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Hark, Hark, What News

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Performer: Archer, Fred
Place Collected: Ashton under Hill
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 3210

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.

Notes by Gwilym Davies