For some Padstonians and others who are in the know, Sunday nights in December are rather special; for it is then in time honoured fashion they take to the streets of this ancient port with a set of carols unfamiliar to many other than themselves.  They have been cherished and treasured for a long time now.  They come from the old Carol tradition of soaring four part harmonies and we proudly call them, whatever their origins, ‘The Padstow Carols’.

On Sunday 17th this year the group assembled in Market Place as usual.  Some had been singing in the Parish Church earlier, others have left the comfort of their homes to join the throng, some even had travelled some distance part of the growing band of regular devotees.  It begins to rain.  Collars are turned up and caps pulled down.  Some have wisely brought umbrellas.  A drop or two of rain is not going to dampen the spirits of these hardy souls.

The group forms itself into sections; Bass, Tenor, Alto and Sopranos.  There are some members of organised choirs in the group but there is no membership qualification or audition process.  All that is needed is a desire to be part of this strand of musical history.  Most have been out already this month for the Christmas Lights Ceremony, The Buff Lodge, with St Minver Band at the British Legion and the previous Sunday “up town” where we crowd into the front room and hall of the home of Geoff and June Hicks.  It seems we have been making these calls in this way for ever, but of course we know that is not true.

Roger is the leader and he announces the Carol and blows the appropriate note on his pitch pipe followed by the words Strike Sound.  He has been singing  these carols since he first came along with his Dad and proudly took over from Molly Pinch who had led  the group with enthusiasm and determination for 20 years.  Being over 90 was no problem to this lady.  Roger remembers too his uncle Raymond and Johnny Worden fulfilling this roll.

It was in the 1960’s when Johnny Worden was in charge that the words and music for all our carols were gathered together and with the help of Stephen Fuller, Inglis Gundry and others they became published by Donald Rawe’s Lodenek Press as “STRIKE SOUND”.

But there is singing to be done on this damp December evening.  ‘Rouse Rouse’  is announced.  Those following in the book or on song sheets find their place.  The regulars stop chatting to neighbours whom they may not have seen since last year and “… isn’t that Clifford home from Australia ?”.  ‘Strike Sound’  and we are off, more or less all at the same time.

“Rouse Rouse from your slumbers prepare a glad voice, and join with those numbers that now do rejoice.

No longer be silent but now join with them

Archangels are bringing, glad tidings to men”.

The voices soar into the night sky, a few onlookers have braved the elements and savour the moment.  This carol we regard as truly ours.  As far as we know it has not survived elsewhere.

The carol continues to tell the Christmas story.

“There lay in a manger the king of the skies.”

As if to emphasise things there is a change of tune.

“Angels Trump their message bring, welcome to the new born king.”

The singers raise their voices in the triumphant ending.  The basses answering the ‘Hallelujah’s’ of the rest as only they can.

As we might expect in carols much loved by those enthusiastic evangelical Bible Christian Methodists of the last century, there is a liberal sprinkling of Hallelujahs’s in this collection.  ‘How Beautiful upon the Mountains’ so loved by our sopranos for the soaring notes they are expected to achieve, ends with a resounding ‘Hallelujah ! Hallelujah ! Praise ye the Lord’ and ‘Lo he comes an Infant Stranger’ from the well known Cornish Carol composer Thomas Merritt from Redruth , has them in abundance. 

Here in Padstow in the past the carols were shared by all churches and today it is comforting to find Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists among the singers.

On this evening we sing outside the London Inn and the Chinese takeaway.  Would ‘Lo the Eastern’ be appropriate?  No time for refreshment  here or at the Golden Lion up the road.  Onward to Barry’s Lane where mulled wine, sausage rolls and mince pies are provided by a grateful householder.  Further up, this time past the Cross set in stones outside Cross House.  Carols were sung here this year on the first night out as they once were after the Midnight service in the Parish Church on Christmas Eve.  How significant this place is, has been lost in history, Maypoles have been erected on this spot, ‘up Cross’ as locals will say.  There is much respect for the old places in this town.  On we go turn right at ‘Punion’ into St Saviours lane to sing to Mr and Mrs Parr.  Mrs Parr is sister to Mr Peter Prideaux Brune from the Elizabethan Mansion recently featured on Antiques Road Show.  The singers will visit him and his family and guests on Christmas Eve and sing in the magnificent gothic hall.  This year there is concern as ‘Mr Peter’ has suffered a serious back injury.  The singers are nevertheless expected to perform as usual.

These carols are like old friends.  Welcomed into our lives each year.  ‘Harky Harky’ is our version of Hark The Herald Angels Sing.  Nice test for the tenors this, and ‘Angels from The Realms of Glory’, affectionately known as ‘Warships’.  Think dialect and Worships and you may get the pun !! sung to our own melody.  ‘Like a H’organ’ some will say.

On this night our final call is at the temporary home of Jim and Carmen Hocking.  Their former home has a commanding view out over the harbour, tonight we are a little further back but the hospitality is up to standard, more mince pies and some rather nice sherry,  (it helps that their son is in the business).

It has been rather damp but we each of us make our way home content with a job well done.  These carols that have been handed down to us have had their airing for another year. Sad to think that we will only have one more chance to sing this year on Christmas Eve.

We should get a chance to sing them all by this time including  “Shepherds Rejoice” which has this memorable verse.

“Go shepherds where the infant lies, and see his humble throne.

With tears of joy in all your eyes, Go shepherds kiss the son”

And also “Behold the Grace” to “Cranbrook” better known as the tune to “On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat”.

No repertoire should be without a  version of “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” and here in Padstow we sing both “Lyngham” and our very own “Zadock.

There was a time when Penzance and Newlyn fishermen would be in the port before Christmas bringing with them their own Carols and it is believed that “Lo The Eastern Sages Rise” and possibly “Star of Bethlehem” that begins “When Marshalled on the Mighty Plain” came to us from “Down West”.

It matters not where or when this music came to us.  It matters most that we have hung on to it and kept it alive.  They were part of life here when the horrors of the Somme were played out, and again at the time of the threat of invasion in 1940.  We sing them again with the death toll in the middle east rising daily.  What has happened to “Peace on the Earth Goodwill to Men”?