The Folklore Society’s ‘Katharine Briggs Lecture’ ‘Peace o’er the World: Christmas Carolling in the Hope Valley’ by Ian Russell

Tuesday 16 November 2021, 6.00-7.00 pm on Zoom

Ian Russell MBE Professor Emeritus, Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen

This talk examines the remarkable carolling traditions that are a feature of Christmas in the Derbyshire Peak District.

For well over two and a half centuries the performance of distinctive carols has been a feature of the seasonal holiday of Christmas in villages in the Derbyshire Hope Valley. This district that lies south-west of the city of Sheffield is a wide rural valley separating the gritstone moorland of the Dark Peak to the north from the limestone plateaus and dales of the White Peak to the south. It includes twelve significant settlements, most of which have had and continue to maintain a vernacular carolling tradition. In contrast to the monodic examples recorded by folksong collectors in the early part of the twentieth century, these Christmas carols and the manner of their performance are wholly dependent on group interaction and characterised by part singing.

In this presentation I will examine the development of such groups in terms of musicality, belief, sense of place, group structure, community, rootedness, and repertoire. I will explore the dynamics that have enabled these groups to continue to function, despite major changes in lifestyle and world view among the participants. Just as their performance milieux have altered – currently most focus their activities in the village pub rather than the church or chapel – so the belief structures that sustain this seasonal activity have become largely secularised. This lecture discusses the meanings and motivations that have been carried forward to ensure the continuance and vitality of this tradition.