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High Low Well, The

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Alternative title: Holy Well, The

Performer: Smith, Wiggy
Place Collected: Elmstone Hardwicke
Date collected: 13th April 1995
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 1697

The song is almost always known as the High-Low Well, but the title has undergone some mishearing in Mr Smith’s version. The song was taught to him by his grandfather, and Wiggy remembers earning a few pence by singing the carol in a Cotswold pub.

It is clearly related to “The Bitter Withy” which ends with the cheeky children being drowned by the boy Jesus. In “The Holy Well”, Jesus’ attitude is much more conciliatory.

It is not known how old the song it. Broadside versions exist and it has been carried along in oral tradition, very often by gypsy families. Its spread is confined to 3 counties – Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Cornwall, except for one version collected in Kentucky.

Notes by Gwilym Davies 1 July 2015

Media & Downloads

Hear the song/tune as collected (mp3 stream):

See the song/tune as collected (PDF file)
Hear the song/tune (midi file)
Version to sing (PDF file)
Hear a version to sing (midi file)

Modern recording performed by: Puzzlejug

Song/tune as collected (abc file)
Version to sing (abc file)