This carol has been noted in collections for nearly 200 years under various titles. William Sandys in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) called it The Moon shines bright but Bramley and Stainer in Christmas Carols Old and New (1871) called it The Waits Song or The Waits Carol, whilst the 1928 edition of the Oxford Book of Carol called it The Bellman’s Song or the Bellman’s Carol.
Its popularity amongst traditional singers is probably due to its having been reproduced by several 19th Century printers and it has been collected many times in southern and western England. Gypsy singers have seemed particularly struck by the carol. It has been used as a visiting carol and even turns up as a May Day carol in some locations.
Notes by Gwilym Davies