Some little-known facts about the carol ‘Awake Arise’

In 2017 Robin King, from Newcastle, discovered that the title track of our CD, Awake, arise, Good Christians, which we had thought was anonymous, was actually written by the children’s writer Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888), who wrote The Spider and the Fly

Mary Botham was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire where her father was a mining engineer in the Forest of Dean coalfield.  She married William Howitt and for a time lived in Heanor, Derbyshire, but then moved to Nottingham where William’s family were in business.  William later sold his share of the business and the couple moved to London, both to write full-time.  They later spent time travelling and living in Europe. Mary died in Switzerland while on holiday. She had been living in Italy for a number of years.

Robin, who spent most of his career working in the Registrar’s Office at Newcastle University, found the poem in Mary’s book Hymns and Fireside Verses (Darton and Clark, London, 1839) in the Special Collections at Newcastle University Library – it’s the last-but-one poem in the book.  There’s also a copy at Sheffield Hallam University, and you can see a scanned copy of the book in the US Library of Congress.  You can use the link below to read Mary’s poem.

Mary Botham Howitt – Awake Arise – A Christmas Carol

The carol also appears as No 53 in “88 Favourite Carols and Hymns for Christmas” published by William Walker & Sons of Otley, West Riding.  This is undated, but since it contains reference to the publishers’ catalogue being obtained on receipt of a penny stamp, it must be no earlier than the 1840s when the Penny Post was introduced by Rowland Hill.  This ties in with the original publication of “Awake, arise, good Christians'” in 1839 and a number of other carols whose earliest known references date from the 1840s or 1850s.  Robin believes it is probably from the later 1850s or after as it contains the five verses of James Montgomery’s original 1816 version of “Angels from the Realms of Glory” where Montgomery writes of Angels, Shepherds, Sages, Saints and Sinners.  After Montgomery died (1854) the Sinners verse either was not printed or was replaced by a verse from one of Montgomery’s other hymns.

The version of Mary’s carol that is sung in the Sheffield Carolling tradition is attributed to William Mount, but three other versions were published in America, by W.F. Sherwin in 1871, Karl Reden in 1875, and Charles Lewis Hutchins in 1916.  The last two stick closely to Mrs Howitt’s words (not all verses are included), but the Sherwin version has more radical changes. 

Carol wins Classic FM competition

16 December 2020

The Chorus version of O Holy Night has been selected as a winner of the Classic FM / Making Music carol competition, in which 5 carols are selected to be played in the Classic FM Drive slot in the week commencing Monday 16 December 2019. 

O Holy Night, arranged by Chorus Music Director Darius Battiwalla, was recorded by Black Dyke and the Chorus in the City Hall in 2015 and released on our CD ‘Awake, Arise! A Yorkshire Christmas Carol Collection for Brass and Voices’.

The CD has a real Yorkshire flavour and includes some of the Sheffield carols, traditionally sung in local pubs over the Christmas period. Darius Battiwalla’s O Holy Night for chorus and brass band is a wonderfully uplifting arrangement which goes down a storm at our carol concerts each year. 

This is the fourth time one of the carols from our recording has been selected for the Classic FM Drive competition, and we are thrilled that this time it’s our favourite, O Holy Night. 

It will be played in the Classic FM Drive slot sometime between 5pm and 8pm on Monday 16 December 2019.

Of course the Chorus will be singing O Holy Night at the annual carol concert at the City Hall on Saturday 14 December 2019 at 2pm and 5.30pm. We are thrilled that the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Sheffield will attend the 2pm session.

Also on the programme will be Darius Battiwalla’s arrangements of three local carols – Egypt, Tyre Mill and Hail Smiling Morn – all also on the CD, along with Paul Fincham’s new carol Ring the Bells, the royalties from which will be donated to homelessness charity Crisis.

Tickets available online or from the City Hall box office. The CD will be on sale in the foyer for the special concert price of £10.

Find out further information about the carol project.  or about homelessness charity Crisis.

Read more about the Christmas CD

Find out more about the Classic FM / Making Music Drive competition.

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus in finals of national carol competition

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus have been shortlisted in the top ten for a national carol competition.

By Julia Armstrong

Sunday, 15th December 2019, 10:00 am

Updated Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 12:40 pm

Run by Making Music UK and Classic FM, the festive competition invited performers to submit a performance to be played on the popular classical radio. With more than 5.7 million listeners tuning in every week, Classic FM is the biggest classical music radio station in the world.

The competition is part of Classic FM’s 11-year partnership with Making Music UK, which regularly offers member groups the chance to submit recordings for live broadcast.

The shortlisted carols have been broadcast in the lead-up to the festive season on the station’s Drive programme. The winning five were then being played all this week on the show.

Resident chorus at Sheffield City Hall, the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, won through to the top 10 for the competition.

The Philharmonic Chorus teamed up with Black Dyke Band for a beautiful rendition of O Holy Night.

The duo often perform this work at their annual Christmas concerts at Sheffield City Hall, with this year’s event, which took place on December 14, proving no different.

The carol, composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847, reflects how the birth of Jesus has impacted on humanity.

Many popular artists who have covered the carol include Nat King Cole in 1960, Patti LaBelle (1990), Mariah Carey (1994), Josh Groban (2002) and Idina Menzel this year.

During the first three weeks of December, Classic FM listeners were also invited to vote for their favourite-ever Christmas carol – and O Holy Night has held the top spot since 2016.

This year’s results will be revealed on Christmas Day between 1pm and 3pm.

Link to article in Sheffield Telegraph