The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Bramley and Stainer

Rev. Henry Ramsden Bramley (1833-1917) and Sir John Stainer (1840-1901) published Christmas Carols, New and Old, with a total of 20 carols, in November, 1867. In 1871, the second series of 22 carols came out bringing the total to 42. A third series - with 28 carols - was issued in 1878, expanding the collection to 70 carols with music, second only to R. R. Chope's Carols for Use In Church in the number of carols it contained.1 The well-crafted Bramley and Stainer editions were very well received by the British public and the various parts of the series were reprinted as recently as 1950. Carols from this collection which are still known today include:

A scan of Christmas Carols, Old and New (an edition containing the both the first and second series,  1871), can be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library., as well as Google Books and the Internet Archive. Numerous copies of the first, second and third editions can also be found at ABE Books, among other locations.

The full title of the work was

Christmas Carols New and Old; The Words edited by the Rev. Henry Ramsden Bramley, M.A., Fellow and Tutor of Saint Mary Magdalen College, Oxford. The Music edited by Sir John Stainer, M.A., Mus.Doc., of the same College. London, Novello & Co.

For quite some time, there has been a question concerning dating of the three Series of carols. Part of the problem was a reference in Percy Dearmer’s Preface to The Oxford Book of Carols, Oxford University Press, 1928, pp. xvi-xvii.

The second chapter of the revival [of the carol] in the nineteenth century opens in 1871 with the publication of forty-two Christmas Carols New and Old by the Rev. H. R. Bramley, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Dr. John Stainer, then organist of the college. The influence of this book was enormous: it placed in the hands of the clergy…a really practicable tool, which came into general use, and is still in use after nearly sixty years. The great service done by this famous collection was that it brought thirteen traditional carols, with their proper music, into general use at once…It is…mainly to Bramley and Stainer that we owe the restoration of the carol…

From this there was a belief that both the first and second series were simultaneously published.  However, a careful reading of the Introduction to the Second Series indicated that Series One was published prior to Series Two:

The Editors are encouraged by the reception given to their previous attempt to hope that they may have been instrumental in promoting the performance of Christmas Carols on a scale worthy of the increased resources and awakening zeal of the Church. [Emphasis added]

None of my three copies contains a date of publication. Dates of publication were established from two primary sources:

  1. Joseph Bennett, A Short History of Cheap Music as Exemplified in the Records of the House of Novello, Eweer & Co. (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1887), p. 113: "The first series of Stainer and Bramley's Christmas Carols appeared in November, 1867. The second in 1871."
  2. The Saturday Review (London), Nov. 16, 1878, p. 639, contained a notice that said: "A third series has appeared of Christmas Carols *** with words edited by Mr. Bramley, and music by Dr. Stainer." The footnote was: "Christmas Carols, New and Old. Third Series. London: Novello, Ewer, & Co."

The Rev. Henry Ramsden Bramley was born June 4, 1833, at Addingham (near Otley), Yorkshire, England. He studied at Oriel College, Oxford, 1852; was a Scholar of University College, 1853; and Fellow of Magdalen, 1857 (BA 1856, MA 1859). He was ordained deacon in 1856, and priest in 1858. He served as Vicar of Horspath, Oxon (1861-1889) and Canon and Precentor of Lincoln Cathedral (1895-1905).

He never married. His sister Ann lived with him at Nettleham Hall for 17 years following the death of her husband, Rev. James Stewart. It is said that the carriage and pair in which Ann and Henry used to drive around Lincoln was the smartest "turn-out" in town.

Sir John Stainer was born June 6, 1840, in London, England. Blinded in one eye in a childhood accident, Stainer served as chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral (from the age of 7). At 14, he was appointed to the first of his many positions as organist, including Magdalen College (1860), Oxford University (1961), St. Paul's Cathedral (1872), the College of St. Michael, Tenbury, and Christ Church, Oxford. He founded the Oxford Philharmonic Society in 1866, was knighted in 1888, and became a professor of music at Oxford in 1889. He was a member of several associations, including the Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society, and the London Gregorian Society.

The above photograph of Sir John Stainer is due to the generosity of a great-grand son, Dr. David Pennant; the following site contains numerous photos of Sir Stainer:

Stainer and Bramley met at Magdalen College in 1860 when Stainer was appointed organist at the college. In 1865, Bramley was one of those who held the robes for Stainer when he was awarded his doctorate in music at Christ Church, Oxford. Their famous collaboration would follow six years later. He was a prolific author on musicological topics.

He died March 31, 1901, in Verona, Italy, and is buried at Holywell Cemetery, St. Cross Church, Oxford, England. A fuller biography can be found at Sir John Stainer: Biographical Sketch.



See also Peter Chulton, John Stainer and the Musical Life of Victorian Britain (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1984).


1. William Sandys in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833), published the lyrics to 80 carols, but with only 18 tunes. Return

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