The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Old Cap

Or, Time's Alteration

Words: Martin (Martyn) Parker (1600? - 1656)

Source: Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851).

1. When this old cap was new,
'T is since two hundred year,
No malice then we knew,
But all things plenty were:
All friendship now decays
    (Believe me, this is true),
Which was not in those days
    When this old cap was new.

2. The nobles of our land
    Were much delighted then,
To have at their command
    A crew of lusty men,
Which by their coats were known,
    Of tawny, red, or blue,
With crests on their sleeves shown,
    When this old cap was new.

3. Now pride hath banished all,
    Unto our land's reproach,
When he whose means are small
    Maintains both horse and coach;
Instead of a hundred men,
    The coach allows but two;
This was not thought on then,
    When this old cap was new.

4. Good hospitality
    Was cherished then of many;
Now poor men starve and die,
    And are not helped by any;
For charity waxeth cold,
    And love is found in few:
This was not in time of old,
    When this old cap was new.

5. Wherever you travelled then,
    You might meet on the way
Brave knights and gentlemen,
    Clad in their country gray,
That courteous would appear,
    And kindly welcome you:
No puritans then were,
    When this old cap was new.

6. Our ladies, in those days,
    In civil habit went;
Broad-cloth was then worth praise,
    And gave the best content;
French fashions then were scorned;
    Fond fangles then none knew;
Then modesty women adorned
    When this old cap was new.

7. The holly tree was polled
    At Christmas for each hall;1
There was fire to curb the cold,
    And meat for great and small;
The neighbours were fairly bidden,
    And all had welcome true;
The poor from the gates were not chidden
    When this old cap was new.

8. Black jacks to every man
    Were filled with wine and beer;
No pewter pot nor can
    Did in those days appear.
Good cheer in a nobleman's house
    Was counted a seemly show;
We wanted no brawn nor souse,
    When this old cap was new.

9. We took not such delight
    In cups of silver fine;
None under degree of a knight
    In plate drunk beer or wine.
Now each mechanical man
    Hath a cupboard of plate for show:
Which was a rare thing then,
    When this old cap was new.

13. God save our gracious king,
    Oh, send him long to live!
And mischief on them bring
    That will not their alma give;
But seek to rob the poor
    Of that which is their due:
This was not in time of yore,
    When this old cap was new.


1. The original two lines to this verse were:

A man might then behold,
    At Christmas in each hall. Return

Note from Vizetelly:

The burthen of the following excellent old ballad is that lament, common in all ages, for the days that have passed away. Looking back, on bygone times, the imagination, charmed with the novelty which surrounds every minute circumstance, exalts even the worse features into matter for admiration. We very much question the amount of happiness enjoyed by the people generally, when every nobleman usurped the power of a petty sovereign, and had a crew of lusty men at his command to do his individual bidding. This state of things could certainly not have tended to promote the public peace in those highly prized "days of yore, when the old cap was new."

Editor's Note:

In Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, the chapter titled "Christmas" begins with the following:

	       A man might then behold
                 At Christmas, in each hall
               Good fires to curb the cold,
                 And meat for great and small.
               The neighbors were friendly bidden,
                 And all had welcome true,
               The poor from the gates were not chidden
                 When this old cap was new.
                                            OLD SONG.

This is verse seven above (altered). A scan of this poem from the Pepys collection can be found at the Early Modern Center / English Ballad Archive: That source gives the author as Martin (Martyn) Parker (1600? - 1656), and the date of publication as c. 1630. Fortunately, that site also provides a facsimile translation of the scan.

See also Giga Quotes, (site accessed September 27, 2006).

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