Almost there…….

So, we’ve had our sixth and final, brilliant, Monday practice (see the clip on our ‘See & Hear’ page) and now its all systems go for our first Sunday sing at The Three Tuns, 12.30 on the 1st December.

We don’t know whether anyone will turn up to have a listen, or maybe join in of course, but what we do know is that we’ll have a great time singing these wonderful old carols.

Roll on Sunday!



Four weeks in….

Well, here we are after our fourth practice session of 2019 and things are going brilliantly.

Around sixty people have turned up at The Three Tuns on the last four Monday evenings and they’re already making a really good sound.

It’s joyful, it’s uplifting and its a real testament to the effort that everyone is putting in between practices so that they arrive with a good understanding of how these wonderful old songs are supposed to sound.

John, our doughty leader, has been suffering with a pretty dodgy voice for the last couple of sessions but it hasn’t stopped him helping us to enjoy our singing. It just feels so good to be part of such a great community event and its hard to believe that we haven’t all been singing together for years.

We’ve posted a clip on the ‘See & Hear’ page. This was only the third run-through of ‘Antioch’ and it sums up everything you need to know about Castle Carols. Enjoy!

Almost time…..

As we write this it’s just a few days before we kick off the 2019 season of Castle Carols.

The first session is at The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishops Castle, on Monday 21st October, starting at 7.30.

We’ll be meeting to practice the carols on every Monday evening throughout October and November.

Starting on Sunday 1st December, we’ll then be singing regularly on Sunday afternoons throughout December, culminating in our big sing on Boxing Day, after those pesky Morris dancers have stopped leaping about, shouting and causing general mayhem.

Anyone who was around last year will testify to how special those December sings were, especially Boxing Day, and what a bond formed between singers throughout the practice and singing out period.

We want to emphasise that the point of all this is to have a really good sing with friends and neighbours, using the ‘old’ carols that were traditional before ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ came along. We’re not going to be bound by the usual rules about division of labour in a choir because we’re not a choir – if you fancy singing a part then sing it, regardless of whether you’re normally a soprano, alto, tenor or bass. We’re not intending to ‘perform, but we do know that for many people,  joining in with such a joyous sound is irresistible.

If you fancy having a go please come and join us, it will be great to see you. Don’t worry if you’ve never done it before, or if you think you can’t sing – just come and give it a try.

Resistance is futile!!

2019 Songbook

We’ve now added this year’s songbook to the ‘Members’ area of the website.

We’ve added the five new songs and John has also added a lot of the phrasing that the various voices sing. We know that a few people did this for themselves last year and found it helpful so we’ve taken the lead from their good example.

There are also a few more notes about the tunes and the sum total of this is that the book is now twice as big as last year’s. We’ve also borne in mind that some people struggled to read the print last year so we’ve increased the size of the typeface and pages.

We’re very conscious of our responsibilities for sustainability so by putting the book on line we hope that some people at least may be able to download it and use their device for practice. We will, of course, have songbooks with us for those who that can’t access it electronically, but we’re going to try to avoid any unnecessary copying. We hope you’re OK with that.

The books are available in both PDF form and Word, for those who want to customise, although we would say that the formatting has been a little problematic for us this year so, if you choose to use the Word option, we can’t guarantee that it will look the same as ours on your machine. 

New tunes for 2019

Thought you had it sorted eh? Well, just to keep you on your toes, we’ve added five new tunes for 2019.

They’re available on the Members’ page in MP3 format on our own player or downloadable to your mobile device, and follow the usual format of John Kirkpatrick defying the laws of biology and physics by singing all four parts, with each one highlighted for you.

The ones to look for are Antioch, Emmanuel, How Beautiful Upon The Mountain, Shepherds Arise and The Holly And The Ivy. Familiar titles we’re sure, but not necessarily the tunes you know.

The words will be added to the on-line songbook shortly but we are doing a bit of work to make the various parts easier to follow, so please bear with us.

Don’t forget, October 21st is when it all starts, upstairs at The Three Tuns – we’re looking forward to meeting you!

Suckers for punishment……

We’ve heard that a little group of Castle Carols singers have also signed up for a ‘Couch to 5K’ running club on Monday evenings this autumn. They’ll be the ones in our midst with the high-viz jackets and red faces then!

Good luck ladies.

We’re back!!

We don’t want to know how many days there are until Christmas but we can tell you that, following last year’s success (we’re in the process of creating a page with some of the feedback we had), Castle Carols will be repeating the full-on marking of the festivities with a second season of old carols being sung in rumbustious style, led once again by Santa’s musical director, Mr John Kirkpatrick.

There will be a few new carols but more or less everything else will follow the pattern we established last year with tunes and parts available on our website, practices on Monday nights at The Three Tuns in Bishops Castle, beginning on 21st October and then singing out on Sundays, beginning on 1st December and culminating on Boxing Day. (The full list of dates on the ‘When and Where’ page).

One change that we can’t avoid is to do with membership. We took a bit of a financial hit last time and we do need to avoid that happening again as well as ensuring the future of the project – we want it to go on for many years to come, so we do need to make it sustainable as well as maintaining the level of support for members which means we can all have a wonderful time during the Castle Carols season.

Last year’s subscription was £12 per person. This year it will be £20, or £30 for a couple. We hope you will agree this is still pretty good value for six workshops with John, the songbook and access to the recordings via the website, let alone the fun we all had.

Full details of membership are on the ‘About Membership’ page.

We hope you’re able to join us this autumn for what, if last year is anything to go by, will be a jolly good experience and a great way of kicking off Christmas.

New member of the organising group

We’re really happy to let you know that Vicky Hunns has joined the organising group of Castle Carols.

Vicky sang with us in 2018 and when we found out that she was very experienced in the field of accessing support for heritage projects we realised that she would be a brilliant addition.

The full line-up is now Bernard Edwards (Chair), Donna Salisbury (Treasurer and Secretary), John Kirkpatrick, Kay Hedges, Trevor Hedges and Vicky Hunns.

Merry Christmas!! (Yes, we know its July!)

Well folks – here we are again. After seven months of lying in a darkened room we’ve re-emerged wondering whether that fantastic Boxing Day singing was just yesterday or back in the mists of time!

It almost seems rude to be thinking about October when its only July but tempus fugit and we’ve just had our first natter about the 2019 edition of Castle Carols and the good news is that we’re raring to go, the dates are booked subject to confirmation, we have some new carols to try out, and Mr Kirkpatrick’s keyboard is about to be dusted down.
We’ll be in touch by email soon with more information and, in the meantime, below is a bit of a reminder of what it was all about.

(‘Rolling Downward’ was chosen as favourite carol in our poll, gaining almost twice as many votes as the runner up.)

Please feel free to share, add people to the Facebook group, and tell people all about Castle Carols – the more the merrier!!

Oh, and while we’re here, this Saturday (20th July) sees the tenth anniversary of Bishops Castle’s ‘Party in the Park’. The organisers, the ‘About Music Project’, were very supportive of Castle Carols last year so if you feel like returning the favour please go along. More details at


The Sarah Morgan Foundation

Sarah Morgan was a lynchpin of the traditional music scene in England who, as well as performing as a singer – latterly with her friends Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson – was the prime mover of a number of community choirs and music projects. She led harmony workshops at festivals and ran conferences on community choirs at Winchester University and at the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, London.

Sarah died in 2013 at the age of 67. Two Castle Carols members, Jenny Wright and Kay Hedges were honoured to be asked to sing one of Sarah’s arrangements on BBC Radio Shropshire’s tribute to her.

Sarah was an incredibly vivacious and sociable person, who had made hundreds of friends – friends who wished to keep her memory and her music alive. With a stream of donations being made in in her memory, a regular small income from PRS and a collection of funds from a large memorial concert in Winchester Guildhall (a live CD of which is available) it appeared to a few close friends that an opportunity had arisen to keep Sarah’s work going even in her absence – and the Sarah Morgan Foundation was born.

We are proud to report that the trustees of Sarah’s Foundation think that Castle Carols is exactly the kind of project that Sarah would have loved and have agreed that they will give us a grant to help us with some of our overheads.

We are very, very grateful to them, and we’ll be thinking of Sarah when we sing.


Sarah Morgan (photo Angus Beaton)

Membership update

We now have 120 registered members.

We’ve taken the decision that anyone who wishes to join from December 9th, as we only have four sessions left in this season of singing, will only need to pay £5 for access to the ‘Members Only’ area of the site and to obtain a songbook – details are on our ‘About Membership’ page.

We did it!!

Our first sing for real was superb! Eighty five people in the room, belting out these beautiful old songs with passion, energy and joy!! Smiling faces all round, as well as the odd tear – just a brilliant occasion  

We filmed it and a clip we loaded to our Facebook page has had, a week later, 1700 views. It’s on our ‘See & Hear’ page if you missed it.

We’re back for another bash on the 9th and then the 16th, 23rd and 26th.

We’re looking forward to it immensely!



Singing out……….

If anyone does care to join us for what will be a great sing, just turn up on Sunday lunchtimes throughout December (and Boxing Day, after the Morris dancing) – around 12.30 – and come up to the top room at The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishop’s Castle.

We’ll sell you a songbook for a fiver (£1 for children) and that will get you in to all five sessions.

Well, what else would you be doing?





We made it!

Sixty-three people in the room last night and the visitors there for the first time can’t fail to have been impressed by the wonderful noise we were making after just two hours of practice, once a week since the middle of October.

We now have twenty-one songs under our belt just waiting to be thrust upon the unsuspecting people of Bishop’s Castle. We’re hoping that loads turn up – if they do they’ll find it hard to resist joining in, if they don’t, well, we’re going to have a great sing anyway!

John Kirkpatrick was telling us that he’s been wanting this project to happen for the last forty years. Now, with the help of the ninety-eight people who have signed up and been working so hard for the last month and a half, that dream is about to come to fruition.

We also spoke at our last practice about the joy of singing these great old songs and the connection we’ve forged with those singers who, two hundred years ago, took their carols in to the pubs in order that they might carry on enjoying them, and the sense of achievement we feel at the mass of music we’ve sung in such a short space of time.

As a famous department store owner was known to say, “we’ve all done very well”!

And here we are……..

…four practices in and going strong.

We’ve been hovering around the sixty people mark each week (we actually had sixty eight in week two), and we’re starting to make a really, really good sound.

Week three seemed to be a watershed moment with quite a few people struggling to work out the parts but, it has to be said, week four was just brilliant, with everyone’s hard work starting to come together and people getting to know each other.

Two more practices to go before the singing out. One of those is going to be a run through of everything, with little or no teaching, just a chance to consolidate where we are, and figure out what we need to concentrate on at our last session.

Bring it on!!

Change of dates

We originally planned for our last session of singing to be on Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, we’re no longer going to be able to do that so we’ll be finishing the season of carols on Boxing Day, after the dancing at The Three Tuns.

Sorry about that!

And off we go….!

We actually did it!

We gathered together sixty people in the top room of The Three Tuns, in October, to sing Christmas carols!

We managed to make a start on about seven songs, and it was just great. Even at this stage we can hear that we’re going to make a lovely sound, although we’re sure everybody realises its going to be hard work.

Keep making use of the ‘Members’ page and we’re going to have a look to see if there are other ways of making the music available.

If you haven’t signed up yet and you fancy joining us for a good sing just press that ‘About Membership’ button on the menu – you’ll be very welcome!

Castle Carols numbers

We’ve just done a bit of adding-up. The Castle Carols website has now had 2,500 hits since we launched it in August. 600 of those were in the first week, and over 950 in the last couple of weeks since we opened the site for membership.

55 people have already signed up and will be joining us for John’s 6 singing workshops in late October and throughout November, and they’ll have access to tunes and words for 21 songs. With 4 parts for each, that means we now have 84 tracks available on the website.

We reckon that’s pretty good value for £12 and, if you agree but haven’t had the chance to sign up yet, and you fancy a good sing with one of Britain’s foremost folk musicians, please pop over to our ‘About Membership’ page to find out how to join us.

More tunes to listen to on the website

We’ve just loaded another lot of tunes on to our Members Page, so we now have more or less a complete set of everything we’re likely to have a go at.

All the parts are there and we’re all very impressed with John’s valiant attempt at the Alto line!

We’ll be issuing the words in the form of a booklet, with short notes about the carols, to members who come to workshops from October 22nd onwards.

If you’re interested in joining us, there are details on our ‘About Membership’ page.

Support from Bishop’s Castle Town Council

We were delighted to hear that Bishop’s Castle Town Council had approved a grant to Castle Carols – it will help us to provide recordings of the tunes and parts on the website so that people can spend as much time as they want singing along and learning their lines.

We were asked to attend a reception and make a short presentation to explain about the project and outline how the funding would be used. Shrinking violets as usual, John, Kay and Trevor sang a song, and used slides to help illustrate what Castle Carols is all about before being treated to drinks and sandwiches with the Mayor, Councillors and other recipients of awards from the council. A jolly time was definitely had by all and it was good to be doing some actual singing after all the work that’s been put in to setting things up.

Thank you BCTC!!


Pathways Inspirational Development

Pathways Inspirational Development is an organisation which aims to construct creative activities that assist a growth of understanding of the present, and develop a vision for the future and as such feel that the Castle Carols project has some relevance to their work in the community.

Pathways Inspirational Development has very kindly sponsored the Castle Carols website in the hope and belief that it will enable people to discover for themselves, if they didn’t know it already, that making music together can be a powerful medium for community cohesion.

Thank you!!

Letters of support.

We’re getting some great support for the project already. Thanks to all of the groups and individuals who have expressed their interest so far:

Dear Castle Carols

The Bishop’s Castle Arts Festival committee would like to let you know that we think this is an excellent project and would love to include it in the next Arts Festival in some way.

Keeping these traditions alive in some way is so important and with John Kirkpatrick involved, who has done so much for reviving Morris Dancing nationally, we’re sure that with sufficient funding it will be a success.

If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Yours sincerely,


On behalf of the Bishop’s Castle & Area Heritage Forum I would like to offer our support for the proposed new project to explore the Village Carol repertoire and make it available to anyone who enjoys singing. The Heritage Forum welcomes this project to preserve and promote an oral tradition of this type so that it will become part of the rich heritage of Bishop’s Castle and South Shropshire.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Willmer has informed the Town Hall Trust of your planned ‘Castle Carols’ project. It sounds inspired, drawing on the musical talent in the area to create an opportunity for an enjoyable, relaxed and all-inclusive activity based in the town’s pubs.

The Trust sees promoting creativity in the Bishop’s Castle area as a major contribution it can make to the community, showcasing local makers and artists, photographers and authors, and of course, musicians whenever possible. (We are told the acoustics in the Town Hall are very good).

So I am delighted to offer our wholehearted support to a project which can only enhance the experience of local people and tourists visiting the pubs in the pre-Christmas season.

We will play our part in promoting ‘Castle Carols’ via the Visitor Information service we provide and would be delighted to receive the singers, if they ever travel between pubs and wish to stop by at the Town Hall!

Please keep us informed of your progress

On behalf of Bishop’s Castle & Clun Tourism CIC   I would like to fully support the Castle Carols project.

It is using and developing local talent, both in singing and researching,  and will be appealing to both visitors and locals.

Bishop’s Castle is fortunate for a small town in having six  thriving pubs, all very different and popular. We also have two breweries and therefore the town is well known for its beer and pubs which attract many visitors.

The  Castle Carols would give our winter visitors even more incentive to visit our pubs and support our brewing industries.

Yours sincerely,

Thank you very much for letting us know about the Castle Carols project. As you know, TASC has been organising folk music projects for 25 years and the most successful ones have been those with a clear sense of purpose, with a strong grounding in local traditions and interests.

Your project has both of these, and we unhesitatingly support the project and commend the way you intend to go about it.   Let us know if there is anything we can do to assist.

Wishing you every success,

Traditional Arts Support in the Community (TASC)

What’s it all about?

In many of the pubs around the edge of Sheffield there are the most amazing singing sessions at Christmas time. The repertoire is essentially what was being sung in country churches up till the middle of the nineteenth century – sometimes referred to these days as West Gallery music. When the Victorian Church slung out the old village bands and choirs, and with them their often locally-composed hymns, carols and anthems, and imposed the uniformity of Hymns Ancient and Modern, played by a well-trained organist, the old singers and musicians took their songs, their music and their business into the pubs, and carried on singing the old favourites there.

Nearly two hundred years later this repertoire and style is still very much alive, usually supported by a piano bashing out the accompaniment and providing the charming ‘symphonies’ that keep the rhythm going and give the singers breathing space between the verses. In fact the Sheffield Carols, now usually referred to under the broader banner of the Village Carols, are more popular than ever. You need to get to the singing pubs well before opening time if you’re to stand a chance of getting in.

And what a glorious wall of sound greets you once you’re inside! This isn’t a well-trained choir singing delicately and precisely through their pieces – this is the sound of a community singing its heart out, neighbour with neighbour, friend with friend. And with a pint in your hand and a few more inside you, there’s no need to hold back! The wonderful fugueing harmonies and interweaving lines, in up to four parts, are all learned by ear by people who’ve known them ever since they had to stand outside the pub door as children, and listen to the grown-ups belting them out, until they themselves were old enough to step inside and add their voices to the family chorus.


It is proposed to start a session along these lines in Bishop’s Castle for Christmas 2018. The venue will be the top room of The Three Tuns Inn at the top of the town in Salop Street. As there is no firm local tradition for this kind of thing, we’ll have to start from scratch.

Local folk singer John Kirkpatrick wil select hymns, carols and anthems from the vast Village Carol repertoire, as well as including a good number of similar tunes with a Shropshire connection. John will prepare CDs of the carols, with the piano accompaniment, and highlight each harmony line in turn so that you can hear all the parts, see how they fit together, and decide which one suits you best. Words of the carols will be provided but there will be no written music. Like those kids outside the pub door, you can pick it all up by ear, in this case by listening – repeatedly! – to the CDs.

This is open to anybody of any age and of any experience who simply enjoys singing. The aim is not to form a choir, or to be in any sense a performing group. We shall not be singing for people to listen to us, we shall be singing so they have no choice but to want to join in! The aim is to have a good old sing, as best we can, with people who live near to where we live, and explore together a style and repertoire that is probably unfamiliar to most of us. You can sing as high or low as you like – male and female voices can mix in any of the parts so that the sound will be completely different from that generated by the usual strict division of labour in a conventional choir.

Most of the material originates in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when belief in God was unquestioned. The Christmas story fills these carols with wonderfully archaic language, occasionally incomprehensible, but sometimes with stunningly beautiful turns of phrase. And the twists and turns of the determinedly antique music are guaranteed to sweep up even the most committed non-believer along the Road to Glory!!

1 thought on “News”

  1. I attended the rehearsal last night and must say, having not much experience of singing, THOROUGHLY enjoyed it! I am originally born and bred in Stannington, Sheffield and although I only vaguely remember the Sheffield Carols, I do remember ‘Caking night’ or Mischief Night as it later became. Upon reading the words to Chuckling Hens, I was suddenly thrown back to being a teenager again. On Caking night we would knock on doors in the village and sing:
    ‘Cake, cake, copper, copper,
    Cake, cake, copper, copper,
    Please put a penny in the old mans hat.
    If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do
    If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!’
    Which ultimately meant we’d take a garden gate off its hinges or something similarly mischevious if a penny did not pass through our sticky hands!
    I suppose we were all singers in Sheffield even if too young to be in the pubs. Would love to know how those lines ended up in the carol or ended up on Caking night?
    Sadly, that tradition like so many others, has long since gone. What a shame. It was harmless fun and it’s sad that new generations loose this stuff! I do hope the Carols will continue in Sheffield even though there aren’t many pubs left to sing in!
    Thanks for making me smile.
    Lisa Stainer


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