Past Three O'Clock

"Past Three O'Clock" (or "Past Three a Clock") is an English Christmas carol, loosely based on the call of the traditional London waits, musicians and watchmen who patrolled during the night, using a musical instrument to show they were on duty and to mark the hours.[1] The refrain dates from at least the early modern period, appearing in print in a 1665 supplement to John Playford's The Dancing Master.[2]

The words were written by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934) to the traditional tune "London Waits". Woodward added lines to the traditional refrain in a style characteristic of his delight in archaic poetry.[2] It was published in A Cambridge Carol Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter and Other Seasons in 1924.[3]

Numerous variations of the carol include an arrangement by William Llewellyn as a "quodlibet" for choir: London Waits (Past Three O'clock).[4]

Recordings of the carol include those by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge,[5] the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, the Monteverdi Choir.,[6] the Renaissance Singers, James Galway and the National Philharmonic Orchestra[7] and The Chieftains on the album The Bells of Dublin, (1991). It features in the third movement of Patric Standford's A Christmas Carol Symphony (1978).[8]

Popular music artists who have recorded the carol include Linda Ronstadt on the album A Merry Little Christmas (2000) and Chris Squire on the album Chris Squire's Swiss Choir (2007).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Waits". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
  2. ^ a b "Past Three O'Clock". Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  3. ^ London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  4. ^ Novello and Co Ltd.
  5. ^ EMI: CDM 7 69950 2
  6. ^ Once As I Remember... Philips: 462050
  7. ^ James Galway's Christmas Carol at
  8. ^ "A Christmas Carol Symphony". Patric Standford homepage. Retrieved 24 January 2021.

External linksEdit