Carol Singing in Wymondham

Just as the Hunt demands its stirrup cup prior to the thrill of the chase, custom demands that the annual trek around Wymondham by those souls brave enough to venture forth, or sufficiently imbued with the festive spirit - or both - should commence the meet in the Berkeley Arms. And so it came to pass, and Arnold and his customers were yet again regaled by the unpractised but enthusiastic assembled voices of the Village Choir as it rehearsed its opening numbers in the cosy, if not congested, confines of the Lounge. Not for the first time that evening did we run through 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last.


There was a nip in the air as we ventured forth to our first port of call, but the JAL flight to Tokyo could not be heard by the time we reached Park Cottages. It was here that choirmaster Tony Frost established his authority to choose the carols from the songsheet provided, but Keith Roythorne was only biding his time ...

Under the light of the Edna Tilley lamps we started with 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last (verses, that is), to the enthusiastic accompaniment of Andrew Frost on trombone, the rest of us on mouth and throat. We had an audience. Tim and Stella Moloney and Brian stood to listen, and Caroline Hobson graced us with her rapt attention and jolly asides. Numerous younger offspring acted as runners - Roythorne junior in charge - uncharacteristically knocking on people's doors and not running away. Instead, shaking - somewhat intimidatingly at first - their collecting tins under the noses of the appreciative audience.

Great fun was had at my house where the security lights which come on in the presence of intruders intimated a domestic presence which was illusory. We were all in the choir. That didn't stop the kids from banging on the door such that I had to go and remind them of the breaking strain of wood and short people miscast as Grumpy (I'll get that knocker put on for next year).

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Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas, at-door.jpg, 18.5kB

It wasn't all a wasted trip as I took the opportunity to collect our oil-lamp as our gathering was somewhat bereft of adequate portable illumination. May I suggest that next year the songsheets be printed in embossed ink, so that if we can't see the words we can at least get a feel for them?

On we tramped to Church Lane, and gathering under the lamplight raided our extensive repertoire for a rendering of 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, followed on request by 'Good King Wenceslas' - or was it 'Silent Night'? - picking up late arrivals en route in the form of Christian Semmens, Tina Pearce, Vicki Taylor and Chris Howard. This young quartet were to add much to the evening with their mixed harmonies and metaphors. I managed to palm-off my oil-lamp on to them, as by this time it was starting to niff a bit and kept being blown out by the rather cruel wind that often frequents Church Lane (but usually outside the village hall when one is dressed somewhat scantily for one of the now famous Save-Our-Surgery bashes).

We then all trespassed through The Priory, the inhabitants of which were further disturbed by 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, but cheerily asked that we give 'em another. So we did. I forget what, but they paid up at the rattling of the youngsters and smiled, so they must have liked it.

On then to the bottom of Spring Lane for a rendition of 'Away in a manger' followed by 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last. Throats were getting a little dry by this time, and Andrew Frost's lips were taking on the look of devilled kidneys.


Time to head for the Cooper's, our first pit stop, pausing briefly on the way for a rousing chorus of 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, and more tin rattling. Much revived by hot grog kindly provided by Lynn and Paul in their impressively expansive and varied collection of glassware (they must buy a lot of petrol), our numbers were further swollen by the arrival of Robert and Debbie Dzuira, curiously befooted in cowboy boots. Imaginatively festive apparel; well, for gauchos it is.

We next repaired to the lamp post opposite Whisky John Whitfield's. Whilst debating our next selection we were joined by our erstwhile hosts with Lynn looking very fetching in her winter ski outfit: very appropriate for the crisp air and cooling breezes we were now enjoying enduring. I believe we may have started with one of our favourites, 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, before pressing on to O'Neill's lamp post, apparently a well known local rendezvous. I do remember it was here that we started to widen our repertoire after a quick 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, with my wife's request (enthusiastically supported by our numerous relations from Melton, their friends and daughters) for the 'Caribbean Carol'.

Now, it is surprising in a village renowned for its multicultural influence and racial tolerance q.v. Marcel, that more people weren't familiar with the tune of this rousing carol, which is sung extensively from as far afield as Brixton to Highfields. Still, it went down well, and put all in good humour as we ventured forth to the posh end of the village, with the tin rattlers eager for paper dampening to the contents of their receptacles. Up Rookery Lane to Hunt's and The Rookery.


We did Hunt's first. Proper illumination up there. No problem with Parish Council sponsored 40 watt bulbs. No, Sir, we had wall-mounted floodlights. No excuses now for reading the wrong words. So we branched out and did 'Hark! the herald angels sing' and a very moving 'In the bleak mid-winter'. This was sans accompanie, as Andrew either didn't have the music or the puff for this one - saving himself, as we were to discover. One last rendition of 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, that classic which always goes down well, and then over to The Rookery, home of the Robertsons, famous for their jam.

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Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas, cheers.jpg, 24.2kB

Such hospitality I have rarely experienced. Apart from some concern about the state of our feet (with boots being requested to remain in the yard), our hosts were not in the least bit daunted by the sheer volume of our numbers as we invaded the tiered dining room, occupying every inch of space. The table was beautifully laid with silver and crystal, and the dinner guests were obviously anxious to be entertained by our singing. Even the poodle sat to attention. No messing: straight in. A hearty version of 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, with full lipsmacking accompaniment.

From there they came thick and fast: 'God rest you Gerry Mentalmen', 'Whilst shepherds washed their socks by night' etc. By heck, we sang for our supper. And what a supper. A lethal concoction they called 'mulled wine' - hot, cinnamoned, and with an added bite or aroma that may have drifted from far-off Cognac or Armangnac; savoury cocktail sausages; mouth-melting sausage rolls and succulent mince pies. The food of kings.


Thus fortified, and unperturbed at the absence of written lyrics, we embarked upon a rousing version of 'The twelve days of Christmas'. There was some confusion over the numbers of dancing maids and leaping lords, but we all knew from five gold rings, and it was here that the young quartet, ably assisted by Paul Cooper, demonstrated the versatility of their harmonies, and things really started to gel.

By this time we were all getting quite warm and high-spirited. Out came the brandy to cool us down, in measures that would give Marcel nightmares over portion control. Roy Glen was so impressed by our performance he started to solicit voices for a regular choir. Gillian Gaskell was selected, and so was Liz, but I'm not sure about Arthur. A farewell version of our valedictory rejoinder 'We wish you a merry Christmas', and we ventured back into the open air to collect our thoughts, selves and boots.

It took ten minutes to get everyone correctly shod, and then we were off. A different corps to the disordered rabble that had approached. We had sung in unison, and tune, and now marched to the same beat.

Down Polka Walk then, where we gathered for a rousing version of, you guessed it, 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last. Unfortunately, one of our number was taken unwell at this point. Must have been something she ate, but I won't embarrass Sue by naming her, and Steve Exton was such a comfort.


Our conviviality was contagious, and the runners set about their task with added gusto. By the time we got to the Llewellyns they insisted on checking out the entire lawn and neighbouring bushes for concealed contributors.

Two more stops and then home, i.e. The Hunters. We paid a visit to Barbara Coulson by the church, where our version of 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last was warmly received and rewarded with hot mince pies. And I mean HOT! Little incendiaries of such deception: warm to the touch but almost melting the tongue when bitten. Many a songsheet was put to a secondary, and previously unthought-of use. Our departure was so unwelcome that we were called back for an encore.

Final stop at the Allsopps. I can't remember what we sang. It may well have been 'Once in Royal David's City' first, second and last, but we did more than one. Those brave enough to sample further delights were rewarded with glasses of sherry and mince pies. Some of us had grown wary of mince pies and our party disintegrated, but with an emphasis of purpose in the direction of the Hunters by those seeking to soothe burnt tongues and aching larynx. By now Andrew Frost's lips were frayed.


Marcel welcomed us with open arms, and for once ignored the absence of a licence for Song and Dance. Those stalwarts of the hostelry unable to brave the night air were assembled for the final version of 'The twelve days of Christmas'. Quentin's booming bass, Kidney's tenor, Neville Root's soprano: all made their contribution. The same confusion arose over the number of dancing swans, and lords-a-milking maids leaping pipers, but what was lost in accuracy and tune was made up for by gusto and volume. Verily, we nearly raised the roof. The singing continued until we were all invited to leave, but the memory of a most enjoyable evening lingers. I think it was here that I forgot my lamp.

My only worry is that such a good time was had by our choir, that next year the numbers may be so swollen that there won't be anyone at home to sing to. We'll do the 'Cowboy Carol' next year, especially for Robert and Debbie. Many thanks to Tony Frost for organising the evening and also providing refreshments at his home as a grande finalé, and to Andrew Frost for lip-service.


Written by Keith Cooper about the Christmas 1988 carol singing,
which raised nearly £160.

Originally published in the Wymondham-Edmondthorpe Journal.


Illustration from 
Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas, mulled.jpg, 23kB

Grey Rabbit took from the fire the two-handled Christmas mug of mulled primrose wine, and the carollers passed it round. Even little Fuzzypeg got a sip, and tasted the primroses of other years.

“That's better,” sighed Old Hedgehog. “Thank ’ee kindly. Now we shan’t be so hoarse. I tell ’ee, my voice was like a key turning in a rusty lock!”

From “Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas” by Alison Uttley, illustrated by Margaret Tempest, Collins, 1939.

Any likeness of Wymondham carol-singers to rabbits or other wildlife is coincidental and not implied.

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