Hark, Hark What News?

Contemporary recording – Puzzlejug Hark, Hark, What News the Angels Bring – Puzzlejug
Song Manuscripts Song as collected and to sing
Midis Midi as collected and to sing

Communicated by Fred Archer to Gwilym Davies 1993.

This Carol is one of a set of carols from Ashton-under-Hill, a village which now lies within Worcestershire but until the 1930s was part of Gloucestershire.  The local writer Fred Archer often mentioned in his books the singing of the local carols in the village.  The carols were collected in the 1920s by Mrs [Amy] Roberson, the doctor’s wife, who took down the music and published arrangements of the carols.  The published carols are ‘Hark, hark, What News the Angels Bring’, ‘Arise ye Sleepy Souls, Arise’ and ‘All Hail and Praise’.  In addition, Fred said that the carol ‘While Shepherds Watched’ was sung in the village to the tune of Lyneham.  It is assumed that he meant Lyngham, a popular tune for this carol in the West Gallery repertoire.

The Ashton carols were sung by the bell ringers when they came round the village on Boxing Day, but were not sung in the church and the custom died out just after World War II. The carollers were Ken Pratt, Ken Pratt’s father, Albert Langley, Charlie Moore and Frank Whittle (who lost a leg at Mons and who had a lovely voice).  They sometimes sang in parts (although it is not clear to what extent Mrs Roberson wrote the published parts).  Between the Wars Ralph Cotton used to accompany the carollers on violin.  The carollers went round late at night with a lantern on a bean pole.  The very last time they sang was in the 1960s when Fred invited them in to sing in the Tudor room at Stanley Farm.  One of the carols ‘All Hail and Praise the Sacred Morn’ used to be sung at in the nearby Worcestershire village of Elmley Castle at midnight on New Year’s Eve, after which the singers would go to the church gates and sing it there. That was last done in the 1970’s when Reg Berry was one of the carollers.

Peter Duddridge recorded Ralph Thomas from Ashton-under-hill singing ‘All Hail and Praise’ in May 1958.

Another possible Ashton-under-Hill carol was ‘Hail Smiling Morn’ (written by Reginald Spofforth (1770-1826)).  This carol is not mentioned by Fred Archer but it was recorded in 1985(?) from Ralph Cotton (see above)

Another carol which used to be sung in Ashton-under-Hill was what Fred referred to as the Withy Carol – this presumably being a version of the Bitter Withy, which was sung by Hughey Clements, the baker.  Charlie Gardiner, who wrote the book “Your Village and Mine”, was going to record Hughey, but unfortunately Hughey had had a stroke and was unable to sing it.

Note by Gwilym Davies November 2011