John Foster (composer and magistrate)

John Foster (composer and magistrate)

John Foster (1762-1822) of Chapletown South Yorkshire was the composer of the tune set to "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night" known as "Old Foster", one of the more popular of the hundreds of tunes used with these words.Musically he was based in one of the many non-conformist chapelsin the Blackburn Valley, (see Blackburn Brook), near Sheffield. His style is 19th century classical.He is also credited as being the magistrate who madecock-fighting and bull-baiting illegal in Yorkshire (Gatty,1884).

The tune was originally published in York as part of a collection of anthems for choir and orchestra, the only surviving prints of which are in Sheffield Local History Library. It did not have the carol words of Nahum Tate then. It was Psalm47, "Ye people all with one accord". It became "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night" when it migrated to becoming a pub carol accompanied by the small pub string band orchestra after the instruments were thrown out of the churches into the pubs by the Oxford Movement.

This has not stopped commercial recordings of "While Shepherds ..." being made with the anthem orchestra, which would have had difficulty fitting in a public house even if it were available.


*The New Oxford Book of Carols, "edited" Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott.
*Gatty, Alfred, "A life at one living", (1884).

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