For me, the highlight of Christmas is the singing of local carols in the pubs of Sheffield.
Every year from mid-November through December, people gather in pubs across Sheffield and North Derbyshire to sing the many wonderful, locally written Christmas carols that have been passed down through generations. The singing is loud and enthusiastic – more like football terrace singing than typical hymn singing in a church.
A lot of the carols and tunes were written by local people in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bands of musicians would go carolling around the houses of the villages and sing these songs in the pubs. Today, they're one of the last remaining aural folk traditions to continue in England.
Some of the songs are only sung in Sheffield; some only in one pub. There are multiple tunes for While Shepherds Watched, in a tradition that dates back to the time when only the psalms and this carol were permitted to be sung in church. Many of the carols include a “fugue,” where different parts (usually top and bass) intertwine. Non-religious Christmas songs and other folk songs are also sung at most sings.
Pubs with a long tradition of carolling are mainly in the villages to the north east of Sheffield, like Stannington, Dungworth, Worrall and Ecclesfield. But there are now sings across the city, with several in Crookes and Nether Edge. Many sings are accompanied by organ, others are unaccompanied. In Grenoside, they have a group of string musicians. And some are led by brass bands – these tend to be a mix of well-known and local carols, so could be a good place to start.
You can get an idea of what the sings are like from clips like this on Youtube, but videos don’t do justice to the sound and atmosphere of being there – you need to try it for yourself! Words are available at most sings and new singers are always welcome. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you can sing – the singing is loud so you won’t be heard. To join in, just turn up – there is no charge but there is usually a collection for the band or organist.
The first sings in 2023 will be on 12 November.
Some of my favourite sings:
Three Merry Lads, Lodge Moor
Every Monday, 8:30pm, from 13 November
A lovely friendly unaccompanied sing, word sheets are available.
The Blue Ball, Worrall and The Royal, Dungworth
Every Sunday, 12pm, from 19 November.
Very popular Sunday lunchtime sings, with word and music booklets available to buy at the bar.
Stannington Brass Band at the Ball Inn, Crookes
20 December, 8pm
Word sheets available. A mix of well known and local carols.
And if you are in Sheffield city centre on Saturday 2 December, you can hear, and join in with, local carols in the Winter Gardens 2–4:30pm.
See a list of the sings on the Local Carols guide.
Written by Kathy Barnes, creator of Sheffield Folk Guide.