Tuesday 20 December 2011

37: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

A version of a well-known Christmas carol collected by Lucy Broadwood, pioneering folk-song researcher of the 19th and early 20th century. This tune is among her archived manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library with the simple note, "Liverpool version", and together with another carol collected in Liverpool.

The words are sometimes attributed to Poet Laureate Nahum Tate (otherwise famous for trying to re-write Shakespeare plays without any of the politically contentious bits). This is because they were first published in Tate and Nicholas Brady's 1700 supplement to the New Version of the Psalms of David. According to Jeremy Dibble of the University of Durham, While Shepherds Watched was one of the first carols to pass over from from secular traditions into the church of England; it was the only Christmas hymn approved by the Church of England in the 18th century, and so gained wide circulation among ordinary people. There are many, many tunes used for the song, including 'Cranbrook' (now famous as the tune of 'On Ilkla Moor baht 'at'), and also a tune known as 'Liverpool' (no relation to the one I'm singing here), used enthusiastically in the carol-singing pubs around Sheffield at Christmas time.

The picture I've used above is from the Formby Times' coverage of the Formby Village Nativity 2008.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night is #936 in the Roud folksong index.

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