Oxford Ramble

Speed the Plough



A Taste of Ale

Six for Gold

Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell

The Robber Bird

Three Quarter Time

The 25th



King Herod and the Cock

Wassail track 18

From the Oxford Book of Carols. The carol was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Plumb, Armscote, Worcestershire and he published it in his English-Folk Carols (1911). Sharp's notes to the carol are reproduced at the excellent hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com:

The words in the text are given exactly as Mrs. Plumb sang them. I have collected no variants. The tune is a form of the well known "Dives and Lazarus" air (see "Come all your worthy Christian men," Folk-Songs from Somerset, No. 88).

Mrs. Plumb's lines, although they tell a complete story, are but a fragment of a very much longer carol, consisting of thirty stanzas, called "The Carnal and the Crane," printed in Sandys's Christmas Carols, Husk's Songs of the Nativity, and elsewhere. For traditional verses with tunes, see Miss Broadwood's English Traditional Songs and Carols, and The Folk-Song Society's Journal (I, 183 and IV, 22 with notes).

In this latter carol the Crane instructs the Carnal (i.e., the Crow) in the facts of the Nativity, of the truth of which the two miracles of the Cock and the Miraculous Harvest are cited as evidence.
I am unable to offer any explanation of the meaning of the words "senses," which occurs in the last two stanzas of the text. In the printed copies it is given as "fences" ― evidently a confusion has somewhere arisen between the letter "s," in its old fashioned form, and "f." "Thurstened" = "crowed"; it is evidently a derivative of the Mid. Eng. Thrusch which meant a chirper or twitterer.

The origin of the carol, and of the legends associated with it, is exhaustively analysed in Child's Ballads, to which the reader is referred. The conversion of King Herod to a believe in the power of the new-born Christ in the way narrated in the text is an early legend, and one that is widely distributed, traces of it being found in the Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe. It is not, I believe, mentioned in any of the Apocryphal Gospels, although the second miracle in the carol, the Miraculous Harvest, can be traced to that source.


Featuring Paul Sartin on oboe