The History of Landkey Carols


The Landkey Carols were first sung just over 100 years ago.  In 1892 the group was formed from the Bible Christian Chapel which later became the United Methodist Higher Chapel in the Village.


The singers were led by Mr John Darch whose family lived at the Old Mill and were the local bakers.  Mr Darch and his sons, Arthur and Gordon, were good musicians who sang and played musical instruments, as did many other people who lived in and around the village.


Some of the carols were written by a villager called Gulley.  These are still in the original manuscript form as they were written.  Other carols or pieces of carols have no known composer, so these could be attributed to Gulley or some other local person.  Many of our carols have a strong Weslyan flavour, influenced, no doubt, by followers of John Wesley who travelled through this area.


All the carols were collected by John Darch who led the group for many years.  On his death his son Arthur assumed the mantle of leader and continued to do so for the rest of his life.  His brother Gordon also played an active role.


Until recently only one copy of each carol existed and this was carefully guarded.  Carols were learnt by standing next to an elder and listening, thus derived different versions of the same carol according to the accuracy of both the singer and the listener.


Each year carol singing began a week before Christmas and continued until Old Christmas Day (January 6).  During this time the unique sound of the Landkey Carols could be heard echoing across the valleys on a clear night.  The longer trips to the distant villages took place on Saturday nights.  The group of 18 or 20 singers would set out in 2 longtail carts.  There would be a stop for supper at 2.30am at Higher Davis Farm, Stoke Rivers, the home of Mr & Mrs Nott, and when suitably refreshed, the group would continue on their way.  


One story often told is that at a farm at Loxhore the family had gone to bed and were asleep when the carollers arrived.  The farmer told how he suddenly heard this "wonderful singing" and couldn't decide if he was dead or alive!  The group would arrive home at about 6am on Sunday in time to quickly feed stock or perform other household duties before going to chapel for the 11am service.  It was not unknown for members of the group to nod off during the service and on one memorable occasion the visiting preacher, after making great effort to retain interest, cut short his sermon because half the choir were asleep.


Another Saturday evening trip would be to Bishops Tawton, Herner, Cobbaton and Swimbridge with a supper stop at Dennington.


On Sunday evenings carols were sung around our own village.  These, too, were great occasions with everyone gathering around. 


With changing times, the long trips were gradually abandoned but the village carols continued until the 1970s when, with the coming of TV and double glazing, carol singing so often fell on deaf ears.  However, the Carols continue to be sung in halls and schoolrooms and it is encouraging that some of our younger villagers are joining in to carry on the tradition.


Taken from 'Discovering Landkey' published in 1996