The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christmas Mummers' Carol

Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. 2, pp. 128-131.

Article by Lucy E. Broadwood.

Editor's Note:

This is the text of a four-page article submitted to the Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. 2, 1905. The first version was: ...

First Version

Oh, righteous Joseph wedded was.
Unto a Virgin Maid
The glorious angels from heaven came,
Unto this Virgin said,
Unto this Virgin said:

Note: for the full song, see Christmas Mummers' Carol 1.

From Mr. A. Glaysher, Cumber's Farm, Trotton, Rogate, Sussex, who heard it sung "over forty years ago," and in writing says that it is called "Richous Joes."


Second Version

(filename: Christmas Mummers' Carol 2)

It was righteous Joseph wedded was
Unto a virtuous maid;
Two glorious Angels from heaven came
Unto that virtuous maid.

Note: for the full song, see Christmas Mummers' Carol 2.

Note from Ms. Broadwood:

The above is from Mrs. Small of Smith's Brook, Lodsworth, near Petworth, Sussex. She has known the carol from childhood, and is now sixty-two years old.



Third Version

Righteous Joseph wedded was
Unto some Virgin pure;
Some glorious angel from heaven came
Unto this Virgin pure.

Note: for the full song, see Christmas Mummers' Carol 3.

The above was sent by Mr. E. T. Hedgecocks, or Strettington, in Sussex, who learned it orally more than fifty years ago as a schoolboy, but has not heard it sung for many years.


Fourth Version

This begins:

Joseph and his wedded wife
Together as they met,
Betwixt them both they never shall part,
How happy they may be.

The verses begin "No mortal man can remember well;" there are seven in all, with but slight variations from the foregoing. The words are supplied by Mr. Alfred Hunt, now living in Wimbledon, whose home is in West Sussex. Mr. Hunt sings them to the tune "Our ship she lies in Harbour," noted by me in Surrey. See Folk-Song Journal, vol. i, 196.

Fifth Version

This begins:

Oh! mortal man doth remember well
When Christ our Lord was born.

and is much like the above versions. Mr. H. Steer of Petworth, Sussex, sent the words.

The very beautiful tune here given was sung by illiterate Mummers, also called "Tipters" or "Tipteerers," in Sussex. They clustered together at the close of their play of "St. George, the Turk, and the seven Champions of Christendom," and sang it, unconscious of the extraordinary contrast between the solemn music and words and their fantastic dresses of coloured calico, shreds of ribbons and gaudy paper fringes, together with old "high" hats bedecked with odd ornaments.


I was able to note only exceedingly corrupted fragments of the words, and after 1881 the Mummers appeared no more. Two copies sent me by two of the actors (of the name of Hampshire) scarcely helped me. The word "sepulchre" was sung, and written, " music-port!" However, I patched together all the fragments, for the sake of including the carol in Sussex Songs. This year, in answer to an appeal of mine in the West Sussex Gazette I received five sets of words, here given. From a farmer near Battle I learned that he also used to sing the carol as a child. He could not "put together the words" unfortunately, but said that the verses should begin "Oh, mortal man, remember well," which certainly seems the most likely form of words. The Tipters sand "No mortal man remember well."

I have been unable to find tune or words in print. Davies Gilbert's tune (collected in the West of England before 1823) to "The Lord at first had Adam made," has a very faint likeness in one or two bars, and the first verse of this Mummers' carol has some likeness to the first verse of Gilbert's traditional "When Righteous Joseph," but beyond that all likeness ceases. -- L. E. B.


Christmas Mummers' Carol

Second Version.

Tune noted by H. Balfour Gardiner

Sung by Mr. John Carter, at Twyford, Hants, 1905.

God bless the master of this house,
And send him long to reign';
Where ever he walks,
Where ever he rides,
Lord Jesus be his guide,
Lord Jesus be his guide,
Lord Jesus be his guide.

Note: for the full song, see Christmas Mummers' Carol II

Dr. George B. Gardiner communicates the above Hampshire version. The tune has a certain likeness to that noted in Sussex. It is worth mentioning that amongst the Sussex Mummers were two brothers with the surname of Hampshire, and from them I got the fragmentary words printed in Sussex Songs. From a Hampshire correspondent I learnt that he had often heard a similar carol in that county. -- L. E. B.


Sheet Music and the full article from the Journal of the Folk Song Society

JFSS-Vol_2-1905-128.jpg (129208 bytes) JFSS-Vol_2-1905-129.jpg (118623 bytes) JFSS-Vol_2-1905-130.jpg (122891 bytes) JFSS-Vol_2-1905-131.jpg (120394 bytes)


Editor's Note:

This carol occurs in many versions, likely each was unique to the village where it was regularly sung. Some of the versions are:

This very old carol was also found in several collections of English Broadsides. These Broadsides are an important source for collectors, together with the recollections of local singers and musicians. There are four "Broadside" versions of "When Righteous Joseph" available on this web site:

This was noted as one of several "doubting Joseph" carols by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man. See The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), Carol #129, pp. 446-8.

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.