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Helmore and Neale’s Carols for Christmas-tide

January 2019

Helmore and Neale’s Carols for Christmas-tide (1853)

This 1853 publication marks an important step in the establishment of Britain’s modern Christmas carol tradition. Like its successor Carols for Easter-tide (1854), it draws on Theodoricus Petri’s Piae Cantiones, (Greifswald, 1582).  Through the kindness of the British Minister at Stockholm, Neale had acquired a very rare copy of this collection of 70 hymns – 20 of them relating to Christmas – in 1852 and had immediately discussed with Helmore a new selected edition with English texts.

Rev. Thomas Helmore was born Kidderminster, 7 May 1811,  and died London, 6 July 1890

Writer and choirmaster, Helmore was educated at Oxford, ordained in 1840 and appointed to a curacy in Lichfield and later as priest vicar in the cathedral. In 1842 he became vice-principal, and in 1846 precentor, of St Mark’s College, Chelsea and in 1846 succeeded William Hawes as Master of the Choristers and Priest in ordinary of the Chapel Royal. Through numerous publications Helmore became the recognised authority on plainsong in the Anglican Church, most importantly collaborating with Neale on the Hymnal Noted (1851–4), a collection of plainsong melodies with translations of the original texts.

Rev. John Mason Neale was born London, 24 January 1818 and died East Grinstead, 6 August 1866.

Hymn writer, amateur musician and clergyman, he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1836, where he was recognised as the best classicist of his year. He was ordained as deacon in 1841 and priest in 1842 and in 1846 was appointed Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead.  He is remembered by his works on the Eastern Church and by his many translated and original hymn texts, many of which remain in common use.