A festive tradition that’s right on our doorstep
I love a local tradition, and the Sheffield carols is one of our best. It’s still going strong since it started in the late eighteenth century, when singers and musicians would gather in north west Sheffield pubs during November and December to sing Christmas carols.
The carols aren’t just the obvious ones that you hear everywhere at this time of year. Many of them mix church and secular material and are composed by local musicians, with variations of words, melody and tempo depending on which pub you are in. What’s brilliant is that some are still referred to by their local names, such as Bradfield, Stannington and Malin Bridge.
The first pub we tried was The Sportsman in Crosspool, on a weeknight in the run up to Christmas. Here we found the Loxley Silver North Band playing a mixture of local carols and a few of the obvious ones – someone even requested Jingle Bells.
The band sounded great, although with just a small gathering of people singing in one area of the pub, it didn’t quite feel like the full local carols experience. So it was time to try one of the village pubs further north.
The Royal Hotel in Dungworth is famous for its local carols. We headed over on boxing day and weren’t disappointed. The pub was rammed, with people gathered round an organ, singing their hearts out. This was exactly how we hoped it might be.
We were made to feel welcome, despite not really knowing the carols. We soon discover that many of the words and tunes are quite familiar. This is the end of Sweet Chiming Bells, one of the many variations of While Shepherds Watched (excuse the shaky filming on my phone):
The enthusiasm of people singing is infectious. Looking around, it seems like generations of families are in the pub, with nearly everyone drinking the tasty Bradfield Brewery beer, which is brewed just up the road.
Singing like this in a pub may seem a bit strange to some people, but when you think that this local carol, called ‘Stannington’, has been sung for hundreds of years in Sheffield public houses, it is hard not to be drawn in:
In fact, spending time with people who are part of a tradition like this is quite special. It’s heartwarming to be part of something that has been taking place for so long but hasn’t really changed.
I bought a Loxley selection songbook from The Sportsman (just £1) and now I know that many of the carols are quite easy to pick up, I would feel much more confident about joining in. What’s more, it seems silly not to make more of such a cherished tradition that takes place right on our doorstep, so I’ll definitely be back next year.
There’s more about the history of carols in this BBC documentary by Howard Goodall. The Blue Ball pub in Worrall is featured from 52 minutes, 18 seconds: