Article MT142

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 8: 'Bawlers' and the bawled1

We have already seen in the two pieces immediately previous to this one that singers and sellers of ballads offered a wide variety of material for consumption.  By exploring the nature of reference chiefly in newspaper reports but also elsewhere we can begin to assemble a kind of repertoire as it flourished in the market-place and to learn how the songs were delivered to the public - to obtain some idea of singing styles.  In this, though most of the reports that follow do emanate from the particular venue, we are beginning to move away from the fair as a base; and a few points arising also help to pursue the progress of ballad-printing as it related to contemporary events and thus the perception of a public by broadside printers.

As so often, Mayhew catches our attention.  He made quite clear the differences between the various categories of street sellers of ballads (my italics).  He noted long-song sellers, for instance…those who paraded sheets three songs abreast and about a yard long - an invention, it seems, of John Pitts2 - and who ‘did not depend on patter’ but ‘cried’ their titles.  Running patterers told him that ‘the greater the noise they make, the better is the chance of sale…It is not possible’, wrote Mayhew, ‘to ascertain with any certitude what the patterers are so anxious to sell, for only a few leading words are audible…’ (Mayhew’s italics).  A standing patterer would have needed to be the best, since he (or she) was continually and over a period of time exposed to a crowd’s attention.

‘Chaunters’, on the other hand (from hereon all italics are mine), fiddled and sang - sometimes a patterer went along with a ‘chaunter’.3  And Charles Hindley, describing the activities of one such, Samuel Milnes, admitted that he ‘was but a very indifferent vocalist’ and so bawled his wares.4  This is what first concerns us here; for the physical circumstances in which ballad-singers operated might seem to have militated against easy reception.  We are used to reports of fairs which stress the attendant cacophony and in which, we may then surmise, it would be difficult to apprehend the true musicality of an offering.  This, surely, would be as much a problem for the potential purchaser and singer as for the independent observer although there is always the possibility that a singer, perhaps versed in idiom, would thus have the advantage and would, by the same token, probably have a stock of tunes to pillage.  Nonetheless, the terms used to describe ‘performance’ are understandable.  As supporting evidence for the Hindley quotation above there is, amongst the reports of ballad-sellers in Newbury as canvassed in the last piece in this series, an 1882 reference:

The ancient ballad-singer, now nearly extinct, was represented by a company if three, two men and a woman (pardon the term), who bawled out verses that are dignified by being called “doggerel”.5
A report on the fair at Buckingham in 1861(again, as already cited in the previous piece in this series, Singers at large), is close in intimation:
…Of the discordant noises of the day, the nasal slang of the ballad-mongers stood out pre-eminent and drowned all other utterance, and the hang-gallows recitations of the performers of this class were so doleful and harsh-sounding, that it only added to the dismal character of the occasion…6
The ‘nasal twang’ of the report on Buckingham fair above is a familiar concept and,  further, Leslie Shepard quotes from one nineteenth century observer who wrote that dying confessions were ‘uttered by the Flying Stationer in a sing-song tone, with a well known nasal twang.’7 Balance this, though, with the observation by Roy Palmer’s informant, Jessie Howman, of a dolorous chant….8  One also recalls, from the previous piece on ballad-sellers the word ‘warblings’ as applied to ballad-mongers at Banbury in 18729 - where it might be best, all the same, to assume irony.   Another newspaper report, from the Michaelmas Fair at Banbury in 1860 noted ‘a goodly sprinkling of ballad singers, the majority of whose ditties [were] sung in the same lugubrious key…10: one cannot help but wonder, in this case, how close to the singers the reporter had got and whether or not this was more of a general comment on a level of noise rather than accurate musical perception.

Someone who evidently did get near was the Irish poet, William Allingham, describing a young man whose ‘vocal excellence consists in that he twirls every word several times round his tongue, wrapt in the notes of a soft, husky, tremulous voice’; ‘a shriller strain, which proceeds from two female vocalists, standing face to face, and yelling down each other’s throats’; and ‘A little elderly man’ who ‘accompanies his comic song with a fiddle’ (our ‘chaunter’?).  There is no reason to doubt that this description, whilst it pertains to Ireland, also carries some weight for England; but we should, again, take account of the subtle differences in description.11

Another observer, this time in England, at the time of the trial of Constance Kent for the alleged murder of her brother in 1865, noted of a ballad-seller that:

The vendor…”sung” a “copy of the verses” some of the lines of which were measured with a clothes prop and others with a three-foot rule.  The manner in which the vocalist huddled up the words of the long lines, and kept up the aspiration of the short ones to preserve unity was extremely amusing…12
Incidentally, this particular observer actually bought a copy of the verses and ended the report as follows:
“Pretty stuff” you will say.  That is just my opinion, but the literature sold by hundreds of copies.
How ‘pretty’ one may gauge:
Here is a maiden, young and fair, her age but twenty-two,
On earth a life of misery, this deed does surely rue.
Implore for mercy on the earth, the sorely does repent
The murder of ber brother dear, poor Francis Saville Kent.
Constance Kent was, in fact, sentenced to transportation for life.

To all this we may add the observations of Douglas Jerrold, who lived at the same time as those he was describing - and we surely detect a note of amusement at the expense of his subjects here - when he wrote of the ballad-singer who ‘bellowed music into news’, who ‘crowed forth the crowning triumphs of the war, and in his sweetest possible modulations breathed the promised blessings of a golden peace…’.13  One newspaper report described ‘shrieks14, another ‘the hawking songster droning out some ditty’.15

As summary of the descriptions given above, it is perhaps feeble enough to observe that singers, it appears, simply adapted their voices to immediate needs: the ability to be heard, the ability to sell - perhaps without giving too much of the particular story away.  Mayhew’s comments about the indistinct nature of words is appropriate here.

Further, as the letter about Bicester fair quoted in Ballad sellers at the fair showed:

Those fond of singing were supplied with a great variety of the most popular songs, the vendors thereof occasionally supplying a tune gratis.16
Indeed.  We have so little information as to where singers actually got their tunes.  We can assume oral transmission and there is some evidence of singers getting songs - as example - through their families; and we must credit the broadside trade as providing possibilities sometimes, it can be supposed, at the instigation of the particular singer or seller (perhaps mostly), sometimes as directed on the ballad-sheet.  The very variety of tunes that we find in some cases attached to the one song suggests no set pattern.  Yet there are songs which preserve a remarkable consistency - of both text and tune, it must be said - and, most certainly, some songs have become irrevocably welded to a particular tune.  Erin’s Lovely Home is one such; The Enniskillen Dragoon another; The Bonny Bunch of Roses a third: a subject capable of infinite digression, friendly disputation and intrigue.

As to a collective repertoire, amongst various newspaper reports, references range from the general to the absolutely specific.  The two following give the general impression, the first from Newbury, the second from Abingdon (both reports were cited previously).  At Newbury, then:

There were also the usual attendance of individuals who sang and sold songs to the tastes of all, comic songs, sentimental songs, patriotic songs, or any other songs….17
And at Abingdon, it was observed that, at the annual fair, one could find:
exponents of popular songs, including the latest ballad, beloved of errand boys….18
With a smidgin more of detail a report on the statute fair at Buckingham declared that:
SECOND STATUTE FAIR - This great annual gathering of the agricultural community took place on Saturday last under very favourable circumstances.  The ballad singers drove a very good trade with their three yards a penny war songs…19
We are thus reminded of both Mayhew’s long song sellers and of the current Crimean war as subject.

It may all suggest that anything and everything was in evidence and there is no doubt that there is much more to be collated than has been done below as far as range and content of ballads is concerned; but, concentrating on taking reports at face value, we can still be more precise in terms of what was available for the public as the following titles and details of pedigree indicate (the spread across the century is clear).

One report, dating from 1854, cites two songs…


…[At Oxford Station]…the starting of the 11.30 train…The carriages were all well and safely packed, and, there being a violinist, flageolet player, or some other itinerant musician in one or more of them, the “wonderful machine” went off to the tune of “Pop goes the weasel!” with a running accompaniment of running jokes and pleasant laughter…

…[In the Forest]…while from the distant centre of the encampment, the many-toned clang of musical instruments comes floating on the air, intermingles with the hum of any voices, and the surging diapason is only broken by the “small still” tinkling of a hurdy-gurdy close at hand, or the notes of a stray ballad singer, vociferating -

…”Pop goes the weasel!” may be a very captivating air when performed on a solitary hurdy-gurdy, but its effect is astonishing in the extreme when the performance is joined by several rural brass bands, with the aid of drums, gongs, and other dreadfully sonorous accompaniments.20
Pop Goes the Weasel appears to have dated from the very late eighteenth century as a tune (but may have further antecedents).  The familiar words, ‘Half a pound of tuppeny rice…’ and so on, were a nineteenth century extension although it is not clear as to quite what they refer to, there being more than one explanation.  As far as can be gathered the verses did not appear in broadside form.  The tune was also used for The Haymakers dance where the progressive line turns under an arch made by one of the couples.

‘Charlie Nap-i-er’, as the rhyme has it, was Admiral Sir Charles Napier (1786-1860), known as ‘Black Charlie’, apparently a somewhat belligerent commander amongst his peers, who, just prior to the issue this ballad, was involved in a Baltic expedition. Immediately after the Baltic campaign the British navy went to the Crimea which event is encapsulated in the lines of the ballad quoted above.

Moving on: another reference helps to underline the nature of what, exactly, any reporter might be hearing or not hearing, giving both a general impression and then a brief reference to one song in particular:

Noisy ballad singers, - gifted with a ‘forty-thousand power’ of bawling - were not only sure of an audience when singing a warlike song, but speedily disposed of the exciting production, until the stock was completely exhausted.  Ragged urchins and more respectable looking members of the “fast generation” were either whistling or singing the at present popular chorus -

The army and the navy for ever, -
Three cheers for the red, white and blue…21

This snatch of the ballad is a reference to The Red, White and Blue, a mid-century production which also elicited an Answer… and A New version… The piece is straightforwardly patriotic, with plenty of vague gestures:
May the wreath Nelson wore never wither,
Nor the star of his glory grow dim…
the reply to which plea must inevitably be precisely the faith expressed in the lines first quoted above and in the newspaper report in question.  Date of first issue is not clear but a song about the Crimean War, the Noble Alliance, was meant to be sung to the tune of Red, White and Blue, and this gives us a tentative period of issue.22

Other songs - strictly, another subject-matter - emerge in the following report on the Michaelmas fair at Banbury in 1860…

…Of cheap Jacks, and other noisy adjuncts to a country fair, there were abundance, including a goodly sprinkling of ballad singers, the majority of whose ditties…bore reference to Sayers and Heenan…  Such with the addition of the balls at the Plough and other public houses, formed the main inducement for the fair-going and pleasure-loving public…23
The newspapers were full of reports of the Heenan-Sayers fight, not simply as reportage of the event itself but in terms of the speculation surrounding it, the heavy betting that occurred, the aftermath when each contender essayed his worth and his excuses.   Sayers, the smaller Englishman, did not, in fact, fight again and reports suggest that, on balance, Heenan escaped in slightly better shape and so might be declared some kind of victor.  Various Heenan-Sayers songs gained popularity in America, not surprisingly considering Heenan’s birth there.  There were, too, other ballads based on fights that each character had with different opponents (and, of course, there were different fight-ballads as well).  However, the actual distribution of ballads about the Heenan-Sayers confrontation amongst printers in Britain does not appear to have been extensive.  Disley printed The Great Fight Between Sayers and Heenan and Fight for the Championship.  Fortey printed Settlement of the Great Fight…and in Manchester, Pearson put out Heenan and the Irish Yankee and Bebbington The Bold Irish Yankee Benicia Boy and then both printed Heenan and Sayers’ Struggle.  Lindsay, in Glasgow, printed The Bold Benicia Boy.  There are also others ballads without imprint.  But there is no evidence that the bulk of printers around Britain took up the cause.24  One can only say, firstly, that dissemination does not depend on saturation and then, secondly, that if news and speculation about the fight were in the air then it would be no surprise to find the ballads made on the subject being sold at fairs.

At Banbury in 1873 another red-hot event was being celebrated as…‘ballad singers found audiences to listen to the woes of “Sir Roger”…’. 25  This most likely refers to the trial of Sir Roger Tichborne, currently running.  Several ballads were printed, mostly attempts at humour.   Disley, for instance, got the bit between his teeth and there are several copies from him of different ballads; Fortey printed at least one ballad and Harkness another; but, otherwise, as in the case of Heenan and Sayers, broadside printers as a body do not appear to have responded to the breaking story.   It may be that there is still evidence as yet unlocated and there is the possibility that printers and sellers and singers outside London relied on the news and a printed ballad issuing from the capital.26

A third example of possibilities surrounding a contemporary event is that of a Thames shipwreck.  At Wallingford, in 1878:

Our long established Michaelmas hiring and pleasure fair was held on Monday and Tuesday last…two or three Cheap Johns perseveringly plied their calling, as also did a vendor of the “Fearful wreck of the Princess Alice,” and other ballad singers…27
The Fearful Wreck of the Princess Alice must have been a piece about the sinking of a steamship at Woolwich in 1878 - not even out on the ocean - with the loss in excess of 550 lives.  So far, no ballads have been located but, in spite of the fact that newspaper reports may be unreliable sometimes, as evidenced in previous pieces, it is reasonable to suppose that if a newspaper observer quoted a specific title then, as in the case of the Heenan-Sayers and Tichborne ballads, such material did exist.

We recall, too, the portrait of that ‘hoary headed old man led along by a woman blind of one eye, when they screamed, with mouths all awry…

Now twig the young lasses as they go along,
With oyster-shell bonnet and dandy chignon…28
These lines are from a piece entitled, unsurprisingly, Oyster-shell Bonnet and Dandy Chignon, which certainly appeared in a printing from Fortey (and also from Brereton in Dublin) but nowhere else as far as has so far been ascertained.  It goes alongside other pieces on ladies’ fashions such as Lady’s Bustles and The Dolly Vardon Hat and can be accounted as being particularly ephemeral.29

And, very late in the day (1898), the Abingdon Herald reported 'the hawking songster droning out some ditty with reference to the doing of the G.O.M.’ at St. Giles’ Fair.  Gladstone had died on 19th May 1898.30   No evidence for a ballad on the GOM alone appears to be extant although there are one or two pieces which invoke Gladstone’s name.  Merry’s piece, cited in an earlier contribution to this series, is an example.

Following on in terms of the specificity outlined above, a report on the Banbury Michaelmas Fair in 1857 noted that:

…The martial character of past fairs was completely banished…if one excepts the “portraits” of Nena Sahib and the Indian Mutiny, the songs being such as the “Farmer’s Boy,” and “Lily Dale.” “Dr. Palmer the poisoner” seemed as entirely forgotten as the Russian war…31
William Palmer was one of several poisoners who featured during the mid-century and was thought have poisoned his children by dipping his finger in arsenic and coating it with honey and then getting the children to suck his finger.  However, his supposed victims extended way beyond the family and it was his apparent murder of Annie Thornton, the daughter of a drunken housekeeper and her lover (who had shot himself, unable to bear her progressive ravings), which trapped Palmer.  He was hung at Stafford in 1856.

The case of Nena (Nana) Sahib was one that comes under the general heading of the Indian Mutiny of 1857.  Baji Rao II, a Maratha prince, bestowed his title and monies on his son, Nena Sahib.  However, Lord Dalhousie (1812-1860), the then governor-general of India (between 1847-1856) had twice disputed the claim and, during the hostilities of 1857, Nena Sahib led an army of sepoys to Cawnpore where, it appears, Sir Hugh Wheeler, governor of the city, was trapped in his palace and killed and the remaining British massacred.  At least one ballad is extant, named The Indian War, in which reference to Nena Sahib is made.

Cruel Nena Sahib their king to please
All the British they could seize
Were tied in hundreds to the trees,
    And murdered in India.
We cannot, of course, know if this was the ballad being sold…32

The contemporary aspect of the Banbury report is clear: post-Crimea, post mutiny and post-1856, the date of Palmer’s hanging.  But was the observer aware of the history of The Farmer’s Boy, say?  It is interesting to find it accorded particular status here.   The song, it has been suggested, has origins in the early nineteenth century.  Dixon and Bell, for instance, printing a version and citing their informant, a Mr. Denham of Piersebridge, who had written that ‘there is no question that the Farmer’s Boy is a very ancient song; it is highly popular amongst the north country lads and lasses’, nevertheless added that they thought:

The date of the composition may probably be referred to the commencement of the last century, where there prevailed amongst the ballad-mongers a great rage for Farmer’s Sons, Plough Boys, Milk Maids, Farmer’s Boys, &c. &c.  The song is popular all over the country, and there are numerous printed copies, ancient and modern.
They were certainly right about printings: at least a dozen on broadsides, spread through the country, all with a more or less consistent textual form.33

Of Lily Dale, it can be said that it was a conventional piece of scribbling and may date from mid-century mark.  The only records appear to be in various songsters and in printers’ catalogues: and the names of Marr and Kay in Glasgow, Walker, Pearson and Such can be found.34  In view of the suggested date of first appearance, for an observer to set it against the other pieces cited, as perhaps old versus new, or acceptable and not acceptable in some vague or even artistic or moral way, is merely to point out a difference in character rather than to offer an accurate historical and aesthetic perspective.

But another such distinction is made below in a report from Gloucester:

THE FUN OF THE FAIR [held in Barton Street]

…[the crowds were] listening to Cheap Jacks and the ballads-singers…

…Finding so little fun in the fair, I stepped aside to pick up a wrinkle at what was intended and announced at a meeting of agricultural labourers, to be held in Barley Close [an area adjacent to Barton Street].  There was indeed a gathering of some 50 people or more…  Why the very ballad-mongers were hoarsely croaking, to the accompaniment of a wheezy accordion, songs urging the labourers to “Strike, boys, strike,” for nine hours a day and better pay, and for all sorts of unattainable things.  It would be better and pleasanter for all of us, including the “boys” themselves, if the wandering minstrels found their profit as of old in trilling homely pastoral ditties about “Darby and Joan,” and winding up with the familiar chorus -

There seems little doubt here that the reference to strikes was exactly contemporary.  There are several ‘strike’ ballads extant, and Disley printed one in particular on the strikes of 1872.  This ballad was essentially lighthearted in nature and not calculated to help the working man during a period of intense activity for fairer conditions, achieved in part by 1875 by the abolition of the Master and Servant Act and the concurrent removal of criminal proceedings which had followed any industrial action.   The final lines read as follows:
Master and man should both agree,
They only want fair play,
Every working man should do no work,
And have nine bob a day.36
Like the Nena Sahib ballad quoted above, it is not possible to say with any certainty that this was the ballad being circulated at the Gloucester fair but the import of the ballad might indicate a similar kind in circulation.  A question remains: who was being entertained by such a ballad?

Darby and Joan were already well-established characters - a symbol of a happy couple in advancing age, first promulgated, it seems, in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1735 by a Henry Woodfall and given at least one mid-nineteenth-century voice in a poem by Frederick Edward Weatherby.  No contemporary broadside copies have so far been located (but one was, apparently, issued as far back as 1748).

As well as the largely contemporary ballads noted above there is evidence of ballads which pursued subjects that had lingered in the memory long after the event that promulgated them.  Firstly, in one of the very few reports so far discovered that illuminate the presence of ballad-singer and sellers at Cirencester Mop (even though it is less than direct), in 1869, the observer, lamenting the decline of the occasion, noted that ‘the tragedy of “Maria Martin or the Red Barn” [was] far more thrilling than anything we see now.’37  Two points arise.  The first is that the song dates from the murder which took place in 1827 and was, at its issue, very much in the line of contemporary comment.  The second is that its lingering popularity seems as much to do simply - or not so simply - with transmission through singing and through broadside publication than it has with quality and kind.  It may well have been a significant touchstone for the observer but such elevation of the Maria Martin ballad might be thought odd unless we assume a huge irony.

There is another memory available, from Studley, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, and the annual fair:

…there were the roundabouts and the ballad-singers; the visits of the latter seem to have been pretty frequent, and must have served to spread the news of the day, especially when they sang: Another ditty was - A sentiment that so offended some of the audience that they would get hold of a leg of a stool upon which the singer had perched himself, bringing him to the ground, and the song to an abrupt conclusion.38
The ‘Bonney’ reference, we would ordinarily associate the reference with Morris dancing (at Longborough and Oddington, for instance) and the lines quoted above as being sung as a kind of chorus - as The Old Woman Tossed Up in a Blanket appears to have been.  However, Batchelar printed a piece entitled Swaggering Boney and Lane and Walker one with the title of Runaway Boney or The White Cockade which included the refrain:
Well done, Boney, swaggering Boney,
Runaway Boney, where are you now?
The subject was Bonaparte’s defeat in Russia (the piece began with ‘God prosper the Russians, the victory is theirs’) and references to the Emperor of Austria and to Blucher suggest a date before Waterloo.  On the same sheet, Lane and Walker included a poem entitled Peace which itself referred to Wellington and Blucher and what appears to be a subsequent state of peace and may, therefore, together with the first, Russian, references, help to circle in on a date of issue.39

The second set of lines raises even more questions, since references to the adoption of ‘linsay-woolseys’ in hard times, particularly after wars, are well-worn.  The problem is that no dates for the memory were given; but the reference to Napoleon and the ending of the war suggests a date of issue around 1815.  It and the ‘Bonney’ reference certainly mirror the astonishing popularity of ‘Napoleonic’ songs in England.

And Nelson made another appearance at Bicester in 1864, being dead some sixty years.


On Friday last [7th], the Michaelmas Show or Pleasure Fair was held in Market-place, Bicester.  Early in the morning began the sharp crack of rifles at the galleries; the distracting sounds of gongs and organs in all directions; the blast of trumpets; the shrieks of ballad-singers…and ever and anon the strains of Whitechapel tars as they sang to their “kynd Christian friends” of the prowess of Nelson or the eternal wonders of “Trafalgar’s bay.”…40

The last observation would appear to identify John Brahams’ song, The Death of Nelson, whose first line includes the phrase ‘Trafalgar’s bay’.  If so, it would have been a remarkable occurrence.  The piece, in the form of air and recitative is hugely complicated in comparison with the majority of songs that we would expect to be sung.  The apparent incoherence of the noise - ‘singing’ - of Mayhew’s characters is perhaps worth a nod in this case.  The piece dates from 1811 and appeared in S. J. Arnold’s opera, The Americans, but it was Braham as singer who made it famous.41

‘Whitechapel tars’ were those who chose to sing but whose background was certainly not that of the navy…a way of characterising ballad-singers who must have picked up their wares directly from printers or amongst themselves.  In a similar way, a report in the Banbury Guardian referred to ‘sham miners’ who ‘sang ditties about the dangers of working underground’ and another report, this time from Gloucester, noted the appearance at Barton Fair of ‘the brawny bagpiper in plaid, who never crossed the border’.42

As the century wore on, we still find the current crazes well represented.  Both Sanderson and Such had Wait till the Clouds Roll By in their catalogues: so that we have a potential date of issue during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Where Did You Get That Hat?, one of the longest-lasting of music-hall songs,  was written and composed in 1888 by a James Rolmaz and sung by J. C. Heffron (sometimes spelled Haffron).  Sanderson had this also in his catalogue.  Daisy Bell appeared late, in 1892, was written by Henry Dacre, and made famous by Miss Katie Lawrence in music-hall.  There is a story attached to the piece to the effect that when Dacre, who was English, first visited America, he took his bicycle with him and complained that he had then to pay duty on it.  He was told that he was lucky that it had not been built for two for he would then have to pay twice the duty.  The rest is - obvious.43

In these cases we are again dealing with contemporary subject-matter and this throws into relief not just the phenomenon and its exceptions but the preferences of observers as indicated in one of those brief notices by now familiar to us:


…There was no dancing booth; but that fact did not at all detract from the interest of the fair…the ballad singers took up their old love-themes….44

Yet ballad-sellers and singers were themselves subject to necessity and would probably have thought the contemporary comment to have been most useful as return for immediate cash.  Clearly, too, this leads us to suppose further that broadside printers had an eye to the main chance and strengthens the evidence that taste or, rather, the building of a hierarchy of material, had nothing to do with the distribution of broadsides.  The majority of the songs noticed above have a history of printed issue (some details of which have been set out in part either in the text above or in footnotes).  We still do not have much evidence to show just how any one song got into a singer’s mouth but there may have been both a direct or an indirect tie-up with printed matter.  The possibility must be admitted as much as oral transmission as agency as the examples of Elijah Iles and Lucy Broadwood’s informant given in the last piece in the series indicates.  The point is that there did exist a concurrence of songs as heard and songs as found in print, however many times removed from source the acquisition of a song was.  And this suggests that the ballad-printers seem to have got it right as far as their particular public was concerned; or that they created a demand.

There is, too, a burgeoning apprehension, through naming of songs and certain accompanying remarks, of a rudimentary distinction in kind.  It seems that, when describing ballad sellers and ballad singers, observers had in mind persons and their repertoire which differed from contemporary manifestations.  Given the element of nostalgia that pervades many reports, ballad sellers and singers were seen to be the inheritors of an older activity which had its own store of songs.  In this respect, there may well have been a coalescence of Mayhew’s patterers with ballad sellers and singers, but the consensus in newspapers is not quite the same; and ‘injured colliers’, ‘nigger singers’ and ‘Whitechapel tars’ tend to be viewed as being of a different order.

This, in turn, begins to throw light on the term, as used in connection with Elizabeth Cross in Keith Chandler’s piece on this site - to whit, ‘old’ English songs.45  Of course, doubts about the observers’ competence to judge must still accrue as suggested above.  Did they have any clear idea about what might constitute older stock?  How does the invocation of The Farmer’s Boy and Lily Dale fit into any pattern?  If there was a growing conflict between the views of observers and the continuing process of ballad-printing, was this necessarily a matter of decline in social or aesthetic sense?  In the evidence given above there is nothing related to garlands, nothing of Pitts, Catnach, Evans and Jennings.  Instead, the names of the mid-century printers such as Disley, Fortey, Harkness and then Such are more prominent.  But such a shifting of emphasis in the lines of production seems merely to mirror a generational change and a reflection of shifts in fashion - which is what newspaper observers lamented - but is not to formulate a hierarchy of acceptable or unacceptable material amongst singers.

The locational point for any judgement might well lie in how singers saw themselves.  Unfortunately, as a rule, we lack detailed accounts of particular repertoires and their genesis as they can be found amongst the singers who make up the greater part of what is termed the English ‘folk-song’ revival, our principal means of gauging the business of singing during the nineteenth centuries.   Obviously, then, much work needs to be done both for intrinsic interest and as a way of unravelling the workings of traditional repertoire and of transmission.  Some of the questions, explicit and implicit, posed in the piece above and the two preceding it might then receive answers.

Roly Brown - 18.6.04
Cherves-Chatelars, France


1 - Yet again, I must express my gratitude to Keith Chandler (South Leigh, Oxon) for his kindness in sharing references from his own research.  I would also like to thank the staffs of the libraries at Newbury, Swindon, Reading and Plymouth; at the record offices at Trowbridge and Winchester, at the Oxford Local Studies centre, the West Country Studies library in Exeter…; and, as always, Malcolm Taylor and his staff at VWML for their help over a long period.  Again, too, I must thank the Bodleian and Cambridge University Libraries for permission to reprint extracts from their collections.

2 - See Leslie Shepard: John Pitts: Ballad Printer… (London, Private Libraries Association, 1969), p.55.

3 - For all Mayhew references given above see Henry Mayhew: London Life and the London Poor (London, Frank Cass, 1967 edn.), pps. 221-235.

4 - Charles Hindley: The History of the Catnach Press…1887 (Detroit, Reissued by the Singing Tree Press, 1969), p.viii.

5 - Newbury Weekly News, 19th October, 1882, unpag..

6 - Banbury Guardian, 23rd October 1861, p.3: Buckingham Fair on 18th October.

7 - Leslie Shepard: op cit, p.48.  The quotation was from an article entitled Literature of the Streets in J. & R. M. Wood: Typographical Advertiser (Vol. 1, 1 London, March 1868).

8 - Roy Palmer: The Folklore of Gloucestershire (Tiverton, West Country Books, 1994), p.243.

9 - Banbury Beacon, 25th October 1872, p.4.

10 - Banbury Guardian, 25th October 1860, p.2.

11 - Household Words, No. 94, 10th January, 1852.  The present references are from a copy, re-published in Ceol: A Journal of Irish Music, Vo. III, No. I, September. 1967, pp.2-20.

12 - North Wilts Herald, 30th September 1865, p.5.

13 - Charles Hindley, op cit, p.xxxix.

14 - Abingdon Herald, 10th September 1898, p. 7.  This reference is used again in the text below.

15 - Bicester Herald, 21st October 1864, p.7, describing the Bicester Michaelmas Show Fair. This reference, like the last, is used again below.

16 - Bicester Herald, 9th October 1863, p.7.

17 - Newbury Weekly News, 20th October 1887, p.5.  The newspaper shuttled between pagination and non-pagination at this time.

18 - Abingdon Herald, 9th October 1897, p.8.

19 - Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette, 2 October 1855, p.8.

20 - Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette, 16th September 1854, p.5.

21 - Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette, 8th September 1855, p.4.

22 - The second two lines quoted come from a copy of the ballad printed by Such (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 13(81)). For The Noble Alliance, see Allegro archive: Hodges as Johnson Ballads 570.

23 - Banbury Guardian, 25th October 1860, p.2 - Banbury Michaelmas fair, 18th October.

24 - References are to the following: Disley (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 19(4)) and…Crampton collection 8: 207 (Roud database);  Fortey (VWML Madden 78/942); Pearson (although the only record is in Pearson’s catalogue - Roud database); Bebbington (Allegro archive as Harding B 13(7); Pearson and Bebbington both…(Allegro archive, Pearson as Harding B 13(12) and Bebbington as Firth c 19(6)); Lindsay (Allegro archive as 2806c. 15(285)).

25 - Banbury Guardian, 23rd October 1873, p.2.

26 - All the following examples appear in the Bodleian Allegro archive - Disley: The Great Tichborne Trial as Johnson Ballads fol. 354 on which an author is named as C. T. McN. Evans (there are other copies too) and - again Disley - Roger or not Roger…as Johnson Ballads fol. 43b; We’ll not forget poor Roger now as Harding B 12(224) - n.i. - there are two other copies in the archive, both without imprint; Sentence of the Claimant on Harding B 133(79), no imprint, but an author’s name, G. M. Lowery; and The Tichborne Case and The End of the Tichborne Case on Harding B 12(221) and (Harding B 13(73)), both from Harkness…

27 - Abingdon and Reading Herald, 5th October 1878, p.5.

28 - Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 12th September 1868, p.5 where the report is referring to the annual St. Giles’ Fair at Oxford.

29 - For Ladies’ Bustles, see, as examples, Bodleian Allegro archive, n. i., as Harding B 15(65b) and The Ladies’ Bustles, Hodges, as Harding B 16(123a) and for examples of The Dolly Varden Hat(s) see Allegro archive - Harkness as Harding B 13(73) and Disley as Firth c. 21(132) - there are also some copies without imprint in the archive.   Incidentally, Walter Pardon sang this (see Jim Carroll’s and Pat Mackenzie’s Nflk tape 67:7).  Other fashion notes can be found as The Ladies Bonnets and Chignons (Allegro archive, Disley as Firth c. 91(109); Ladies’ Fashions, or Hoops and Flounces and Flounce to your Gown - both  n. i., Allegro archive as Firth c. 21(91) and Answer to Ladies’ Crinolines from Lindsay, Allegro archive as 2806c. 13(87) - curious since no record of a piece on Ladies Crinolines can be located.

30 - Abingdon Herald, 10th September 1898, p.7. 

31 - Banbury Guardian, 22nd October 1857, p.1.

32 - The ballad was put out by James Lindsay in Glasgow (see Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 14(84).  The author was a John Wilson and he seems to have showed some disregard of actuality in favour of Indian wickedness  - and than British triumph in arms.  The Cawnpore massacre, as it became known, was first a matter of gunning down escaping British civilians whilst they were crossing a river…There is also a line of story which suggests that survivors were subsequently sold into slavery and immediately butchered.

33 - James Henry Dixon: Songs of the Peasantry (edited by Robert Bell, London, Charles Griffin and Co., n.d.), pp.148-149.   Printed examples include Talbot, Cambridge (Madden Reel 86, No. 78); Swindells, Manchester (Madden Reel 85, No. 225); Keys, Exeter (Madden Reel 90, No. 14); Ross, Newcastle (Madden Reel 83, No. 555)).  There are, it should be said, two printings, one from Catnach and one without imprint, which have a different tale: they hardly count as against the majority - but do underline Dixon’s contention about widespread interest in things agricultural (see Madden Reel 74, No. 603 - Catnach - and Madden Reel 81, No. 745…).  These two printings offer a story which is almost a precursor to the familiar one: one in which father dies, mother loses the farm, the child becomes an orphan and seeks employment.

34 - The song also travelled across the Atlantic.  A name, that of H. S. Thompson, is given on one copy as author in 1852.  Sometimes the piece can found as Lilly Dale (Walker, Pearson and Such catalogues).  All this information is from Steve Roud’s invaluable sets of data.

35 - Gloucester Journal, 15th October 1872, p.5.

36 - Disley’s piece can be fond in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 16(259).

37 - Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, 11th October, 1869, p.4.  This reference was kindly sent to me by Andrew Bathe (Cirencester).

38 - Wiltshire Notes and Queries, Vol. 1 1893-1895, p.306…under the heading, Bygone Days.

39 - For Batchelar, see Madden Reel 74, No. 733.  Jennings also printed Swaggering Boney (Bodleian Allegro archive as Curzon b. 33(189) but the piece is only available as a reference).  For Lane and Walker - and inclusive of Peace - see Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 11 (3367); there is another Lane and Walker printing of Runaway Boney as B 25(1677).  They also printed a ballad with the title of A new song of a bad shilling to the tune of Runaway Boney as Harding B 16(8c).  It has not been possible yet to view all these pieces in their full glory, so a more clear genesis and pedigree is not offered here.

40 - Bicester Herald, 21st October 1864, p.7.

41 - A piece on Nelson songs is in preparation.

42 - Banbury Guardian, 23rd October 1873, p.2.   Note also references to ‘disabled sailors and colliers’ at Banbury (Banbury Guardian 21st October 1869, p.2) and to ‘disabled miners’ (Banbury Guardian, 20th October 1870, p.2),  For Gloucester, see Gloucester Journal, 1st October 1859, p.3.  All these instances are also mirrored in various reports from the Newbury Weekly News.

43 - Details given immediately above as do others in the text here come from searching the web.

44 - Banbury Guardian, 23rd October 1856, p.2.

45 - See The Singing Miller (Enthusiasms No. 34 and my gloss in Enthusiasms No. 35).

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