All Corseted up for Christmas

the ladies in olde looking Victorian style photoLady Georgianna have taken a time-machine trip to the 19th century for some festive cheer! We perform festive carols and popular sing-along music-hall numbers. And we have bonnets!


Here are some examples:

god rest ye merry gentlemen
broken slate

Like these? You can purchase them and more on the “All Corseted up for Christmas” Cd in our shop – the perfect Christmas gift for the music-lover who has everything…


Want to read more about Victorian Christmas songs. Well, good people, read on….

In ‘the Holly and the Ivy’ we sing about the prickly holly with red berries that look like drops of blood, much like the crown of thorns that Christ is depicted wearing in the crucifixion. Here is the symbolism of Easter foretold in a Christmas verse. Ivy is a symbol of faithfulness, as the vines cling to whatever is there. This song is very old and can be traced to the 17th century. It was first published in the form we know in 1861 but the publisher found it on old ‘broadside’.

So how old is it? Explaining the ‘broadside business’ will help us understand why it’s sometimes hard to say just how old a carol is. In Tudor times, broadsides, or broadsheets were used to print the news, as well as the words to pop songs.  These were cheap and cheerful so anyone could afford them. For example there exists a ‘new year carol to the tune of Greensleeves’. ‘I saw three ships ‘ can be traced back to at least 1833 as a tune called ‘As I sat on a sunny bank’ before it received new Christmas themed words.

We include a good example of a real, honest-to-goodness Victorian carol: ‘God rest ye merry gentlemen’. It was published in 1833 and some alternate lyrics were taken from an early 19th century broadside (a tradition of printed words up cheaply on thin newspaper). But when we look back we learn that the tune was published by Henry Playford in1651, as a dance called ‘Chestnut’ or ‘Doves Figary’. These will be danced, no doubt at our Jane Austen Christmas Ball (18 December, Cirencester Assembly Rooms). Our version on the CD is a more mellow one, and we’re quite pleased with how it turned out.

One of the music hall songs we rather enjoy is a rather sentimental one called ‘The Broken Slate, where a waif on Christmas Eve write Father Christmas a letter, praying for delivery from cold, hunger and pain.  We won’t tell you how it ends…

If you hear us perform, you’ll be sure to recognize the famous Welsh Tune ‘Nos galan’, otherwise known as ‘Deck the hall – a secular version of a more religious carol.  Good King Wenceslas has a very old origin- it started life in medieval times as a Latin hymn, published in Piae Cantiones (1582), then some bright spark supplied new, words in 1853, and the rest can be heard at a shopping centre near you.

What about the music hall? Well have we got a treat for you! The Vicotiran music hall was a rich source of Christmas music. We specialize in the fun kind (what other can there be?) including ‘Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake’ (where the rock solid confection is foisted on unsuspecting company, with hilarious results) and others that really encourage audiences to join in. You don’t have to worry- after we’ve repeated the chorus a few times you’ll have it down pat.  And a little mulled wine won’t hurt either; in fact many song have a repeated bit (called a ‘vamp’) where you are specifically told to charge your glasses in readiness.

You won’t be surprised however to learn that there is nothing quite so new under the sun as a carol from 1651, then later in 1853, which gets a new tune but keeps it’s words. Surely another case of the ‘broadside’?  Absolutely.  The words are fun:

All hail to the days that merit more praise then all the rest of year,/

And welcome the nights that double delights as well for the poor as the peer. /

Good fortune attend each merry man’s friend, who doth the best that he may, /

Forgetting old wrongs with carols and songs to drive the cold winter away.”

You poetry buffs will enjoy the internal rhymes within each line (underlined). With the mention of the ‘peer’ we know it can’t be too terribly modern, can it?

The song resurfaces, paraphrased in verse 1 of the Victorian music hall song ‘Christmas Bells’ by Will Godwin with words by Steve Leggett- a jolly slow waltz tempo.

A very old carol is ‘Ding dong merrily on High’ which dates back to 1588 (in a book called Orchesographie, which tries to teach an imaginary student how to dance through a series of dialogues ). It’s a simple jolly tune for dancing without any Christmas words. In the early 1900′s George Woodward collaborated with Charles Wood, and they published many new version of carols using old tunes and new words that they supplied.

With many songs and dances it’s hard to know which is more important. Certainly this one is lively and perfect for dancing. For this reason, we have to remind you that there will be a dance workshop on Tuesday Dec. 14 (3-4pm) at the Assembly Rooms in Cirencester, well in advance for our Jane Austen Christmas Ball on Sat. 18 December. Yes, we’ve just mixed our eras, but we can report from experience that it’s Much More Comfortable to dance in a simple empire line dress than in a Victorian bustle. Rest assured the dances will range from Playford to Regency and you will have a caller to help so no experience is easy.

And did you know that the word ‘carol’ is a word meaning dance or song?  Or both?

Now come join us … for a song and a dance! Just think of that the next time you meet a girl named Carol.

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