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Jacob's Well

[ Roud 17703 ; trad.]

Jacob's Well (also, Jacob's fountain and Well of Sychar) is a deep well hewn of solid rock that has been associated in religious tradition with Jacob for roughly two millennia. It is situated a short distance from the archaeological site of Tell Balata, which is thought to be the site of biblical Shechem. [Wikipedia]

Pub carols like Jacob's Well—carols which have survived outside hymn books—are probably one of the last genuine living folksong forms in Britain today. The heart of this tradition lies in pubs between Sheffield and Barnsley, in places whose names are unmistakably northern: the White Hart in Oughtibridge, the Black Bull in Ecclesfield and the Royal Hotel in Dungworth, for example. But other pubs, and other areas, also continue to celebrate this pub carol tradition.

Jacob's Well has sometimes been attributed to Hugh Bourne (1772-1852), the founder of the Primitive Methodists, but it seems there were versions of the song in circulation before his time. The song contains a vision of Christ travelling through the landscape of Britain, like William Blake's Jerusalem.

Carollers at the White Hart, Oughtibridge, recorded on December 15, 1973 sang Jacob's Well on the Leader LP A People's Carol: A Christmas singing tradition recorded in South Yorkshire pubs.

The Albion Band—at that time / project including Martin Carthy as a singer—sang Jacob's Well in 1980 in their play (and on the subsequent album) Lark Rise to Candleford.

Waterson:Carthy sang Jacob's Well a cappella live at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, Australia in March 1999. It was the only previously unreleased track on their 2005 anthology The Definitive Collection.

Coope Boyes & Simpson, Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes sang Jacob's Well in 2006 on their No Masters CD Voices at the Door.

Jon Boden sang Jacob's Well as the November 21 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day to start the Sheffield carol season.


At Jacob's well, a Stranger sought
His drooping frame to cheer;
Samaria's daughter little thought
That Jacob's God was near.

This had she known, her fainting mind
For richer draughts had sigh'd;
Nor had Messiah, ever kind,
Those richer draughts denied.

This ancient well, no glass so true,
Britannia's image shows:
Now Jesus travels Britain through,
But who the Stranger knows?

Yet Britain must the Stranger know
Or soon her loss deplore;
Behold the living waters flow!
Come drink, and thirst no more.


See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: At Jacob's Well (a Stranger Sought).