Cherry Tree Carol

Version 1. Collected from Mary Ann Clayton at Chipping Campden by Cecil Sharp on 13 January 1909.

Song Manuscripts Song as collected Copy to download and sing
MIDIs MIDI – as collected

Version 2. Collected from Mary Anne Roberts at Winchcombe Union (Workhouse) by Cecil Sharp on 8 April 1909, learnt from her mother.  Mary Ann had previously been visited on 24th April 1908 by Miss Eliza Wedgwood, who made a phonograph recording of the song, and other songs.  The composer Percy Grainger then transcribed the song on 31st July 1909 from the recording, noting that Mary Ann was ‘a native of Beckford (Worcestershire)’.  The transcription we show here is Sharp’s.  Mary Ann’s tune is very similar to the second part of the tune of the local carol “A Virgin Unspotted”.

Song Manuscripts Song as collected and to sing
Midis Midi as collected and to sing
Contemporary Version – The Odd Occasions  Cherry Tree Carol – The Odd Occasions

Version 3.  Collected by Maud Karpeles and Pat Shuldham-Shaw from John Partridge of Cinderford on 22 August 1952.

Contemporary version – John Kirkpatrick Cherry Tree carol – John Kirkpatrick

Manuscript as Collected        Manuscript to Download & Sing

MIDI                                        Tune for Singing

The story comes under the heading of Apocryphal Carols and is derived from the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which combines many earlier apocryphal Nativity traditions; however, in Pseudo-Matthew, the event takes place during the flight into Egypt, and the fruit tree is a palm tree (presumably a date palm) and not a cherry tree. In the apocryphal Gospel, Jesus has already been born and so Joseph’s truculence is unrelated to any dismay over Mary’s pregnancy, but has to do with an inability to reach the fruits of the palm and a concern over the family’s lack of water.  [Note from Francis James Child – English and Scottish Popular Ballads].  The story also appears in the Coventry Mystery Plays of the 16th Century.

The story has long retained a fascination for generations of singers and collected versions have appeared in many places in the English-speaking world.

Note by Gwilym Davies November 2011