ENGLISH FOLK SONGS AND BROADSIDES 1780-1830
WITH HENRY HUNT WE'LL GO — Denis Turner
On the 16th of August, 1819. a great crowd of men, women and children, dressed in their Sunday best and displaying an impressive degree of order and discipline, marched peaceably to a meeting in St. Peter's Fields, Manchester. The purpose of the meeting was to consider the propriety of adopting the most legal and effectual means of obtaining Reform of the Commons House of Parliament'. The principal speaker was Henry Hunt, the greatest of the popular orators of the time. Despite the obviously peaceful nature of the meeting, the authorities spared no precautions, for they had determined to arrest Hunt. Special constables lined the hustings, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry waited on the fringe of the crowd and a body of regular troops was stationed out of sight in reserve. While Hunt was addressing the meeting, the order was given to arrest him. Joseph Nadin, the much-hated Deputy Constable, demanded help and the Yeomanry were sent in. This ill-trained force quickly became trapped in the crowd and panicked. Then the 15th Hussars rode in with drawn sabres and orders to disperse the crowd. They succeeded only too well. Within minutes eleven people lay dying and many hundreds were wounded. The affair was quickly christened 'The Massacre of Peterloo' in bitter mockery of the victory at Waterloo four years before. It is the subject of 'With Henry Hunt we'll go'. Written immediately after the event, only one verse and the chorus is still extant as far as we are able to discover.
THE LANCASHIRE LADS — Frankie Armstrong — w/Sandra Kerr: guitar; John Faulkner: mandolin
The drums beat, the bugles sound and the young men march off to the wars, leaving their sweethearts to mourn. Over the years, hundreds of songs have been embroidered around this basic theme. The Lancashire Lads', published as a broadside by T. Bloomer of Birmingham, is one of them. We have set it to the tune of 'The Lowlands of Holland'.
The LABOURING MAN — Brian Pearson — w/John Faulkner: concertina; Sandra Kerr : dulcimer
In the latter part of the 18th century, the old open field system of farming still predominated over large areas of the country, lt was a system ill-adapted to the application of the new agricultural techniques pioneered by such men as Coke and Bakewell. The Enclosure Acts, which were passed in increasing numbers after about 1760, provided a solution by bringing the commons under cultivation and consolidating the scattered strips of the old system into more compact holdings The results of this rationalisation were as splendid as had been forecast, or at least so the larger land-owners must have thought, as their crop yields increased and their live-stock and bank-balances grew fatter and healthier. Many small farmers, however, unable to meet the cost of hedging and ditching their new plots, were forced to sell out. The plight of the cottager, dependant for his meagre living on rights of common which had now ceased to exist, was even more desperate. An army of landless wage-labourers was created. During the war years, under-employment was endemic. Men. working for starvation wages or trying to eke out a living on parish relief, could enjoy the spectacle of their masters coining huge profits from the grotesquely inflated corn prices of those times. The post-war depression brought a further deterioration in conditions and the anger and frustration of the farm-workers found expression in such uprisings as the East Anglian riots of 1816. The Labouring Man' probably dates from this post-war period.
JONE O' GRINFILT — Denis Turner
The Lancashire weaving communities nourished a strong tradition of dialect balladry. This slyly comic song is one of the large number of Jone o' Grinfilt (John of Greenfield) ballads that were written over a period of time stretching from the Napoleonic to the Crimean Wars.
HUMPHREY HARDFEATURES DESCRIPTION OF CAST-IRON INVENTIONS — Terry Yarnell & Denis Turner — w/John Faulkner: mandolin; Sandra Kerr: dulcimer; Peggy Seeger: guitar
This wryly humorous song is very reminiscent of our present-day fears that we will eventually be entombed under an ever-growing pile of multi-coloured plastic artifacts. In 1784 Cort invented the puddling process which enabled coke to be used as fuel in all the stages of iron-making. From then on the iron industry expanded rapidly and iron was used for an increasing variety of objects. At Coalbrookdale the window-sills and tombstones were made of iron. John Wilkinson, known as 'Iron Mad Wilkinson'. was iron's greatest propagandist. He left instructions that he was to be buried in an iron coffin. Source: Contributed by the Birmingham Folk Centre.
VAN DEIMENS LAND — John Faulkner — w/Sandra Kerr: guitar
The Australian penal settlements of Botany Bay and Van Deimens Land had a fearsome reputation in the popular mind. Over the years tens of thousands of men and women were transported to the other side of the world, often for the most trivial offences. Murderers, trade union organisers, poachers, pick-pockets, political reformers, the brutal criminal code of the time made little distinction. Many died before they arrived, succumbing to the horrors of the long, slow voyage. Those who survived had only a slender chance of ever returning. Numerous transportation ballads were written and are still current in oral tradition. The song given here is from the singing of Harry Cox, the great Norfolk singer.
THE DEATH OF PARKER — Frankie Armstrong
In 1797 the Royal Navy consisted of 120,000 men. most of them victims of the press-gang. Their pay, which was usually in arrears, was 19s. a month, their food was inadequate and they were subjected to the most brutal discipline. England's position was perilous. She had been defeated on the continent and driven from the Mediterranean, Rebellion was brewing in Ireland and a French invasion seemed imminent. Only the Navy stood between her and the triumph of the dangerous continental notions of liberty, equality and fraternity. At this juncture, the fleets at Spithead and the Nore mutinied, dismissed their officers and ran up the red flag. The alarmed government hastily agreed to the demands of the Spithead men, but the Nore mutineers were not so easily pacified. Under the command of Richard Parker, they blockaded London and threatened to take the fleet over to the French. However, the rebels were cut off from the sea by the removal of the buoys and lights marking the channels through the treacherous waters of the Thames estuary, and the mutiny quickly collapsed. Twenty-eight people were hung, including Parker. According to tradition, he was buried on the shore, exhumed by his wife at dead of night and re-buried in a churchyard. Baring-Gould, Hammond and Gardiner all collected versions of The Death of Parker'. There are stories of men being hung at the yard-arm for singing the song.
DRINK OLD ENGLAND DRY — Terry Yarnell and chorus
Despite the frantic pace of change, the English people were not cut off completely from their old way of life. As always, much survived into the hew era. including many of the ancient rituals and festivals that had enlivened the yearly round since time out of mind. And, as always, contemporary events and characters were grafted on to the old stock, In the mumming plays, for instance, the hero — originally a god who dies and is reborn — came in time to be identified with the rather more prosaic figure of King George. 'Drink Old England Dry', a song associated with the ancient Haxey Hood game, displays the same tendency, for the first verse deals with the Napoleonic war and the second with the Crimean!
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO — John Faulkner & Terry Yarnell — w/Sandra Kerr: tin whistle; Jim O'Connor: drum
The broadside ballad served many of the functions later taken over by the popular press. Accounts of great battles were frequently written up in verse form and hawked around the streets, This detailed and patriotic song is a typical example.
BONEY WAS A WARRIOR — Brian Pearson and men's chorus
The shanties are examples of a musical form harnessed to purely technological ends. They were never sung for pleasure. They were used solely as tools, as devices for co-ordinating the human muscle-power of the small, mostly unskilled crews who manned the merchant fleets in the great days of sail. The words of the shanties were often improvised and not particularly rich in narrative content. 'Boney was a Warrior', however, gives a fairly coherent account of the life and death of Napoleon, who, more than any other political and military figure, captured the imagination of the song makers of his time. The 'Billy Ruffian' is slang for the 'Bellerophon'.
THE VICTORY — Frankie Armstrong — w/Sandra Kerr: dulcimer
In Nelson's time, only the Navy stood between England and defeat. The authorities were unstinting in their praise of the sterling qualities of 'Jack Tar', but were scarcely as willing to undertake the rather more expensive business of improving the appalling conditions under which he lived and fought. Consequently, the supply of heroes could only be maintained by means of the press gang, The Victory' is one of the many songs expressing emotions that must have been shared by innumerable women — sweethearts, mothers, wives — who had their men ruthlessly torn away from them by these gangs who terrorised the coastal districts of England.
THE DUDLEY BOYS — Denis Turner and chorus
Food riots — to curb the excessive profits of traders and restore the customary prices of foodstuffs — were characteristic forms of working-class protest in the 18th and 19th centuries. 'Riot' is perhaps a somewhat misleading term for what was often a quite well-organised demonstration lasting for several days. The text of the 'Dudley Boys' is from William Ryland of West Bromwich. It was taken down in 1840 by the father of Mr. Bing Kendrick of Birmingham. Collected by Charles Parker of the Midlands Folk Centre. Tune by Pam Bishop.
KEEPERS AND POACHERS — Brian Pearson — w/John Faulkner: concertina; Sandra Kerr: guitar)
During the Napoleonic wars, poaching increased, both to eke out the labourers meagre diet and. it seems probable, as a half-conscious form of class warfare against the land-owners. The latter formed armed vigilante organisations and the poachers retaliated by forming gangs. In 1816 the penalty for poaching was increased from one month's hard labour to seven years' transportation. This only increased violence. Pitched battles leading to the death of members of one side or the other were far from uncommon.
I SHOULD LIKE TO BE A POLICEMAN — Terry Yarnell and men's chorus — w/Sandra Kerr: spoons; Jim O'Connor: percussion
Sir Robert Peel laid the foundations of the modern police system in 1829 by establishing the Metropolitan Police to maintain law and order in the great urban and suburban area surrounding the City of London. This song was probably written soon afterwards and displays a healthy disrespect for the guardians of the law that is still common to this day. Tune: Brian Pearson.
THE WAY TO LIVE — Frankie Armstrong & Brian Pearson — w/Sandra Kerr: guitar; John Faulkner: guitar
The very real hardships and miseries endured by countless thousands in trying to scrape a living in a time when chronic unemployment was the norm, are treated lightly in this engaging and tongue-twisting song.
HAND LOOM WEAVERS' LAMENT — Denis Turner
Printed by John Harland in his 'Ballads and Songs of Lancashire' published in 1865. A song of the period just after the Napoleonic wars when the price of cotton was very low. A note in Harland says This ballad was sung to the air 'A-hunting we will go', but better known in and near Manchester...' as the tune of 'With Henry Hunt we'll go'. It is set here, however, to the tune of The Parliaments of England' to which it was probably originally intended to be sung.
The songs on this record belong to the period roughly between the years 1780 to 1830. They are the songs of a semi-literate population — weavers, farm labourers, travelling ballad-mongers-who lived in a time of unparalleled economic, political and social change when old ways of life, old patterns of thought were being swept away on a tidal wave of revolution. The reactions of the people whose lives were shaped by the stormy events of that era are mirrored vividly in the songs they created.
The times were stormy indeed. The revolution in France, with its message of hope to some and of terror to others, cast its shadow every where. Napoleon's armies marched and countermarched, re-making the map of Europe. Forges glowed and steam hissed as engineers harnessed iron and coal and water to the service of industry. It was an age which great men — Napoleon, Byron, Paine, Shelly, Stephenson — and also millions of men and women who did not aspire to be great, but only to keep themselves and their children from penury and starvation. Ruled as they were by men who held the doctrines of laissez-faire in somewhat higher reverence than the Sermon on the Mount, they could be forgiven if they had despaired and given up the struggle. Despair they did. but they also fought, sometimes physically, sometimes in less spectacular fashion. Driven from the land, herded into the slums of London or the dark industrial ghettoes that mushroomed like fungoid growths over the countryside. they held on to as much of their old culture as they could and set about forging a new one to meet the challenge of their changed situation.
There is no lack of literature dealing with this period of English history. The mass of statistics of birth-rates, death-rates, wage-rates, corn prices, import and export levels, the plethora of Enclosure Acts. Combination Acts, Gagging Acts, Corn Laws and Seditious Meeting Acts, the endless procession of inventors and their ingenious inventions have been scrupulously chronicled and minutely analysed by an army of historians. But it is often difficult for us to gain any immediate impression of the thoughts and reactions of those shadowy figures, the English common people, who fought and starved and loved and laughed and died to build the world that we know to-day. They did not usually commit their feelings to the pages of books. But the songs they created and sang open up a window directly on to their everyday lives. Bitter or humorous, tragic or ephemeral, these songs have tended to be rather undervalued by most historians as source material. More important for us. perhaps, many of them are fine songs and well worth singing.
We wish to thank the Midlands Folk Centre for allowing us access to their archives.