Sunday, 9 December 2012

9th December - Carol Singers

We have not been blessed by a visit from carol singers this year.  Yet.  We all know they are coming, it's just a matter of when...

Carol Singers William Gunning King
Blimey, what an earnest and, frankly, loud family of carolers.  I'm not convinced of their tunefulness either, but they are belting it out, and no wonder.  There are six children, count them, six, and they definitely fall into the 'poor but honest' category.  Their little cold clogs are in a dirty strip of road which looks a bit bleak but intact, but doesn't look like the posh end of town exactly.  Possibly they just stand in the middle of the road and belt out 'Away in the Manger' until someone pays them to go away.  That sounds like a genius idea, why didn't I think of it?

The Victorian Carol Singer is a compulsory part of Christmas in a 'Jolly-Christmas-Carol-Bonnets-And-Strange-Lamps-On-Poles' kind of way...

Ye Olde Victorian Ironbridge Christmas Carol Singers

'You said the Dog could sing tenor...'
It seems that the snow-blasted streets of your sprawling Victorian metropolis was plagued with gangs of rosy cheeked folk with muffs and song books, filled with revolting levels of jollity and sherry, passing on Glad Tidings, whether you wanted them or not.  It is shorthand for a Victorian Christmas to show small groups huddled outside in the snow, politely and pleasantly singing.  The family in the Gunning King image look less polite and more vocal, possibly more desperate.  The images I have found, and that I think of in regards to Victorian carolers, tend to be adult groups, singing for fun or for charity, rather than their own survival in the harsh weather.  There has to be a good reason why the parents are both out there, holding onto their youngest, sleeping children in the cold weather that surely would have accompanied the time of year.

While the image is fairly washed of colour and uniformally dull in shade, there is a beautiful central pillar which lifts the interest...

From the hint of flowers or fruit on the woman's hat, down through the baby's shawl and the little girl's hat, that rich red gives the flavour of Christmas in such a stark, dirty place.  The blue of the girls dress is a beautiful slice of joy in the mass of sack-coloured clothes and clogs or boots, and possibly refers to the blue of the Virgin Mary's dress.

Santa gets his chest out...
Isn't it curious how we think of certain colours when we think of Christmas and think they must be universal and for all time, yet are relatively recent.  If you had to give Christmas a colour most of us would reply 'red' immediately, yet few would say 'blue', yet there might be more cause to cite the latter as the colour of the festive season.  The use of blue or lapis as the colour of the Virgin Mary's clothes comes from the Renaissance and was, by legend, the most expensive colour and therefore suitable for the most important lady in Christianity.  There is an everlasting myth that Santa Claus wears red because Coke invented that colour scheme for him, but St Nicholas wore red robes in depictions of him in the 19th Century.  Father Christmas, the figure of Christmas in England since the 17th century, wore robes of green and is the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol, so I think in this country our embrace of red as our festive shade is possibly more recent than we realise.

Well, I'm braced against the onslaught of Figgy Pudding-demanding invaders clothed in goodwill and mittens, and am off to ponder if it would make a difference if we changed the official colour of Christmas.  See you tomorrow.
All together now 'Rudolph the Blue Nosed Raindeer had a very shiny nose...'


  1. Did you notice the tiny crutch the father is holding as well as the sleeping daughter. Prehaps she is the Tiny Tina as opposed to a Tiny Tim.

  2. Gosh, it's enough to choke goose for Christmas for this lot... *sob*

  3. If any of your readers live in South Yorkshire they might like to come to Manor Lodge this Saturday, where real-life Pre-Raphaelite stunner Grace Tebbutt and I will be presenting a talk on how the Victorians ruined Christmas, including an exploration of the pagan origins of Father Christmas and some stuff about how carols were homogenised in the 19th century. Then we're making Morris & Co.-inspired Christmas cards, as if it could get any more exciting...

  4. Oops, forgot, Manor Lodge is in Sheffield. Duh.

  5. That sounds splendid and makes me wish I lived nearer!

  6. I think it should be compulsory to make all carollers dress up as Victorian people.

    This is not just an excuse for me to wear a bustle gown, I swear...

  7. They should all also hold lamps on poles, just to keep the lamps on poles makers in business.

    I rarely need an excuse to strap on a bustle...

  8. Is the child in blue with a red bonnet a boy? He (it?) is hugged close to his (its?) brothers as they belt out the chorus as a trio.

    Talking of Christmas trios, I wonder if the Three Wise Men of Leicester Square still sell ladies underwear?

  9. Do the shepherds still wash their socks by night?


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx