A brass band at Christmastime

The tradition of singing Local Carols in the villages to the North West of Sheffield goes back to at least the late Eighteenth Century; the Local Carols were generally composed by local musicians, organists or choirmasters and the carols were often given local names.

Originally this is thought to have been a reaction against the banning of many carols by both the Church and the State. Some Carols caused controversy and it is known that ‘While Shepherds Watched’ had to be cleaned up by the Victorians for being too crude. There is also strong evidence that ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ was a call to 18th Century Jacobites to rebel [1].

Examples of locally written tunes are, ‘Bright and Joyful’ which is sung to the tune ‘Malin Bridge’ and was composed by Mr J W Drake who lived in the Fairburn Road area. He also composed ‘Fern Bank’, which was the name of a private hotel in Wisewood.

During the post World War 2 period of the 1940s and 50s, Mrs Mina Dyson was the resident organist at both Stannington Church and Underbank Chapel. Mrs Dyson composed two of the well-known Sheffield carols, Bradfield and Stannington, albeit the latter was originally written as a May Day celebration to the anniversary hymn “God Send You Many Days as Sweet as This” and only later became associated with Christmas and the words “Sing All Ye People of The Earth Today” written for Christmas 1952.

There are interesting variations between the versions of some carols sung in the different villages, particularly the tempo, the pauses and the repeats in the music. Some carols are known by different names in different parts of Sheffield and some claimed as ‘local carols’ can be found in nationally published works without a local reference.

If you’re out and about on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning or Boxing Day, you may hear some of the local brass bands playing a selection of these local Sheffield carols. If you do, please take a few minutes to stop and listen to them and sing along if you wish, and put some silver (or even some paper) into their collecting tin, they will have been working hard for the last month or so raising funds for their respective bands.

Although brass banding in many instances is a family affair, most of the players during the Christmas season will be away from their families for a short while at this special time because they know that the tradition and heritage of brass band carols brings so much pleasure to people. The money they raise in the main goes to the upkeep of their band, which has to be maintained year-round, so that they can continue to bring music to the local community throughout the rest of the year.