I Saw Three Ships

BBC carol programme

Regular Intheboatshed.net correspondent Chris Brady has written in to point out that a BBC programme charting the history of carol singing included the story of popular Christmas song ‘I Saw Three Ships’. Thanks for the tip Chris!

I didn’t know that a version of the song was collected from boatmen on the Humber in 1895, and sent to the scholar Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, who was a noted folklorist, as well as an antiquarian, a writer of hymns, and a prolific author on any number if topics.

Baring-Gould’s notes of the Humber boatman’s version can be seen at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website – it mentions that the ships are carrying the skulls of the three wise men who visited the baby Jesus shortly after his birth.

As a boy who grew up close to the banks of the Humber, I should set about learning the version in Baring-Gould’s notes. In the meantime, the more usual and innocent sounding setting Julie and I recorded a few Christmases back will have to do:

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