The first version was sung to me by a whilom resident of Wootton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire).
The first version was sung to me by a whilom resident of Wootton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire) as it was performed by the children of that village many years ago. The words are given without alteration.
The second and third versions were sung, respectively, by Mrs. Beachy and Mr. Grimmet at Shipston-on-Stour (Worcestershire).
The second and third versions were sung, respectively, by Mrs. Beachy and Mr. Grimmet at Shipston-on-Stour (Worcestershire). Mr. Grimmet's words are printed exactly as he sang them; one small change has been made in Mrs. Beechy's words — "were" for "was" in the third stanza.
The tune of the second version will be recognised as a variant of the well known "Nancy Dawson" air. Mr. Grimmet, having presumably forgotten the proper air, sang his words to the hymn tune "Sun of my Soul".
The words of the second version are almost exactly the same as those printed on a broadside by Wadsworth of Birmingham. The text of the third version is different from all the published versions that I have seen.
The carol is very widely known. Traditional versions with tunes may be seen in Sandys, Bramley and Stainer, English County Songs and elsewhere.
Ritson in his Scotch Songs (I, p. civ) quotes the following lines, and says that they were sung during the Christmas holidays about the middle of the sixteenth century:—
There comes a ship far sailing then,
Saint Michel was the stieres-man;
Saint John sat in the horn:
Our Lord harped, our Lady sang,
And all the bells of heaven they rang.
On Christ's sonday at morn.