printed books.

You can hear a MIDI version of William Knapp’s setting at (you’ll need the free Sibelius Scorch plug-in to play it). The Knapp, Wilkins and Eynstone versions are very similar: but the first two have four harmony parts while Thomas Eynstone’s has only three, and the parts are all subtly different; it looks to me as though the carol may have been passed via the oral tradition, rather than simply copied from book to book.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.














The other two pieces here are taken directly from Dave Townsend’s Oxfordshire Carols, although Ian and I have been singing both for a while, either with the Christminster Singers, or as guest vocalists with the Mellstock Band.

‘Sellwood Mollineux’s Carol’ is a bit of an oddity, not least because it is in 5/4. Now there are numerous examples of English folk carols which are wholly or partly in 5/4, but I can’t think of another example from the West Gallery canon. Indeed, in Matthew Wilkins’ A Book of Psalmody, from which this is taken, it is barred in common time – but, as Dave realised when transcribing the piece, it is quite clearly supposed to be in five-time. Wilkins has it as a setting for Psalm 145, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever”.  But there is a copy of the Wilkins book which is inscribed “Sellwood Mollineux 1775”, and in that copy this piece is marked “Carol tune”. In the absence of any other information, Dave decided to use the tune as a setting for Philip Doddridge’s text ‘Hark, The Glad Sound! The Saviour Comes!’. The Mollineux family, incidentally, were farmers in the Great Milton area; Sellwood is, I think, an unjustly neglected first name, due for a revival (although I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on any of my own children!).

Finally, ‘Newton’s Double’, from William Walton of Adderbury. In the 1910s Walton provided local folk-song collector Janet Blunt with numerous songs, information about the Adderbury Morris, and West Gallery style carols. He had sung the old carols, first as a boy, then as a man; and remarkably could recall all of the harmony parts from his youth. Blunt had trouble working out how the parts of this fuguing piece fitted together, but Dave Townsend has reconstructed it with reference to other sources, in particular the 1836 James Martin MS from Poole.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

























The recordings of ‘Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ were made at this year’s annual Magpie Lane Christmas concert in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. We were joined for these by our friends from Eynsham, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford. Many thanks to them and, of course, to Dave Townsend for making us aware of these fine carols.

Hymn for Christmas Day

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 8th December 2012.

Jon Fletcher, Marguerite Hutchinson, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green – vocals
Sophie Thurman – cello

Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

Newton’s Double

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

April 29, 2013

Week 88 – Swalcliffe May Day Carol

The first Magpie Lane album, The Oxford Ramble, was released just over 20 years ago, and we played our very first concert, in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, on 3rd May – May Bank Holiday Monday – 1993. We will be returning to the Holywell tomorrow for a 20th anniversary concert, where we will be joined by former members of the band, and a number of special guests. Twenty years ago this was the final song of the night, and it is giving away no secrets, I suspect, if I say that this song will also feature in our concert tomorrow.

I learned the song from Forty Long Miles: twenty-three English folk songs from the collection of Janet Heatley Blunt, edited by Tony Foxworthy and published by Galliard / EFDSS in 1976.

Swalcliffe (pronounced sway-cliff) is a village near Banbury in North Oxfordshire. The words of the carol were noted by Miss Annie Norris around 1840 from the singing of a group of children in the village. The words were passed onto the collector – and Adderbury resident – Janet Blunt in 1908, and she finally collected a tune for the song from Mrs Woolgrove of Swalcliffe, and Mrs Lynes of Sibford, at Sibford fete, July 1921 (this information, and much more about music-making in Adderbury, can be found in Michael Pickering’s book Village Song and Culture).

You can now find Miss Blunt’s notes on the Take Six archive – see below.

May Day Song from the Janet Heatley Blunt collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive

May Day Song from the Janet Heatley Blunt collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive

Man is but a man, his life’s but a span
He is much like a flower
He’s here today and he’s gone tomorrow
So he’s all gone down in an hour

Twenty years ago when I sang those words they really struck home, as I knew that my Dad was dying of cancer. What I didn’t realise was that he would indeed be “gone tomorrow” – he died the very next day. He never got to see Magpie Lane, but he did hear The Oxford Ramble – on cassette – just before he died. Apparently he liked the second side best, because he said it had more of me on it. That comment is so typical of both my parents!

So here’s to my Dad, and all the friends and good times I’ve had these last twenty years with Magpie Lane.

The video below is neither hi-fi nor hi-res, but it’s what we’ve got. If you’re coming to see us tomorrow night, I hope you enjoy it as much as we intend to.

Swalcliffe May Day Carol

Magpie Lane

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Ian Giles: vocal, big bass drum
Tom Bower: vocal, side drum
Jo Acty: vocal
Pete Acty: mandola
Mat Green: fiddle
Chris Leslie: fiddle
Isobel Dams: cello

Filmed by Nicola Field, 3rd May 1993.