Article MT030

Fred Cottenham

The 'Crockery Ware' Man

The Queen's Arms at Cowden Pound is almost legendary as a place for traditional music in West Kent, attracting as it does, many fine singers from the area and from over the Sussex border.  The pub is run by Miss Elsie Maynard and is better known as Elsie's by the participants of the once-a-month session held there.  This is the story of one singer from the Kentish side, who enjoyed a brief fame as a recording artiste on John Howson's Veteran Tapes series on The Horkey Load Vol 1 - VT108.

Fred Cottenham was born in 1923 at Fordcombe, a village about five miles west of Tunbridge Wells, and moved with his parents to Penshurst in 1927.  He went to school in Penshurst and was, from an early age, interested in cattle.  When only eight years of age, he would run home from school so that he could help milk the cows at a farm near his home.  He left school aged 14 years, and worked at several places on agricultural jobs.  During the war, he went to work for Jack Martin at Smarts Hill Farm up until 1952.  While he was there, he saved Jack's life when the latter was attacked by a bull - although Fred wanted no publicity from the local newspaper and was very short with the reporter from the Kent and Sussex Courier.

Fred learnt many of his songs from the 'old boys' who were about his father's age.  Each had their own song, and Fred learnt them as a boy, by standing outside the pub and listening while drinking his bottle of lemonade.

His father, Fred Cottenham senior (1879-1942), known to everyone as 'Needle' was a slim little man scarcely more than five feet tall.  He worked for Sevenoaks Council as a lengthsman on the roads in the Penshurst area, and it was with his fellow workers in the line that an annual cricket match was played against the 'regulars' at The Rock at Chiddingstone Hoath.  The man who later married one of Fred junior's four sisters and who lived near the Rock recalls, as a boy of seven or eight years of age, seeing Needle Cottenham approaching down the hill wearing his sporting garb - a pair of borrowed tall man's off-white cricket trousers with the waist up under his arms, and the legs held up with leather straps below the knees.  On his feet, he had one black boot and one white one, and on his head a blue cricket cap.  A ridiculous get-up intended to make the opposition dissolve into laughter - and with his antics, he succeeded!  The cricket pitch itself was the field beside the Rock where the landlady kept her house cow.  Proceedings would never start until Needle arrived.  A barrel of beer was provided, and the players made full use of it during the game.  Afterwards the players went back to the pub where Needle, who had changed into his normal clothes and put on some clogs, was lifted onto a table to dance, and the customers crowded in!  (The reference to 'clogs' was at Fred's widow, Edna Cottenham's insistence in a letter to me.  Personally, I have my doubts since leather shod boots or shoes are apt to make as good as report on a wooden floor in step dancing, rather than clogs which tend to be associated with the show dance of the Victorian music hall.)

Most of the entertainment of his day was connected with the local pubs.  Needle Cottenham had a wife, four daughters and a son to feed and clothe from his wages, but he liked a drink and would say that he only needed enough to 'lift the latch' at the local.  He was a well-liked man who loved to entertain, and was good at all the usual pub games, including darts.  He and his friends would sing at any pub in the area that would have them, including the Rock and the Blacksmiths' Arms (the latter owned by Jack Martin) at Chiddingstone, to where Needle Cottenham and, in later years, Fred would walk across the fields, and also the Bottle House at Penshurst.  Fred junior later invested in a bicycle and was able to go further afield, and would amuse people by saying he had turned it upside down 'to keep the saddle dry'.

When Jack Martin moved to Lamberhurst in 1952, Fred went with him to work at Lindridge Place Farm, which lies to the west of the A21 main road between the village and nearby Pembury.  He was well-known there for his singing and would often frequent the King William and the Blue Boys at Pembury, and the Rising Sun (now the Brown Trout) at Lamberhurst during the weekdays.  At weekends, he would return home to Penshurst when he was not on milking duty.

When Martin retired in 1962, Fred returned home and spent a holiday with his sister and brother-in-law at Watstock Farm, Chiddingstone.  He lent a hand with the harvesting or haymaking and was offered a full-time job by Mrs Olive Fenwick, the farmer.  Fred moved in with his sister at Watstock until he married Edna Turley in 1966.  His tasks were that of a general farm labourer and helping the herdsman with the Sussex herd of beef cattle, assisting with any difficult calvings and feeding, but not milking.  After being made redundant from Watstock, he looked for other farm work opportunities, but the old way of life had disappeared.  For the last five years of his working life, he worked as a cleaner for British Telecom at Tunbridge Wells and lived at nearby Rusthall.  "He hated it at first, but he was earning his wages and it was 'a job in the dry'".  He died peacefully aged 68 years at Dulwich Hospital in November 1991.

In June 1976, Fred was recorded by Mike Yates singing The Crockery Ware (sound clip) although he was mistakenly ascribed the name 'Fred Cottingham of Warbrook Farm' - a misnomer that caused me no end of problems when I studied maps and searched through the electoral registers of the day.  His repertoire of songs wasn't said to have been very extensive, although he was always expected to sing Crockery Ware when present at a sing-song.

Although he was a regular at Elsie's, he was said to have disliked the claustrophobic atmosphere in the tiny pub.  Fortunately, a friend of his, Den Giddens of Oxted, brought him out of his shell by organising a series of parties for him, Edna, and a few other friends, when they would drink Den and Myrtle's home-made wines and beer, tell stories, crack a few jokes, exchange small talk, and indulge in music or song as the fancy took them.  The participants were Den himself who sang and played melodeon, Fred, Ron Jordan also on melodeon, his wife Christine, and their daughter Wendy (now Wendy MacDonnell) who played tin whistle.  At four of these parties held in 1977, the music was recorded on cassette, and five of these are now cherished by Edna Cottenham.  The tape was left running throughout with no attempt at editing.  Until the music started, you are just as likely to here the sound of Den's reel-to-reel tape recorder providing some pre-party ambience, or the cacophony of kazoos!  However, the exercise served to get Fred up and singing, with some fine songs also contributed by Den himself.

The mainstay of Fred's repertoire was the songs of the music hall, although as Edna said to me, it was very unlikely that Fred had ever been to one - even if they did have any in Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead or the broader locality.  The songs concerned are Et Cetera, It Won't Take Very Very Long, and The Violets are Blue and Roses are Red (which is sung as a duet with Den Giddens), all of which it is assumed he learnt from his father or the 'old boys'.   Also on the recordings are two songs which are said to have been learnt from soldiers who were billeted in the area during the Second World war, and also from friends of his upon their demob from the army.  The first is a parody of the song Star of the Evening - in which one senses that Fred is making up the verses as he goes along, and a version of Died for Love (the Soldier's Love).  The latter appears in Martin Page's Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major under the title White Lilies, but without the third verse that Fred sings, and white 'lilies' become 'roses' in Fred's song.  The only other song which Fred came out with was his own version of Old King Cole, although the 'boys of harmony' or 'boys of the R.F.C.' found in other versions becomes the 'boys of the alimony' in his.  Edna tells me that Fred was often asked to sing This Old Coat of Mine complete with actions "just to wind her up."  This song, alas, is lost to posterity.

I am indebted to Edna Cottenham for her hospitality, and her willingness to lend me the recordings of Fred, and also to the people unknown to me who were responsible for creating the circumstances where Fred could sing.

The Songs:

The Crockery Ware

This was recorded by Mike Yates on 6th June 1976 and appears on The Horkey Load Vol. 1 (Veteran Tapes, VT108).  The text also appears in Roy Palmer's Everyman Book of English Folk Songs.
Now a laddie from Lincolnshire did dwell,
He was courting of a fine young girl,
He asked her on one fav'rite night,
If he could sleep with her that night.

With a right for the ri-dy-vo,
Right for the ri-dy-vo.

After gaining her consent,
Straightway up to bed they went,
She placed him in an old armchair,
And underneath was some crockery ware.

Then Johnny got groping in the dark,
Thinking he was up to a lark,
He blundered up against this bloody old chair,
Then arse over head went the crockery ware.

Then the old girl woke up in a fright,
Shouting out for a candle light,
'Who goes there? I do declare,
You're breaking all my crockery ware.'

Then the damsel in that bed she laid,
Laughing at the game she played,
Said: 'It's all right, John, I do declare,
If you pay my mother for the crockery ware.'

So the very next morning the bill was made,
And onto the table it was paid,
There was ten bob for the bloody old chair,
And two pound ten for the crockery ware.

Now, all you laddies that are up to a lark,
Never go courting in the dark,
If you do, then I will declare,
You'll pay bloody dear for the crockery ware.

Et Cetera

On the tapes I heard, this was the next favourite of Fred's songs.  As in each of the words quoted, Fred's version is given.  Ron Spicer also sang this song, possibly learnt from his father, George Spicer - who was another of Elsie's regulars.  Ron's version of the last line of verse two goes '... which knocked him to the floor', which makes more sense than the version Fred sang!  Mike Yates's collection, now at the National Sound Archive, names this as The Grand Salvation Meeting.
Now, come kind friends and brother Smuts, what a glorious time will be,
A grand salvation meeting, we're going to have a tea,
There'll be ham, lamb, slam and jam, and the price will be one bob,
And I've got to act as chairman and be fairly on the job.

Oh, then we'll have some fun, et cetera, et cetera,
Brandy, tea and rum, et cetera, et cetera,
Ham, lamb, slam and jam, et cetera, et cetera,
We're going to have another, won't you come, come, come.

At a half past four we all sat down, brother Smuts said grace,
Someone upped with a piece of pork and slapped it in his face,
This pork it had some mustard on which made our brother sore,
Then someone upped with a coal scuttle until our parents roared.


We all had a band of music, a fiddle and a drum,
After tea was over, we rinsed our lips with rum,
We had a game of kissing ring and all things for a lark,
Then someone put out all the lights and left us in the dark.

Star of the Evening

This was learnt from an unknown friend who was a soldier in the Second World War.  Fred sings this three times on the tapes.  On the earliest of them, he sings it markedly slower and measured, as though he wasn't sure whether his 'audience' would know it or get any rapport from them, although during the second and third renditions, it had obviously achieved the status of a corker!  After repeated listening, I cannot quite make out the first line of the first verse, and have quoted a 'best shot'.  Nor can I find alternative versions in song indexes.  He only sang verse four once.  On one take, he began a fifth verse which started: 'Old Mae West, she lifted up her vest, to show the boys her navel' which was drowned in laughter!  This song is obviously a fragment of something much longer, or one which you made up as you went along.
There was a man who had a little dog,
And it was double-jointed, it was double-jointed,
He took it to a blacksmith's shop,
To get him all peter-pointed, get him all peter-pointed.

Star of the evening, beautiful evening star,
Star of the evening, shining on the cookhouse door.

Old John Brown, he bought a load of bricks,
To build the chimney higher, build the chimney higher,
To stop those cats from having dirty tricks,
Of peeing on the fire, peeing on the fire.

Oh mother dear, may I go out to swim?
Oh yes, my darling daughter, yes my darling daughter,
But mind the boys don't see your ..
Keep it well under water, keep it well under water.

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water, fetch a pail of water,
Jill came down with half a crown,
But not for fetching water, not for fetching water.

It Won't Take Very Very Long

This was composed and arranged by Frank W Carter and R P Weston, and sung by Harry Champion when it was published by Francis, Day and Hunter in 1902.  A four verse version has been noted by John Howson from the singing of Clifford Arbon of Monewden, Suffolk, and published in Songs Sung in Suffolk.  Clifford learned it many years earlier from his uncle Tom Parrant.
Now, it's last night straight I went to a dance, I had a date with Cinderella,
I wore a button-hole, and she said 'Upon my soul', she said 'You are a funny-looking fella.'
Then up to me came Miss Hella Bella Brown, she was pulling up her railway socks,
'Oh, Mr. Winklepie, do have a waltz, for it's just gone twelve o'clock.'

Oh, it won't last very, very long.  Oh, it won't last very, very long,
Around we went, till I said 'Whoa! We'll have some trouble in a minute, I know,
For I've got no buttons on my trousers, and the pins aren't very, very strong,
Run away, Mrs. Brown, I can feel them coming down, and it wont last very, very long.

Last night straight I went and won a pig, won it in a raffle for a tanner,
I didn't like it to roam, so I carefully took it home, and gave it to my old girl, Hannah.
Last night we made jelly of its feet, and today we stewed his head,
I made a bacca pouch out of his ear, then my old lady said:

Oh, it won't last very, very long.  No, it won't last very, very long,
All the kids, they went quite pale, when I walloped them with this pig's tail,
Then off with his weskit (waistcoat) at night time, when the baby started his song,
So I cut him off a button for his India rubber teat, and it didn't last very, very long.

Last night straight I toddled up the stairs, took off all my clobber where I'd just been,
I was taking off my kit and getting into kip, when I heard a rattle round the dustbin.
Out I pops my head in a jiff, I saw Thomas cat outside,
He was chasing another cat round our yard, 'If that's your game', I cried:

Oh, it won't last very, very long.  No, it won't last very, very long,
Out I pops and gets my gun, and plants a bullet in his hot crossed bun,
Well now Thomas cat has got the bull's eye, and his bell went ding-a-ling-a-long,
Now perhaps you've had enough, of your little bit of fluff, and it won't last very, very long.

The Soldier's Love

This was learnt from his father, who had it form a colleague who presumably served in the First World War, and is a version of Died for Love.  Similar words appear in many places, e.g. Martin Page's Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major.  Edna was convinced that Fred "had some of the words wrong", but speaking of his memory said: "that wasn't bad for a kid".
A soldier came on leave one night,
He found his house without a light,
He went upstairs to go to bed,
When a sudden thought came to his head.

He went into his daughter's room,
And found her hanging from a beam,
He took his knife and cut her down,
And on her breast these words were found.

My love was for a soldier boy,
Who sailed across the deep blue sea,
I often thought and wrote to him,
But now he never thought of me.

I wish my baby had been born,
Then all my troubles would have gone,
So dig my grave and dig it deep,
And place white roses at my feet.

Now, all you maidens, bear in mind,
A soldier's love is hard to find.
But if you find one good and true,
Never change the old love for the new.

Old King Cole

This only appeared once on the five tapes, out of the blue and quite spontaneously.  The text is well-known, but Fred stuck with the five verses, to which Den appended the verse "Every huntsman had a fine horn, and a very fine horn had he ..."
Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he,
He called for his wife in the middle of the night, and he called for his fiddlers three,
Now every fiddler had a very fine fiddle, and a very fine fiddle had he,

So feel it and a feel it and a feel it, said the fiddlers, jolly fine men are we,
There's no so fair as can compare with the boys of the alimony.

... flute and a flute, and a flute, said the fluters.

... throw up your balls in the air, said the jugglers.

... slap her up and down, up and down, said the painters.

... stick her in and out, in and out, said the cobblers.

The Violets are Blue and Roses are Red

To be fair, Fred would never have been able to get through this song without Den's help, or for that matter, Den without Fred's help!   The result of this may be muddling the order of the verses, although the version quoted seems nicely rounded off.  Each took a verse in turn, starting with Fred.  The original was written by William Hargreaves (who also wrote Burlington Bertie from Bow), and was performed by Charlie Higgins in about 1931 on Rex (No. 8012).  A version of his song appears in Songs Sung in Suffolk and was collected from Gordon Woods of Framsden by John Howson.
My sweetheart said to me one night after tea,
You've been a long time in the courting of me,
I don't wish to beg an engagement ring, dear,
But twenty-two carat would prove you're sincere.

Where the violets are blue and the roses are red,
These twenty-two carrots went out of my head,
So I bought her six lovely big turnips instead,
Where the violets are blue and the roses are red.

Out ploughing the fields like the yeomen of old,
It started to rain, I caught a terrible cold,
I went to my bedroom, and when I undressed,
A pretty young nurse started rubbing my chest.

Where the violets are blue and the roses are red,
A lovely big poultice of linseed and bread,
When I woke up next morning that poultice had spread,
Where the violets are blue and the roses are red.

Now, two lovely daughters of old Farmer Green,
Two of the nicest girls I'd ever seen,
So handsome and beautiful and just in their prime,
They were hanging their washing all out on the line.

Where the violets are blue and the roses are red,
Their sweet little nick-nacks so carefully spread,
When I looked at that clothes line, I to myself said,
'Oh, Violet's are blue and Rose's are red!'

Down at my lodging when supper's brought in,
My portion of cheese is cut painfully thin,
I said 'my sight's failing, I can't see my cheese.'
But next night at supper, I felt more at ease.

Where the violets are blue and the roses are red,
She said 'How's your eyesight, now?' 'Better', I said,
'For now I can see my cheese straight through my bread'
Where the violets are blue and the roses are red.

The woman I married had been married before,
She praised her first husband till it made me sore,
Each night after supper, she'd rant and she'd rave,
She made me dress up to visit his grave.

Where the violets are blue and the roses are red,
'Not dead, but just sleeping' was carved at his head,
So I said: 'Wake him up and take him home instead.'
Where the violets are blue and the roses are red.

Barbara Ellen

I'm indebted to John Howson for kindly sending me a copy of the recordings of Fred made by Mike Yates in 1976.  These comprise further renditions of Et Cetera and A Soldier's Love which were listed as The Grand Salvation Meeting and Died for Love respectively.  There was also a two verse fragment of the ballad Barbara Allen.  This doesn't appear in any of the Den Giddens' recordings.
In Scarlet Town where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwelling,
Made every youth cry 'well a day'
Her name was Barbara Ellen.

All through the merry month of May,
When bluebells they were dwelling,
(forgets next line),
All for the love of Barbara Ellen.

George Frampton - 23.12.98

Article MT030

Top of page Home Page Articles Reviews News Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services  Updated: 25.10.02