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: