London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Top 10 Free Carol Services/Concerts 2012

My 2011 list of free carol services proved extremely popular last year so I have now brought the list up to date including some different venues. I have however probably only scratched the surface and there may be many more that I don’t know about; if you can update my list at all please put your suggestions in the comments at the bottom.

Each night from Tuesday 11th until Sunday 23rd December there will be carol singing around the tree in Trafalgar Square by various choirs (last year they sang from 5pm until 9pm each choir having an hour slot) although details for 2012 aren’t yet up on the website! 

The tree will be lit this Thursday evening whilst St Martin in the Fields’ Choir sing carols and this Saturday, 8th December, I will be there for the Team London carol concert 4pm-5pm with loads of other London Ambassadors (no doubt with my thermals under my uniform!)

St Martin-in-the-Fields

2. St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street, EC4 
This is one of my favourite churches to visit for their regular Wednesday recitals although I still occasionally can’t find my way into the pews! Worth getting there early to get a coffee from the FlatCaps stall or a falafel wrap from Medmez both of which are stationed in the tiny churchyard (Monday to Friday only though).
Sunday 9th December at 5.30pm and Wednesday 19th December at 1.15pm Christmas Carol Service sung by resident choir Chantage followed by refreshments.

Entrance to the Temple Church if you’re not attending a service is now £4 so Christmas is a great chance to see the interior for free.  There are a number of Christmas events which are all listed here but the non-ticketed and free carol services are below:
Monday 10th December at 1.15-1.45pm Christmas Carol Sing-along, an informal half-hour of carol singing.
Wednesday 12th December at 6pm The Temple Church Christmas Carol Service followed by drinks in the Round
Friday 14th December at 1.15pm Lunchtime carols sung by the Temple Singers 

4. The Union Chapel

I am ashamed to say that I had no idea that as well as being a venue for concerts that the Union Chapel is also a working church; my excuse is however that it is in an area I don’t know so well. The current building was completed in 1877 by James Cubitt (as far as I can see no relation to Thomas), Next time I’m in Loughton I will look out for the blue plaque commemorating his life. 

Sunday 16th December at 6pm Carols by Candlelight (After the service continue your evening in the bar with live music)
Worth visiting in its own right St George’s was “splendidly refurbished” in 2010. Handel was a regular worshipper here for much of the 36 years he lived nearby and the church has an annual Handel Festival celebrating his work. 
Sunday 16th December at 6pm Service of Nine Lessons and Carols with the Choir of St George’s.
The Priory Church was founded in AD 1123 as part of a monastery of Augustinian Canons but the church is probably more well known by the general public for having featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.  Another church which is still on my “to visit” list. I hope to get there soon! There is a cafe here too. If you want to visit just to look round and without attending a service the charge is £4.
Full details of all their carol services can be found here

Sunday 9th December at 6.30pm An Advent Carol Service
Sunday 16th December at 6.30 pm A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
Tuesday 18th December at 6pm A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
Wednesday 19th December at 1pm Lunchtime Carol Service
Thursday 20th December at 6pm A Service of Lessons and Carols: including a full performance of A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten
Sunday 23rd December at 6.30pm A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols

7. St James’s Piccadilly

One of only two Wren churches outside the City of London, the other being St Clement Danes, St James’s Piccadilly is well worth visiting. I mention it in my Christmas tour of Mayfair and St James’s in the December issue of Mayfair Residents’ Magazine (pages 18-19)! 

You might want to buy your Christmas cards there too because they have some great London themed Christmas cards in the temporary card shop in the entrance hall. 

Sunday 9th December at 7pm the congregation can take part in JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. However there is no obligation to sing!
Sunday 16th December at 6pm Festival of Lessons and Carols
Tuesday 18th December at 5.30pm Carols for Shoppers
Monday 24th December at 5pm Carols for the Eve of Christmas 
St James’s, Piccadilly (from Jermyn Street)

The oldest church in the City of London and one which is now definitely at the top of my “to visit” list after reading London Historians’ recent post. I will be visiting any day soon!  Between April and October the church offers regular guided tours and there is a cafe there too.
Sunday 16th December at 4pm A Festival of Lessons and Carols
Monday 17th December at 6pm Service de Noël en Français pour les Francophiles et leurs amis
Thursday 20th December at 6pm Traditional Carols by Candlelight 
9.  St James’s the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico, SW1 

Built by G E Street who went on to build the Royal Courts of Justice which eventually unfortunately killed him. The church have their own Facebook group.
Sunday 16th December at 6pm Candlelit carol service followed by mulled wine and mince pies.
Throughout most of the year (apart from Lent, August and December) St Bride’s holds twice weekly half hour recitals which are free to attend and are usually extremely good. The church has a fascinating history and you can discover more on their fortnightly guided tours.

Wednesday 19th December at 12.00pm and 5pm – Carols for Fleet Street I and II

There is also of course the free Celebration of Christmas concert at St Paul’s on 13th December at 6.30pm with celebrity readers and the Mayor’s Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral on Monday 17th. However my experience of attending the St Paul’s concert has put me off large scale events such as these. I don’t want to be negative but to ensure a decent seat (ie to avoid being at the back of the cathedral with no view and a freezing cold draught seeping in) you will need to queue for at least an hour beforehand, I now personally prefer a smaller venue where you can actually see what’s going on, feel more involved, avoid the queuing and the wearing of thermals.

I realise this list almost completely ignores south of the river – no slant intended – I am just not as familiar with the central area of the south bank as I am on the north bank! However a good list of upcoming carol services can be found on the SE1 website although you will have to check yourselves which ones are free or have an entrance charge. In addition Time Out have a list of lots of carol concerts many of which are for charity ie not free! 
If you would prefer to attend a concert in aid of charity the Londoneer has compiled his own good list.
Looking forward to attending some of these and some Christmas Fairs too – but that’s another blog post yet to be written.
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here and 

upcoming Christmas Lights themed walks are here.

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