Article MT155

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 13: Besley of Exeter1

There is a glimpse of a Besley firm specifically concerned with printing broadside ballads in Robert Thompson's thesis on the broadside ballad trade (1975) in a list of stockists of such sheets and of ephemera who had set up in places like Birmingham, Coventry and Bristol at some stage near to the end of the eighteenth century.2  The Besley concerned must have been Thomas (born 1760) though by 1816, according to the Exeter street directory, there were two Thomas Besleys in operation, father and son, the elder at Bell Hill (later called Bell Hill, South Street) and the younger in the High Street.  Henry, another son, born in 1800, was taken into partnership by his father - Thomas senior - in 1825 until 1834 when the partnership was apparently dissolved and the father died; after which the firm printed under Henry's name until 1872 and as Henry Besley and Son between 1873 and 1897.

This much seems straightforward but census details reveal complications.  For instance, whilst Henry Besley was recorded in 1841 as living at 76 South Street with his wife, Caroline (28, born 'in county'), and three children, Lucy (4), John (2) and Caroline (1), in 1851 his wife's name was given as Redelpha (30, born Cambridgeshire) and although we might assume that 14 year old Lucy Ann was the Lucy of the 1841 census, there is no sign of either John or Caroline but, instead, of Robert H (3) and Alice (1) - plus a servant, Mary Arscott and a nurse, Mary Ann Richards.  In 1861 Henry's name did not appear at all whilst that of Redelpha was given as Head of the family and childrens' names as Robert H (13), Charles E H (4), George H (7); plus the names of Charlotte Colwell, a servant and a visitor, Mary Belson.  By 1871 Redelpha was gone as well as Henry and Robert's name given as Head.  There was a George H (17), Charles H (14), a Walter H (8) (and Susan Richards, a servant).  The fortunes of the family, especially of Henry, do not quite accord, then, with the progress of the firm as printers noted in street directories.  Certainly a Caroline Besley of Exeter died in 1843.  It might also have been the case with children and, equally, that they may have removed through work or marriage.  But the absence of Henry's name in 1861 throws a peculiar light on proceedings, because, although he could simply have been absent from home during the census-take, the assumption of the title, Head of household, by Redelpha might indicate a separation in the family, making it seem strange that the firm still operated under Henry's name (more checking is, of course, under way). 

We do know that the firm eventually became known as Besley and Copp during the early years of the twentieth century and that the Besley address at South Street appears to have been used during the whole period from 1825 up into the twentieth century, though house numbers varied.  It also looks as if the Besley firm concerned itself only with printing, there being no records indicating work of a jobbing nature such as acting as insurance agent or selling stamps … a little unusual in a Devon context as the previous piece on Devon printers suggests.  Perhaps a full range of printing activity was sufficient for continuing success.  In this respect, Ian Maxted offers the information that there is an almanac for 1850, trade directories for 1861 and an election item from the 1830s, plus routes books for the period 1844-1877, hand books between 1846 and 1874, and various vignettes during the mid-century mark and after.  It is possible that Henry was involved in the production of Besley's Devonshire Chronicle and Exeter News between 1837 and 1850 (a successor to Besley's Exeter News and Devon County Chronicle, issued between 1821 and 1827) but this seems to have been the province of his brother, Thomas.

Henry died in 1886 but, judging by the details of broadside printings as set out below, the firm, at that stage, had no current interest in such activity.

This, bar one or two details, which fill out but do not extend the outline given above, is as much as we know about the family business.  Unfortunately, all records were destroyed during the Second World War.3

This piece reviews the Besley stock as it appears in the Madden collection (available at VWML - there is also a set in the British Library).  In its Madden guise there are thirty-odd sheets with a total of some sixty-four texts on them.4 A few texts such as The Soldier's Tear - a Bayly piece (see below) with music by George Alexander Lee (1802-1852) - were issued more than once.  Details of individual pieces are given below but it has not always proved possible to be comprehensive and some notes may appear to be partial.  The object, in any case, was not so much to give a full printing history of a piece or a full biography of a known author but to consider the ways in which the Besley imprint functioned with regard to potential source-material and so to gain a view of the overall character of the Besley stock.  Again, however, searching out details of text is a continuing task.

The stock does offer immediate clues to genesis and parameters of active issue.  For example, Tom Bowling was written by Charles Dibdin and first appeared in 1798.  The text of Bay of Biscay O! was written by Andrew Cherry (1762-1812), an Irishman, whose play The Soldier's Daughter was produced at the Drury Lane theatre in 1804 'with much applause'.  The Bay of Biscay O! was set to music by John Davy, a Devon blacksmith's son around 1805 (Cherry's other well-known piece is The Green Little Shamrock).5  What A Shocking Bad Hat, as a different kind of example, centres on a journey to London to vote in the reform Bill debate and includes references to Wellington, Grey and Peel.  This, naturally, suggests a date of issue around 1832.  An overall period of activity is immediately posited, capable of tentative extension as indicated below.

One piece has a distinctly local origin; namely A New Song Composed by Thomas Heydon of Stratton, Cornwall.  On a most Dreadful Shipwreck, that happened at a place called Widemouth, near the harbour of Bude, and the Town of Stratton, on the 23rd November, 1824.  No trace of Thomas Heydon has so far been found in census returns; but the event surely happened.  The Royal Cornwall Gazette recorded that:

… the Happy Return of Lyne, Kerridge, master, from Dublin to London; was driven ashore in Widemouth Bay at six p.  m.
The master and mate apparently swam ashore, the master dying during the night and the mate returning to the ship 'to afford assistance to his son' whereupon 'both father and son died in the cabin during the night.'  The ballad speaks of looting but there is no mention in the newspaper.  The cargo, it was reported, was saved.6

This piece was a rare concession in Besley stock to local events.  There is but the one reference to election squibs as given above (but its presence may just suggest further involvement, hithertoo undiscovered).  It should be noted also that it is an issue from the house of T and H Besley, thus indicating the period of production between 1825 and 1834 outlined above even though the date of the poem is early.  The only other piece clearly identified as having come from the same house combination is the copy of The Bay of Biscay O! All other copies simply have the name Besley on them.

The bulk of Besley's stock can be found in amongst that of either Pitts or Catnach or both.  Only seventeen items appear not to be so found.  If Thomas Besley senior was himself involved in the production of broadsides then we have a situation where the Besley imprint at least paralleled - may even have pre-dated - dates of production of the London duo.  We will also see that the Besley firm pursued its activities after the demise of both Pitts and Catnach and, in one or two cases, pieces can be compared with issue from mid-century printers in London.  There is a circumstantial case, then, for 'borrowing' on Besley's part, which would not be uncharacteristic of printers as has already been seen during the course of this series, and this 'borrowing' need not have been confined to Pitts and Catnach.  Equally, the Besley firm may have acted on its own initiative in securing material from - so to speak - various non-broadside sources.  There is always a handicap in not knowing exactly where and how a particular piece was absorbed.

Older stock in the Besley list is conspicuous by its absence.  The Gosport Tragedy (one recalls its appearance as printed by Healey in Exeter) was printed by Pitts, Catnach, Jennings, Davenport and Evans and, through this set of names, can be seen to have entered familiar broadside repertoire during an early nineteenth century period; besides being also found in the stock of Dicey and Marshall issued from Aldermary Churchyard between 1764 and 1775; and, further, to be found in the Roxburghe collection where a date of 1750 is given for genesis.7  Otherwise, where older or what one might describe as conventional stock is concerned, the Besley stable is not blessed.

The King and the Countryman, sometimes the West Countryman, earned the widest accolade.  The familiar names appear: Pitts, Catnach and their successors, Birt (who offered a parody), Hodges and Disley, indicating continuing popularity or printers' endeavour to sustain a piece in stock.  'Country' printers include Marshall in Newcastle (a catalogue reference only), Wright, Pratt and Russell in Birmingham, Williams in Portsea, Wilson in Cambridge, Harkness in Preston, Swindells in Manchester, Forth in Pocklington, Freeman in Northampton, Mason in Belper.  The assembly of well-known and lesser-known printers obviously suggest a wide distribution and dates of printing down to Disley indicate a considerable life-span.  There were, in addition, one or two appearances in Songster form.  In Devon, both Besley and Keys printed the piece.8

There was an old chap in the west country,
   A flaw in his lease the lawyers had found,
'Twas all about felling of five oak trees,
   And building a house upon his own ground.
                  Ri too ra loo &c
In suitable manner, the rustic visited King George at Windsor, got him to sign the lease and was further rewarded by the gift of a shilling.  The piece includes an element of dialect pronunciation.

In familiar broadside terms The Yarmouth Tragedy appeared as an early manifestation of the trade in London from Bow churchyard and Aldermary churchyard, from Stonecutter Street, and from Evans, Pitts and Davenport.  In addition, Dicey and Marshall had it in catalogue.  Apart from this it had a perhaps strangely limited distribution - Turner in Coventry, Swindells in Manchester, Wright in Birmingham, Symonds in London; and, in Scotland, Randall in Stirling and Hutchison in Glasgow.  There were also catalogue listings - Pearson, Sanderson, Fordyce, Lane, Johnson.  As fashions changed, the piece seems to have slipped out of printed repertoire.9

In the case of The Pretty Chambermaid, distribution seems to have been even more limited.  Apart from Johnson's catalogue, there is a Johnston (Falkirk) reference from 1801.  After that, Catnach, Pitts and George Walker in Durham seem to be the only printers to have taken the piece up - other than Besley, that is.  In terms of genesis and pedigree it does not appear, for instance, in the Roxburghe or Pepys collections but is, in language, characteristic of older stock … it concerns an amorous squire:

   Next morning came the parson's wife,
For scandal was her trade;
I saw your squire, ma'am: on my life,
Great with your chambermaid.
When, cry'd my lady, where, and how,
I'll soon discharge the jade;
Beneath the mulberry tree, I vow,
He kiss'd your chambermaid.10
There appear, likewise, to have been limits to distribution where Wives' Lamentation is concerned.  Basically it is to Pitts and Catnach that we look, plus Hodges (who, in one sense, because he inherited, does not count) and, of course, Besley.  The piece is a lament: 'I wish I was a maid again, as I was ten years ago' because the husband is a 'drunken sot'.  In this case, though, the language is more redolent of a slightly later age, perhaps early nineteenth century.11

The Female Auctioneer appeared, not in the guise offered by the majority of printers - in London, Pitts and Catnach, Phair, Birt (like Hodges, an inheritor), Neeson and Batchelar, or the printings from Pratt in Birmingham, Huntley in Sunderland, or Willey in Cheltenham (elsewhere in catalogues from Fordyce, Birt and Pitts).  The normal opening stanza began as follows:

Well, here I am, and what of that,
   Methinks I hear you cry,
Why I am come, and what is pat,
   To see if you will buy … 12
before lines which form Besley's complete stanza:
A female auctioneer I stand,
   Tho' not for idle pelf,
Ah! No, the lot I have in hand,
   Is now to sell myself,
        And I'm going, going,
        Who bids for me?
In other words, Besley's is a cut-down version which might just suggest an independent cast of mind after perusal of the usual form of the piece.  On the other hand, this would appear to be a rare example of such manipulation of text in the Besley stock.

Finally, for possible inclusion in this nexus, Lovers All - restricted to Besley and one copy without imprint - tells a tale of a sailor captured by Turks, reminiscent in a slight way of Lord Bateman but, unusually, set off Newfoundland.  It seems to have been a piece exploiting wild tales not uncharacteristic of the period when pirates from Algiers and, by extension, other foreign nations, captured both sailors and travellers and the imagination, a period older than the Besley imprint.  It begins:

You lovers all, I pray draw near,
   The truth I will discover,
'Tis of a lass liv'd in Belfast,
   She lov'd a jolly sailor …
All these pieces inhabit a kind of transitional period between inheritance from black-letter balladry and the onrush of more contemporary pieces which reveal a metamorphosis in diction, a gradual lapse in narrative prominence and an absence of archetype, and the substitution of a lighter, lyrical appeal.  This must perforce reflect a change in social structure and habits and a gleam in the eyes of broadside printers as a valuable source of income presented itself.  Pitts and Catnach, we already know, were quick to seize this opportunity and present material from the various epochs, sometimes in conjunction.  No less Besley although, as will be seen, his emphasis is most definitely placed on his own contemporary world and its output.

Of the practice of 'borrowing', whether direct or indirect through such as Pitts and Catnach, there can be no doubt amongst the many printings drawn from the world of popular entertainment; for example, from the pen of John Robinson Planchι (1796-1880), librettist of Weber's Oberon, who was also prolific in his own right, issuing legitimate opera, burlesque and separate songs as well a book on English stage costume.  He was involved with several of the leading lights of the contemporary entertainment world including Samuel Arnold whose own opera productions were numerous; and when Arnold's business venture failed, was in the running for managership of the Adelphi theatre … Planchι's own poverty, alas, prevented this.  He married Elizabeth St George, a playwright, in 1833; collaborated with Charles Dance in light variety and, between 1831 and 1839, fruitfully for both parties, with Eliza Vestris, a popular singer of the day (there are more references to her below), and her second husband, C J Mathews.  Two of Planchι's most well-received productions were his own play, Charles XIIth (1828 - John Braham, the much celebrated singer, was associated with productions of Charles XIIth) and The Brigand (1829), both fuzzing the edges of opera and drama in a way typical of the time when the theatre-going public demanded variety - as discussed below.  Planchι's piece Rise, Gentle Moon, with music by John Barnett (for Barnett, see also below), came from Charles XIIth, appeared in 1833, was associated with the singing of John Braham and entered Besley stock:

Day has gone down; on the Baltic's
   bright billow,
Evening has sighed her last to the lone
willow …
The Brigand, in turn, provided Love's Ritornella (first appearing with a musical setting by T Cooke), for the Besley list:
Gentle Zitella, wither away!
   Love's ritornella, list while I play.
No, I have linger'd too long on the
Night is advancing, the brigand's
      abroad …
In this case, there are many names cited in the text which now need reference to the opera before their full significance emerges.  A popular entertainment was being invoked but the piece hardly stands on its own feet, a suggestion that Besley was basking in the success of the original appearance of the text.  Planchι, incidentally, claimed that both words and air were his but that he received not a penny for either.

We might also note that Besley has occasioned an accidentally comic flavour by leaving out the first 'h' in 'whither'.13

There are also pieces associated with the name of Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839) - for example The Arab Steed, a piece, like others mentioned here, sung by Madame Vestris (and to be found in London Melodist c.1831) …

Oh, bring me but my Arab steed
   My princely Frenzi's right,
And I will to the battle speed,
   To guard him in the fight …14
As for Oh No We Never Mention Her (c.1828), Baring Gould recounted the story of a love affair between Bayly and a young lady at Bath which came to nought owing to the financial straits of both parties, consequent upon which Bayly penned the words:
They tell me she is happy now,
   The gayest of the gay,
They hint that she forgets me,
   But I heed not what they say:
Like me perhaps she struggles
   With each feeling of regret,
But if she loves as I have lov'd,
   She never can forget.
Sir Henry Bishop wrote music for the piece.15

Bayly's other contribution to the Besley stable (and elsewhere, of course) was a piece entitled We Met from his Songs of the Boudoir (1830) which repeats the strain of light melancholy already observed:

And once again we met,
   And a fair girl was near him,
He smil'd, and whisper'd low,
   As I once used to hear him.
She leant upon his arm,
   Once 'twas mine and mine only,
I want, for I deserv'd to feel,
   Wretched and lonely.
In one way, Bayly followed Dibdin and Thomas Moore in popularity in the drawing-room context and was fortunate to have as musical collaborator Sir Henry Bishop; who, apparently, set over 130 of Bayly's lyrics.  One other of Bayly's pieces is familiar to us if through nobody else, then through the Copper family - The Mistletoe Bough.16  Clearly, Bayly enjoyed huge success and one may speculate that some pieces were popular less because of intrinsic merit than by association with the name - which same may be said about choice for a broadside printer's list.

There is also a further crop of pieces associated, like The Arab Steed, with Eliza Vestris, whose name has already surfaced in this series.  Green Hills of Tyrol is credited to Rossini's opera, William Tell but 'as sung by Miss Mellon' - Harriet Mellon, that is, an actress who became Sir Francis Burdett's second wife - and, perhaps differently, by Eliza Vestris.  The original libretto was in French, written by Etienne de Jou and Hippolyte Bio and the lyrics certainly do not appear in the opera in the form found on broadsides.  One can only assume a very free and very tentative connection to the opera - which opened in Paris in 1829 - and the language is very much that of scribbledom:

He comes, he comes, my Tyrolean!
Once more I behold him.
   My dear one! My fond one!
To my bosom I'll fold him,
   My own Tyrolean.
The piece as we have it was widely printed on broadside with Pitts and Catnach to the fore and the odd outrider such as Gibbs in Ledbury and Quick in London extending the familiar range of Harkness, Fordyce, Swindells and so on.17

Why are You Wand'ring here I Pray? was another Vestris piece - appearing on a Pitts sheet and elsewhere around 1828.18 It concerns an encounter between a maid and an old man who asks questions that the maid evades … looking for poppies and nightingales.  Then Lubin appears and the old man realises what might be going on:

Poppies like these I own are rare
And of such Nightingales song beware …
We encounter Lubin in other songs as noted below.  The name appears to be generic and pertaining to any potential rural suitor.

I've been Roaming, yet another Vestris song, had music by C E Horn.  It is particularly light in character:

I've been roaming - I've been roaming
Where the honeysuckle creeps;
And I'm coming - and I'm coming,
With its kisses on my lips …
but had especially widespread distribution.  Apart from Eliza Vestris, another well-known singer, Catherine Stephens (1794-1882), sang it.  She was the daughter of Edward Stephens, a carver and guilder in London, and became Countess of Essex.  She was said to have a most sweet soprano voice - her last appearance in public was in 1845.  19

Meet me by Moonlight Alone was written c.1826 by Joseph Augustine Wade (?1796-1845), a Dublin man, who travelled to England, there, unfortunately, to dissipate his talents.  Eliza Vestris included it in her repertoire.

      Meet me by moonlight alone,
         And then I will tell you a tale
      Must be told by the moonlight alone,
In the grove at the end of the vale …
The Light Guitar was discussed in connection with Merry of Bedford in an earlier piece in this series, a piece from the Barnett- Van Dyke stable, issued, predictably enough, by Catnach and Pitts and by Wright and Harkness and sung by Eliza Vestris.20

It is perhaps time to consider Eliza Vestris (nιe Bartolozzi) in further detail.  She was a singer and dancer, famed for her burlesque humour and cross-dressing parts, married Charles Mathews (second husband), the entertainer and impresario noted elsewhere in this piece, and herself took over management of the Olympic theatre in 1830-1.  Here she was known for her usage of sophisticated dιcor.  Her singing was, apparently, best suited to light comedy as the list of Besley songs above indicates in part.  With Mathews she toured America - rather unsuccessfully, as it turned out - and managed the Covent Garden theatre between 1839 and 1842.  In 1847 the couple also managed the Lyceum theatre.

To return to stock: although the overwhelming evidence for the dissemination of The Maid of Llangollan (sic) lies in broadside printers' catalogues and material including that of Pitts and Catnach and continuing through to mid-century - Birt, Wheeler in Manchester and Keys in Devonport, for instance - there is one reference to the piece in a Songster as having been written by Charles Mathews, with music by John Parry and sung by Charles Mathews, Eliza Vestris' husband, and one other reference indicating that it had been sung by Mathews.  Mathews, indeed, had been a celebrated one-man entertainer at a time when theatre audiences demanded and were served variety.  He was, for instance, associated with the Adelphi theatre in this guise during the 1820s and 1830s.  The Maid … dates from the period 1826-1830.21

The Swiss Toy Girl was originally entitled The Rose of Lucerne and was written by John Barnett (1802-1890) born in Bedford of German stock.  At one stage he seems to have developed a partnership with Harry Stoe van Dyk (1798-1828) and pieces such as Music, Midnight, Love and Flowers and A Harper Sat by a Tranquil Stream (c.  1827) followed.  The Swiss Toy Girl, written with Van Dyk, appeared in 1823:

I've come across the sea, I've brav'd every danger,
For a brother dear to me, and from Swiss-land a ranger …
In this case the piece at least holds up as a story.22

Barnett wrote the operas The Mountain Sylph 1834 and Fair Rosamund 1837.  Van Dyk also collaborated with other composers, notably in The Charms of Zurich with music by C E Horn and for Will You Come Where The Sweet Briar Grows one of Horn's better-known pieces, taken from A Midsummer Night's Dream

Horn was involved with another piece, this time arranging but not composing the music for The Banks of Allan Water, the text for which was written by Matthew (Monk) Lewis, c.  1832-1833.  Perhaps, in this case, Horn adapted a tune existing in sung or Art tradition.  He certainly had the experiencing of adopting and adapting for his own voice, not especially notable, it seems.  His name, as with those of Bayly and Planchι, has emerged in this survey more than once.  He was born in London in 1776, educated by his German father, a musician of note, and made his debut in 1809 as a vocalist.  Pursuing this career he nonetheless contrived to compose and conduct music.  He is probably best known for his setting of Cherry Ripe.  He went to America in 1827 and returned to London in 1831 to manage the music at Eliza Vestris' Olympic theatre; went back to America a year later, there to finish his career teaching and conducting in Boston, dying in 1846.  His dates help to establish parameters for the Besley output, given that printers might choose to revive pieces at a later date.

Sweet Kitty Clover was advertised as A new comic song; beginning as follows:

Sweet Kitty Clover, she bothers me
Oh, oh, oh, oh!
Her cheeks are red and round and
Like pulpit cushion or redder than
   Oh Kitty Clover, she &c.
One source dates this to 1837.  Another gives the information that it was included in the copybook of the grandmother of a singer which copybook dates from before 1823.  Baring Gould goes one better to date the piece from 1819 and wrote that it was also introduced into the ballad opera, The Lord of the Manor, in 1823.  One performer in England was named as Huckell who could be found singing both in the north and in the south of England.  A broadside of Sweet Kitty Clover, from Pollock in North Shields, for example, indicates that the piece was sung by 'Mr. Huckel [sic] WITH RAPTUROUS APPLAUSE'.  Another broadside, this time entitled The White Flag; or Boney's Abdication, from G Thompson in London, indicated that Huckell was singing in the Surrey Theatre in 1814.  There are other broadsides of Sweet Kitty Clover, and one or two Songsters included the piece.  Words are attributed to Edward Knight and music to Edmund Kean.  It is possible that the latter was the actor, Edmund Kean, who is known to have absorbed music from Charles Incledon, but there is no clear record of Kean as composer and, in the absence of details of the lives of either Knight or the Kean associated with Sweet Kitty Clover, these scraps remain as the only evidence of pedigree.23

The Model - 'My friend is the man I would copy through life …' - had words by Miles Peter Andrews.  Andrews died in 1814 but his date of birth seems to be unknown.  A number of pieces establish a career - an Elegy on the death of Mr Stern (1788), The Invitation to Delia (1790), and the earliest reference found to a play produced by Samuel Arnold, Summer Amusement (1779).  The music for The Model was by James Hooke (1746-1827), a prolific composer noted for his vast contribution to the musical literature of Vauxhall Gardens (in which, apart from music, people might enjoy supper, fireworks and sideshows).  It was widely distributed on broadside and also published (c.1820) in the British Orpheus which, as a sheet containing several songs, illustrates popularity.24

My Heart and Lute is from Thomas Moore - like The Model found on a Pitts compilation, in this case The Jovial Fellow sheet and on Pitts' sheet The Ladies Concert25  Sir Henry Rowley Bishop composed music for it in 1830:

I give thee all, I can no more,
   Tho' poor the offering be;
My heart and lute are all the store,
   That I can give to thee …
It includes a last line of 'for passion is founded, &c' which suggests a known chorus and this, together with the various '&c' scattered at the ends of stanzas through the Besley stock, underlines the current fashion of the particular piece, not needing to be set out fully, and, by implication, the current and ephemeral nature of the printings themselves.  To be quite fair, this was practised by other broadside printers and, it is to be supposed, saved space!  Nonetheless, as another pointer towards the consideration of a temporary state, Bishop's involvement as with Oh, No, We Never Mention Her … , Horn's contributions and those of Braham, Incledon (below) and Eliza Vestris all indicate how Besley exploited fashions.

The Woodpecker was also from the pen of Thomas Moore with music by Michael Kelly (1764-1826).  The substance of genesis, during a visit by Moore to Canada, was discussed in a previous piece in this series.  Moore would seem to have been particularly instrumental in furthering a rather melancholic and slightly self-indulgent pattern to nineteenth century song followed by others with less skill and less success.  Some Besley pieces reflect this drift.26

Barney Brallaghan's Courtship is one of a number of stage-Irish outpourings and the words were written by T Hudson, to music by J Blewitt:

'Twas on a windy night,
   At two o'clock in the morning,
An Irish lad so tight,
   All wind and weather scorning,
At Judy Callaghan's door,
   Sitting upon the palings,
His love tale he did pour,
   And this was part of his wailings,
      Only say
         You'll have Mister Brallaghan,
      Don't say nay,
         Charming Judy Brallaghan.
Judy Callaghan became Barney's female apotheosis.  Birt printed Barney Brallaghan … c.1828-9 and on the same sheet was Judy's Reply to Barney.  Catnach printed a piece entitled Barney Brallaghan's Wedding (and Such followed with Pat O'Connor's Wedding … a similar piece involving the by now well-known characters of Pat and Judy).27

Broadside texts of The King of the Cannibal Islands include those from Pitts, from Russell in Birmingham and from Baird in Cork, positing a wide-ranging hinterland - and it turns up also in The London Melodist, c.1831, noted as having been issued by Deprose.  It subsequently spawned a tune well-known in country dance circles for The Cumberland Reel.  It appeared in a Piano Forte Tutor from an A Hughes, c.1830; and is credited as being sung by A W Humphreys 'with great applause at the London concerts', again in 1830.  It has been suggested that when such a remark appeared on a sheet this tended to indicate that the piece was new.28

The Storm was written by George Alexander Stevens (1710-1784) though one or two printers credited it to a Mrs Robinson.  She, Mary Darby Robinson, was certainly an authoress, mistress of the then Prince of Wales, and known as 'Perdita' on account the popularity of her role, as an actress, in The Tempest.  It is more likely, in the context of her career, that she sang the piece … it was also an Incledon favourite.  It seems that Stevens' poem was first introduced as a 'Description of a Storm' and it figured in programmes at the Adelphi theatre, London, during the 1820s.  Stevens had a creditable list of publications and Baring-Gould gave the immediate source as The Muses' Delight in 1754 - published again in Stevens' Songs Comic and Satyrical in 1772 - and various versions of the air as dating from the 1730s.  The piece is lengthy, in 'Art' style, beginning

'Cease, rude Boreas blust'ring railer
List ye landsmen all to me …
before going into a detailed description of storm, potential shipwreck, the discovery of the dangerous leak, and safety.  Certainly there are lines and phrases which might have fitted well enough into a country singer's repertoire, but one surmises too much complication overall for it to have been a popular item unless transmogrified by oral dissemination.  Nonetheless, the piece could be found in numerous Songsters dating from the 1780s and extending to just after the half-way mark in the nineteenth century.  One reference, crediting the piece, erroneously, to Dibdin, gave the information that the music was by one Leveridge.  This was Richard Leveridge (1670-1758), English bass singer and composer who, in the latter endeavour, wrote a parody of Italian opera (at the time flooding the English theatres), Pyramus and Thisbe, based on a theme from Shakespeare; and some hundred and fifty songs, best-known of which was The Roast Beef of Old England.  Another reference was also given to the John and Abraham Hume collection of songs from Kilwarlin in northern Ireland which collection was in use around 1845.  In terms of performance, there is one reference to a production entitled The Masque around 1795 where it was sung by a Mr Dodd.  Interestingly, the redoubtable Henry Burstow listed The Storm as one of his songs.  He, though, was probably exceptional; and this is a rare example of Besley pieces which found their way into traditional sung repertoire.29

Incidentally, Benjamin (later Charles) Incledon (1763-1826), born in St Keverne's, Cornwall, on the Helford river, was accounted a leading tenor in his day both in opera and in oratorio.  He was said never to sing out of tune and that his natural voice ranged from A to G and his falsetto from D to F! King George III described him as 'the British national singer': and elsewhere he was noted as 'the prince of ballad singers' associated with songs such as The Arethusa, Black-Ey'd Susan and Sally in our Alley … all well-known then and now.

Another Incledon favourite was The Post Captain, written by John Rannie, and widely printed.  It concerns one Steerwell and there is less a story than there are yo-heave-hoes and helms a-lee …  At length:

For valour, skill, and worth renown'd,
The foe he oft defeated,
And now with fame and fortune crown'd
Post Captain he is rated.
As in other Besley pieces, an allusion to a known chorus ends each stanza - 'While ten jolly, &c … '

Details of Rannie's life have so far not surfaced but he is known for other songs such The Braes of Yarrow (not the Child ballad) and Fair Anna.  Music for The Post Captain was supplied by William Shield (1748-1829) who can be met in connection with other pieces such as The Arethusa.  Circles within circles begin to appear.30

Tell me, Mary 'how to woo thee', according to Baring-Gould, was written by F Morrison with a tune by C A Hodson.  It seems to have been a relatively late addition to broadside repertoire, appearing in copy from Birt and Hodges in London, Cadman in Manchester and then Marr in Glasgow (Songs of the Day, c.1870).  Its idiom is very much in the order of scribbledom:

No! When joy first brightened o'er us,
'Twas not joy illum'd her ray;
And when sorrow lies before us,
'Twill not chace her smiles away.31
Adieu my Native Land, Adieu was once credited to Thomas D'Arcy Magee but since he was born in 1825 (dying in 1868) and the piece appeared in Catnach's 1832 list, this is unlikely.  In fact, John Clare collected a version in the 1820s; and it turns out that the music was by a John Westbrook Chandler, published around the turn of the century, and, according to Baring-Gould, it is likely to have first been sung at one of the Garden entertainments such as those at Vauxhall or Ranelagh in London.  32

Draw the Sword, Scotland had a wide distribution beginning with Pitts and Catnach, Carpue and Hill in London, and then, in the north, Harkness, Walker in Newcastle, Thomson's chapbooks - from Fordyce, and Fordyce himself; Stewart in Carlisle; Heppel and Russell in Birmingham, and then Willey in Cheltenham, Williams in Portsea and Besley.  It is hard not to view the exhortations in the text as being superficial.  The sword is to be drawn, the pibroch is 'pealing', the clans gathering, banners flying … Scotland is urged to 'Charge as you have charg'd in days lang syne …'.  But against whom?  Success, in a second stanza, is achieved and the struggle proclaimed over.  The sword has, then, to be sheathed and:

   With thy loved thistle, new laurels en-
Time shall ne'er part them, part them, part them!
   But hand down the garland to each son o' thine!
The piece was actually performed by Braham who, as has been seen, is yet another prominent singer to appear in association with Besley stock.  And there are one or two Songster references.  It had a modestly successful life, then, and may have acted as stimulant for its companion piece as printed by Besley, Follow, Follow over Mountain (below), but in diction and structure seems hardly likely to been widely accepted into traditional sung repertoire.33

The point of the detail given above is that it can be seen that the Besley imprint drew in a steady stream from popular entertainment during a period extending from the 1820s and on through the half-century mark (seemingly, therefore, under the general auspices of Henry Besley).  Further, this entertainment seems to have been an urban phenomenon, where theatre was available as a reminder of initial impulse for texts, and Besley's stock was not the purlieu of an illiterate peasantry.  This, in turn and in part, indicates the nature of commercial exploitation by Besley and others and also throws open the question of opportunity and motive amongst traditional singers in terms of acquisition of song-material.

Other pieces reveal how the firm adopted straightforward poetry - which yet may itself have been adapted as commercial song.  There is, for example, the text of Downhill of Life which is from the pen of William Collins (1721-1759).

In the downhill of life when I find I'm declining,
   May my fate no less fortunate be,
Than a snug elbow chair can afford for reclining,
   And a cot that o'erlooks the wide sea …
Collins had an unfortunate life, always struggling to establish himself as a poet and eventually succumbing to insanity, although his reputation, boosted by favourable comment from Thomas Gray, did increase as the eighteenth century wore on.  It is worth mentioning that Alfred Williams collected a version of Downhill of Life, thus indicating a presence of sorts - if unsupported elsewhere - in sung tradition.34

The Spider and the Fly, written by Mary Howitt (1799-1888), was taken into Besley stock.  She was born Botham, in Coleford, Gloucestershire, daughter of Samuel and Ann.  She married William Howitt in 1796 and moved eventually to Nottingham where he plied his trade as a chemist.  Whilst there the couple found their way into certain literary circles in which they met Tennyson, Wordsworth, Dickens, Mrs.  Gaskell and others.  Prolific writers both, they managed to issue some 180 books.  The Spider and the Fly is probably the only piece remembered, appearing first In a publication, The New Years Gift, in 1829 and then in Sketches of Natural History in 1834, the latter a series of moral tales.  It had wide circulation and there are Answers.  Baring-Gould gave the composer's name as Thomas Hudson and added that 'The air is probably an old nursery jingle, as it was the way with Hudson to write his songs to familiar old airs'.35

Kitty of Colrain [sic] has been attributed to Edward Lysaght, a barrister, wit and writer, born 1793, author also of The Sprig of Shillelagh, who died in 1811.  However, Alfred Moffat claimed that the piece was issued in an early nineteenth century chapbook by Kelly in Waterford, and, as such, has to be accounted 'anonymous'.  Further, Alfred Graves had already come to a similar conclusion about genesis and dated the piece, tentatively, to around 1790.36

Banks of the Clyde appeared in both the Pitts and Catnach lists but, in the case of Pitts, it would appear that the piece began, 'When I was young and in my prime … ' whereas the Besley piece began 'When I was young and youth did bloom …'.  In the Besley and Catnach form it was also printed by Walker in Durham, Stewart in Carlisle, both Ross and Fordyce in Newcastle, Harkness in Preston, Booth in Selby and Armstrong in Liverpool - a very strong northern presence, emphasised by appearances in northern catalogues.  However, it was recorded as having been sung in London.37

There are other pieces under the same title, some not those from the broadside in question but beginning, 'On the banks of the Clyde stood a lass and a lassie …' being versions of The Young Sailor Cut Down in his prime.38

Besley's printing is particularly unusual in being the only southern English version of the text issued as far as can be ascertained. 

Highland Mary is from Burns, published posthumously in 1799.  Burns' text ends after four stanzas but broadside versions vary.  Sometimes there are four stanzas, more frequently six.  Pitts printed both four and six stanza versions.  Marshall, in Newcastle - the Bodleian Allegro archive suggests printing dates for Marshall between 1820 and 1831- printed four.  Fordyce (an important early figure in nineteenth century broadside printing) and Sanderson in Edinburgh printed four.  Pollock in North Shields, Bebbington and Jacques in Manchester, Harkness in Preston, Armstrong and Thompson in Liverpool, Stephenson in Gateshead, Hodges and Such all printed six.  So did Besley.  Brereton in Dublin managed a completely different format, breaking up Burns' eight-line stanzas into two and arriving, in any case, at the equivalent of five stanzas.  But Brereton was 'late' in printing stakes.39  The point is simply to illustrate the absence of facile copying at all times, a feature in Besley, if, indeed, uncommon, noted elsewhere in this piece. 

Auld Lanhsyne [sic] is also attributed to Burns.  His version is that it was a song 'of the olden times … which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down form an old man's singing … '.  There are various manifestations, including one in Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany; but the earliest recorded Burns version is that sent to a Mrs.  Dunlop in 1788.  In 1793 he sent another version (that which he described as above) to George Thomson, one of the editors of the Scots Musical Museum.  Burns himself had been a principal editor and contributor.  The Scots Musical Museum itself appeared between 1787 and 1803, edited by N Stewart under the auspices of James Johnson, an Edinburgh music-seller, but it was not until three years after Burns's death that Thomson introduced the verses of Auld Lang Syne to the publication, in 1799 - as a classical arrangement and minus the original air The Country Lass.40

God Save the King has an ancestry which wonderfully illustrates how song could be disseminated.  There are various attributions.  In France it is claimed for Giam Battista Lulli (Jean-Baptiste Lully) and, in this version, was based on a French hymn, Domini Salvium Facto Regem, sung when monarchs attended events.  Chappell dismissed this claim … and, in examining several others, came to a tentative conclusion that the better substantiation lay with Henry Carey.  The piece is reputed to have been first heard in pubic in 1740 at a dinner to celebrate Admiral Vernon's taking of Portobello (on the Spanish Main), as arranged by Henry Carey, who claimed it as his own composition.  The oldest extant copy of the tune can be found in Harmonia Anglicana, dating from 1743.  The first public performance (given that Carey's dinner can be accounted as having been private) was in an arrangement by Thomas Arne sung on 28th September 1745 at the Drury Lane Theatre, London - a Song for Two Voices, followed, according to Chappell, by another performance under the guidance of Dr Burney in the same year.  It was Chappell, again, who, whilst conceding a similarity, decided against the claims of John Bull to have written the likely original air.41 As a national anthem, after the first 1745 performance, it did not become generally adopted until the early 1800s, when newer verses appeared, one by W E Hickson (1803-1870), beginning 'Not on this land alone'. 

Apart from these well-known examples of text, this leaves us with a raft of ephemera.  The following information is in the nature of a summation and there is no claim that it is definitive.  Thus, for example, Lubin's Cot both recalls Why are you Wand'ring here, I Pray? and can be set amongst other texts containing the same name - Lubin is Away, Lubin and Mary, Lubin and Lisette, Where is my Lubin? and so on.  Keys in Devonport also printed Lubin's Cot, a very mild rural fantasy where a maid declares that:

Returning home across the plain
   From market t'other day,
A sudden storm of wind and rain,
   O'er took me by the way:
With speed I tripp'd it o'er the ground,
   To find some kinder spot,
And from the storm a shelter found,
   In Lubin's rural cot.
There, predictably enough, a wedding is mooted and a union accomplished.  It is impossible with present knowledge to date this accurately.

Both Pitts and Catnach carried Follow, Follow over Mountain, a very slight piece indeed.  Apart from the two London printers, only Kendrew in York and Besley appear to have taken it up although there are records of it as appearing in Songsters …

Follow, follow, over mountain,
   Follow, follow, over sea,
And I'll guide to love's fountain,
   If you'll follow, follow me … 42
What Can a Poor Maiden Do? also had limited distribution, looking as if it came into prominence towards the middle of the century through Williams in Portsea, Besley, and then Such:
Were it not for these men, we should
      ne'er do amiss,
   Nor papas nor mammas disobey;
But, alas! When with sighs they de-
      mand but a kiss
Why - what can a poor maiden say?
There is one appearance in the Universal Songster which might suggest a one-time reasonable interest.  In this publication a note states that it was written by 'Beazley' - for whom, so far, no information has been found.  At least its printing by the Besley firm indicates a continuing period of production mid-century, presumably under the auspices of Henry Besley.43

Banners of Blue - 'Strike up, strike up, Scottish minstrels so gay …' - had good distribution, more or less predictable in its 'descent' from Pitts and Catnach through the mid-century inheritors and others.44 This is also the case with The Cottage Near a Wood:

In a cottage near a wood,
   Love and Rosa now are mine,
Rosa ever fair and good,
   Charm me with these smiles of thine …45
In both cases Besley had obviously tuned in to popular pieces, however makeweight in character.

Love in a Hayband and Fair Helen, similarly, had fair distribution, the first appearing in Pitts and the second in Catnach and Fordyce, with the usual legacy, to Harkness and Williams in the case of Love in a Hayband and to Fortey and Ward of Ledbury in the case of Fair Helen.  Fair Helen often appeared as Helen the Fair.46

The Shepherd's Boy, as Besley alone appeared to have had it, could also have been found in printings as The Shepherd Boy by Whiting in Birmingham, Fordyce and Whinham (in Newcastle and Carlisle, a not unusual linkage between the two printers) and Smith in Bristol - a rather strangely wide compass.  The piece takes the form of a rural idyll:

When first I was a shepherd's boy,
   Could I forget, oh never,
My simple song I sung with joy,
   And rustic strains so clever,
My work being done all clean and neat,
   First sowing, planting, tillage,
I went were (sic) lads and lasses meet
   Down, down in our village.47
Under the Willow Tree had a similar distribution, sometimes as The Willow Tree.  But it also appeared in at two forms - 'Take me in your arms my love for Keen the winds do blow'; and as in Besley:
Don't you remember the vows so tender
   You fondly pledged to me …
Pitts had it as Besley in sheet form (The Hibernian Songster) and Walker in Durham and Williams in Portsea also carried it.48

With A Helmet On His Brow got modest exposure through London printers and some outriders and can be tentatively dated from around 1836.  It can be found, for example, in Pitts' 1836 catalogue and on two big sheets - The Royal Victoria and Sam Wellers' Songsheet.  Since The Pickwick Papers were first issued in serial form during 1836 and 1837 and then in a full version in 1837, and since Victoria's coronation was in 1837, a suitable date for the issue of the songsheets is offered and, therefore, a possible first appearance for Helmet …49

There is but a single record, other than in Besley, of The Morn Is Beaming Brightly:

The morn is beaming brightly,
   The dew Is brighter still,
The sun looks, peeping, lightly
   Just over yonder hill …
After which the protagonist appeals to a lover to come.  The Universal Songster 3 alludes to a Miss Bryant who sang this; but it does not seem to have had any extended life if the absence of broadsides is taken into account.

At rock bottom, as it were, there are no records at all to The Village Clock or The Soldier's Grave other than in Besley.  This may, then, indicate a Besley prepared to initiate text but, since there is no other evidence, this idea cannot be pursued as yet.  The texts are light in character:

When first I was a shepherd's boy,
   Could I forget, o never,
My simple song I sung with joy,
   And rustic strains so clever …
The day was closed the moon shone
The village clock struck eight,
When Silvia hastened with delight,
To ope' the garden gate …
Both concern love matches: in the first case against parental approval and in the second where there is a seemingly trivial problem when the suitor is late for a rendezvous - but does arrive.  The pieces might seem to have been composed at any time between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries …

In some contrast, Past 10 o'Clock had a wide hinterland and Henry Burstow claimed it in repertoire.50  This, like the reference to The Storm in Mr Burstow's list of songs, is important as it indicates what a singer considered much more than did the collectors as being of use and so Henry Burstow, even If perhaps exceptional as a singer, gives us a clue to the proper depths of repertoire. 

Fuddling Day … was widely printed.  Hoggett in Durham, in a printing somewhere between 1816-1843 - the dates of Hoggett's activity, according to the Bodleian - lists it as 'A new song'.  Pitts, in one of several printings, calls it Answer to the Washing Day.  So does Walker in Norwich and his connection with Pitts has been described before … they may have shared text.51  The implication is that the piece appeared earlier rather than in the 1840s.  Fuddling Day or Saint Monday seems to have been a phenomenon - one commentator called it 'notorious' - mostly associated with urban popular culture, the preserve of artisans and domestic outworkers, and not an offshoot of calendrial ritual; and, as such, took on significance during the industrial revolutions.  Its nineteenth century form was, basically, that of a holiday.  The urban artisan seems to have started each week slowly and then built up a crescendo until Friday when the most work was undertaken.  Sometimes, too, the Monday was used to repair machinery.  The ballad itself describes domestic upset when the man of the house disappears for drink with his workmates.52

Three other pieces make up the complement of Besley stock.  Werry Ridiculous has no other reference as far as has been ascertained and proclaims the fashionable 'w' as did The Ratcatcher's Daughter discussed in an earlier piece in this series.  It castigates a girl's ugly partner at a ball and there is an 'Answer' to a piece entitled Werry Pecooliar, wherein the girl is the butt of humour.  New Way to Make a Husband received wide attention from printers but there is no song associated with it.  My Own Blue Bell, though yet again widely printed, does not seem to have generated a song.53

Taking scribbledom and its betters and the glut of ephemera discussed above together, it is clear that the Besley firm drew just as steadily on such material through the middle years of the century as it did from popular entertainment.  In the case of the dozen texts cited immediately above not one save Past 10 o'Clock seems to have made an appearance in sung form.  So any presence in sung tradition is unproven and this may underline a different audience as commercial target for Besley … not at all surprising but worth noting so as to avoid too great a swing towards broadside production as fons et origins for traditional song repertoire.

There are, just to round of the brief survey, two potential anomalies, in both cases involving an 'Answer', a popular enough form of broadside. 

Firstly, there is an Answer to The Enniskillen Dragoon - but no Enniskillen Dragoon itself in the Besley stock.54  A small history is invoked here.  The regiment was formed in the 1680s as an amalgam of forces involved in the Williamite wars in Ireland but the text of The Enniskillen Dragoon cannot be easily dated.  It was issued by a score of printers in broadside form- usually a six-stanza set with a narrative involving a 'Beautiful young damsel' near to Monaghan town who rides out to see the Dragoons and spies her lover, Willie.  He will not marry her because her parents disapprove of him (a familiar enough motif in love song); so the sweethearts part; and, finally, there is hope that, after the wars, Willie will return.  In one subsequent version, that in Sam Henry's collection, the following stanza appears, not found elsewhere:

Now the war is over with Willie home at last,
His regiment lay in Dublin, but Willie got a pass;
On Sunday they were married, with Flora in full bloom,
So now she enjoys her Inniskillen (sic) dragoon.55
The sentiments, though not in exactly the same form, can be found in the Besley Answer … (below).  A reference is also made to Waterloo which may suggest a date of issue … this takes the form of the lover returning from the wars and not being recognised and then revealing his connection - exactly as it appears in songs such as The Plains of Waterloo and The Green Mantle
He says my dearest Flora I will ease you of your pain
I am your own Enniskillen return'd to you again;
And the wars are all over and many battles won,
My watch-word was Flora and Enniskillen Dragoon …
If a period around the date of Waterloo - perhaps even after - is posited for Besley's Answer … , then the date of issue of the Enniskillen Dragoon itself must have been earlier.  Incidentally, according to Derek Scott, 'Answers' often contradicted the initial piece56, but this is not the case either here or in respect of the piece discussed below, the Answer to The Happy Stranger

The Happy Stranger itself sketches a gentle courtship in which the maid enquiries as to the man's origins and is dubious about his intentions.  The man indicates that 'in my country near Newry I dwell … ' and she then says:

Sir, the lads of sweet Newry are all roving blades,
And have a great delight in courting young maids,
They kiss them, and press them, and call them their own,
And perhaps your darling lies mourning at home.
There is then a swift and favourable resolution.57

Besley's Answer is from the maid's side and she names her suitor as 'young Jemmy of Newry'.  The dilemma is rehearsed until he declares, with 'a most graceful bow' that he himself has been the victim of a false loved but seeks to win the hand of his new love.  They repair to a nearby village where he secures a licence:

And now the two strangers in love do agree
In a neat little cottage by a shady green tree.58
One might argue that this is less an answer than it is recapitulation and extension but, clearly, Besley's indulgence (and not his alone) indicates a certain popularity for the initial piece and its theme.  The piece is, too, set solidly in broadside conventional form, not in the language of current scribbledom.  Further still, it is interesting that both this Answer … and the Answer to the Enniskillen Dragoon appear to have originated in the north of Ireland.  In terms of exotic location as in, say, The Isle of France, this is a modest gesture but is mirrored in The Rose of Ardee and The Maid of Sweet Gurteen - and, indeed, in the Besley stock, by Ye Lovers All, the initial action of which took place 'in Belfast town'.  The Irish settings, north and south, may or may not be significant in broadside printing history.  In this series we have already seen how, in England, specific Irish events were turned into generic text.  But the theme and form of each of the named pieces here is very much within broadside tradition and, as such, may be said to reflect an ongoing popularity of older and familiar material, offset by the ephemera discussed immediately above and indicating how Besley's commercial perception was variedly at work.

It remains to extrapolate and postulate as far as is possible.  To begin with, the kinds of material found in the Besley stock does imply the presence of an audience which was used to commercial entertainment and possessed a degree of familiarity with literature or, at least, an urge to know.  On the whole, we may not be not talking about an illiterate peasantry necessarily learning songs by osmosis although it is well enough known that the same illiterate peasantry may have purchased broadsides and pinned them up, partly as simple decoration and partly in the hope that someone could read the pieces for them.  In any case, our notions of literacy are still undergoing revision and reading, as an accomplishment, can be seen to be distinct from the task of writing; and, scattered though the references be, there is evidence that singers bought pieces and did learn from them.  We cannot be quite sure, in general, what form acquisition of text took and might infer several concurrent ways.

One would take the Besley motive for issue to be commercial at base level and we know something of the cultural life in Exeter during the period in which Besley was active, especially where the theatre was concerned.  There were, indeed, successive theatres in the city between the early years of the eighteenth century and right through to the present day with something of a peak between the 1760s and the 1820s.  Notables such as Sarah Siddons, Keane, Kemble, Incledon and Macready were visitors but not necessarily in respect of 'legit' theatre.  Programmes were varied and involved drama, opera and a range of items such as the playing of musical glasses, the dancing of hornpipes, tightrope walking and, of course (especially in Incledon's case), singing.  Such an eclectic programme may well have been a factor in the purchase of printed artefacts - Besley provoked into issuing songs sung at the theatres, associated with the various singers … in other words simply as an exploitation of a popular manifestation.

The kind of programme is here illustrated:

An EpilogueA Hint at the Secret
RecitalA Description of Exeter
A Comedy, in two actsThe Fool
RecitationBelles have at ye all
InterludeNotable and not able
FarceA piece, in one act
ComedySir John Cockle at Court
And, by particular desire,
The Farce of .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  The Romp59

Such a programme was in no way unusual.  The whole history of the London theatre during the first half of the nineteenth century is full of similar and, indeed, even more varied fare.  Clowns, dances of all kinds including ballet and hornpipes, singers, elephants, tightrope and slackrope walking, 'serio-comic' productions, pantomime, melodrama … the range seems to have been infinite.

One might argue that much of Besley's 'theatre' stock came after the peak of theatre-going in Exeter itself - that is: his pieces derive from the period after the 1820s.  This has implications as discussed below; but the tenor of the stock is unmistakeable.

If, then, in total, the Besley stock was eclectic enough to satisfy the kind of audience noted above any connection with traditional sung repertoire would appear to have been selective.  And it would seem to be a valid general proposition that the pieces from the entertainment world and from scribbledom did not, as a rule, surface in sung repertoire amongst traditional singers - that is, as far as records tell and subject to the influence of various collectors (some would argue this to be a significant qualification … ).  There is, of course, the odd glimpse as exemplified by Henry Burstow and the Alfred Williams sung version of The Downhill of Life.  This last reference, though, underlines the character of Williams' collection, purporting to give an account of what was actually sung and not to select what Sharp and others felt to be a distinctive set of material …

Really, then, this is but the beginning of speculation in terms of commercial motive and of singers' perception of material and some of the detail above still, clearly, needs amplification.  But, if Besley is, in any sense, a yardstick, then the possibly selective nature of traditional sung repertoire may well be best represented, mostly, it seems, by those pieces which derived from an earlier era and mostly in an outmoded idiom which, it could be argued, embodied both the form and the social colour of the material chosen (thus, to complicate matters and to elevate the qualification just proposed, offering the kind of possibility mooted by Sharp as to the special nature of traditional song).  The central problem of how, when and by what motive sung repertoire arose remains.  Doubtless some singers enjoyed the relative potboilers such as The Bay of Biscay O!  We always too have in mind the downgrading and even dismissal of Music Hall and related material by collectors.  But in relative terms as was seen in the reports concerning ballad-sellers and singers at the fair (in previous articles), a certain distinction in kind was being made between an older stock and a current one where the former was that which commentators felt appropriate to ballad-singers and ballad-sellers.  It is interesting in this respect that both Alfred Williams and Sabine Baring-Gould thought that the composition of 'folk' song ended around the 1840s.  The arguments are not capable of resolution here but obviously could range far and deeply.  We always, frustratingly, lack the evidence of how older stock came to be made up (Sharp's collective conscience has to be given due consideration) or to pinpoint wholesale transfer of the printed artefact into the mouths of singers.  It had to be admitted at this point that the term, 'older' stock still needs a measure of delineation which same, it is hoped, has been emerging and will emerge cumulatively as this series progresses; but there is a clear difference, as shown here, between the diction of, say, Lovers All and some of the pieces from scribbledom.

Finally, there are hints as to the character of the broadside trade.  For example, when Besley's output is taken in conjunction with the output of Wilson in Bideford, Keys in Devonport and Woolcock and Penaluna in Helston, it behoves us to give each printer individual attention since the variations are of as much interest as conformity.  As instance, nowhere in Besley is there any sign of the quasi-religious output of the two Cornish printers mentioned.  As yet, too, as noted in the text above, there is very little sign of electoral material in Besley's output - perhaps surprising in view of the jobbing nature of printing.

It is noticeable, further, that Besley did not share the bulk of his stock with Keys, another substantial printer, working from Devonport.  The Keys Madden stock for review is commensurate in numbers of single sheets - some sixty-odd - but only a handful of titles were shared; and when the multiple text compilations that Keys issued (and Besley did not) are taken into account, still there are in total but a dozen titles to appear under both names.  How deliberate the avoidance was is not possible to tell.  But one may, at this stage, speculate that different means of acquisition were involved.  In Besley's stock over eighty printers are represented as issuing the same titles.  At the same time, and as noted at the head of this piece, the overwhelming presence is that of Catnach and Pitts.  There is also a fairly heavy representation from other printers in London such as Evans, Batchelar and Birt - less so Disley, Ryle and Fortey.  Williams of Portsea features and, in his case, there may have been a direct connection with London printers (still being investigated).  The names of Birmingham printers crop up regularly, particularly those of Wrightson and Russell - less so Pratt.  So do the names of Swindells in Manchester, Fordyce in Newcastle and Harkness in Preston.  These names would seem to offer a kind of mainstay.  There are, certainly, unusual clusters such as were found in connection with Fuddling Day but these are more in keeping with the scattering of individual names amongst the Besley oeuvres.

We seem to be heading towards a situation where, as perhaps expected, Catnach and Pitts exerted great influence.  Perhaps Besley bought directly from them or simply pinched their stock.  And given the character of many Besley pieces as emanating from popular entertainment and scribbledom, and granting that actors and singers travelled, yet the urban - more specifically London-based - flavour is prominent.  This, in turn, may emphasise a possible Catnach-Pitts influence.  The absence of local material, either put out by Besley himself or by Devon printers as a group, is more reinforcement of this notion.  For, although it has to be said that knowledge is imperfect, Besley shared nothing with either Bates or Picken and only three titles with Wilson in Bideford.

We may well have to infer a direct link to Catnach and Pitts (and other London printers) in much the same way that local newspapers took as basis news from London.  This is essentially a commercial proposition.

In sum, Besley's stock is fairly wide-ranging - notwithstanding the qualifications just noted which, perhaps, extend our apprehension of local practice - yet, in general in keeping with that of other printers in the south of England as already discussed and as will be discussed.  If there is a bias at all it would seem to lie in the realms of nineteenth century scribbledom - this term meant not as dismissal but as an indication of kind.  We lack, of course, any idea of how successful Besley was in terms of sales and we note, for instance, that absence of multiple song-sheet issues which might indicate confidence on the part of the printer.  Yet the range and the period of time of operation represent a solid enough interest.  The Besley firm was clearly aware of one morsel of butter for its daily bread.

Roly Brown - 28.3.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France

Correction: The Downhill of Life

With reference to the piece The Downhill of Life in this article, my investigations and notes let me down.  I found references to the poem which attributed it to William Collins but Andrew Bathe (Cirencester) has pointed out that the Collins in question was not William, the poet, but John, the actor, poet, orator and staymaker (1742-1808) … born the son of a tailor in Bath.  Collins, after a flirtation with the stage in Bath at an early age and in Smock Alley, Dublin when he was twenty-two, realised an ambition and travelled, performing in plays ranging from tragedies and comedies to farces and comic operas.  He eventually (1793) settled in Birmingham, where he later printed Scripscrapologia, a collection of poems including To-morrow (the piece under review) and The Desponding Negro - some of these poems were set to popular tunes.  Collins died in Birmingham on May 2, 1808.

Originally entitled Tomorrow the piece in question can be found in a publication entitled Flowers of British Poetry… dated 1802 (J Mitchell, Newcastle) which immediately cancels out another attribution - to John Churton Collins, English critic (1848-1908).  Palgrave included the piece in his Golden Treasury, 1875 (third part, poem CXIV), with the comment that it was 'a truly noble poem. It should be noted as exhibiting a rare excellence - the climax of simple sublimity'.

In the downhill of life when I find I'm declining,
May my lot no less fortunate be
Than a snug elbow-chair can afford for reclining,
And a cot that o'erlooks the wide sea…
I apologise to readers for the confusion caused.


Article MT155

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