Vaughan Williams wrote many arrangements of folk songs, hymns, carols, and other vocal works, often producing two or more of the same title. Written for the Oxford Book of Carols, this famous Christmas carol was originally entitled O Little Town. Vaughan Williams served as one of three editors for the Oxford Book of Carols, the others being Martin Shaw and the Rev. Percy Dearmer, the latter a co-editor of the English Hymnal with the composer in 1906.
Vaughan Williams provided original melodies for four carols in the book (The Golden Carol, Wither's Rocking Hymn, Snow in the Street, and Blake's Cradle Song) and arranged 23 others, including Sussex Carol, May Carol, and this one, O Little Town. As usual he did not attempt to impose his style on the carol, but did make the music flow with a slightly less lean sound and in a somewhat post-Romantic vein. In the end, this deft arrangement (and the others in the book) can be viewed as a largely self-effacing endeavor, the kind few composers of the twentieth century -- or of earlier periods -- would care to tackle, owing to its lack of personal reward.