'It's like old home week': Trip to England reinvigorates Glen Rock Carolers

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

After a cold, rainy day of singing in the English countryside, Darryl Engler retreated to the cozy, warm Bulls Head Inn smack in the heart of historic Foolow.

The sleepy inn only had three customers inside at the time Engler and his troupe of performers stepped over the threshold. But to his great surprise — those customers weren't strangers.

"In there were two people I knew; I had met them in 2002 and 2012," Engler said. "The biggest surprise was walking in a pub in England, and two of the three customers that were inside at the time, I knew."

Despite being a good 40 minutes from the nearest major English city — Engler realized the world isn't as big as he thought after all.

That surprise inside the Bulls Head Inn was just one of many great experiences for Engler and the Glen Rock Carolers.

The iconic group touched back down on American soil Monday after a four-day trip to Sheffield, England. It's a special trip taken every 10 years by the Glen Rock Carolers to get in touch with their musical ancestors across the pond.

Lem Parker, center left, and Warren Laughman, center right, both of Elite Coach, look on as Darryl Engler, left, of Shrewsbury Township, talks to fellow member Mike Thomas, of Glen Rock, as members of the Glen Rock Carolers and family members prepare to board a bus out of Glen Rock, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. The group, who’s founding members originated from England, will celebrate its 175th Christmas this year and is traveling to Sheffield, England to take part in the Festival of Village Carols. This would be Engler’s third trip, with the first two being in 2002 and 2012. He has been a Glen Rock Carol Singer for 52 years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We had no idea whether they, in England, also continued to sing these carols that were brought over here," said Engler, the Glen Rock Carolers’ music director. "We found out after 150 years that they still sing, and so we went back to find out where our roots came from."

Throughout their stay, the Glen Rock Carolers bar-hopped between British pubs during the day while the Sheffield carolers opened their homes at night as places to rest.

The various performances throughout the weekend culminated in the Festival of Village Carols at Grenoside Community Centre in the south Yorkshire city on Saturday, Dec. 3.

A monument memorializing the founders of the Glen Rock Carol Singers stands in Glen Rock, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. The group, which is celebrating its 175th Christmas this year, will travel to Sheffield, England to take part in the Festival of Village Carols. This will be the third trip that the festive crooners have made, with the first in 2002 and the second in 2012. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It was as we expected — and better," Engler said. "It's like old home week. You get to see relatives you haven't seen for 10 or 20 years."

From the minute their plane touched down, the Glen Rock Carolers immediately embraced the English countryside and all it had to offer.

Breakfasts consisted of blood pudding and sausage, while evenings inside pubs were filled with cheery reverberations of traditional English songs.

More:Glen Rock Carolers get in touch with musical roots on trip to England

During the trip, the carolers even got the chance to meet the relative of the man who founded Glen Rock borough more than 160 years ago.

Anise Heathcote, a relative of Glen Rock founder William Heathcote, had been celebrating her 95th birthday with Engler, and the carolers surprised her with a couple of songs.

"It was sort of rainy and foggy, but it was very nice experience," Engler recalled.

Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.

This December will be the Glen Rock Carolers' 175th Christmas. The singing tradition began in 1848 as carolers lined Glen Rock's streets singing Old English songs in Dickens-style top hats, canes and cloaks.

This year, the Glen Rock Carolers will once again hit the streets starting at midnight on Dec. 25. This year's route will follow Hanover, Manchester, Church and Baltimore streets, finishing at 7 a.m. Christmas Day.

A concert before their street performance is slated for 10:45 p.m. Dec. 24 at Zion Lutheran Church, 49 Hanover St. This will be their first indoor concert in two years since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled previous events.

Darryl Engler, the Glen Rock Carolers’ music director, stands by the caroler's monument in Glen Rock Borough Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. He said the caroler's tradition will carry on this year with COVID-19 modifications. It is his 50th year to participate. Bill Kalina photo

In addition to their trip to England, the Glen Rock Carolers will be opening a museum dedicated to preserving the history of their group.

The exhibit will be open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ, 27 Manchester St., through Dec. 25.

After that, the exhibit featuring original instruments, outfits and music sheets will be open by appointment only.