Category Archives: Christmas Musings

The Yorkshire Carol Theft

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the gifts of the Wise Men. But I am not going to talk about gift, rather than a remarkable theft.

Over three hundred years ago Nahum Tate, arguably the worst poet ever to be appointed Poet Laureate, wrote his one brilliant work, the Christmas carol, While shepherds watched their flocks (he is otherwise best known for rewriting Shakespeare to give happy endings to King Lear and Romeo and Juliet).

Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour - Nahum Tate

When While shepherds watched their flocks was first published it was suggested that it be sung; To St. James’s Tune or any other Tune of 2 and 6 Syllables. As, for various curious reasons, it was the ONLY Christmas carol that was permitted to be sung in churches, it rapidly became very popular. Singers throughout the land soon began to fit it to different tunes, over thirty are known to have been used, both adaptations of existing music, and specially composed tunes. One, written by Jane Savage in 1785, is the earliest known Church of England hymn by female composer.

However there was no generally preferred tune, for example, the music book of Thomas Hardy’s grandfather contains two completely different tunes. Then, in 1805, Thomas Clark a Canterbury shoemaker and choirmaster, published a tune which he called Cranbrook, after a village in Kent. This tune was tried with various hymns, then with While shepherds watched their flocks it was an instant success. It spread rapidly, and seemed likely to become the standard tune for the carol.

While shepherds watched their flocks sung in the reconstructed Georgian church at Beamish open air museum

If you listen to this most people will say, “Isn’t that the tune to …..”

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Heptonstall glee club was on an outing to Ilkley Moor, like most choir outings they sang, and made up a silly song about a courting lad and lass. Unlike most songs written in these circumstances, someone wrote it down, and the choir continued to sing it at their concerts.

A popular version of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

This version spread like wildfire, and was soon sung all across Yorkshire and beyond. So much so that it is regarded by many as the Yorkshire ‘National’ Anthem

The Yorkshire Anthem in a more polished version sung by Lesley Garrett

And that was that. Victorian Hymn Book compilers weren’t that prudish, but the idea of a carol sung to the tune of a comic song was too much, and a tune written in the sixteenth century was a safe alternative, and that is what we sing today.

People now say that While shepherds watched their flocks was once sung to the tune of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at and even consider that the tune is a Yorkshire one.

And that is the true tale of the Yorkshire Carol Theft

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A Tradition Begins – and Ends

Truro Cathedral

The old singer watched as the happy crowd left the cathedral. The Bishop came over to him and shook his hand.

“I didn’t think it would be like this, it was just an old tradition.”

“Yes, but a wonderful one, you would go round the town singing carols and using them to tell the Christmas story. I just brought it inside.”

“But it was wonderful, will you do it next year?”

“And the next, and others will do it as well, soon there will be carol services everywhere. It was once your family tradition, now it will be everybody’s.”

In 1880 Edward Benson organised the first service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Truro Cathedral. Partly based on a local tradition of singing various carols around the city on Christmas Eve, it is considered the predecessor of the carol services now held and enjoyed throughout the world.

This is written in response to the Carrot Ranch December 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. Go where the prompt leads! I have, of course, gone back in time to the creation of many family traditions,


Filed under Christmas Musings, Historical tales, Victorian

Presents of Christmas Past

Today is Epiphany, the day on which we remember the visit of the Magi, and the traditional date for present giving. People have been giving and receiving presents at Christmas for centuries, but it was during the revival of the celebrations at the beginning of the nineteenth century that people came up with a novel idea – make something just intended to be a Christmas present.

The ones that are easily identifiable are books, such as this;

clearly labelled as ‘A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1826’. It contains stories and poems,

Including, of course, ghost stories.

My next, from six year later, is a collection of comic stories and poems.

Illustrated with punning illustrations and some rather good jokes about the Great Reform Act.

Before my final Christmas Book, here is a Victorian Christmas card from the collection I mentioned in my previous blog.

Showing someone delivering Christmas presents. Also from the collection are examples of another minor Victorian Christmas invention, gift tags!

Now for the last book, a beautifully illustrated volume ‘Christmas with the Poets’ which was given as a present as it has the inscription ‘From Miss Millicent Brady to Miss Ada Stephens Christmas 1849′.

And now for the sting in the tale.

The book had been on my shelves for some time when I noticed how bright the cover was compared with other books of the same period. I knew what the Victorians had used to make high quality green dye, so I had the book tested. The cover contains enough arsenic to kill a man!


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A View of (Father) Christmas Past

As Father Christmas is preparing for his annual task I thought I would look at a couple of Victorian illustrations of the great man, taken from my own collection, both of which show Father Christmas, but not the Father Christmas we are used to.



The first is a Christmas Card, printed on a flat sheet, like most Victorian cards, and shows an elderly gentleman in a white, fur trimmed robe, with a satchel full of presents and a small Christmas tree.

The second is much more unusual, it is a complete Christmas Decoration (which was sent as a card ‘from Fergie’).

It is free standing as the ‘fence’ at the front folds out. Here Father Christmas is shown as another old gentleman in a fur trimmed white robe, but this time with two little girls, the older has a music book open, so perhaps they are carol singers. The girls are wearing warm winter clothes of the late nineteenth century, this would have been sensible at this time as the end of the century was a period of very cold winters.

On the fence in front of the are a number of birds, again very apt for the period of these cards. The cold winters were very hard for wild birds and so people (especially the members of the newly formed
Society for the Protection of Birds) started putting out food for them.

The card is still speckled with glitter, a typically unsafe Victorian embellishment, probably made of powdered glass and lead ore.


As for where these cards came from.

Earlier this year, after I had given a talk to a local historical association, an elderly lady asked if I would be interested in a Victorian Scrapbook. I naturally said yes, and the following day I was given an incredibly tatty scrapbook, full of a families collection of Christmas Cards. From the dates on some of the cards the collection was made between about 1885 and 1902, and contains over a hundred cards. The paper was so fragile that I had to carefully remove the cards, the collection is so diverse that they will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.


Filed under Christmas Musings, Victorian

A Christmas Tail

All animals celebrate Christmas. Bees sing the ‘Old Hundredth’ on Christmas Eve as the animals in the stables and cattle sheds kneel, remembering, in their own way, how they knelt at Bethlehem so long ago. Only occasionally, however, do the human and animal Christmases interact, but when they do the results can be amazing.

December 22nd 1818

The older mice forced a way through the wet vegetation, the young mice and mothers and children followed as the floodwaters rose.
Up and up they climbed, across short cropped grass that gave no cover, they were thankful that the rain kept the hawks away. Then they saw it, a tall building, unlike the barns the humans built for them, but it felt safe.
They crept in, under the door and discovered a perfect mouse home, a perfect mouse sanctuary.

It was a miracle, just before Christmas they had their home. There were plenty of places to nest, mothers settled their babies, children played, running up and down the ropes that had been placed there specially for them to climb, whilst the older mice looked around for food.

And they found it, wonderful food, thick tasty tallow on top of chewy leather.
“Something you can really get your teeth into.” Said one old mouse, as they feasted well into the night.

December 23rd 1818

What are you planning for tomorrow?” The priest asked.

“I have it here.” The young organist patted the folder of music under his arm. 
“I want to run through a couple of pieces before the choir come in, can you pump?”
“Of course.” Replied the priest. He stepped behind the organ and raised the handle, as he brought it down there was a terrible whistling noise. He stopped and the two men bent and examined the organ’s bellows.

All around the church noses poked out of holes, black eyes watched from behind curtains.

“Can it be repaired?”
“Yes, but not by me, or anyone in the village, and not in time for Christmas Eve.” The organist paused.
“The choir can sing some hymns unaccompanied, but there will be no music. For the first time in more than two hundred years there will be no music in the church at Christmas!”

The mice looked at each other in horror, they had heard what the humans said, had they really ruined the humans Christmas?

The men looked at each other in silence, in silence they stood, then the priest said.
“Perhaps there is a way, you play the guitar.”
“But it can’t accompany any of these.”
“No, but there is that poem I wrote, the Christmas one, you said you could set it to music.”
“In less than a day!”
“You had better start straight away then.”

The mice were subdued, and watched as the humans left the church in a hurry.

Christmas Eve 1818

There was a sense of anticipation in the air, something was happening, the mice could feel it. From the oldest mice, who could remember three or even four Christmases, to the youngsters. That afternoon the old tale was told, of the first mouse Christmas, and never had mice listened in greater reverence and wonder. They told of the mice, who played on the rafters in the stable, and brought the gift of laughter to the child in the manger.

Later the humans came, few at first to light the candles, then more and more, filling the pews. There was expectation amongst them too, as if the humans also knew that something very special was about to happen.

And then, the choir gathered at the front of the church, the organist sat and took his guitar. The mice and humans watched as he plucked a few notes. Then all, animal and human, listened for the first time to;

Stille Nacht



Filed under Alternative History, Christmas Musings, Georgian, Historical tales

They don’t write them like they used to – Christmas Crackers

On top of a cupboard, in my father-in-law’s house, my wife found a box containing a mix of old crackers. We had used them as Christmas decorations then, at New Year, we decided to pull them. Three were unremarkable but the one I pulled, had a rather unusual joke in it.

Cracker joke

The cracker had been unremarkable, made of red and green crepe paper, but when on earth did it date from? It certainly isn’t modern, a joke like that would have amused Bertie Wooster. 


All that can be said is – They don’t write them like that today.



Filed under Christmas Musings

The Christmas Spinner – A True Tale for Christmas

Christmas 1821

“Where’s my husband?” She asked, “Dinner has been ready for ages.”

“Sorry Mam,” the maid replied, “I think he is in the workshop.”

Sarah shook her head, their first Christmas together and he was working. He had seemed distracted all though the service that morning and had left her as soon as they returned home.

She walked down the narrow stairs to his workshop. He was seated on a tall stool by his workbench, watching something. Curious she approached, there was a strange buzzing, like a trapped fly. Then she saw what he was looking at, in front of him a wire was spinning round rapidly.

“Michael,” he didn’t seem to hear her, “Michael Faraday.” She said much louder and tapped him on his shoulder, he seemed to wake out of a trance.

“Oh, Sarah, I’ve done it.” For a moment he smiled at her, then turned again to the spinning wire.

“What have you done?”

“You see, the current flows through this wire and creates a magnetic field which works against the field in this magnet ….”

“And makes the wire move.” She completed.

“Yes.” He was watching his invention dreamily again.

“Will it keep moving if you leave it for an hour or so?”

“Yes, the motive force will last as long as there is power in the battery.”

“Then come and have dinner, it is Christmas after all.”

She took his hand and led him, reluctantly, from the room, behind them the first electric motor, another Christmas baby with an amazing future, kept on spinning.


Michael Faraday, when he invented the motor

And that, more or less, is the tale I was told many years ago.

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Christmas Musings – Ending with Cake

Chris Eastaugh, an old school friend, recently posted a picture of cake he had made on Facebook and posed the question, ‘An article about Victorian sweetmeats, Gordon Le Pard?’ I may well look at other historic cakes in the future but now I would like to bring my Christmas Musings to an end at Twelfth Night, considering Twelfth cake.

Today we regard Twelfth Night as the occasion for putting the Christmas decorations away, however at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this was when the main Christmas celebrations took place. At the centre of the celebrations was Twelfth Cake. This was an impressively decorated cake, usually supplied by a professional pastry cook, their windows were one of the sights of the period.

In London, with every pastrycook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is “high change” on Twelfth-day. From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers. Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed. Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax-lights, to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows. The richest in flavour and heaviest in weight and price are placed on large and massy salvers; one, enormously superior to the rest in size, is the chief object of curiosity; and all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate. Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milkmaids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionary, painted with variegated colours, glitter by” excess of light” from mirrors against the walls festooned with artificial “wonders of Flora.” Horne Table Book 1841

These crowds attracted naughty children, who delighted in a particular form of disobedience.

On Twelfth night in London, boys assemble round the inviting shops of the pastrycooks, and dexterously nail the coat-tails of spectators, who venture near enough, to the bottoms of the window frames; or pin them together strongly by their clothes. Sometimes eight or ten persons find themselves thus connected. The dexterity and force of the nail driving is so quick and sure, that a single blow seldom fails of doing the business effectually. Withdrawal of the nail without a proper instrument is out of the question; and, consequently, the person nailed must either leave part of his coat, as a cognizance of his attachment, or quit the spot with a hole in it. At every nailing and pinning shouts of laughter arise from the perpetrators and the spectators. Yet it often happens to one who turns and smiles at the duress of another, that he also finds himself nailed. Efforts at extrication increase mirth, nor is the presence of a constable, who is usually employed to attend and preserve free “ingress, egress, and regress,” sufficiently awful to deter the offenders.

However the more acceptable entertainment took place at home.

First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneath. Next look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and afterwards the number of gentlemen. Then, take as many female characters as you have invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back; taking care to make the king No.1, and the queen No.2. Then prepare and number the gentlemen’s characters. Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in. When all are assembled and tea over, put as many ladies characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next put the gentlemen’s characters in a hat. Then call on a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, ,and to preserve it unopened. Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose. There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentleman who carried each is to interchange, as having fallen to each. Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the king No.1, the queen No.2, and so on. The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; then the queen the verse on hers; and so the characters are to proceed in numerical order. This done, let the cake and refreshments go round, and hey! for merriment!


Then a very strange thing happened, as Christmas celebrations developed into the modern form, Twelfth cake and the parties associated with them vanished, and vanished very quickly. Only twenty years after the above accounts were written, the Twelfth Cake was simply a memory.

The celebration of Twelfth-Day with the costly and elegant Twelfth-cake has much declined. Formerly, in London, the confectioners’ shops on this day were entirely filled with Twelfth-cakes, ranging in price from several guineas to a few shillings; the shops were tastefully illuminated, and decorated with artistic models, transparencies, &c. We remember to have seen a huge Twelfth-cake in the form of a fortress, with sentinels and flags; the cake being so large as to fill two ovens in baking.

One of the most celebrated and attractive displays was that of Birch, the confectioner. Mr Samuel Birch, born in 1757; he was many years a member of the Common Council, and was elected alderman of the ward of Candlewick, and served as Lord Mayor in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo. The alderman used annually to send, as a present, a Twelfth-cake to the Mansion House.

The upper portion of the house in Cornhill has been rebuilt, but the ground-floor remains intact, a curious specimen of the decorated shop-front of the last century. Chambers Book of Days 1864

So tonight, eat a little bit of remaining Christmas Cake (if you have some), and think of one of our lost Christmas traditions.


Filed under Christmas Musings, Georgian, Regency, Uncategorized

THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 5

Monday December 26th 1814

The morning was crisp and bright, the Squire and the Rector were watching as the tree was removed from the pond. The estate woodsmen had cut the stump clear and now three teams of horses had been chained to the tree and were in the process of dragging it clear of the water. Ice cracked as the horses strained, slowly it began to move.

The gentlemen were distracted as a post chaise stopped on the road behind them. A tall gentleman in a long brown coat stepped out, he walked over to see them.

“Excuse me gentlemen, can you direct me to two ladies of the name of Beddoes.”

Sir Thomas looked the brown man up and down and asked.

“Is this to do with Mr David Beddoes?”

The man looked surprised, “What do you know of Mr Beddoes?”

“Only what I have read in the newspapers, and that he is Miss Beddoes cousin.” He paused, then continued. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Sir Thomas Scott and this is the Reverend Edward Grainger, we are the local magistrates and well acquainted with the Miss Beddoes.”

“Excellent, I am John Shallard, an officer from Bow Street, and I have come to enquire if the Miss Beddoes have any knowledge of their cousin, we believe he came here at the end of November.”

“I believe he did too.” Replied the Rector, “But do not stand out here in the cold, come into the Rectory and we will tell you all we know, then we can visit the Miss Beddoes in their cottage.”

They had just turned away from the pond when there was a shout, they turned to see a man running towards them.

“Rector,” he panted, “in the pond, I fear ‘tis a body.”

“I feared as much,” he replied, then turning to the Runner, “Come with us sir, I am afraid what we find may be of use to you in your enquiries.”

Down by the pond there was a mass of clothing bobbing in the water.

“Go and get the thatch hook from the church, that should reach. I don’t want any of you going in this water.” ordered the Rector. Shortly afterwards two men came running back carrying the long wooden pole with a hook at one end, used for pulling burning thatch from a building. It took three tries before the hook caught on the bundle and it was dragged to shore.

“It’s not one body, it’s two!” shouted one of the men.

The Rector murmured a quiet prayer as Mr Shallard bent and looked at the bodies. They seemed to be wrapped together, he stood up.

“Gentlemen, this is the strangest thing I have ever seen. These bodies are tightly wrapped together, as though one was holding onto the other. However that cannot be as one body has been dead for some time, the other but a little while.”

The Rector and Sir Thomas looked down, at the same time they said, “Michael Scott!”

“Michael Scott,” said the Bow Street Runner, “I know him as Mr Frank Gifford, he had rooms in the same building as Beddoes and Smyth. Do you know who the other man is?”

The face was horribly distorted, both the gentlemen shook their heads, then Dr Gardiner said.

“The buttons on his coat, they are missing.”

“Does that mean something?” Asked the Runner, he eased the coat open and pulled out a watch. Sir Thomas held his hand out, and looked at it closely. He showed it to the Rector, then said.

“This watch bears the monogram of David Beddoes. I suspect the body is his.”

“But why should the body of David Beddoes, who has been dead for at least a month, be grasping the body of Frank Gifford or Michael Scott, who is only recently dead?”

Summer 1815

Sir Thomas and Dr Grainger sat on a bench in his garden, looking across the village green. A flock of geese and three goats grazed peacefully.

“Where has Lady Scott taken my wife?” Asked the Rector , “She seemed so agitated, as though there was no time to lose.”

“She and Charlotte have taken your wife to Stanton House, apparently there is some problem with the colour of the cloth for the curtains in the great parlour. They are meeting the linen draper there.”

“Poor man, I pity him.” Dr Grainger paused, “The house will be ready well before the wedding.”

“I never thought it would be James that wanted to postpone the wedding, though I admire him for it. Wanting to be ordained and the Rector of Stanton before they marry.”

They looked across towards the pond again, it was covered with little white flowers.

“As though it was covered in snow,” said Sir Thomas, he paused, “do you ever wonder what happened that night?”

The Rector was silent for a moment, then he leant forward and spoke quietly, “When the door opened, I was the only one who could see clearly. For a moment I saw Michael Scott, I will never forget the terror in his eyes, then he was pulled backwards, and the door slammed.”

“Pulled, who by?” said his friend quietly.

“All I could see were arms round his body – they seemed to be made of snow.”

It suddenly seemed very cold.



Filed under Christmas Musings, Ghost story, Regency, Uncategorized

THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 4

Sunday December 25th 1814

The Rev Edward Grainger scraped the ice off the parlour window to see that snowflakes were already falling from a leaden sky, the snowman was back where it had been. As on all communion Sundays he walked over to the church well before the rest of his family, though this time he was accompanied by James. As they placed the vessels on the end of the communion table James said.

“It does seem a pity not to use them more often.”

“True, but the rubric says that communion should be offered four times a year.”

“But could it not be offered more often?”

“That I do not know, perhaps at Oxford they could tell you, but now pass me the wine.”

They completed the preparations, as the villagers began to gather outside the church. Seeing them waiting for the squire the Rector walked to the door.

“Come in, Come in. Sir Thomas will not want you to freeze outside.”

The villagers looked uncertain, then the carriage from the manor arrived, as Sir Thomas got out he shook his head.

“For goodness sake, why didn’t you wait in the church, it is much too cold out here.” He took his wife’s arm as she stepped down from the carriage. As Charlotte stepped down, James stepped forward and offered his arm. The villagers cheered, Caleb led Sir Thomas and his family to their pew, as he took his place in the lower desk of the pulpit he said.

“It is good to have a proper service on Christmas day, it is a long time since it last happened.”

“I hope you see many more.” Replied the Rector sitting down at the middle desk. Then he opened his prayer book and the service commenced.

As serving communion to the village, and this time it seemed that everybody was there, took a long time, his sermon was very short, little more than half an hour. Despite this it was well after noon that they left the church. The wind had risen and it was blowing a blizzard, Caleb was organising the men to make sure everybody, especially the women and children, got home safely. Sir Thomas’s coachman came up.

“I am sorry sir, but a branch has come down at the entrance to the park, it will be some time before we can get it clear.”

“Then come across to the Rectory, you can shelter there.”

They struggled across the green, as they passed the snowman Frances stopped for a moment.

“I think he is watching, like a cat.”

“I don’t like him, come away.” Said Mary, pulling on her sister’s arm.

“Oh, he’s not dangerous, at least not to us.” She replied, following her sister into the warmth of the Rectory.

The entire party were settled in the parlour, drinking mulled wine, when the housekeeper came in.

“Pardon sir, but it is time to carve the beef.”

“Oh, I had forgotten, the dinner for the poor men and women, they will be waiting for me in the kitchen.” He made to rise, when his wife stopped him.

“Why not let James do it this year.” She said with a smile, her husband nodded. James rose and followed the housekeeper. As the door shut Lady Scott looked to her daughter.

“Why don’t you go and help him.” Smiling Charlotte sprang to her feet and ran after James, as she reached the door Lady Scott called after her, “Parson’s wife in training.” Everybody laughed, Charlotte turned and curtsied to her mother, her face full of humour.

In the kitchen the twelve old people ate heartily, as Charlotte served one old gentlemen with plum pudding he asked.

“Pardon me miss, but is it true that you are betrothed to Master James?”

Charlotte blushed and nodded, the man raised his tankard and said.

“Good luck to you both, when I was a boy I saw your grandfather marry, when I was a man I danced at your father’s wedding, and now, if I am spared, I will see your wedding.”

“I pray that I can serve you with bride cake on our wedding day.” Said Charlotte with a gentle smile.

Back in the parlour, Sir Thomas watched his daughter leave and turned to Dr Grainger.

“Have you realised that over the past few days we seemed to have been following two stories?”

His friend nodded, “the love affair between our children,” He looked out of the window, though it was just after two it was already quiet dark. “And the other matter.”

“Yes.” Replied the squire, “I can see where one will end, a wedding and a new family in Stanton Lacy. But the other one, of David Beddoes and Michael Scott, I cannot see where that will end.”

“Not happily I think, and there is also the matter of the snowman.” Finally he told Sir Thomas of what he had seen, his friend was silent. The reverie was ended by a distant, muffled bell, Dr Grainger rose.

“Caleb is ringing for evening prayers, you need not come, on a night like this I cannot expect it of anyone.”

Surprisingly it was Frances who said.

“I will come, I think it would be best if we all went, I am not sure what will be about tonight and I think I would prefer to be in the church.”

Lady Scott rose, “Then we shall all go.” Charlotte and James came up from the kitchen, and shortly after the entire party were struggling across the green. Halfway across Charlotte suddenly gasped.

“Where is the snowman?”

They looked around, it had gone. Remembering what the Rector had said, Sir Thomas refused to stop, but hurried his party towards the church. They had almost got there when there was a screaming neigh and a horse galloped out of the driving snow, almost knocking James and Charlotte to the ground. Frances screamed and fell, she was picked up by her father and hurried into the church.

“Who was that?” gasped Lady Scott and Mrs Grainger together, “I think it was Mr Scott,” replied Charlotte.”

Lady Scott took Frances from her husband and stroked the girl’s hair, her bonnet had fallen off in the rush.

“It’s all right, he can’t hurt you here.” She said soothingly. Frances looked at her with wide, dark eyes.

“Oh, it wasn’t him, it was what was after him.”

“What was it?” her mother asked concerned, but Frances wouldn’t answer.

The church was full, in spite of the terrible weather most of the village seemed to have felt as Frances had, that it was best, or perhaps safest, to be in church. The service began, following its traditional course. The Rector had climbed into the high pulpit, the clearer to be heard over the storm outside. Below him old Caleb led the responses with a shout, the congregation did their best to follow him as they cowered in the high pews, lit by the guttering candles on their iron frames.

“Lord, have mercy upon us.” intoned the Rector.

“Christ, have mercy upon us.” Said the clerk, and waited for the congregation to follow him.

At that moment the west door burst open and for a second a figure could be seen standing there.

“Christ, have mercy upon ME!” it screamed, then most of the candles were blown out and the door slammed shut.

“Lord, have mercy upon him.” Said the Rector quietly.

There were screams and shouts in the church, and it was several minutes before there was calm. The churchwardens walked down the aisle lighting the candles. No one touched the door, no one wanted to go outside to see what had happened to the man who had screamed. With the church lit again the service resumed, the storm continued to beat on at the windows, the congregation sat in nervous silence until Caleb announced

“The Third Collect, for Aid against all Perils.”

“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord” said the Rector , and paused as, outside, the clouds parted and bright moonlight poured into the church. Shaken he continued, “by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” And the wind dropped outside and there was silence.

The service came to its conclusion, the congregation rose politely as the Rector and his family, and Sir Thomas and his, walked down the aisle. There were smiling nods and winks as Charlotte held tight to James’s arm. Outside Sir Thomas stopped and gasped, the tree beside the pond had fallen, the top branches had smashed thorough the ice into the water. Beside it there was no trace of the snowman. As they walked back to the Rectory, the squires younger daughters laughed, almost skipped, as they slid on the frozen ground, the tension that had gripped the village for the past few days, seemed to have faded. The coachman was waiting for them.

“The drive is open now sir,” he said.

“Then we will go,” Turning back to the Rector he said, “I will return tomorrow, I feel there might be something to see at the pond. And tomorrow afternoon I would like you all to come and dine with us, we have something to celebrate.”

He looked to his daughter, then turned away with a smile, as she was being gently kissed by James.


To be continued



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Filed under Christmas Musings, Ghost story, Regency