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Down in Yon Forest / All Bells in Paradise / Castleton Carol

[ Roud 1523 ; Ballad Index L691 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang the carol Down in Yon Forest unaccompanied in the 1950s on his 78 rpm record Down in Yon Forest / The Bitter Withy, and on his and Ewan MacColl's 1956 Riverside LP Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album's booklet:

There is so little narrative in this exquisite religious folksongs that it is frequently designated as a lyric rather than a ballad. It is certainly a ballad, however, for, as G.H. Gerould has so aptly described it, “… it pictures an intensely dramatic situation and does so altogether in the manner of the genre.” (see The Ballad of Tradition, 1932, p. 33.)

It its earliest known form, the ballad appeared in a 15th century manuscript into which it had probably been copied from the singing of contemporary carol singers. The first version reported from tradition was taken down from the singing of a young boy in North Staffordshire, England, before 1862 (see Notes and Queries, third series, II, 103).

Anne Gilchrist (in JFSS, IV, pp. 52-56) interpreted this ballad in terms of the Holy Grail legend. Christ's blood was collected in the Grail by Joseph of Arimathea, and was borne to Avalon for safe-keeping and sanctification. The hall in the forest is the castle of the Grail, the bleeding knight is Jesus, the hound licking the blood may be Joseph (or possibly the Church), and the thorn mentioned in the last stanza is the Thorn of Glastonbury which blossoms once a year (on old Christmas Day) in honour of Jesus' birth.

The ballad has been collected infrequently in England during this century. The version sung here by Lloyd was collected in 1908 by Ivor Gatty and Ralph Vaughan Williams from Mr Hall of Castleton, Derbyshire. An additional stanza (stanza 6) has been appended from the North Staffordshire version mentioned above.

The Black Country Three sang this carol as All Bells in Paradise in 1966 on their Transatlantic album The Black Country Three, and John Raven returned to this carol in 1975 on his Broadside album Ballad of the Black Country.

The Valley Folk sang this carol as All Bells in Paradise in 1968 as the title track of their Topic album of carols for all seasons, All Bells in Paradise. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

What's the meaning of this mysterious song? Reams have been written about its symbology, with its suggestion of altar stone, sacrifice, maimed nobleman, mysterious dog. None of these mystical explanations seems quite satisfactory though there's general agreement that the blood that ‘daily runs down’ is the sacramental blood of Christ, and the blossoming thorn is the miraculous Glastonbury tree. Whatever it means, it's a queer brooding piece ant it seems to have taken a good grip on the imagination of folk singers. The enterprising grocer's apprentice Richard Hill jotted down a version of it at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and his notebook was discovered behind a bookcase around 1850. The carol lasted well, and good versions of it turned up, notably in the Midlands (North Staffordshire and Derbyshire) during the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth.

Shirley Collins sang Down in Yon Forest on her 1976 LP The Sweet Primeroses. This recording was also included in her anthologies Fountain of Snow and Within Sound. She commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Many traditional British carols (The Cherry Tree Carol and The Bitter Withy are two examples) attempt to portray a Christ living a normal family life among the trees and fields of Britain. Like Blake, the writers wanted “The Countenance Drive” to look upon and bless the downs, pastures and forests of their native land. This carol evokes an unfamiliar setting: a dark forest, a gilded hall, the sound of bells; signs of blossom, blood and birth. Dolly has tried, through her arrangement, to match the medieval spirit of the symbols. Peter Kennedy collected this song from Mrs Hall in Castleton, Derbyshire [in 1957].

Strawhead sang Corpus Christy (Over Yonder's a Park) in 1977 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Farewell Musket, Pipe & Drum.

The Ripley Wayfarers sang Castleton Carol in 1985 on their album Down the Road.

Magpie Lane sang Down in Yon Forest in 1995 on their Beautiful Jo CD Wassail!

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Down in Yon Forest in 1998 on their No Masters CD A Garland of Carols and in 2003 on Fire and Sleet and Candlelight.

Alva sang The Bells of Paradise in 2004 as the title track of their Beautiful Jo album The Bells of Paradise. This track was also included in 2007 on the WildGoose anthology Songs of Witchcraft and Magic.

Maddy Prior sang Down in Yon Forest in 2004 on Steeleye Span's CD Winter. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This strange song was collected [in 1908] by Vaughan Williams from Mr [James?] Hall of Castleton, Derbyshire. It is long thought to have reference to the Grail Legend, sometimes incorporating a “stone with Corpus Christi written thereon,” the Grail in some ancient instances being a stone rather than a cup.

Bella Hardy sang Down in Yon Forest in 2007 on her first album, Night Visiting.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Down in Yon Forest in 2008 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Songbooks.

Kerfuffle recorded this as Castleton Carol in 2008 for their fourth CD, To the Ground. Their lyrics differ from Maddy Prior's in a few words only.

Corncrow sang Down in Yon Forest in 2012 on their CD Christmas Dinner for Horses.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Down in Yon Forest
(78 rpm HMV record)
A.L. Lloyd sings Down in Yon Forest on Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection

Down in yon forest there stands a hall
      The bells of Paradise, I heard them ring;
It's covered all over with purple and pall,
      And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Down in yon forest there stands a hall
      The bells of Paradise, I heard them ring;
It's covered all over with purple so tall,
      And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

And in that hall there stands a bed,
It's covered all over with scarlet so red.

And in that hall there stands a bed,
It's covered all over with scarlet so red.

And in that bed there lies a knight,
Whose wounds they do bleed by day and by night.

And by that bed-side there lies a stone,
The sweet Virgin Mary a-kneeling thereon.

And by that bed-side there kneels a maid,
And there she do weep by night and by day.

An on that bed there lies a knight,
Whose wounds they do bleed by day and by night.

And by that bed-side there flows a flood,
The one half runs water, the other half blood.

And under that bed there runs a flood,
The one half runs water, the other runs blood.

And at that bed's foot there lies a hound,
A-licking the blood as it daily runs down.

At the bed's foot there lies a hound,
A-licking the blood as it daily runs down.

And at that bed's head there grows a thorn,
Whichever blows blossom since he was born.

At the bed's head there grows a thorn,
Which ever has blossomed since Jesus was born.

Shirley Collins sings Down in Yon Forest Maddy Prior sings Down in Yon Forest

Down in yon forest there stands a hall
      The bells of Paradise, I heard them ring;
It's gilded all over with purple and pall,
      And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Down in yon forest there stands a hall
      The bells of Paradise I heard them ring;
Covered all over with purple and pall,
      And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Down in that hall there is a bed,
All scarlet the cover lets over it spread.

And in that hall there stands a bed,
Covered all over with scarlet so red.

At the bed-side there stands a stone,
Where the sweet Virgin Mary has knelt upon.

Down under that bed there runs a flood,
A half it runs water, a half it runs blood.

Under that bed there runs a flood,
The one half runs water, the other runs blood.

Down at the bed-feet there springs a thorn,
It blooms its white blossoms the day he was born.

At the bed foot there grows a thorn,
Which ever blows blossom since Adam was born.

And over that place the moon shines bright,
To show that our Saviour was born that night.

Over the bed the moon shines bright,
To show our Saviour was born this night.