Article MT089

George Dunn


Musical Traditions' first CD release of 2002: George Dunn: Chainmaker (MTCD317-8), is now available.  See our Records page for details.  As a service to those who may not wish to buy the records, or who might find the small print hard to read, we have reproduced the relevant contents of the CD booklet here.

[Track Lists] [Introduction] [Reminiscences] [Work] [Recreation] [Riddles, Tales and Stories] [Notes] [The Recordings] [The Songs] [Acknowledgements] [CD One] [CD Two] [Repertoire] [Credits]

Track Lists:

Cover picture
CD OneCD Two
1 - The Miller's Song
2 - Basket of Eggs
3 - Eggs for Breakfast
4 - My Father's a Farmer
5 - Gallant Poachers
6 - Where are you Going To
7 - Nottingham Poacher
8 - Oh, She was so Good ...
9 - Rolling in the Dew
10 - Cold Blows the Wind
11 - Father Keeps a Crowing Cock
12 - Broomfield Hill
13 - Young Sailor Bold
14 - Cruel Ship Carpenter
15 - Jack the Sailor
16 - The Stowaway
17 - John Riley
18 - Caroline & Her Young Sailor Bold      
19 - Nelson's Death
20 - Open the Door
21 - While Shepherds Watched
22 - Seven Joys of Mary
23 - Christmas Rhymes
24 - While Shepherds were Watching
25 - Here we Come A-Wasslin'
1 - Oyster Girl
2 - I've got a Warren
3 - Here's Fifty Guineas
4 - Squire's Bride
5 - Trees they do Grow High
6 - Seeds of Love
7 - It was my Cruel Father
8 - Young Leonard
9 - Henry, my Son
10 - I Wish, I Wish
11 - All Fours
12 - Little Grey 'Oss
13 - The Cock it must have Crowed
14 - Rowdy Dowdy Boys
15 - The Best Man Here
16 - Don't Go Down the Mine, Dad
17 - Lawyer and Parson
18 - Female Highwayman
19 - Edward
20 - They Laid him Away on the Hillside
21 - Polly Oliver
22 - Break the News to Mother
23 - Far, Far Away on Banks of the Nile
24 - Father, Come Home, Do
25 - Hear the Nightingale Sing
26 - The Watercress Girl


George Dunn (1887-1975) was born in the Black Country village of Quarry Bank, then in Staffordshire, some eight miles west of Birmingham, and spent most of his long life there.  Click for larger map imageBoth his grandfather, Benjamin, and his father, Sampson (1858-1932) worked in the iron trade, as did George himself, who retired at the age of 72 after 59 years, mainly as a chainmaker.

He was brought up in Sheffield Street, in whose hundred houses not a single adult at that time could read or write.  In 1890, at the age of three, which was customary for the time, George Dunn started at the local board school which had recently opened.  There had been schools in the area before, but they were fee-paying (3d. a week), and optional.  The local community was not well-disposed towards compulsory schooling.  The few pence a week which a child could earn were welcome when sugar was twopence a pound and beer a penny a pint.  George's father had begun work at the age of eight, and George remarked that his parents "were that benighted they dae [didn't] know what we went [to school] for".  What they did go for was a grim regime of grammar, copy-writing on slates, chanting tables and doing geometrical drawing.  Singing and dancing for boys took place only between the ages of three and seven.  George remembered one song from that time, The Cuckoo and the Donkey. In the junior department there were fifty boys in George's 'standard'.  Teaching methods were rudimentary: "they 'ommered it into we".

There were redeeming features such as woodwork, and George enjoyed reading and recitation.  He recalled some of the stories he had read, especially of Bill Cody and the Pony Express, and remembered poems he had learned by heart.  One of the few departures from routine during his ten years at school seems to have been on the occasion of Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1897, when the pupils all had a "tay party" and a medal.  Not surprisingly, George and his fellows were "like little devils when we were loosed out".  If they passed the Labour Examination, children were allowed to start working half-time at the age of eleven.  George continued full-time at school until he was thirteen, his parents having been impressed by his progress in reading and writing.  (In later life his preferred authors were Charles Dickens and Francis Brett Young).  Long before he left school, though, he contributed to the family budget by working for half of his two-hour school lunch break "a-blowin'" - that is, pumping the bellows in one of the backyard chainshops which abounded in the village. His wage was a penny a week, and he also earned a few coppers in the evenings by acting as a barber's lather boy.

George's first full-time job was as a blower at a wage of 3s. 6d. for a 59-hour week - less than a penny an hour, since the working day ran from 6 am to 6 pm, with an hour's break for dinner and half an hour for breakfast (except on Saturdays, when work ended at 1 pm, with only the breakfast break earlier).  This was at Ernest Stevens's Judge Holloware works at Cradley Heath, from which George moved in 1904 to the newly established chainmaking factory of Noah Bloomer and Sons in Oak Street, Quarry Bank.  His wage rose to 10s. a week.  By 1913 this had become 18s. but he judged this too small to marry on, and gave notice.  The firm raised his wage to £1 a week, and he stayed for a further 46 years, the last ten as the superintendent of the proof house.  The chain trade is not well documented, and George's reminiscences provide a vivid picture.  They also illuminate a small Black Country community both at work and play.  He describes the cruel sport of cockfighting (then still current, despite being illegal), together with the gentler pastimes of fishing, dog racing and pigeon flying. Spells of hop-picking in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, hard though they were, provided welcome relief as well as supplementary income.

Again and again, he mentions singing; in the fields, at home, in the pubs: hymns; operatic arias; music hall items; and above all, the traditional songs learned from his father (who was also a champion whistler).  Much of the learning was done literally at his father's knee.  This is how George's brother, Ernie (born 1901), put it:

And father would oblige, thus demonstrating that George's statement that no free education existed before the board schools was true at only one level; there was a vigorous popular culture, far richer than the formal schooling of the day, consisting of songs, stories, riddles, sayings, the fabric of speech itself, and transmitted largely by oral means.  Much of George's store would have died with him, but for a chance encounter.

By 1971 he had been retired for twelve years.  He was well known in Quarry Bank as a former chainmaker but his celebrity as a private party and public house singer was forty years behind him.  Even his daughter, Mrs Valerie Chapman, had little inkling of his songs.  However, Mrs Rhoma Bowdler, a mature student at Wolverhampton Day Training College for teachers, visited the village in search of oral reminiscences of the chain trade.

Photo by Janet KerrShe stopped passers-by in the High Street in search of informants, and by great good fortune received directions to George Dunn's door.  Quickly realising that he had not only reminiscences but a repertoire of songs, she called in Charles Parker, producer of the BBC radio ballad series, a course of whose lectures she was attending.  The two of them had three recording sessions with George in March and April 1971, after which Parker's commitments called him elsewhere.  I then made some twelve further sets of recordings over a period of two and a half years, and continued visiting George until his death in March 1975.  Ewan MacCoIl and Peggy Seeger made recordings in 1972 which are now held at Ruskin College, Oxford.  In December 1971, Bill Leader recorded George in his home, and in January 1975 issued an LP with thirteen of his songs.  Two months later when I visited George in Hayley Green hospital, a few days before he died, I found that he had taken with him a copy of the record to show to doctors and nurses.  He had a deep sense of pride that his singing and his songs would be preserved for posterity.  Peter Bellamy in a review described the record as "one of the best and most important - and essential - folksong recordings of the year, perhaps of the decade".

The LP is long since deleted, but perhaps I can quote my own words from its introductory notes:

Roy Palmer - December 2001


Born on the floor

I was born on the 24th December in 1887.  In Sheffield Street before there was any numbers on the 'ouses it was number three on the left-hand side goin' down from the 'igh Street.  There was nobody in the 'ouse when I was born except me mother.  The midwife, who resided with us, were out on another case and before she came back I was borned.  I was born on the floor and 'er [his mother] was on the floor.  'Er was on the floor a lung, lung time before somebody come into th'ouse to fetch the midwife.  When I was born I got starved to death and I've never got bloody warm since.


My mother's breed o' women, they'm only little uns, but they were brave as lions.  The wife wouldn't leave 'er kids.  I've seen some terrible things 'appen to women.  I've seen men 'alf kill 'em, only barely left 'em alive, but they wouldn't forsake their kids.  The struggle to rear the kids, yo' cort [cannot] imagine 'ow 'ard it was.  'A Bit of the Black Country' - from Roy Palmer's postcard collection.It beggars the imagination.  We used t'ave a lot more dinner times than dinners where we'm bin reared.

'Er used to bake 'er own bread, and 90 per cent did.  They'd all got a little oven in the brew 'ouse.  I've known it when money's bin short, and it was short mostly at th'end o' the week.  We'd got a job to make it last, you know, 'cause they never knew what they were a-goin' t'ave on the Saturday.  If they 'ad a pound, and there was nine on us to keep - there was no trouble that wik.

'Er was a jolly little woman, my mother was.  Mother sang like a nightingale.  'Er sung all them [songs] father sung: 'er learned 'em off 'im.  If it come Friday - 'er'd got five sons and two daughters - 'er'd got to get we all out o' bed and get us off to school.  'Er'd say, "Come on, bobbies1 - The word does not appear in Wright's Dictionary of Dialect.1 for breakfast this morning." Bobbies'd be some 'ot water and bread and sugar.  And sugar was very cheap: twopence a pound, and yo' could buy 'a'porth o' tay, 'a'porth o' sugar.  And 'er'd get the kettle biling.  I might tell yer it was only bread an' waiter but it was a banquet.  We'd 'ave bobby every mornin' only we knowed it was no good for we.  We'd allus got plenty o' bread and if dinners were meagre any time, 'er'd say, "Fill yer bellies lads; ate plenty bread."

'Er reared seven on we and 'er could rear anything.  'Er reared seven.  I was the second.  Th'owdest, 'er was three years owder than me.  [She was] called Valerie, which was a French name.  This was in 1884.  Our church, it'd bin up about twenty years then2 - Quarry Bank Parish Church was opened in 1847.2.  When she came to be christened, Aunt Polly said to Mother - by the way, 'er was named Polly3 - This must have been a pet name: according to George Dunn's birth certificate, she was Mary Elizabeth Dunn (née Horton).3 as well - "Polly, if yo'll 'ave 'er named Valerie I'll buy 'er all 'er clo's to dock 'er in".  ('Til they were about three months old they wore big long gowns.  When they got bigger they'd dock 'em, put 'em in short clo's).  Aunt Polly says to mother "If yo'll 'ave 'er named Valerie I'll buy 'er the first lot to dock 'er in." Mother says, "All right."

A problem with spelling

When she took 'er up to Quarry Bank Church to be christened she told the clergyman4 - Rev T Carpenter Dixon.4 "I want 'er named Valerie." 'E says to mother, 'e says " 'Ow d'yer spell it?" Mother couldn't read, not at all.  After a bit o' talk 'e said, "I think yer better tek 'er back", 'e says, " 'an' bring 'er another day.  I'll christen 'er then." Of course, 'e expected mother to go an' find out 'ow ter spell Valerie.  There was nobody in Quarry Bank as could spell it.

When 'er took it back next time 'e says "I can't christen 'er if I can't spell 'er name." So mother says "Oh well, I bay comin' up 'ere no more with 'er.  Yo' gotta christen 'er now.  'Er gotta be named summut", 'er says.  "Name 'er Mary Ann, yo' can spell that cor you?" "Oh yes", 'e says "I can spell that." And she was christened Mary Ann, but that never altered 'er name what 'er should've 'ad.  When mother brought 'er back - they always shortened the name then - 'er was Vally.  'Er went all through life with that name.

Hard times

It was a struggle to rear seven kids, it was a struggle.  And yet we never went 'ungry with all the 'ard times.  Mind you, it was rough.  Every penny was valuable.  You could buy quite a lot with a penny.  Yo' could 'ave a penn'orth of almost anything from the chemist.  If your mother was bad you could go to the chemist and get a little thin wood box.  They'd fill it for a penny with green ile [oil] of elder.  Another thing as I remember quite well at the chemist's - I never realised this, no not 'til I was a man - when they got the small children a-suckin' at the breast, the children'd get bad mouths and there was a certain cure for it.  You know what we asked for?  A penn'orth of onion burrus.  Old Cox as kept the chemist's shop, 'e knowed as onion burrus was onion borax - fill a little box almost 'alf an inch deep: penny.

The Dunns

'Er comes from Woodside.  That's where she was born, but father was born in Quarry Bank and so was I.  Our ancestry is lost in obscurity.  We know no further than we grandparents.  There's quite a lot o' Dunns in Quarry Bank.  They were all workers, colliers and chainmakers.  My father was iron worker, a puddler.  His father was a bundler.  'E was a puddler.  The first thing we remember about 'im were when 'e worked at Corngraves5 - The New British Iron Company at Corngreaves, near Halesowen, was started in 1810 and closed in 1894.5.  'Im an' 'is uncle and 'is brothers, they were a team.  They were all there.  Their uncle was the boss.


Me father worked there 'til 'e was in middle age.  Puddling6 - There is a description of puddling in Walter White, All Round the Wrekin, 1860, pp258-9.6, it was a most laborious job.  The composition that made the iron was put in the furnace.  After the furnace was loaded the temperature was got up by coal until all this material they'd put in 'ad all gotta be mixed up by a man with a pole about ten foot long.  Their job was when the iron began to melt: they'd gotta keep a-mixin' an' shoving while it was on the boil.  When it got so far all the rubbish in the furnace that wouldn't make iron, it'd float on the top and th'iron'd go to the bottom.  Then they'd open the tapping box an' all the slag'd run off the top o'th'iron.  Then they'd gotta break it into pieces.

Six balls to one 'eat: they'd gotta turn that into six balls of iron and they'd go to keep on mixing it up all the time, turning the paddle, jamming it through.  The balls that they made were taken to the steam 'ammer or the elbow 'ammer, which was worked by water - a water wheel.  Any slag that'd be left in th'iron, it'd be knocked out by th'ammer.  After that there was a set of rollers on the bar bank and the roller would roll it into a piece of iron about inch thick.  That'd be put on the one side for the mill furnacemen t'ave it.  They'd cut it up.  That was put into the mill furnace and just got on the melt.  It was 'eated welding 'ot, then it was put into the rolling mills.  When it went through the mills it was an iron bar.  These iron bars 'ad to be cut into lengths.  It was bundled up, this iron was.  The bundler cut it with the shear, another thing as worked with the water-wheel.  After that they 'ad a big pair o' scales and they were made into hundredweights, so many rods in a bundle.

My father 'ad one or two bouts o' sickness.  'E 'ad typhoid fever, and it was an epidemic.  Everybody in the street 'ad got it nearly.  There was only one doctor, Dr Tibbets.  I remember it quite well.  I'd be about ten year of age when my father 'ad it and twenty in the street died.  They dae expect to get better.

Sheffield Street

From the time you got up in the mornin', did a day's work and come back, there were fourteen or fifteen hours gone.  It took an hour from when you got out o' bed to Netherton - that's three miles away - or to Corngrave, the New British Iron Works, almost at Halesowen.  And after they'd puddled this iron, when they got back there were fifteen hours gone.  Me father and me mother, neither on 'em could read and in the 'ole street, Sheffield Street - I lived in Sheffield Street all me life 'til I come 'ere, and I should 'a' liked to stop there to finish me days there - [no one could read].  It was a mean street but there was a lot o' love in it and a lot o' camaraderie.  I'll admit it was a mean street but there was lots o' kindness in it.  And there was lots o' poverty ...  plenty o' poverty.

There was no [married] women employed then.  It didn't matter what they worked at, when they got married, they'n finished.  Their job was 'ousework.  It was a 'ard job.  There was lots o' kids.  Them as we lived next door to, them 'ad 21.  Then it was the same all down the street.  But the neighbours when yer father wasn't at work, the neighbours'd say to me "Georgie, 'a'n 'ad any dinner?" I'd say "No, missus." 'Er'd say "Come on in." She'd 'ave some lard or some drippin'.  It was devoured with relish.  That was the spirit that appertained.  It doesn't appertain now, you know.


Me father was a fisherman.  'Is 'obby was fishin'.  Most o' the time after 'e finished work on a Saturday 'e'd pack up and clear off and we shouldn't see 'im no more 'til Sunday night.  'E'd 'ave the night in the pub, a rendez-vous for fishermen at Kinver or Cookley.  'E done years o' that.  They used to put some eel lines in at night: piece o' string, 'ook on the end and a grub or a small fish they'd caught for pike.  Pike'd tek the gudgeon.  Mind, it was all poachin'.  Kinver was a private estate [belonging to] the Earl of Enville.  There was th'Earl of Dudley round 'ere, Lord Cobham at 'Agley, Clent and th'Earl of Enville - them three.  If you'd got on an eminence and could look all the way round, three or four mile, they owned the lot.  Nobody else owned anything.

If father was alive today 'e'd be called a naturalist.  'E knew where all the birds nested and all the bird songs.  Me father was a champion whistler.  'E was known.  Anybody come to Quarry Bank and inquire for Sam the whistler 'e was directed to our 'ouse.  Sampson; but they called 'im Sam.

The Quarry Bank nightingale

The nightingale sings at night.  Wheer we are now I should say for fifty acres it was all woodland.  We used to call this the bottom wood and that up theer the top wood.  One summer, just for a bit o' devilment, father went an' took a nightingale up to the top wood and for a fortnight there came crowds to 'ear it.  'E took a nightingale up 'isself.  'E did it!  Father went up to the wood one night and 'e whistled a nightingale.  Our woods they grow like a jungle and it was easy for 'im to conceal 'imself.  It went on for about a fortnight until it got too big to 'andle.  There come too many people down at night.  From Dudley and Brierley Hill and Wolver'ampton.  It was summut special.  When it got too 'ot 'e dae go no more.  The nightingale dae sing no more.  That hoax was never known, only t'us kids.  'E towd us about it.  I were thirteen then.


'E must 'a' bin a funny man.  I've 'eard 'im tell this tale.  'E got married at Quarry Bank church.  The site was given by th'Earl o' Dudley and a firm of firebrick makers gave the bricks.  The first vicar7 - Rev. William Lamb Cox, incumbent from 1844 until 1854.7 'e on'y kept at it a short time and then Dr Dixon8 - Incumbent 1854-93.8 came and 'e took it over and 'e was vicar a lung, lung time.  'Im an' McNulty9 - Rev Thomas McNulty, incumbent from 1893 to 1920.9, who was an Irishman and a very well educated man, they 'ad it for very near 'undred years.  The vicar was somebody in those days.  It come time for father to get married.  Father must 'a' bin a bit rough because the vicar [Dr Dixon] said when 'e was a-marryin' 'im, "You're the chap that comed an' stale my apples, aren't yer?" Father said "Yes, I've 'ad one or two." 'E says "Yo're the chap as fights my choir boys, aren't yer?" Father says "I've 'ad one or two goes with 'em." "Well," 'e says, "I hope you'll be a better man in future an' 'ave more sense."


The New Inns, that was a grand place for 'im when 'e'd got a bob or two, but when 'e'd got no money, apart from fishing 'e'd got no other 'obby, none at all, and 'e used t' amuse we kids by singin' these songs.  'E used to sing to we to keep we quiet for one thing and to see we didn't get into mischief for another.  Photo of George by Janet Kerr.And that's how we went along.  'E used to sing 'undreds o' songs.  'Ad it not bin for Dad I should 'a' known none o' these songs.  What me father sung I never seed in print, then or now.  'E just carried 'em about in 'is 'ead.  'E couldn't write 'imself, nor Mother.  Anybody as 'ad a letter in out street, they'd gotta go an' find somebody as could read it for 'em.

Jack Clark was th' on'y man I knew at that time as could read.  It was the New Inns, Quarry Bank, and it was Moses Stephens that kep' it.  'E 'ad the paper at night10 - Birmingham Evening Dispatch.10 - and by the way, that was a ha'penny.  Jack Clark, 'e 'ad some beer to read the paper to the customers.

There was no diversion except the pub.  Beer was very cheap.  You could always 'ave a pint for a penny.  They were allus singin' in the pub.  It was like a concert every night.  Now that [The Miller's Song] always went very well in a pub.  When they'm primed they'd put the 'fal diddle day' on it.  I learned it off me father.  We sung in the pubs more than anywhere else.  Me father sung in the pubs and I sung in the pubs.  That was where we gathered.  I'll sing you an Irish song as 'e used to sing [Far, far Away]. I've never 'eard anybody else sing it.  It must be 60 or 70 years ago.  That was in the troublesome times in Ireland.  'Istorically, it's true.  They 'ad used to goo an' turn 'em out of their cottage.  Well, they weren't cottages, they were cabins.  She's only one [in the song] out o' thousands as was turned out and the cottage burned down.  The laws were very drastic.  Cromwell - they've never forgiven Cromwell, and they never will - burned Londonderry Castle11 - The massacre took place at Drogheda in 1649.11 down with all the folks in it.  'E gid 'em ultimatum to come out, if they didn't come out that day they'd never come out no more.  And they didn't come out so 'e carried 'is threat out.  So 'e set fire to the castle, roasted everybody that was in it.  That's an 'istorical fact.


My father died in 1932.  'E was 74 then.  My sister was one of the first that ever attended Quarry Bank Board School.  There'd never bin no education before12 - From 1844 there was a church-run day school in a former nail warehouse at Victoria Road, Quarry Bank. This may well have been fee-paying and George Dunn is referring to free schooling.12 and them that owned the works saw to it that they didn't get any.  They wanted a big pool o' powerful men as could work 'ard for very little money.  When I got married I got a pound a wik if I was lucky.  It were very difficult to do a week's work: there was always some snag, either no iron or no cokes.

I went to school at three.  I think that's about the first thing I can remember, when I was took to school.  The children was always took to school at three at that time.  Nine 'til twelve and two 'til 'alf past four.  By the way, at that time they 'ad a wooden signal.  It went click - that was for silence.  I remember who the teacher was: she was Miss Yeomans who eventually became Mrs England.  She married a teacher, William England, from the school.  They 'ad a big family.

She asked us what a penny was.  Well, we could answer that, at least, some of us could.  Then she asked us what 'alf-penny was.  She said "What are the two together?" They couldn't say "Three 'a'pence."

We sung little ditties such as The Cuckoo and the Donkey.  I sung that in th'Infants.  We sung quite a lot o' little ditties.  I was very good at poetry.  I was really boss in the class for poetry.  Every year we 'ad at school a piece o' poetry as we'd got to learn.  The one as learned it first, as could recite it from beginning to end, 'e 'ad a concession.  I got most of them.  We used to 'ave The Building o' the Ship and The Midnight Ride o' Paul Revere.  I cor recite it now, only snatches on it.  That's bin welly eighty year ago.

Education was very poor.  The sex problem, it was kept very much in the dark.  'Ow we learned about it was in little bits.  There was all big families and it was the biggest mystery in the world.  Because that your mother was going t'ave a baby, you didn't know, you never noticed any difference, then all of a sudden there'd be an addition to the family.  "Wheer's it come from?  Wheer's the babby come from, Mother?" "Oh, the doctor's brought it in 'is bag."

Christmas singing

[We used to] sing at the door when we were young.  Christmas Eve: they'd run yer off if you went before.  Three or four, just a little gang.  We just went to them as we knew.  They'd gie us 'a'p'nny or a mince pie or something like that.  I remember once it was Christmas and I went a-carol singing and I went with two cousins, Fred Dunn an' Sam Dunn and we went t'Evans that was the tripe shop.  They were a musical family.  We went to various doors and got a copper or two, and I can always remember this, because when we all went in all the Evanses were there.  They were all choristers and they enjoyed singing we sung by the door an' they asked us in.  After we'd sung a carol they asked me to sing one by meself, so I sung 'em one.  After I'd sung it they 'ad a collection for me, threepence or fourpence.  There was a row about that when we came out: they wanted to share it.  I said, "Oh no! I sung for this meself."

They used to sell Lucky Bags.  They were only a penny.  There were one or two sweets in or a little settee or chair but on the back there'd be the words of a song.  All sorts.  They'm owd now, such as Oh Molly Riley:

Oh, Molly Riley, I love you. 
Tell me, Molly Riley, does yer 'eart beat true?
Marry me my darling, I'll die if you say no
And you'll never 'ave another, Molly Riley, oh.

A song like that, or another as I remember, Sweet Marie.  All such as them and Genevieve or I'll Take you 'ome again, Kathleen; all them sort used to be the back o' the Lucky Bags.  Sweets were cheap: twopence 'a'p'nny a pound.


First job - blowing

There was quite a lot o' play.  When I say play I mean unemployment.  In this district there was only one little work and when you left school you never knew when you were goin' to be employed.  As a matter of fact, my first job, the first job I ever 'ad was blowing.  I was thirteen years of age.  I'd left school and every penny counted.  I 'ad three an' a tanner a wik for that.  The bellows, big leather bellows, they were put into a frame: two posts with a crossbar and a rock13 - Rocker or lever.13 on the back.  There'd be a 'ook t'ook on the bottom of the bellows.  They were a double bellows.  By working the rock yo'd pull the bellows up.  Pull of the rock.  The rock'd be about six feet long and the bellows from the front to the back, they'd be about five.  Then yo'd do that all day.

There was a certain amount of wind come out of the bellows when you pulled the rock but if you wanted some fiercer blast, if they wanted the fire bigger, they put weights on the back of the bellows.  They put some mighty weights on sometimes.  It was wuss than bein' in the galleys, I can tell you that.  All day six to six.  Thirteen!  My dad started at eight [years old].  I 'ad a brother as passed the labour, the labour examination at eleven.  If you passed the examination at eleven yo' could work 'alftime.

There was one work, about a mile from 'ere.  That was the Judge 'Olloware by Cradley Station.  They employed quite a few people.  I worked there meself when I left school, thirteen.  I worked there for about a couple of years14 - In fact, for four years from 1900 to 1904.14.  I went up to Noah Bloomer's after and I worked there 'til I was 72.

Noah Bloomer's

Our firm was just a-startin' then.  Noah Bloomer's and Sons was just a-gettin' on its legs.  They couldn't market their own production: they 'ad to do it [manufacture] for a bigger man in the district.  When it come to pay time on a Saturday - we should 'a' bin paid about one o'clock.  George at Bloomers - early 1970s, photo by Janet Kerr.Sometimes it was tea-time before we got the money because the youngest - there were four in our firm - the youngest, it was 'is job to go round to the people that we'd bin a-makin' the chain for to collect the money to pay us.  When 'e come back on a Saturday - it was only a little wooden place, th'office.  I dare say there was about twenty employed there, then.  It grew while I was there - 'e'd bring a few 'alf-sovereigns and a few 'alf-crowns in 'is 'at.  'E'd bring it into the office, "George!" (if it was a good week) " 'ere's a pound for you." Gold sovereign.  Gold.  One of me brothers, "'Ere's 'alf-a-sovereign for you an' two 'alf-crowns." That was 'is week's wages.

Ultimately it grew to a big firm.  We 'elped to make the cables for the Titanic and various others.  We done some for the Queen Elizabeth.  We grew to quite a respectable firm that employed 'undred.  We made up to as 'igh as three-inch - three inches in diameter.  Every link in the chain was 'alf a yard.  It weighed tremendous.  They mek it now down Brettell Lane, but they mek it by electricity now not by 'and15 - And Bloomer's is also closed.15.  Me brothers all worked in the chain trade.  I was in it for above 55 years and t'others 'ave got 50 year in.  It was a struggle - but when the 1914 war come, that altered things.

I was 27.  Yo'd be singing some of the war songs: God Send you Back to Me or The Roses of Picardy.  They were songs from the music halls: Down at th'owd Bull an' Bush and 'Er as Followed the Van.  The News of the World kept yer up to date wi' the songs every Sunday.  'Alf a page o' the News of the World16 - This feature started in 1898 and continued until 1939. A song from this column, entitled His Little Wife was With him All the Time, is reprinted in my Everyman's Book of British Ballads, 1980, p205.16 or The People with the words an' music on ready to prop up agen the piano.

I was a key worker.  I've got a medal: 'National Service'.  If yo' walked about the village and 'adn't got one o' them on, if a policeman saw you 'e'd stop you: "Yo' oughta be in France".  After the war there came a general rise.  We started to get a bit more money then.


You might have called me a smith.  I did lots o' things beside mekin' chain: blacksmithin'.  Chainmakin' is a sort o' smithin'17 - Cf: further accounts of chainmaking: Report as to the condition of nail makers and small chain makers in South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire by the Labour Correspondent of the Board of Trade presented to the House of Commons in 1888; 'The chainmakers of Cradley Heath' no.iv in series by R.H.Sherard entitled 'The White Slaves of England' in Pearson's Magazine, 1896; 'The chainmakers of Cradley and thereabouts' by E Kestle in the Conference Handbook, 1974, of the Institute and College of Craft Education.17.  Gerrin' iron got an' welding it, forging it into different shapes.  I worked there 'til I retired.  George at Bloomers - early 1970s, photo by Janet Kerr.As a rule, unless your father worked there, or unless you knowed someone also'd take you there and learn you the trade as a striker...  Most o'the work was big work.  It required a team of two or three or even four.  When I told you we made some three-inch, every link'd be above hundredweight.  Well, it took about four men to do that job.  If you 'adn't got somebody to take yer in an' give you a job to work with 'em, it was 'earth-fillin'.  Every chainmaker'd got an 'earth [hearth] with a fire in the middle on it.  That's where 'e made 'is chain.  Yo' filled the 'earths.  The fires were made o' cokes an' yo' did that.  If you'd got a minute or two to spare an' somebody else o' yer own age were working there yo'd goo an' do 'is job for a link or two.  Let 'im 'ave a rest.  'E wouldn't mind at all.  Whenever you got a chance to use the 'ammer, yo' would.  Eventually you would attain the skill to do the job.

It was all rule of thumb, when the iron was weldable - and there's other times when the temperature 'as risen when they'd gotta be very careful because it'd smash, it'd pulverise like breadcrumbs.  If 'e [the chainmaker] brought 'is link out weldable but wanting threshin', 'e'd say to the stikers "Come on quick! 'it it! 'it it! 'it it!"  If it'd gone over when 'e brought it out, an' it'd pulverise: "Light! light! light!  Ooh, you bloody fool!"

You can almost feel it when you'm a-workin' it.  The good iron, it's meant to stretch.  It stretches an' 'owds but th' 'ard iron, it's brittle, an' when yo' put the weight on it, it cracks.  If it's good quality iron when you bring it out it's like toffee.  That is the secret of a good workman.

All the chain they make, it's gotta be tested.  It's got to pass the government test.  It's made in lengths of fifteen fathoms, that's thirty yards.  Some vessels that are going to work in the deep waters in their 'outfit', as they term it, they might 'ave twenty lengths.  These lengths can be shackled up.  If they want six lengths they shackle six lengths o' chain up.  I were the superintendent o' the test for the last ten years.

Women workers

Houses 'adn't used to be two bob a week18 - On another occasion the figure quoted was precise: 1s. 9d. per week.18.  They couldn't let their 'ouses unless they'd got a shop at the back for the women.  Some shops'd got two 'earths.  The women an' children worked the bellows themselves.  I've seen scores o' babies on the 'earth in a clothes basket; be very nice an' warm.  Photo of a woman working at a hearth - from Roy Palmer's postcard collection.They were chain mostly, there was only one or two isolated nailmakers.  I started work in 1900.  There were very few nailmakers at Quarry Bank at that time because they'd changed over to chainmakers.  The chain 'earths were exactly the same.  Quite a lot o' the men worked in their own shops together with their wives an' children.

I knew the number of rods in every bundle of iron, from a quarter - that was number one - to three-quarters - that was the top size they bundled.  It was very uniform, th' iron was, in a bundle which was 'undredweight or 'alf-'undredweight.  You'd always find exactly the same number o' rods in it.  They was nine foot, ten foot an' twelve foot rods.  The longer the rod the less the number; and each one 'ad gotta be cut off.

Nelly, the last lady chainmaker in Quarry Bank, worked for Bloomer's.  She made out-chain for Bloomer's and Jones's and Lyall's and Griffiths' and Alf Billingham.  They could make it for anybody if they could get th' iron.

Some o' the chainmakers on the very big chain, they employed three men beside themselves.  That made the fire up into a team.  The chainmaker, 'e employed the strikers.  The striker's name, prior to this last year, 'is name was never in th' office, never until it 'ad to be Pay As You Earn.  'E paid 'em what 'e liked, what they worked for.  The pit was the same - the butty.  That's 'ow it was.  But the women, if they could make chain, they went to any master and asked for some iron to make into chain, to bring back to the boss, whoever it was.  There was quite a few round 'ere.  When they 'ad 'undredweight of iron they were supposed to work it up - buy their own fuel - and return it to the master when it was worked up.  If not - then when they 'ad another order worked up.  That'd be two hundredweight of chain but that's an impossibility.  You see, you can't make two 'undredweight o' chain out o' two hundredweight of iron because of the scale.  You've seen iron scale, I suppose?

Well, they used to be allowed what they called 'ild19 - Again, Wright does not include the word.19.  If they'd got 'undredweight of iron they'd gotta return 'undred an' four pound o' chain.  Eight pound less the 112.  When they were working this iron up, working it into chain, they were as careful with it as gold.  It didn't matter to an eighth of an inch whether the links were uniform or not in the chain that they made.  When they cut the links off they 'ad a gauge.  That'd got to work out to the nine feet or ten feet or twelve feet whatever the length th' iron was, because they daredn't spoil a link an' 'ave a little bit left.  Iron, at the time I'm talking about, was five pound a ton.  It was that.  It's seventy today.

When they took their 'undredweight o' chain in, if it weighed 'undred pound, it were four pound short see?  They'd get fourpence knocked off.  For years an' years it was two an' threepence 'undredweight for 'bare sevens'.  Now there was lots o' girls an' women down Sheffield Street as made bare sevens.  Bare sevens was the most popular size for selling.  It was the most popular size to mek.  If they were a pound short they'd gotta pay a penny a pound for that.  If they got 'undred an' six pound in, they got 'a'p'nny a pound for that [on each of the two extra pounds].  That was the meanness of the masters.  It's true.

The lowest grade that I'm talking about now, the prices were what I say.  They were what we called 'slap'.  They could make that quick.  'T 'adn't got to be nice an' polished, you see.  It was very rough some on it.  That was slap.

They used to work all sorts of hours.  Sheffield Street was alive at ten o' clock wi' chainmakers - ten o' clock at night.  They didn't start at a specified time.  They 'ad to buy their own firin'.  Most of 'em 'd got big gardens.  Plenty gardenin'.  Plenty gardenin'.  I'd got 'alf-acre nearly.  I'd gotta little orchard.


Photo of 1910 women chainmakers' strike - from Stourbridge County Express.Within the last ten years I've seen chainmakers coming out o' work with the sweat a-comin' out o' their shoes, flop.  There was some sort of a union later but at the time I'm talking about there was no union20 - The Report (v.sup.) mentions a six-week strike for the implementation of an agreed list of prices led by the Chain Makers' Association of Cradley Heath in 1888. This comment was made: 'Numerous attempts have been made from time to time to establish a strong union but invariably without success' (p38). A union certainly existed in 1896 since Sherard (v.sup.) acknowledged his debt to the secretary of the Chainmakers' Union, Mr James Smith. There is an obvious need for some research on this matter.20.  I don't believe the women ever 'ad a union but they did force the masters to make a scale - lists21 - There was a strike of women chainmakers in 1910 led by Mary Macarthur (see photo, right) to compel the employers to pay the rates newly agreed by the chainmaking trade board.21.  The chainmakers they got a job at the rate what the work was paid, see.  If they didn't like the rate, if they could do better somewhere else, they just left.  I never knowed an organised strike, never in me life, [at] Sammy Taylor's, Sykes's, Rees's, Kingsley's, Griffiths's, Griffin's.

Women were only employed in their own workshops really, but there were a shop that'd got about a dozen 'earths in - Arthur Bloomer.  Twelve 'earths, two sixes.  Poor Clare turned a wheel and it 'ad some mechanical appliance up in the roof attached to the bellows.  As she turned this wheel the rocks come up automatically.  She'd gotta do that for twelve hours.  She 'ad about ninepence for that.  You can bet your life on that22 - Cf Sherard (p412-3) 'In the smaller factories manual labour is employed to work the machines by which the forges are supplied with blast and here also the master extorts an unjustifiable profit. I remember seeing a woman thus supplying 'blast' to four forges. She was a pitiful being, chlorotic, with hair almost white and a stamp of imbecility - too easily comprehended - on her ravaged, anaemic face. Her work lasted twelve hours a day and during the whole of this time she had to turn the handle of a wheel which actuated the bellows of four forges. Each worker paid 3s a week to the master for blast, whilst the anaemic albino received for her squirrel slavery 'when things were good', the wages of 6s a week.'22.

Wages and hours

After they'd worked 'til ten o'clock at night if they'd got nine bob a week clear they were lucky.  So much so that they used to go out on it if they could get a job in a factory.  They dae get no more there but it wasn't so laborious.  It's 'ard job mekin' chain.  The factory hours when I started, they were six 'til six.  Then it was reduced by an hour, and Saturday 'til one instead of 'til two.  I don't think anybody did anything about the chain trade 'til Mary Macarthur23 - Mary Reid Macarthur (1880-1921) was appointed General Secretary of the Women's Trade Union League in 1903. Three years later she helped to found both the National Ant-Sweating League and the National Federation of Women Workers. 'Her work for the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath was especially notable. She was elected by them as a workers' representative on the chainmaking trade board (1909) and after this board had fixed legal minimum rates of wages she led a memorable strike of the women in order to compel the employers to pay the new rates of wages without the delay permitted by the Trade Boards Act of 1909.' (DNB). See also M.A.Hamilton Mary Macarthur: a biographical sketch, 1925, and Margaret Cole's essay in her Women of Today, 1938.23 come from London.  She 'ad a crusade round 'ere.  After that we 'ad Margaret Bondfield, the first woman Minister of Labour24 - Margaret Grace Bondfield (1873-1953) was the first British woman cabinet minister. She became Minister of Labour in 1929 during Ramsay MacDonald's second administration. In 1906 she had helped Mary Macarthur to form the National Federation of Women Workers.24.

If they played on a Monday, if there was a pigeon race or a dog match (I'm talking about whippets) they didn't come to work, and if they dae work, I couldn't work.  There were some people, they were better workmen than others.  From the best to the worst, one man could get twice as much as another in a day, see?  No uniformity.  All piece work: you got what you earned.

The bosses were annoyed some time if they'd made a contract to make a outfit o' chain, shall we say.  It 'ad to be made to time when the ship was being built.  Most on it was made like that: it'd gotta be made to time.  If they started playing for their own interest it was plenty o' play with the bosses' interest.  You couldn't do a week's work.  You weren't paid weekly, you were paid daily.  It was badly organised.  There was either no cokes or no iron or summut the matter with the machinery.  You were never sure yo'd do a wik's work.  You were paid by the penny.  Sevenpence a day.  Six to six: twelve hour day.  You 'ad hour for dinner and 'alf-hour for breakfast out o' that.  Not Saturday: one o' clock on Saturday.

'E [one employer] 'ad a factory at Cradley 'Eath just by the railway station.  'E employed 'undreds.  'E was very firm in 'is methods and got very rich in later life.  'E got to be a man that gave money away.  'E gave most of 'is money away before 'e died.  'E gave most of the park in Quarry Bank and 'e gave us a lectern at the church - beautiful lectern25 - The lectern was presented on 1900 by Mr Ernest Stevens, the owner of Judge Holloware. He employed both George Dunn and his father.25.

"Wuss than Scrooge"

In Quarry Bank church, after the '14 war, the vicar was originally McNulty26 - See note 8.26; 'e retired, they brought a young soldier to be vicar.  'Is name was Vizard27 - Rev A H Vizard, incumbent 1920-3, a former army chaplain.27.  He was a jolly fellow.  'E used to go and 'ave a pint o' beer in the pubs with the men and got very popular.  'E done quite a lot o' things for the church.  'E started a Men's Movement.  I was a member o' that for ...  oh years.  'E was given this lectern.  The clerk - 'e called 'isself a clerk - 'e was an old soldier who'd been to the African war and 'e was sergeant in one of our regiments, I don't know which, but 'e was the verger or grave-digger, and 'e was the godfather to all the kids that were christened at the church.  'E was the clerk, Mr 'Ackett28 - Mr A Hackett.28.

So 'e [the employer] gave this lectern to the church and the vicar was talking to Mr 'Ackett about 'is goodness and benevolence.  'E told the vicar "It doh matter about 'is benevolence.  'E'll go to 'ell when 'e dies, yo' can bet yer life on that.  Nothing can save 'im because 'e's been the greatest sweater o' labour that anybody ever known.  Now, Mr Vizard, yo' tell me this.  What 'opes 'as a man of 'eaven who does tricks like this or causes 'em to be done?  Look at all the people that work at Brierley 'Ill.  I'm thinking particularly about the girls now.  At six o' clock in the morning they've got to be at work.  The gates are closed at ten past six.  This is ten minutes' grace which a sweater begrudges.  Six o' clock, the bell goes.  They 'ave got a concession of ten minutes but irrespective of the weather the gates are closed and they are fifteen foot high.  Quite a lot from Brierley 'Ill, others from Netherton, Old 'Ill - they start out to work in this inclement weather; their progress isn't what it ought to be and when they're about five yards from the gates at eleven minutes past six - 'click'- that be it.  I'm thinking about a snowy mornin'.

Now, them gates won't be opened again 'til 'alf past eight, that's breakfast time.  There's nothing at all for 'em to do beside go back to their 'omes, that's two mile away.  And when they get back to their 'omes they got to come back again to do threequarters.  The pay was very little.  Five shilling for a chap that was fourteen: tenpence a day."

'E towd the vicar all this.  At the most they couldn't get above eighteen bob unless they'd got a special job.  They might get a pound then.  "So you see, Mr Vizard, after they'd walked through the snow they're too late to get in.  They lost twopence 'a'penny.  Yo' tell me if there's any 'ope of 'eaven for 'im."

Terrible, terrible hardships - but 'e was no wuss than some o' t'other gaffers.  I cor tell you 'ow bad they were.  They were wuss than Scrooge - a lot wuss.


We 'ad various spare-time occupations.  There used to be dogfighting.  There was people as loved dogs and they loved to fight 'em.  The Staffordshire Terrier, 'e originated 'ere an' 'e was a game dog.  When 'e gets 'old 'e won't loose.  All yo' can 'ear at a dog fight is some 'eavy breathin'.  No, they gotta be throttled off as they call it.  It ae [isn't] exactly dead now.

This is poaching country.  The nights were very dark.  There were no lamps.  The top wood, as we called it - it's a great big council estate now - it was full o' game.  There used to be a pool 'ere.  They called it New Pool.  It'd be about a mile long an 'alf a mile wide.  Me grandad loved poaching.  'E took me dad with 'im an' made 'im as bad as 'imself.  'E knew they were transported to Botany Bay for poaching, 'e knew that.  Dad was never seriously effected [by the law] but there was a murder committed.  Two chaps called Billingham, they killed a keeper and they went to gaol for it29 - I not been able to document this incident.29.  After I was born this was.  This was the Earl o' Dudley's property and these woods were called Saltwell Woods.  There's a pub called The Saltwells and there were some salt wells that were used.  People went to tek the salt bath.  They were there 'til well in my time.

They found coal in Saltwells.  When I left school everybody in the district was a collier.  There was a pit just behind me.  That was number 32 pit of the Saltwells Colliery30 - Now closed.30.  When they weren't colliers they were nailmakers or chainmakers.  The nailmaking was before the chainmaking.  It was a terrible trade, that was, but the Swedes they discovered a machine to mek the nails.  They were mostly 'orse nails.  They used to come to the blacksmith's shop in little boxes and as bright as silver, machine-made they were.  That killed the nail trade round 'ere, that did.  They made beautiful nails and they were very cheap.

Pigeon flying

I'll tell yer about the gamecocks an' the pigeon flying as we knew it.  Short flyers we called 'em: mile or two mile.  There was a lot o' pigeon flyers.  I'll tek me own street: George Dunn, Tom 'Omer, Dick Guest Josiah Deeley and George Parsons.  That's five.  All these men kept racing pigeons.  Short races: mile, two miles, three miles.  We did race from 'Agley - that's five miles but it was too much trouble: we trained these pigeons on foot!

After that there was Tom Penn, 'Arry James, Sol Pearson, David Jesper, Tom Pearson.  These men, they all kept pigeons.  On a Saturday night, perhaps when we'd got a bit o' money to spend, only a small bit, we'd mek a match.  We'd mek a match to fly for thirty bob as a rule.  Now, I'm a-goin' to match my pigeon to fly Tom 'Omer's.  I'm goin' to fly 'in a mile for thirty bob in three weeks' time.  This match wouldn't come off 'til I'd made the stake.  It'd 'ave to be made up the next Saturday night to ten shilling then the following Saturday to twenty shilling.  You'd pick a stake 'older.  To be a pigeon flyer you've got to 'ave a school 'cause this pigeon's gotta be took three or four times a day to the startin' point.  It'd take three weeks to train your pigeon and get 'im right - as fast as an eagle.  When they'd made the match we started to train.  As a rule a good 'en will fetch the cocks.  You'd gotta time the match for 'is 'en to be layin' the followin' day.

If we won we'd retire to the pub - tek the stake 'older with us then we'd spend the money.  I was in great demand as the minstrel.  I sung all the latest songs o' the day: Alice, Where art Thou?, The Flight of Ages.  When the war were on we sung war songs.  I remember when the Boer War were on, there came a song out, Break the News to Mother.

I never 'ad a singin' lesson in me life but forty year ago I was in great demand for the dos that we used t' 'ave.  The pigeon flying, the dog fightin' or the cock fighting - I've bin associated with all these things in me time.  It was wonderful, or wicked, I doh know which.  Lot o' cruelty in it.  Lot o' cruelty in the cock fightin' an' the dog fighting, ar.  And in the pigeon flying - but in the pigeon flyin' it was cruelty to yo'!

We'd got 'ave a gang, as we called it, a little club when we'd got the pigeons or the dogs or the cocks.  We used to mek a match for a couple o' pound or thirty bob.  It was a lot o' money and we 'ad t' 'ave a gang of about ten.  The regulars as trained yer dogs - the dog's gotta be 'awked about: tek 'im to Clent.  You wouldn't believe the pleasure they got out o' winning two bob or 'alf a crown.  You wouldn't believe the effort that went into it.


[Cock fighting] was legally banned before my time31 - Cockfighting was outlawed in 1835.31 but it certainly continued up 'til, shall we say, 1940.  It was done round 'ere.  I was in the middle o' the people that did it.  It was done in secret, o' course.  I fought meself in a small way.  There was quite as much put into breedin' cocks to fight as there is today breedin' racehorses.  Photo of George from Wolverhampton Express and Star.They'd got no money but they liked sport and they'd cock fight for just a few bob.  Solo cock fights - my cock to fight your cock - that'd be done fairly often but they would sometimes organise big mains to fight ten cocks on the one side and ten on t' other.  If six out of the ten won they'd won the main.  Whoever 'ad the six winners they'd won the main.

Cock fighting, or dog fighting or pigeon flying, it 'ad to be organised.  There'd gotta be a camp, say ten men.  And these ten men were loyal to one another.  When they bred these birds they bred 'em just the same as racehorses, none but the best.  They were always cut out: tried out and killed if they were no good, and eaten.  The game 'ens, they were bred from bottom birds, what they called bottom birds, who'd fight 'til they died, see?  And these 'ens were selected with quite as much diligence as 'orses are selected for the stud now.

When they decided t'ave a fight, it required all these men to find the money.  They didn't fight for big sums because they just 'adn't got it, unless some big man come an' said 'e'd back 'is cock for nay money.  If yo' could get somebody on your side to equal 'is money then it was for a few pound but otherwise it was really only in shillin's.  But when the 'en was put down to sit everybody in the gang knowed and then if it 'ad good luck an' there was ten chickens each man'd 'ave a chicken of 'is own.  If they were all cocks so much the better.

After these chickens were grown they'd 'ave to be tested.  They'd 'ave to be what they call 'cut out'.  Now these young cocks would be taken to a good old bird, to a champion bird, and if they showed any signs of cowardice the lot were condemned.  They were all killed, all the lot, lock, stock an' barrel.  They'd gotta be bottom bird before they reared 'em and then after they'd reared these cocks they'd make these matches.

When a match was made the cock'd be fed for the last day or two on corn that was soaked in sherry.  Then when the match come off it was in secret.  Not many knowed about it beside their own gang but somebody'd gotta be let into the secret for the betting.  When this cock'd got fit they'd got steel spurs.  Yo' know a cock he's got spurs?  Well, these were lovely little spurs that were made some of 'em three inch or two inch long.  They'n works of art.  At the bottom was a little socket and they tapered off no thicker than a needle.  There was a little buckle that'd buckle round the cock's leg.  They'd fight with the spurs and flap their wings as well.  They'd fight with their beaks.  They hit with their wings.  They kicked with their 'eels.

When there was one knocked out o' one side a bit the cocks were picked up and rested.  That was the end of a round.  Long round or short round that was the same.  When a cock 'ad 'ad enough 'e wouldn't go.  That was the end o' the fight - and th' end of the cock.  And not only th' end o' the cock - end o' the breed.  'E was a quitter.  They couldn't stand that at all.

After there was a main they got better, a lot o' the cocks did.  But if one got an unlucky blow, got spur in 'is 'ead or anything like that, 'e was eaten just the same.  There was a lot that bred game fowl to eat.  I did meself.  They appear to be smaller but they're as 'ard as this table and as compact.  It was like beef.

In the old times all the mining villages were cock fighters.  They come from 'ere and Gornal, 'Olly 'All.  When the cocks were matched to fight they shouldn't be knocked about.  Instead o' bein' spurred they were muffled: the spurs were wrapped up so they couldn't 'urt one another.  Old English Game - them were the fighters.  There were the black-breasted red, the duck-wing grey...  There wasn't such a lot of fighting cocks about because the job they'd gotta do they'd gotta be good and if they weren't good they weren't kept.

I'll tell yer a tale about one of my cocks as I 'ad.  One o' my neighbours, 'e raffled a gamecock off.  'E raffled it off at the Sheffield Inn.  Strange to relate, it's about the on'y thing I ever won in a raffle in all me life an I've 'ad scores o' tickets.  'E was a big un, a black-breasted red.  They'm a nice bird, a gamecock is.  'E was about six pound and 'alf.

Another neighbour - 'e was a notorious character, 'e was - but it dae stop 'im being my neighbour though - said, "Bring 'im round George an' let 'im fight mine." [He had] a little farm - they'd got plenty places, barns.  'E knowed I'd won this cock and 'e'd got one that Jim Pegg bred.  ('E kept the Elephant - 't ae very, very fur from 'ere).  I said, "It isn't fair.  Yours is about five and a quarter and 'e's a good six pound an' 'alf.  'E'll only kill 'im." 'E says, "Mine'll kill 'im."

When they fought cocks they gotta be weighed in and ounces counted.  'E asked me several times and eventually I said "I'll bring 'im round." There was a plenty big barn empty so I took the cock around.  We put 'em down and they 'ad one flap.  My big un 'e knocked the little 'un as far as from 'ere to the door - and 'e kicked 'im.  [The other man kicked his own bird.] I said, "I told thee what it'd be." 'E said "That's nothing.  'E can lick 'im.  Let 'em gave one more flap." I put the cock down again an' the same thing 'appened.  'E kicked 'im again.  After 'e'd gi'n 'im another kick 'e said "Tek 'im off or I'll kick 'is bloody liver out." I towd 'im what'd 'appen.  Yo' cor fight six pounders wi' five pounders.

It was like the arena at Rome when the gladiators fought.  They made it illegal.  It wasn't illegal at one time, nor dog fighting, nor bull-baiting.  They were terrible cruel sports.  I never saw a bull bait but they used to let a bulldog on the bull, an' they used to 'ang on the bull's nose 'til 'e tired the bull out.


I'm a Villa mon.  The [Aston] Villa team as won the Cup an' League a long, long time ago: it was George, goal; Spencer and Evans, backs; Bowman, Cowan and Crabtree, 'alf-backs; Athersmith, Weldon, 'Ampton, Bache an' 'All, forwards32 - Aston Villa were champions of the First Division and also FA Cup winners in 1897. The team which beat Everton by three goals to two in the cup was: Whitehouse, Spencer, Evans, Reynolds, Cowan (James), Crabtree, Athersmith, Devey, Campbell, Weldon, Cowan (John). Some of the players listed by George Dunn were members of later teams.32.  I 'eard a song about the rowdy-dowdy boys when I was very young.  It was football final time an' Derby County they'd gotta play Sheffield United.  They played at the Oval.  I remember because I 'eard this in the barber's shop.  I used to lather for the barber when I was about ten an' this'd be about this time.  It was the Cup Final an' I 'eard one o' the customers say that they went to th' Oval.  The Sheffield crowd, they 'ummed the Dead March in Saul an' the Derby boys they sung:

Now boys, now boys, now for a jolly spree.
Rum tum tiddly tum, come an' gave a round with me.
Come and gave a round or two, I don't care what you do
But I say, "Clear the way for the rowdy-dowdy boys."

Hop picking

When th'op picking season come about the beginning of September or the latter end of August we'd sometimes be away for six weeks.  Plenty of 'em packed up lock, stock and barrel.  The 'ouse was shut up.  The farmers, they employed agents: it'd be a woman out o' your street, very likely, or the next.  They abounded and they used to 'ire the pickers.  You were 'ired: you got a shilling for an adult and a tanner for a child.  The mothers, they'd tek the children with 'em, o' course - they'd got one about three year old, they'd put 'im down and 'ire 'im.  They'd got t' 'ave allowances: tea and cider and potatoes.  Oh, the farmers were very good to us provided you behaved yerselves and kept out o' th' orchards.  There's no bigger lure in the world for a kid than an apple tree.

The train was 'ired an' if you were 'ired you 'ad a ticket off th' agent.  That was going from Cradley to Worcester, an' went on to Leigh Court an' Tenbury an' Knightwick, Suckley, Leigh Sinton.  There's not many that I 'aven't bin to.  It was a great occasion for we after we got adults.  We used to go down wi' we bicycles on the Saturday an' come back on the Sunday.  They'd find us accommodation in the straw.

Mother took us 'oppin.  Father came over every Saturday while we were there an' stayed 'til Sunday night.  I used to love the 'op fields.  We stayed in the barns.  All the stables an' cowsheds an' that, just according to the amount o' pickers they wanted.  The animals were taken out and the stables white-washed and plenty o' new straw put in.  You took your own bedclo's and made yerself comfortable.  We were in for a month's fun.  Yo' took yer box, yer clo's an' yer kids an' yo' mucked in.

There were different 'opyards: at Leigh Court there's sure to be ten farmers who grew 'ops; Knightwick, Suckley, Bromyard, Pershore.  Sometimes th'ops'd be very good.  You'd pick them at ten bushel [to the shilling].  If th'others were inferior that'd be dropped, it'd go down to nine or eight.

Sometimes the wages weren't as good as they ought to 'a' bin.  We were paid by the bushel.  At the time we were goin', me an' my family, me brothers an' sisters, we 'ad to pick nine or ten bushel.  It always used to be agreed with the farmer.  We'd say " 'Ow much?" "Ten to the shilling or "Nine to the shillin'." If it was ten we went down th'opyard and when we'd bin a-pickin' 'til, say, breakfast time (it might be very cold as well to go down in September - there might be frosty nights an' it's terrible to pick 'ops in the frost), when they'd bin picking about an hour they'd go on strike.  They'd go back up to the barn.  But in later years they come down to one a shilling

Lovely in th'opyard.  Everybody was a-singin'.  I sung better down th'opyard than I ever did in me life, in the fresh air.  It was wonderful.  I went one year, when I was twenty year owd, me an' another chap went when work was slack, me an' 'Arry Ford, we went an' we 'ad a month there.  I sung beautiful in th' 'opyard.  Lots o' the owd songs.  They killed this young woman an' buried 'er [Cruel Ship's Carpenter].  That was one - and lots of others: the young sailor that got up in the mornin' an' paid 'is mistress off with two 'andfuls of gold [Young Sailor Bold]

You sung while you were pullin' the 'ops off.  They were in furrows.  One row of poles or wires then another.  Between them wires was room to carry the crib when you 'ad to move.  A crib was a structure o' poles an' hurden - that's bagging.  The edges roughly sewn on with string.  Yo' picked in that.  The pole puller'd come and show us a 'ouse [area to pick].  When yo'd finished that 'ouse you tek the crib into the next furrow because the poles'd be all down that side.  The others joined in.  When you came to the chorus they'd join in.  The 'opyard was full of singing

The best o' my days

We 'ad sing-songs round the fire.  The farmer, 'e supplied facilities for you to cook your own food when you came from the 'opyard.  There was a man appointed by the 'op pickers themselves an' given a few shillin's to come up before the day was over, an' the day was over when the busheller bushelled the last out of a crib.  When you bushelled out they [the hops] went into sacks that held eight bushels.  This is th'owd way.  It ae done like that now - they got a machine.

Any [hops] as stopped overnight, they'd only be 'alf the value 'cause they'd sink in the night.  They'd go 'phantom', as they called it, instead o' bein' proper solid little 'op it'd be like a bit o' paper.

This one bloke, 'e came up from th'opyard to light a fire an' get some water.  Most o' the water 'ad to be carried from the pump.  'E filled the utensils.  They were 'avin' their evenin' meal in no time.  It was a jolly time.  After the meal was over there was nowhere to go.  The pub at Knightwick was a mile away from the barn and, although they went down on a Saturday night very few went down on the wik night, it was too far to go.  To fill the time up they'd 'ave concerts - not organised.  Somebody'd set up a tune:

Oh she was so good and kind to me
And all the rest of the family.
I'll never forget my Mary Ann
She was, she was...

And another'd start:

Oh she was so good and kind to me...

We'd sometimes go on like that for an hour at a time, singing for killing time.  Then it was, "Give us one George.  George, you sing us one." The nights were passed very pleasantly.  It was good to be down th'opyard, it was really good.  It was good for the children, although some on 'em they 'ad a bit of 'ardship because 'op bines - they're very tough.

On Saturday night we went to the pub and we 'ad a good spree, sing-song.  That was the best part about it.  The fresh air in the country, it made your life lack o' burdens.  That was before the School Board started to summons the lads for goin'.  That was the reason the farmers turned to mechanical pickin'.  I've 'ad some good times down th' 'opyards.  I 'ardly missed a year.  It was the best o' my days.

Riddles, Tales and Stories:

Two Riddles

Riddle me riddle me roe ti toat
I saw a man with a red coat
A stick in his hand and a stone in his throat
Riddle me riddle me roe ti toat.33 - A cherry.33

Elizabeth, Betsy and Bet
Went down the garden to find a bird's nest
They found the bird's nest with two eggs in
Took one apiece and left one in.34 - Elizabeth, Betsy and Bet are all the same person.34


Choosing the right tree

They'd bin convicted o' some crime and they'd bin sentenced to death.  They could gave preference of 'ow they'd be 'ung.  They could pick the tree.  Th' Englishman said 'e'd be 'ung on the British oak.  The Scotsman selected the Scots pine.  Th' Irishman said, "Sure an' all, I'll be hung on the gooseberry tree."

The Devil in the churchyard

It was a time when England was under curfew and the curfew was generally rung by the verger.  'E was allus on 'and to ring the bell at curfew time.  And 'e got the rheumatic and 'e couldn't walk to the church.

'E was duty bound to ring the bell and 'e was in the pub asking for somebody t' 'elp 'im - either to go an' ring the bell for 'im or tek 'im to ring it.  'E asked one chap an' 'e said, Oh no, 'e couldn't go in the church at dusk.  'E wouldn't go in the church for all the tea in China by 'imself after dusk.  The verger says "It's all right.  There's nothing in the church to 'urt yer.  The dead they never 'urt yer.  Yo' needn't be afraid to go into the church." 'E says "I'll tell thee what I'll do.  I'll tek thee on my back and I'll wait for thee and when thee'st rung the bell I'll bring thee back." That was agreed on.

In the meantime, it was a time when to live in England for the poor was very, very 'ard.  They couldn't live without doing summut and to steal a sheep - 'angin' was the penalty.  That was the only road they could live: stale a sheep or stale a deer or stale summut.  They'd gotta stale summut or else they'd starve.  So these two poachers they agreed to go one night, coincident with the very night as the verger couldn't goo an' ring the bell.  One says to th' other, "Thee goo an' catch the sheep an' bring 'im to the church because this is the only place where they doh search when they've missed a sheep.  They search everywhere but they never suspect the church" 'e says.  "An' I'll goo up in the belfry wheer I can get a good look at the countryside everywheer all round me and if there's any danger I'll let thee know, an' yo' can do a bunk an' make the best of your road 'oom."

So in the meantime it's gerrin' dusk at curfew an' just when the man in the belfry thought it was time for 'is mate to appear with a sheep, it just coincided with the time when this countryman was a-bringin' the verger.  'E was a very big man an' 'e was a-sweatin' an' gasping when 'e was gerrin' towards the church door.  The man in the belfry, 'e thought 'is mate 'ad got a good big sheep.  An' 'e were a-puffin' an' blowing a-comin' up the drive.  'E couldn't see 'im for the bad light an the trees in the road.  So 'e says to 'im, 'e says "Jack, is 'e fat?" An' the countryman 'e throwed the verger off 'is back and 'e said "Fat or lean, thee con tek 'im as 'e is." 'E thought it was the devil35 - This is a variant of international tale type no.1791, The Sexton Carries the Parson; motif X.424, The Devil in the Cemetery. 35.

A sensible approach to penance

There's a Catholic church at Stourbridge.  Two Stourbridge chaps, they'd been on the randy on the Saturday night, an' they 'ad to goo to church for the confession.  The Father said "Yo'r penance: yo' put twenty peas in each shoe and go an' walk to 'Agley Monument." One, 'e 'adn't gone 'undred yards before 'e was in pain.  'E says to 'is mate, "I don't know 'ow ever I sell get theer!  'Owst thee gerrin' on?" "Oh", 'e says, "I car feel mine at all.  Mine bay 'urtin' me.  I biled 'em fost."

A true ghost story

This is a true ghost story.  And what's more, the two people as I'm going to talk about now - one's me brother an' one used to be me neighbour - there's no more down-to-earth persons in the world than them.  In the 1930s, when there was no work about, to fill up the time they used to wander about or go walks or anything like that.  And one night George said to Ernie, "Come on Ern, we'll go an' 'ave a walk round by the Robin.' (The Robin 'Ood public's about a mile from 'ere and it's situated at the bottom of Merry 'ill, right at the bottom in the valley.) When they were 'avin' this walk it was twelve o'clock at night and when they got about 'alfway down Merry 'ill one said to the t'other: "Cost thee see what Ah con see?" An' the t'other said: "Ah con.  It's very funny." 'E says "What cost see?" 'E says: "A woman wi' a candle across the road, all dressed in white." And she crossed the road about 'undred yards away where there was a field on the t'other side.

They went an' examined the 'edge but there was no gap nor no woman on the t'other side and the field was a quarter of a mile across.  That's one ghost story.

The lightning mon

I'll tell yer a tale about the chain trade.  Now it was a very funny trade and there was quite a lot of out-workers.  That means they'd got a shop by where they lived and they worked there.  There were some thrifty men in the chain trade and some ne'er-do-wells: they dae bother at all.  But these thrifty men, they'd work an' work an' save an' save 'til they'd got a few pound by 'em and then they'd go on the spree.  And as long as the money lasted they'd go on drinkin'.  One I remember best, 'e'd go on drinking 'til 'e got these delirium tremens an' then 'e used to be 'aunted by a little man.  'E called 'im "Jimmy the Lightnin' Mon".  'E come to visit 'im and when 'e come 'e used to throw balls o' lightning at 'im.  'E used to get a pound of putty and stop up every crack in the window.  'E'd come through a crack that big with 'is 'ond full o' lightnin'.

An unusual meal

There was a Black Country chain-master called Billingham36 - The works were in Oak Street, Quarry Bank, opposite Bloomer & Sons.36.  'E was a Liberal, an' despite being illiterate 'e was elected to the Parish Council.  To celebrate 'is victory 'e decided to provide a free feed for all 'is men and their families.  One of 'is men, who was also called Billingham, 'ad 21 children.  'E took them an' 'is wife to the feast an' they ate a sufficiency and more.  In the middle of the night the father 'ad to get up to be sick.  Th' 'ouse was on a steeply sloping piece of land.  The brew 'us was built underneath to save space and there was a parapet in front of the door with some steps leading down to the road.  Billingham leaned over this parapet to be sick an' then stood back for a while with 'is 'ead in 'is 'ands.  During this time a pup which 'ad bin in the brew 'us came out and started making a meal of what it found.  Billingham leaned over the parapet again an' saw the pup...  "Ah dunna remember atin' thee."


The Recordings:

George Dunn was recorded by Charles Parker, Roy Palmer, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, and Bill Leader, but only the latter's recordings were ever intended for public release.  Roy's fourteen recording sessions spanned five years, and so they cover much more ground - George had begun singing regularly again and had remembered many more songs - but the equipment was not of professional quality, and two different recorders were used, at different tape speeds.  All the tapes are 30 years old, and the Parker ones are copies.

This goes some way to explain the considerable variation in sound quality heard on these CDs; inevitable when four different machines are used, by three different recordists, in seventeen different sessions.  In addition, George had a very wide vocal range, and lack of practice caused him to sing some songs right at the top of his range, and others right at the bottom - accounting for more differences in sound.

Many of the recordings, particularly some of Roy's, are very noisy, so the use of noise reduction techniques has resulted in further changes in the sound quality.  In every case, I have attempted to get the most 'listenable' result without too much loss of character in George's voice.  I hope that none of this detracts too much from your enjoyment of a superb singer with some really excellent songs and some extremely unusual tunes.   [Notes by Rod Stradling]

The Songs:

Roud Numbers quoted are from the databases, The Folk Song Index and The Broadside Index, continually updated, compiled by Steve Roud.  Currently containing almost 232,000 records between them, they are described by him as "extensive, but not yet exhaustive".  Copies are held at: The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London; Taisce Ceoil Dúchais Éireann, Dublin; and the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh.  They can also be purchased direct from Steve at Southwood, Maresfield Court, High Street, Maresfield, East Sussex, TN22 2EH, UK.

Child Numbers, where quoted, refer to entries in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child, 1882-98.  Laws Numbers, where quoted, refer to entries in American Balladry from British Broadsides by G Malcolm Laws Jr, 1957.  Wehse Numbers, where quoted, refer to entries in Schwanklied und Flugblatt in Grossbritannien by Rainer Wehse (Frankfurt am Main, 1979).  Names of other works, cited infrequently, are given in full.

Verses, or even complete songs, shown in italics do not appear on these CDs but are included where George Dunn's version is fragmentary and where a fuller text would be helpful to listeners.  Words shown in [square brackets] are either translations of dialect/cant words, or guesses/suggestions from another recording or standard text where the singer's word is unclear or obviously wrong.  Words shown in (brackets) - mainly in choruses or refrains - are alternatives at this point.

At the end of the notes on each song is an indication of where (if at all) George Dunn's version has been published (QB = George Dunn. The Minstrel of Quarry Bank, ed. Roy Palmer (Dudley, 1984); SM = Songs of the Midlands, ed. Roy Palmer, East Ardsley, 1972); TSF = Roy Palmer: 'George Dunn. Twenty-one Songs and Fragments', Folk Music Journal, 2, no.4 (1973), 275-296).   [Notes by Rod Stradling]


Especially warm thanks are due to Rhoma Bowdler, the late Valerie Chapman (George Dunn's daughter), and the late Charles Parker.  I also thank Peggy Seeger for allowing access to the MacColl/Seeger recordings of George Dunn at Ruskin College, Oxford, and Gillian Reynolds, Chairman of the Charles Parker Archive Trustees, for access to Charles Parker's recordings of George Dunn at the Archive Department, Birmingham Reference Library.  My own recordings of George Dunn are held at the National Sound Archive of the British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NWl 2DB (with copies at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London NWl 7AY).  My transcriptions of George Dunn's reminiscences have previously appeared in George Dunn: the Minstrel of Quarry Bank (Dudley: Dudley Library, 1984) and in 'The Minstrel of Quarry Bank: Reminiscences of George Dunn', parts 1 and 2, Oral Hstory, II, nos 1 and 2 (Spring and Summer respectively, 1983), pp.62-8 and 61-1.

I am grateful for help from Steve Gardham, Stuart Lawrence and John Moulden.  Finally, I should like to thank Rod Stradling of Musical Traditions, without whose patience and support George Dunn's fine singing would have remained largely inaccessible.

Now, sing we a song, George.Photo of George Dunn - by Bill Pardoe

Roy Palmer - December 2001.

CD One:

1 - The Miller's Song (Roud 1128)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

A bonny lassie bright and gay
Went up into a mill one day.
A peck of corn she had to grind,
And never a miller could she find,

With a fal the diddle i do fal the diddle ay,
Fal the diddle i do fal the diddle ay.

At last the miller he came in;
The pretty fair maid she did begin:
"A peck of corn I have to grind
But never a miller can I find,
With me fal the diddle, etc."

"My stones are up, my water's low,
My mill is not in tune to go."
But they talked of love till love grew kind,
And then the mill began to grind,
With me, etc.

"Now you go home, my pretty dear,
For your corn's ground and my mill's clear;
And if it has been ground a thousand times o'er,
I'm sure you never had it ground so well before,
With me, etc.

Said this bonny lass, still blithe and gay,
"A bargain I will make this day;
I'll bring my corn here every year
To be ground at the same price as before,
With a fal the diddle i do, tal the diddle ay,
That means I'll never, never have to pay."

(verse in italics, of which recording mislaid, recorded 27 Jan, 1975)

This is one of the songs first recalled by George Dunn (in March 1971) and one of the last recorded by him (in January 1975, three months before his death).  He greatly relished singing this marvellously life-affirming piece which, after being noted a handful of times between them in the early years of the twentieth century, though not published, by Sharp (in Somerset) and Gardiner (in Hampshire), became decidedly rare.  An equally rare early version appeared in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (4 vols, 1787-1803), iii, no.481.  George's is the only known recording of the song.

SM (first four verses), p. 44, Roy Palmer (ed.), Everyman's Book of English Country Songs (1979), p. 135 (five verses)
Cf: Sharp, ed. Karpeles, no. 185 A and B; Gardiner, in Frank Purslow, ed. The Constant Lovers (1972), p. 60.

2 - The Basket of Eggs - fragment (Roud 377, Wehse 196)
(Recorded 24 May 1971, by Roy Palmer)

This sailor, a ship took 'im to port somewhere, and he had a young woman - he found lovely Nancy.  As event should 'ave it when he left 'er - he enjoyed himself on holiday and when th' holiday was over it was over.  So 'e called again and this girl or one of the crowd as went to see 'im, 'er sold 'im some eggs.  When 'e got this basket 'e though't 'e'd 'ave 'em cooked and 'e'd 'ave a bit of a party for some of these wenches.  When 'e give the cook these eggs to cook 'er took the cloth off the basket.  There was a babby in it.  It belonged to nobody.  'E'd ' ad nowt to do with this babby - nobody owned it on'y 'im, and 'e'd got to catch 'is ship.  So 'e says -'e'd got 'em all sitting down ready for the picnic:

As they were sitting all round list'nin',
A-hearing what the sailor says.
"Here's fifty guineas I'll give the baby
If anyone will maintain."

And the girl whose babby it was 'er got up and 'er said:

I'll take the baby, just as its mother
If down the money you will pay.

When they got there 'e recognised er, ah, and 'e said:

"Oh yes, oh yes, oh lovely Nancy,
That I danced with last Easter Day."
"Oh yes, kind sir, when you pleased your fancy,
But now you have the fiddler pay."

In a song apparently first published in 1796 in The Man of War's Garland (Bodleian Library, Harding Chapbooks, A 15, no19), under the title of Eggs and Bacon, two sailors carry off a woman's basket, thinking it full of eggs which they plan to have cooked in an alehouse.  When they discover a child in the basket, one of them offers 'five hundred pounds of good red guineas' to any woman who will foster it.  The mother, who has followed secretly - and indeed engineered the whole stratagem - takes the money and identifies the sailor as the baby's father.  (In some versions, the couple then marry).  George's fragment (published in TSF; p.284) is a good example of an occasion when a singer remembers the story but not the whole song.

Gavin Greig called this song The Foundling Baby, although singers throughout England and Scotland have preferred to use the broadside title The Basket of Eggs.  A short version of the song which Mike Yates recorded from the Kentish gypsy singer Minty Smith is included on Topic TSCD661 - and this and Bob Blake's very full version on MTCD311-2 are the only other known CD recordings.  Here is Bob Blake's text:

The Basket of Eggs

Down in Sandbank Fields two sailors they were walking,
Their pockets were both lined with gold.
And as together they stood talking,
A fair maid there they did behold.

With a little basket standing by her,
As she sat down to take her ease.
To carry it for her one of them offered,
The answer was, "Sir, if you please."

One of those sailors took the basket,
"There's eggs in that basket, please have care.
And if, by chance, you should out-walk me,
At the Half-Way House, please leave them there."

Behold, those sailors did out-walk her,
And the Half-Way House, they did pass by.
That pretty damsel laughed at their fancy,
But on those sailors she kept her eye.

And when those sailors came to an alehouse,
There they did call for a pint of wine.
Saying, "Landlord, landlord, what fools in this nation;
From a fair, pretty maid, these eggs we did twine."

"Oh landlord, landlord, bring us some bacon,
We have these eggs and we'll have some breast
But those two sailors were very much mistaken,
As you shall say when you hear the rest.

And then the landlord came to the basket,
Expecting of some eggs to find.
Says he, "Young man, you're much mistaken,
Instead of eggs, a child I find."

One of those sailors sat down to weeping,
The other said, "It's not worthwhile.
Here's fifty guineas I'll give unto the baby,
If any woman will take the child."

Behold, that fair maid sat by the fire,
And she had her shawl on over her face.
Says she, "I'll take it, and kindly use it,
When first I see the money paid."

One of those sailors put down the money,
Great favour to the babe was shown.
"Since it is so, then let's be friendly,
For you know this child is mine and your own."

"Don't you remember a-dancing with Nancy,
As long ago as last Easter day?"
"Oh yes I do, and she took my fancy,
And now the fiddler I must pay."

The other sailor went to the basket,
And he kicked it over and o'er.
"Since it is settled, then lets be contented,
But I'm hanged if I'll like eggs anymore."

3 - Eggs for Your Breakfast (Roud 1752)
(Recorded 1971 by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

Photo of George with Ewan MacColl by Peggy Seeger. I love my home at the little white farm
With the ivy entwined round the door
I love to hear the lark that twines so high
And listen to the old bull's roar
I love to wander through the old barnyard
And down by the old hay stacks
And listen to the chuckles of the chickens and the hens
In the morning when the old cock crows.

"Quack, quack, quack" go the pretty little ducks
The hens go "Chuckle" give you warning
When the old cock crows, then everybody knows
There'll be eggs for your breakfast in the morning.

I love to gaze on the ripe, yellow corn
I love to roll on the grass
I love to take a walk through the new mown hay
With a pretty little country lass
I love to wander by the old mill-stream
And catch every breeze that blows
And listen to the chuckles of the chickens and the hens
In the morning when the old cock crows.

A song written by Harry Linn in the 1870s and, aside from George, only Walter Pardon is known to have sung it in the oral tradition, as A Country Life on (MTCD305-6).

4 - My Father's a Farmer (Roud 16897)
(Recorded 1971, by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

My father's a farmer, constant, true,
And I am his son and a farmer too.
We brew good ale and drink it too,
Hurrah for the life of a farmer.

For the old crow starts with a caw, caw, caw,
And the old sheep starts with a baa, baa, baa.
There's a baa, baa, baa and a cluck, cluck, cluck,
And a quack, quack, quack from the old white duck.
Eee aw, ee aw, is the donkey's bray;
Cock a doodle-do at the break of day,
Hurrah for the life of a farmer.

My wife has bouncing sisters three,
And they all come down to dinner or tea,
To dine on partridge or pheasantry.

See how they harness the old grey mare,
And ride away to the onion fair,
Or catch a fox or shoot [chase] a hare.

George Dunn remembered learning this when he was eight years old, in 1895.  I have seen only two other versions, noted in 1906 by Anne Gilchrist in 1906 under the title of The Farmer's Life from a Mr Coomber, who had learned the song from his grandfather (MS, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library) and another collected about 1918 by Alfred Williams, called Hurrah for the Life of a Farmer.  Michael Kilgarriff, in Sing Us One of the Old Songs, Oxford (1998) gives this as written by Ted Snow of the Mohawk Minstrels.

Child Education, Summer Quarterly (1912) p.11.

5 - The Gallant Poachers - fragment (Roud 793, Laws L14)
(Recorded 1971 by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

From Roy Palmer's broadside collection. Come all ye lads of fair renown
That like to drink strong ale that's brown,
And fetch the mounted pheasant down
With powder, shot and gun.

Three brave youths went out one night,
To kill some game was their delight.
The moon shone bright,
Not a cloud appeared in sight,
The keeper heard them fire the gun
And to the spot he quickly ran
And swore before the rising sun
That one of them should die.

The bravest youth amongst the lot,
'Twas his misfortune to be shot.
For help he cried,
But he was denied;
His memory ever shall be blest,
He rose again to stand the test,
Then down upon his gallant breast
The crimson blood did flow.

Both George Dunn and Walter Pardon - no doubt amongst the last representatives of its oral tradition - recorded this song in the 1970s.  The latter, who called it The Poacher's Fate, had rather more verses, though still fewer than the many broadside versions issued in the nineteenth century.  For Walter Pardon's version, see Topic TSSCD668, and for Harry Cox's Topic TSCD512D.

As with other poaching songs, this is only known in England - just a single American version is included in Roud's list of 45 instances.  This is because of the way in which the English, alone in Europe if not the world, have accorded landowners rights of ownership to the wild animals which happen to be on their domains at any time.

TSF, p.276

6 - Where are you Going to, my Pretty Maid? (Roud 298)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

"Oh, where are you going to, my pretty maid?
Oh, where are you going to, my pretty maid?"
"I'm going a-mailking, sir", she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"I'm going a-mailking, kind sir", she said.

"Shall I come with you, my pretty maid?
Shall I come with you, my pretty maid?"
"Oh, yes, if you please, kind sir", she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"Oh, yes, if you please, kind sir", she said.

"Oh, what is your mother, my pretty maid?
Oh, what is your mother, my pretty maid?"
"A wife to my father, sir", she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"A wife to my father, kind sir", she said.

"Oh what is your father, my pretty maid?
"Oh, what is your father, my pretty maid ?"
"My father's a farmer, sir", she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"My father's a farmer, kind sir", she said.

"Oh, what is your fortune, my pretty maid?
Oh, what is your fortune, my pretty maid ?"
"My face is my fortune, sir", she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"My face is my fortune, kind sir", she said.

"Then I cannot marry you, my pretty maid;
Then I cannot marry you, my pretty maid".
"There's nobody asked you, sir', she said,
"Sir", she said, "sir", she said,
"There's nobody asked you, kind sir", she said.

This is known to have been in the repertoire of at least three music hall singers, Dan Leno (1860-1904), Slade Murray (1859-1913) and Nellie Wallace (1870-1948), and it could have been adapted from the more vigorous Rolling in theDew (see track 9).

7 - The Nottingham Poacher (Roud 222)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

In Thorneymoor woods in Nottinghamshire,
Fal the dal airol aye to ladaday,
Three keepers' houses stood at three square,
Fal the dal airol ay.
Three keepers' houses stood at three square,
About a mile from each of them were,
With orders it was to look after the deer,
Ri fal the dal airol aye day.

So me and my mates went out at night,
With my two dogs close at my heels.
So me and my mates went out at night,
With my two dogs close at my heels
To catch a fat buck in Nottingham fields.

The very first night we had bad luck:
Jack, my very best dog got struck.
He came to me both bloody and lame,
And sorry was I for see him the same;
He was not able to follow the game.

I searched his wounds and I found them slight;
I know some keeper's done this for spite.
For I'll take my pikestaff in my hand,
I'll scour the woods 'til I find the man,
Then I'll tan his hide right well if I can.

The very first thing that we found
Was a big fat buck nearly dead on the ground
The very first thing that we found
Was a big fat buck nearly dead on the ground.
I know my dogs gid him his death wound.

I pulled out me knife and I cut the buck's throat,
I pulled out me knife and I cut the buck's throat,
And you'd have laughed to have seen limping Jack
Go hopping along with the buck on his back
He carried him like a Yorkshireman's pack.

We found a butcher to skin the game,
Likewise another to sell the same.
The very first joint we offered for sale
Was to an old woman that brewed bad ale,
That causèd we poor lads in jail.

Assizes are opened and we're all here,
Assizes all over and we're all clear.
The judges they felt a sorrowful scorn
That such an old woman should be foresworn,
And all to pieces she ought to be torn.

This is not the only example of the gentry, and even the judiciary, being shown as sympathetic to poachers in songs from the oral tradition.  Thorney Wood Chase, near Nottingham, part of the ancient Sherwood Forest, was enclosed in 1792 - after which deer disappeared.  On the other hand, Thornehagh (pronounced 'Thorney') Moor Woods, near Newark, was stocked with deer and guarded by keepers after its enclosure in 1797, so this seems a more likely candidate as the historical background for the song.  Both Catnach and Pitts of London printed this song as a broadside, and there were several other editions, mainly in the Midlands.

With the exception of a solitary example from Ohio, traditional versions seem to have been confined to central and southern England, with some 60 examples in Roud, including nine sound recordings - though only those by Jasper Smith (Topic TSCD668) and Walter Pardon (Musical Traditions MTCD305-6) can be heard on CD.

SM pp.71-2; Roy Palmer, ed. Everyman's Book of English Country Songs (1979) no.50.

8 - Oh, She Was So Good and So Kind to Me (Roud 10560)
(Recorded 29 October 1973, by Roy Palmer)

Oh, she was so good and so kind to me
And all the rest of the family.
I'll never forget my Mary Ann,
She was, she was, she was
So good and so kind- to me.

(And so on).

"We'd sometimes go on like that for an hour at a time, singing for killing time", said George, referring to evenings round campfires in hopyards.  The pickers - as did First World War soldiers - appropriated the chorus of the song written by David G Day in 1885 under the title of She Was!! She Was!! She Was!!

QBM, p.21 (text).
Cf: F T Nettleingham, Tommy's Tunes, 1917, p.36.

9 - Rolling in the Dew - fragment (Roud 298)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

"Oh, where are you going to, my pretty Sally,
With your red, rosy cheeks and your curly black hair?"
"I'm a-going a-milking, kind sir", she answered me,
"Rolling in the dew makes the milkmaid fair."

She has a baby and it died.

"Who'll be the bearers of it, my pretty Sally,
With your red, rosy cheeks and your curly black hair?"
"Bestlock and Hemlock, Rodney, Joss and Pemaler,
Rolling in the dew makes the milkmaid fair."

This sprightly dialogue in which a milkmaid worsts (in debate, at least) a would-be seducer has been extremely popular.  Of Roud's 110 instances, most of which are from England, there are 14 other sound recordings, but the only singer besides George to have a version on CD is another George; Pop Maynard of Copthorne, Sussex, who can be heard in different recordings on Musical Traditions MTCD309-10 and MTCD400-1, Rounder CD 1778 or Topic TSCD660.

George Dunn's version is unique in mentioning a baby's death; the allusion is out of keeping with the spirit of the piece, and must surely have crept in from elsewhere.  The line beginning 'Bestlock and Hemlock' appears to have strayed from The Noble Foxhunting.

TSF, p. 281.
Cf: Sharp (ed, Karpeles), no. 110 (ten versions); Kennedy, nos 94 and 189.

10 - Cold Blows the Wind (Roud 51, Child 78)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Photo of a 'Black Country Lime Works' - from Roy Palmer's postcard collection. Cold blows the wind over my true love,
Cold blow the drops of rain.
I never, never had but one true love,
In the greenwood he was slain.

But I'll do as much for my true love
As any young lass can do
I'll sit and I'll weep right o'er his grave
For a twelve month and one day.

When a twelve month and one day had passed
This young man he arose,
And said "What brings you here by my grave side,
And I can take no rest?"

"Go fetch me a note from the dungeon so deep
Fetch water from a stone
Or milk white out of a fair maid's breast
When a fair maid never had none."

"How can I fetch a note from the dungeon so deep
Or water from a stone
Or milk white out of a fair maid's breast
When a fair maid never had none?"

"Give me a kiss from your clay-cold lips
One kiss is all I crave
Give me a kiss from your clay-cold lips
And return back to your grave."

"If you have a kiss from my clay-cold lips
My breath's so earthly strong
If you have a kiss from my clay-cold lips
Your days will not be long."

"If yo were troubled about the dead after they'd gone, yo'd give the dead no rest" : so George Dunn explained the song, which came from his father.  The reference in verses 4 and 5 to fetching a 'note from a dungeon so deep' - rather than the more conventional 'nut' of other versions - is curious, since the broadside version issued by William Pratt of Birmingham between 1845 and 1861 has the same peculiarity.  It also has 'rest' (verse 3), where the rhyme requires 'repose'.  On the other hand, its concluding verse is:

Don't you remember the garden gate,
Where you and I used to wait,
The piercing look that then you gave,
But now I am hurled into my grave.

These are trifles.  George's singing is at its most majestic in this ballad known to Child as The Unquiet Grave.  Surprisingly, no version antedates the nineteenth century, but it is just possible that a moralising carol of the late fifteenth century, beginning 'There blows a cold wynd todaye, todaye', could have been based on 'Cold Blows the Wind' - so says B H Bronson in The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads (Princeton, New Jersey, 1976), p.203.

Equally surprisingly, despite its popularity and Roud's 115 instances - mostly English - there appears to have only ever been one sound recording made of a traditional singer - George Dunn.  What is more, George seems to be the only British source since Sharp's 1921 collections from Kathleen Williams and Thomas Taylor (in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire respectively).

SM, p. 29

11 - My Father Keeps a Crowing Cock - fragment (Roud 2940,Wehse 370)
(Recorded 5 June 1972, by Roy Palmer)

My father keeps a crowing cock,
He does not tread the hen, sir;
Does nothing but knock his wings about,
I think you are one of them, sir,
I think you are one of them.

George Dunn remembered only this verse from what must have been a version of The New-mown Hay, a song known mostly in Scotland, which in turn may derive from The Baffled Knight (Child 112).

12 - The Broomfield Hill (Roud 34, Child 43, Wehse 2)
(Recorded 1971, by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

"A wager, a wager, with you, my pretty maid,
Here's five hundred pounds to your ten,
That a maid you shall go to yon merry green broom,
But a maid you shall not return."

"A wager, a wager, with you, kind sir,
With your five hundred pounds to my ten,
That I will go to yon merry green broom,
And a maid I will boldly return."

Now when that she came to this merry green broom,
She found her truelove fast asleep,
With a fine-fashioned rose and a suit of new clothes,
And a bunch of green broom at his feet.

Then three times she went from the crown of his head,
And three times from the sole of his feet,
And three times she kissèd the red rosy cheeks,
As he lay fast in a sleep.

Then she took a gold ring from her hand
And put it upon his right thumb,
And that was to let her truelove to know
That she had been there and has gone.

As soon as he had awoke from his sleep,
Found his truelove had been there and gone
'Twas then he remembered upon the cost
When he thought of the wager he'd lost.

Three times then he called for his horse and his man,
The horse he had once bought so dear,
Saying, "Why didn't you waken me out of my sleep
When my lady, my truelove was here?"

"Three times did I call to you, Master,
And three times did I blow with my horn,
But out of your sleep I could not awake
'Til your lady, your truelove, was gone."

"Had I a-been awake when my truelove was here,
On her I would had my will;
If not, the pretty birds in this merry green broom
With her blood they should a-all had their fill."

Poems and tales on this theme date back to the twelfth century; Danish ballads survive from the mid-seventeenth, and Scots from a hundred years later.  Versions from English oral tradition were noted early in the nineteenth century (in 1812, in Ipswich, Suffolk - Dawney, Ploughboy's Glory p.29) but were becoming rare by the time George Dunn came to be recorded in 1971.

Roud has some 150 entries, almost all of which are from southern England, though there are a few from Scotland and the USA and one from Ireland.  There are 15 sound recordings, mostly from East Anglia, and those by Cyril Poacher (MTCD303 and Rounder CD1775), Walter Pardon (Topic TSCD600) and Pop Maynard (MTCD400-1) can still be heard on CD.

Though George initially remembered only one verse *, he knew that it concluded the song.  He received a full text with great enthusiasm - the version from Mrs Powell of Weobley, Herefordshire, noted in 1910 by Mrs E M Leather and Ralph Vaughan Williams (JFS IV, 114) - and quickly learned it **.  Though he dropped his own final verse, he made - consciously or otherwise - many small changes in the text.

* TSF, pp.288-9.  ** SM, pp. 30-1.

13 - Young Sailor Bold (Roud 269, Laws K43)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

I once had a colour as red as a rose,
But now 'tis as pale as the lily that grows,
All through the young sailor who came courting me
But turned out a false-hearted lover to be.

He told me such stories, that quite turned my head,
And to prove that I loved him I took him to bed.

But early one morning the sailor arose,
And threw to my apron two handfuls of gold.
"Take this, love, take that, love, for the deed I have done;
I have left you a daughter or else a fine son."

"And if it's a daughter she shall wait upon thee,
But if it's a son, love, he shall sail the blue sea.
He shall wear a blue jacket, a hat lined with gold,
And prove by his bearing a true sailor bold."

Now all you young lasses take warning from me,
And never trust a young man one inch o'er your knee.
They'll kiss you, they'll court you, they'll swear they'll be true,
And the very next moment they'll bid you adieu.

The cautionary tale of a decamping sailor who leaves provision for the fruit of his one-night encounter is told in a number of songs such as Rosemary Lane, Bell-bottomed Trousers and The Oak and the Ash.  Quite a popular song, with 130 Roud entries, but rather unusually distributed.  Most are, as might be expected, from the south of England (with just one recent collection from Yorkshire), yet there are 26 from Scotland (one of which is from Shetland), but none at all from Ireland.  Canada has only two entries, but the USA has 25.

It is emphatically not what G M Laws calls Young Sailor Bold, 1 (otherwise The Rich Merchant's Daughter, Laws M19), nor his Young Sailor Bold, 2 (otherwise Caroline and her Young Sailor Bold, Laws N17) which is also sung by George Dunn.

Other CD recordings can be heard from Jumbo Brightwell (Topic TSCD652 or Neil Lanham CD NLCD3), both Ted Chaplin and Charlie Stringer (Veteran VTC2CD), Chris Willett (Topic TSCD661) and Jack Arnoll (Musical Traditions MTCD309-10)

SM, p.24.
Cf: E B Greenleaf and G Y Mansfield, eds. Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland (Cambridge, Mass, 1933).

14 - The Cruel Ship's Carpenter - fragment (Roud 15, Laws P36 A & B)
(Recorded 3 Dec 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Two brace of kisses I had late last night
To rise up in the morning before it was light
...  ...  ...  ...
...  ...  ...  ...

(missing verses)

"Oh pardon, oh pardon, oh pardon", said she
...  ...  ...  ...
"I'll travel the wide world to set myself free
If you will but pardon my baby and me."

"There's no time for pardon, there's no time to weep
For all the night long I've been digging your grave
Your grave it lies open and the spade is standing by"
Which caused this young damsel to weep and to cry.

Then out of his pocket he pulled out a knife
He plunged it into her heart
And the crimson blood did flow
And into the grave the dead body did go.

(missing verses)

Then up spake the first man, "I'm sure it's not me"
Then up spoke the second man, "I'm sure it's not me"
Then up steps bold William to stamp and to swear
"I'm sure it's not me, sir, I vow and declare."

Between this date, when he first sang it to me, and June 1971 George gradually retrieved more lines from his memory, without recovering the full text.  Though he remembered that the final scene took place at sea he did not recall the avenging, ghostly appearance of the wronged woman,

As he did turn from the captain with speed
He met his Polly, which made his heart bleed
She stript him and tore him, she tore him in three
Because that he murdered her baby and she.

TSF, p. 289 (fragment recorded 21 June 1971).  SM, p.84 (George Dunn's tune with broadside text printed by T Bloomer of Birmingham)

While noting almost 80 versions, the vast majority of which come from the Appalachians, Roud is aware of only three sound recordings - all of which appear on Musical Traditions CDs.  The other two are fuller, though still fragmented, versions from Wiggy Smith and from his uncle, Denny Smith, both to be heard on MTCD307.

Here is a much fuller text, collated by Pete Shepheard, from a version by Denny Smith and another by his friend Danny Brazil, recorded 5 Jan 1966.

In fair Worcester city in fair Worcestershire
A handsome young damsel and she lives there
A long time I courted her to be my dear
And I lived by the trade of a ship carpenter.

Now the king wanted seamen to sail on the sea
Which caused this young damsel to sigh and to say
"Oh Billy, oh Billy don't you go to sea
Remember the vows you have made unto me."

Oh he dropped, he dropped 'til he lost all his store
Crying, "Betsy, oh Betsy I can't drop any more."
Saying, "Betsy, it's Betsy you come and you go with me
Our purpose we've friends and relations to see."

Now he led her through woods and through valleys so deep
And this pretty damsel she begin for to weep
Saying, "Barbarous is Billy, you've led me astray
For on purpose my innocent life to take away."

"Now it's oh lovely Betsy, it is true what you say
It's all this long night I've been digging your grave
Your grave lying open and the spade standing by
And here in this cold grave your body shall lay."

Now it's out of his pocket he drew a penknife
Now he pierced her dear heart till the blood it did flow
Saying, "Barbarous is Billy, do not pierce me any more."
And into her cold grave he chucked her body.

He covered her over so safe and secure
Thinking no-one should find it he was very sure
Then he sailed on board a ship for to sail the world round
He was thinking the murder would never be found.

Earlye one morning at the dawn of the day
Our captain cried, "Order, all hands come this way
There's a murderer on board the ship and its latelye been done
Our ship is in mourning and she will not sail on."

Now it's up stepped a young man, "No, indeed it's not I."
Then up stepped another, the same he did say
And it's up stepped young Billy, for to storm curse and swear
"No indeed it's not I sir, I vow and declare."

Now as he was a-turning from the captain in speed
Oh he met his lovely Betsy though it made his heart bleed
She ripped him, she tored him and she laid him in three
Saying, "Billy, remember my baby and me."

15 - Jack the Sailor (Roud 16923)
(Recorded 1970, by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

Sing a song in praise of Jack the sailor,
Sing a song about the jolly tar.
Why not boast of them that guard the coast?
And proud of them we are.
Must we always sing of Tommy Atkins?
And not one word for Jack.
Yet when on land he makes a mighty stand
And beats the foeman back.

Why should our glory do we tower (?)
What is the secret of our power?
It is the navy, the British navy
That keeps our foes at bay.
Our old song, 'Britannia rules the waves',
We still can sing today.
It is the navy, the fighting navy,
Our neighbours know that's true,
For it keeps them in their place
When they know they have to face
The lively little lads in navy blue.

Sailor Jack has gained the reputation,
The people say his only love is war.
Evil minds declare the sailor finds
A wife in every port.
Ladies, I beseech you, don't believe it.
Jack can faithful be;
He never swerves the mistress that he serves,
The mistress of the sea.


This song is known to have been in the repertoire of the music hall artiste, Harriett Vernon (1852-1923), but I have been unable to trace a copy, or any further information about the song.

16 - The Stowaway (Roud 6341)
(Recorded 29 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

From Roy Palmer's broadside collection. From Liverpool across the Atlantic
A big ship was sailing o'er the deep,
The stars shining brightly above us
And the water beneath us asleep.
Not a bad-tempered mariner amongst us,
And a jollier crew never sailed;
The first mate a bit of a savage,
But good seaman that ever man hailed.

One day he comes up from below deck,
Grasping a lad by the arm,
A poor little ragged young urchin
That ought to have been with his ma.
"My step-father brought me on board, Sir,
When nobody else was on board,
And he hid me away down the stairs there,
For to keep me he could not afford."

"And he told me the big ship would take me
To Halifax town, oh so far,
And said, 'Remember the Lord is your father,
Who lives where the good angels are'".
"It's a lie, it's a lie, not your father,
But some of the big skulkers here,
Some soft-headed, milk-hearted sailor;
Come speak up, tell the truth, or die, you hear!"

Then the mate took a watch from his pocket
As though he'd been drawing a knife:
"If in five minutes' time you don't speak, lad,
Here's a rope, and goodbye to your life."
Three minutes had gone by all in silence
And the little lad ne'er spoke a word,
But he knelt on the deck down below there,
As ofttimes when going to rest.

Then softly came the words, "Our Father"
To "for ever and ever, Amen."
Not for all the bright gold in the Indies
I would not have heard him again.
Then the mate with the tears fast a-falling
Lifted the lad from the floor:
'You have laid down your life for the truth, lad,
I believe you for now and ever more."

The Stowaway or Little Hero is known to have been in the repertoire of the music hall artiste, Alice Maydue (c. 1870 - ?) and two versions were collected in Canada.  It appeared in late 19th century broadsides and songsters, and the text was issued on ballad sheets by, among others, W Forth of Hull (printing c.1857- c.1899).

Michael Kilgarriff, in Sing Us One of the Old Songs, Oxford (1998) says it was written by Arthur Matthison in 1881 and also gives 'music by Michael Maybrick' - but a songster in the VWML says 'composed by Stephen Adams'.

As with many of his songs, George Dunn learned this from his father, but one or the other of them must have got the end of the song somewhat awry, so that George's last two verses are actually a compressed version of four originals.  Here's the second half of Forth's broadside text:

Then that pair of blue eyes bright and winning.
Clear and shining with innocent youth,
Looks up at the Mates bushy eyebrows,
And says he, "Sir, I've told you the truth.
Then the Mate pulled his watch from his pocket
Just as if he'd been drawing his knife,
If in ten minutes more you don't tell, lad,
There's the rope - and good bye to dear life.

Eight minutes went by in all silence,
Says the Mate then "Speak lad, say your say."
Hill eyes slowly filling with tear drops,
He faltering says "May I pray?"
An the little chap kneels on the deck there,
And his hands he clasps on his breast,
As he must a' done often at home, lads.
At night time when going to rest.

And soft came the first words "Our Father",
Low and clear from that dear baby's lips,
But low as they were, heard like trumpet,
By each true man aboard o' that Ship.
Every word o' that Prayer then he goes through,
To "for ever and ever. Amen."
And for all the bright gold in the Indies,
I wouldn't ha heard him agen

Off his feet, was the lad sudden lifted,
And clasped to the mate's rugged breast,
An his husky voice muttered, "God bless you."
As his lips to his forehead he pressed.
"You believe me now" then said the youngster
"Believe you?" he kissed him once more,
"You'd have laid down your life for the truth, lad,
I believe you from now ever more."

17 - John Riley (Roud 270, Laws M8)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

John Riley was her true love's name,
An honest man was he;
He loved a farmer's daughter dear
As faithful as could be.
Her father he had riches
But Riley he was poor;
Because she loved this honest man
He could not her endure.

"O mother dear, O mother dear,
Where shall I send my love?
My very heart lies in his breast
As constant as a dove."
"O daughter dear, I'm not severe,
And here's a thousand pound;
Send Riley to America
To purchase there some ground."

Soon as she'd got the money
To Riley she did run.
"This very night to have your life
My father's charged the gun,
But here's a thousand pound in gold
My mother sent to you.
Go quickly to America
And quickly I'll pursue."

Soon as they'd got the money,
Next day they sailed away,
And very quickly came a storm
That lasted all the day.
The ship went down, all hands were lost;
Her father grieved full sore
When they found her in Riley's arms,
Drownded on the shore.

Upon her breast a note was found
With letters wrote in blood,
Saying, "Cruel was my father,
Who went to shoot my love.
I pray this be a warning
To all fair maidens gay
Never to let the lad you love
Sail to Americay."

Lovers seeking to unite across class boundaries are thwarted by an obdurate parent and meet a tragic fate.  The theme, as expressed here, had enormous appeal, as evidenced by a plethora of broadside printings from London to Newcastle, and oral records from England, Scotland, Ireland and North America.  Almost 100 examples are to be found in Roud for this present song alone, and quite evenly spread throughout these islands and Canada and the US, but only George Dunn in this area of England.  Only one of the 22 sound recordings (Harry Cox) is from outside Ireland or Canada, and only Sarah Anne O'Neill, Co Tyrone (Topic TSCD654) and John Kennedy, Co Armagh (Veteran VT137CD) seem to have made the change to a digital medium.

SM, p. 95.
Cf: John Ashton, Modern Street Ballads (1888), p.390, as Riley's Farewell.  Laws prefers the title of Young Riley, of which he suggests his N37 is an offshoot.

18 - Caroline and her Young Sailor Bold - fragment (Roud 553, Laws N17)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Him having but one only daughter,
Caroline was her name we are told;
One day from her drawing room window,
She espied a young sailor bold.
"Caroline, stay at home with your parents,
For your parents you're bound for to mind"
"Oh never no one shall persuade me
... ...  ...  ...
I'll take ship and I'll follow my true love
For he never shall leave me behind."

Caroline and her Young Sailor Bold sometimes hides under the title of Young Sailor Bold, which can be confusing because George Dunn had a completely different song of that name.  Caroline, which Laws lists as Young Sailor Bold II, is a somewhat sentimental broadside reworking of the theme of a woman's dressing as a sailor in order to go to sea with her lover.  In this case the pair return in triumph after being shipwrecked three times, and Caroline's rich father consents to their marriage.  George Dunn had no title for his fragment.

Roud includes 95 instances of the song, mainly from England, with a few examples from Ireland, Scotland and the USA.  There are a score of sound recordings, quite a number of which are available on CD: Joe Heaney (Topic TSCD518D), Maggie Murphy (Veteran VT134CD), Walter Pardon (MTCD305-6) and Tony Harvey (Veteran VTC2CD).  TSF, p.283.

Here is a fuller text printed by W Ford of Chesterfield, under the title of Young Sailor Bold (with Death of Parker).

It is of a nobleman's daughter,
So comely and handsome we hear,
Her father possess'd a great fortune,
Full thirty-five thousand a year;
He had but one only daughter,
Caroline was her name we are told,
And one day from her drawing-room window,
She admired a young Sailor bold.

His cheeks they appear'd like two roses,
His hair was as black as a jet;
Young Caroline watched his departure,
Walked round and young William she met.
She said, I'm a nobleman's daughter,
Possessed of ten thousand in gold,
I will forsake my father and mother,
To wed with my young Sailor bold.

Said William, young lady remember
Your parents you're bound for to mind,
And on sailors there is no dependence,
When their lovers are left far behind;
Be advised, stay at home with your parents,
And do as by them you are told,
And never let anyone tempt you
To wed with a young Sailor bold.

She said, there's no one shall persuade me,
One moment to alter my mind,
But I'll ship and proceed with my true love,
He never shall leave me behind.
Then she drest like a gallant young sailor,
Forsook both her parents and gold,
Two years and a half on the ocean
She ploughed with her young Sailor bold.

Three times with her love she was shipwrecked,
And always proved constant and true,
Her duty she'd done like a sailor,
When aloft in her jacket of blue.
Her father long wept and lamented,
From his eyes tears in torrents long rolled,
When at length they arrived safe in England,
Caroline and her young Sailor bold.

Caroline went straight to her father,
In her jacket and trousers of blue,
He received her and instantly fainted,
When first she appeared to his view.
She cried, my dear father forgive me,
Deprive me for ever of gold,
Grant my request, I'm contented
To wed with my young sailor bold.

Then her father admired young William,
And vowed that in sweet unity,
If life did him spare in the morning,
Together they should married be.
They were married, and Caroline's portion
Was two hundred thousand in gold,
So now they live happy and cheerful,
Caroline and her young Sailor bold.

19 - Nelson's Death (Roud 18837)From Roy Palmer's broadside collection.
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

'Twas the twenty-first of October
Before the rising sun
We formed a line for action, my boys,
At twelve o'clock begun.
Our mast and rigging was shot away
Besides some thousands in that fray
Were killed and wounded on that day
On board a man o' war.

From broadside to broadside
Our cannon balls did fly;
Like hailstones the small shot
Around our deck did lie.
Brave Nelson to his men did say
"The Lord has promised us this day.
Give them the broadside, fire away,
On board the man o' war."

And then our brave commander
With grief he shook his head:
"There is no relief, there is no reprieve,
Brave Nelson he is dead.
It was a fatal musket ball
That caused our hero for to fall.
Let him die in peace, God bless you all,
On board the man o' war."

James Kendrew of York was in business from 1803 until 1841, so his ballad sheet, Nelson's Death and Victory (see illustration), is likely to have been contemporary with the events it describes.  Brave Nelson, a version issued by Harkness of Preston, dates from the early 1840s.  In 1906 Anne Gilchrist noted three verses from James Bayliff (aged 70), a carpenter from Barbon, Westmorland:


On the twenty-first of October,
At the rising of the sun
We formed our lines for action
At twelve o'clock at noon;
Lord Nelson to his men did say,
"If the Lord will prosper us this day,
We'll give them a broadside far away
My true British boys!"

When broadside to broadside oh,
The cannon balls did fly,
Small shot like hailstones
All on our decks did lie;
Our masts and rigging shot away
Besides some thousands on that day
Thousands killed and wounded in that fray
Of brave Nelson.

While this hero was a-dying
At even', with his last breath
He prayed for England's glory
'Til the moment of his death,
He cried, "Fight on, fight on, my boys,
This day must be my setting sun
Fight on, my lads, God bless you all"
Cried brave Nelson.

(Gilchrist MSS. no.54, vol. 3G, p. 211, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.)

Gilchrist later published, under the title of Brave Nelson, the tune and first and last verses of this version in her article, 'Some Old Westmorland Folk-Singers', Journal of the Lakeland Dialect Society, no.4 (Nov. 1942), 5-14; pp. 9 and 13).

Bayliff's tune is reprinted in my book, Boxing the Compass (Todmorden, 2001), no.80; George Dunn's in my Valiant Sailor (Cambridge, 1973), no.23.  A transcription of George Dunn's singing on a different occasion, with a slightly different word-order, is in TSF pp.277-8.

Most unusually for a non-regional song on a topic of national interest, none of the 11 versions included in Roud comes from the south of England.

20 - Open the Door - fragment (Roud 230)
(Recorded 3 December 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Open the door, think of the poor,
Please to loose the New Year in,
The old one out, the new one in.
A pocket full of money, a cellar full of beer,
A good fat pig to last you all the year.

Although the last two lines here seem to have been fairly well known, I have not come across the first three elsewhere.

George Dunn, despite the apparent contradiction, normally followed these words with some of the verses from I Wish You a Merry Christmas.

SM, p.11.

21 - While Shepherds Watched (Roud 936)
(Recorded 14 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the lord came down,
And glory shone around.
On that great day, on that great day, on that great day.
Christians rejoice with heart and voice:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Christians rejoice with heart and voice:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

"Fear not", said he, "For mighty dread
Hath seized your troubled mind.
Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind."
On this great day, ... etc.

"To you in David's town
Is born of David's line
A saviour who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign.

"The heavenly babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid."

Up spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, and thus
Addressed their joyful song.

"All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace.
Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease."

Shepherds Watched is almost certainly the best-loved and most-sung carol among ordinary English people, particularly in country areas.  It also seems to boast a bewilderingly large number of tunes to which it may be sung.  One can imagine that few collectors asked for it, assuming it to be the 'normal' church version rather than a 'folk carol', and Roud only lists eight people from whom it has been collected in these islands.  Of these, Bob Hart can be heard singing it on A Broadside (MTCD301-2), Walter Pardon on Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father (MTCD305-6), and Billy Harrison plays three different versions on Yorkshire Fiddle Tunes, Songs and Carols (MT Cass 201).

This version of the carol is attributed to Nahum Tate, and was first published in 1700.  George learned it from his father - though neither of them were churchgoers.  George knew a further, and very unusual, variation (see track 24) of this carol, also learned from his father.

A Adams, R Leach and R Palmer, eds. Feasts and Seasons: Winter (Glasgow and London, 1977), p.9 (first verse and tune).

22 - The Seven Joys of Mary (Roud 278)
(Recorded 21 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

The first good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of one,
To see her own son, Jesus Christ,
A-sucking at her breast-bone,
A-sucking at her breast-bone, my boys,
And happy may we be.
Praise Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of two ... ... ... ...
A-making the lame to goo.

The next ... three
A-making the blind to see.

The next ... four
A-preaching to the poor.

The next ... five
A-making the dead alive.

The next ... six
Raised on the crucifix.

The next ... seven
Ascending up to heaven.

When George first sang this to me, on 14 June 1971, he remembered only two verses (two: a-reading the bible through; and seven: a-pointing the way to heaven), with the interjection of 'good Lord' in the chorus, rather than 'my boys'.  At his request I sent him a local text from Wednesbury (in F W Hackwood, Staffordshire Customs, Superstitions & Folklore, Lichfield, 1924, pp.52-3), which by a week later he had adopted.  The enumeration of Mary's joys goes back perhaps to the fourteenth century with the Joyes Fyve of the Sloane MSS.  The catalogue sometimes extends to twelve, as in one version noted by Sharp in 1907.

As with many songs of a religious nature, this was fairly popular, with 80 Roud entries - almost all from England or the USA - though there are only two other sound recordings.  Seán O' Boyle recorded a Mrs Maguire somewhere in the north of Ireland for the BBC in 1955, and Mrs Olive Coberly sang it for Max Hunter in Missouri in 1958.

SM, pp.17-18.
Cf: Sharp (ed. Karpeles), no.354 (five versions); H Keyte and A Parrott, eds. The New Oxford Book of Carols, Oxford, 1992, no. 75.

23 - Christmas Rhymes (Roud 230)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

The roads are very dirty, the pocket very thin;
Please, Mr Master, chuck a penny in.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do;
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you.

I wish you a merry Christmas, I wish you a merry Christmas,
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer,
A good fat pig to last you all the year.

I wish you a merry Christmas, I wish you a merry Christmas,
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

The cock sat up the rue tree, the hen came chucklin' by;
I wish the cock'd drop a turd and drop it in your eye.

A pie, a pie, a pie, a peppercorn.

The cock sat up the rue tree, the hen came chucklin' by;
I wish you a merry Christmas and every day a pie.

A pie, a pie, a pie, a peppercorn.

Items in this medley of song snatches could be widely paralleled, save perhaps for the penultimate verse which was reserved, George Dunn explained, for the non-contributor - "We'd got to flit then, we'd got to depart quick." Most singers prefer 'yew' tree to 'rue' tree.  The only other known sound recording of this is by Wiggy Smith, on Musical Traditions (MTCD307 Band of Gold: Wiggy Smith and other members of the Smith family).

SM, p.12

24 - While Shepherds Were Watching (Roud 16898)
(Recorded 14 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

While shepherds were watching their flocks by the night,
There came a great noise which gave them a fright.
"Cheer up, faithful shepherds and be not afraid,
Cheer up, cheer up,
Cheer up, faithful shepherds and be not afraid."

"Good tidings I bring you on this glorious morn
(It was angels a-shouting on that glorious morn)
Glad tidings I bring you: the Saviour is born,
(A-shouting glad tidings,: "The Saviour is born)
Is borned of a virgin so meek and so mild,
Our Lord, our Lord,
Our Lord and redeemer is now borned a child."

I went to behold him, I asked them his name.
His name it was Jesus, from Bethlehem came.
Let every believer his mercy implore,
And praise, and praise,
And praise him for ever 'til time be no more.

This is, of course, an example - albeit an unusual one - of While Shepherds Watched.  George, who learned this not in church but from his father, pointed out that in the second line of the first verse he should have sung 'a great light' rather than 'a great noise'.  Steve Roud feels that it is sufficiently different (the metre is changed and it isn't a straight paraphrase of Nahum Tate's 'standard' text, track 21) to have its own number and, as far as he and Ian Russell know, it is unique to George Dunn.

TSF, pp. 293-4.
Cf: Keyte and Parrott, no. 20

25 - Here We Come a-Wasslin' - fragment (Roud 209)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Here we come a-wasslin' amongst the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wasslin' so far to be seen.
Love and joy come to you, to your wasslin', to you,
Praise God send you a happy New Year,
A happy New Year, a happy New Year,
Praise God send you a happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours' children who you have seen before.
Love and joy, etc.

Commentators - notably The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols - have firmly placed this wassail in the north of England, and so its presence in the Black Country might be seen as surprising.  However,Roud gives 127 instances of the song, of which only three named sources are from Yorkshire and one from Lancashire ... none of the others are much further north than George, and some two dozen references are within about 35 miles of Quarry Bank.  George learned it as a boy from his contemporaries, but remembered only these two verses.

Almost all of Roud's examples are from England, with, in addition Phil Tanner, from the Gower, and Edwin Ace, from Glamorgan.  There are 20 sound recordings, but Phil Tanner and Billy Buckingham (Topic TSCD666), a group of wassailers from Drayton, Somerset (Topic TSCD663) and a snatch of Charlie Bate (Rounder CD 1719) are the only ones on CD.

SM, p. 13.

CD Two:

1 - The Oyster Girl (Roud 875, Laws Q13, Wehse 62)
(Recorded 7 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

George at Bloomers - early 1970s, photo by Janet Kerr. As I was a-walking down fair London street,
A charming little oyster girl I chanced. for to meet,
And so into her basket so nimbly I did peep
For to see if she had any oysters.

"Oh, oysers, oh, oysters, oh, oysters", said she.
"Three a tanner I'm selling them, but four I'll give to thee;
Three a tanner I'm selling them, but four I'll give to thee,
If you'll bargain for my basket of oysters."

"Oh, landlord, oh, landlord, oh, landlord", said he,
"Have you a little private room for the oyster girl and me,
That we can sit down and so merrily, merrily be,
While I bargain for her basket of oysters?"

"Oh, yes", says the landlord, "Oh, yes", says he,
"I have a little private room for the oyster girl and thee,
That you may sit down and so merrily, merrily be,
Whilst you bargain for her basket of oysters'.

We had not been inside the room for half an hour, you see,
Before she picked my pocket of all my money;
Then around the room she tripped and she gave to me the slip,
And she left me with her basket of oysters.

"Oh, landlord, oh, landlord, oh, landlord", said he,
"Have you seen the little oyster girl that came along with me?"
"Yes [spoken] and she's paid me your reck'ning, sir, so you may go free,
So it's 'ook it with your basket of oysters."

Here, as so often, George Dunn sings with infectious zest.  The song is reported from oral tradition in England, Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland.  George's version was one of several collected in the seventies.  Others were sung by Nelson Ridley, George Spicer, Duncan Williamson, and one came from Douglas Dowdy in 1982.  No other CD version appears to be available.

The song's earliest appearance in print seems to be as The Eating of Oysters in a garland of eight texts issued under the title of A New Patriotic Song by M Randall of Stirling (c.1794-1812), which may help to account for the thirteen versions noted a century later in north-east Scotland by Greig and Duncan.  Some nineteenth century broadsides headed The Oyster Girl give a completely different song, beginning 'Many a knight and lady gay'.

SM, pp. 34-5.

2 - I've Got a Warren - fragment (Roud 1037)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

I've got a warren, my dearest warren,
And in it there's a barren doe;
You may go a-hunting when hunting's in season,
You may go a-hunting thereto.
Shoot plump in the middle for there the doe lies,
Shoot plump in the middle and then the doe lies.
Sing fal the dal airol aye ay.

Unbuckle the hound close to the hole

Fish close to the bottom and then you'll be right
Fish close to the bottom and then fish'll bite
Sing fal the dal airol aye day.

Shoot plump in the middle for there the cock lies,
Shoot plump in the middle and then the cock lies.
Sing fal the dal airol aye day.
Sing fal the dal airol aye day.

With its imagery of warrens, fishponds and deer parks, this extended sexual metaphor has a strong eighteenth century flavour, though no text from that period has so far come to light.  George Dunn remembered snatches of other verses: 'Unbuckle the hound close to the hole', 'Fish close to the bottom and then you'll be right / Fish close to the bottom and then fish'll bite', and a reference to a pheasant with 'there the cock lies ... dies'.  Apart from this fragment, only two other versions are known: The Furze Field, like the present one, seems to take a woman's standpoint; The Old Sportsman, a man's. (See respectively Frank Purslow (ed.), Marrowbones (1965), p.34, and English Dance and Song (Autumn, 1993), pp.15-16).

TSF, p.282

3 - Here's Fifty Guineas - fragment (Roud 922)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Here's fifty guineas all in bright gold
I'll give to you quite freely
If you'll come over the hill with me
And I will buy your barley.

The fragment remembered by George Dunn comes from Mowing the Barley, in which a lawyer's blandishments are sharply rebuffed by the pretty maid he encounters on a country road:

I'd rather be a poor man's wife,
Sit at my wheel a-spinning,
Than I would be a lawyer's wife,
They are the worst of women.

Gardiner and Sharp noted oral versions in the early years of the twentieth century, and later an anodyne re-write by the latter became well known through being sung in schools.  George Dunn's schooling was, of course, several decades earlier.

Andrew Curtis, Bob Copper and Walter Pardon have recorded versions amongst Roud's 25 examples, all from the southern half of England, and Walter's can be heard on A World Without Horses (Topic TSCD514).

Cf: Sharp (ed. Karpeles), no. 118 A and B.

4 - The Squire's Bride (Roud 229, Laws O4)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

As I was a-walking in fair London street
A charming young squire I happened to meet.
"If you had my brown cheeks" and he liked them so well
Said he, "My little gipsy lass, can you my fortune tell?
Can you my fortune tell? Can you my fortune tell?"
Said he, "My little gipsy lass, can you my fortune tell?"

"Oh, yes, kind sir, give me hold of your hand.
I see you have got riches, both houses and land,
But all the pretty fair maids you must now lay aside,
For I'm the little gipsy lass that is to be your bride ... etc. "

He took her through fields to his mansion so fair;
He called for the servants to open her the door.
"This is your future mistress, so greet her with a smile,
For she's the little gipsy lass that is to be my bride ... etc. "

Oh, once I was a gipsy maid but now a squire's bride.
I've servants to wait on me or in my carriage ride;
And doffing of my hat to myself I often smile,
To think I was a gipsy maid but now a squire's bride ... etc.

A verson of the song more often called My Father's the King of the Gypsies - from its first verse, which George omits here - or The Gypsy Girl / The Gypsy's Wedding Day.  It was widely printed on broadsides, but has only been found in the oral tradition in central England and the USA.  There is a surprisingly high proportion of sound recordings among Roud's 55 entries, but only those by Joseph Taylor (Topic TSCD 651), Jasper Smith (TSCD 661) and Percy Webb (Neil Lanham CD NLCD3) are available on CD.

5 - The Trees they do Grow High - fragment (Roud 31, Laws O35)
(Recorded 4 Dec 1972, by Roy Palmer)

I enquired for my own true love,
But they would not let him come
Beacuse he was a nice young man a-growing.

At the age of seventeen he was a married man,
And at the age of eighteen the father of a son;
At the age of twenty, me boys,
Green grass it did grow over him,
Cold death did put an end to his growing.

The song, variously known (among other titles) as My Bonny Lad is Young, Still Growing and The Trees they do Grow High, has a feeling of great antiquity, although the earliest recorded version appears to be a re-working by Robert Burns published in 1792 in the Scots Musical Museum.  However, the song has spread all over the English speaking world and has some 130 Roud entries, 27 of which are sound recordings.  George's and Fred Jordan's (Topic TSCD 653) are the only entries from this part of England, except for Cecil Sharp's 1911 collection from John Bradley, of Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire.  Other singers whose versions can be found on CD include Lizzie Higgins (Topic TSCD 667), Mary Ann Haynes (Topic TSCD 656) and Harry Cox (Rounder CD 1839).

George Dunn's recollection was unfortunately confined to one verse, together with a further couplet:

I enquired for my true love but they would not let him come
Because he was a young man a-growing.

TSF p.280.

6 - The Seeds of Love - fragment (Roud 3)
(Recorded 14 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

... ... ... ...
And that is the flower for me.
You can have the violet, the lily and the pink,
I'll wait for the rose in June,
I'll wait for the rose in June.

The gardener stood by;
I asked him to choose for me.
He chooses me the violet, the lily and the pink,
But those I refused all three,
But those I refused all three.

In June there's a red rose bud,
And that is the flower for me.
So you can have the violet, the lily and the pink,
I'll wait for the rose in June,
I'll wait for the rose in June.

George's singing here shows a remarkable tenderness.  His fragment comes from a classic of English oral tradition, which circulated very little outside England; indeed Roud shows only a dozen or so US sightings, plus a handful each from Canada, Scotland or Ireland out of almost 200 entries.  The earliest printed version I have seen dates from the eighteenth century.  By the mid-nineteenth the song was 'not only a favourite with our peasantry', wrote J H Dixon, but 'obtained popularity in more elevated circles'.

Although the song has 26 known sound recordings, it would appear that only Cyril Poacher's version, titled Plenty of Thyme, is available on CD (Musical Traditions MTCD303).

TSF, p. 279.
Cf: Sharp (ed. Karpeles), no. 153 (fourteen versions); Kennedy, no. 167.

7 - It Was my Cruel Father (Roud 2897)
(Recorded 1971, by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

Oh, it was my cruel father that first did me trepan;
['my cruel parents' in other recordings]
He married me to an old man for the sake of money and land.
If he'd married me to you a young man without a penny at all,
He'd have took me in his arms and have loved me all the more.

Oh, it's "Hush, my dearest Nancy, oh, wait 'til we go to town,
I'll buy you a lady's bonney, likewise a mus-e-lin gown;
There is no lady in the land your beauty can compare,
And I'll buy you a little lapdog to follow you everywhere."

"I want none of your little lapdogs nor none of your gentle care;
It's a pity that such an old man my beauty you should snare.
I am not sixteen years of age and scarcely in my bloom;
Oh, you are my cruel torment, both morning, night and noon."

When he comes to bed at night he's as cold as any clay:
His feet are as cold at midnight as corpse, I've heard them say;
His pipes are out of order and his old flute's never in tune:
Oh, I wish that he was dead and a young man in the room.

There is another verse to that ... me dad used t' sing ... I only know the last lines ... she does make her mind up to kill him ... out of the road ... by pushing him down the stairs ... if that doesn't kill 'im, then she says ...

Oh I'll get a big stick and labour him well, until his bones I break.

The real and shocking ferocity of this song contrasts with the good humoured treatment of the same theme in Maids When You're Young, Never Wed an Old Man or Jenny, Lie Close to the Wall.

George Dunn's words stem ultimately from Sally's Love for a Young Man, an eighteenth century broadside without printer's name, and he enthusiastically took his missing three lines from it when I offered him a copy:

Now some they do persuade me to drown him in a well,
And others do persuade me to grind him in a mill.
I'd rather take my own advice and tie him to a stake...
And I'll get a big stick and labour him well, until his bones I break.

Only one other person, Jeanie Robertson, under the title of O Haud Yer Tongue Dear Sally, seems to have carried an oral version similar to this into the late twentieth century, though Sharp noted fragments in its early years in Somerset (1904) and Essex (1912), and Alfred Williams found it in Filkins, Oxfordshire, around the same time.  However, Marie McEntee, of Threemilehouse, Co Monaghan, sang Roll Her from the Wall to Len Graham in 1970, while Maggie McGee, in Inishowen, Co Donegal, sang The Old Grey Man to Jimmy McBride 1993.

There is another song, usually called The Dandy Man, which starts like this one, but continues the story; the old man dies and the girl takes up with a 'dandy man' or a 'glamour boy' who abuses her, crashes the jaunting car the old man had given her, and even kills the little lap-dog.  She ends up lamenting that she ever complained about her former husband!

SM, p. 40; Roy Palmer, ed. Everyman's Book of English Country Songs (1979) p.167.
Cf: broadside (Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection).
Jeanie Robertson
, Collector Records JFS 4001 (1959)
Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs
, ed. Maud Karpeles (Oxford 1974) no. 199A and B.

8 - Young Leonard - fragment (Roud 189, Laws Q33)
(Recorded 5 June 1972, by Roy Palmer)

Oh, comrades, brave comrades, let nobody know,
It's a bright summer's morning and a-bathing we'll go.

They go a-bathing and he gets drowned, and his sister comes into it: 'er wakes up and 'er goes to his mates.

Oh, comrades, brave comrades, I've had a sad dream
That my brother is drownded in the lakes of Cold Stream.

They took him to St Giles's and they laid him in the cold clay,
Here's adieu to young Leonard, and they all marched away.

Otherwise known as the Lakes of Cold Finn, Coolfinn, Col Fin, Cold Stream, Shallin, Colephin - or Willie Lennard - this ballad is extremely widely distributed throughout the English-speaking world (except Australia), despite having only 72 Roud entries.  Some scholars, including Phillips Barry, MacEdward Leach and G Malcolm Laws have tried to suggest that Willie was lured to his death by a water-woman who lived in the lake, thus linking the song with ballads such as Clerk Colville or Lady Alice (Child 42 and 85).  Today, there is little support for such supposition and, as Tom Munnelly so poetically put it, 'we must now let our Irish Clerk Colville sink, like Willie, beneath the waves'. (Tom Munnelly, The Mount Callan Garland, Dublin, 1994. p.105).

Although there are several areas in Ireland with similar names, it is probable that our story was originally set either at Loughinsholin, near Garvagh, in Co Derry, or Lough Sillin, Co Cavan. At one time the clan living around the latter were the O'Flynns. The name of the song means 'the lake(s) of the island of the O'Flynns'. P W Joyce collected it from Peggy Cudmore in Limerick in 1854 and printed it in 1873 - it also appered in a number of other Irish and English broadsides shortly afterwards, which is possibly the reason it is so widespread.

Given that it appeared in print during the lifetimes of many of the singers who knew it, the variety of titles the song has attracted - particularly since the published Lakes of Cool Finn would be so obvious a choice - is quite astonishing.  Some of the more interesting are Royal Comrade (Amy Birch following widespread Traveller tradition there), Johnny Bathin' (from Donegal), Billy Henry (Scotland), The Cruel Lake of Woolfrinn (New York) ... and the almost inevitable 'Twas early One Morning.  For some reason, the song has remained popular to this day with Gypsies and other travellers.

There are 24 sound recordings in Roud, of which those by Sheila Stewart (Topic TSCD515), Amy Birch (TSCD661), Pop Maynard (Musical Traditions MTCD309-10) and Scan Tester (MTCD309-10 and TSCD 653) are still available.

TSF, pp.280-1.

9 - Henry, My Son (Roud 10, Child 12)
(Recorded 3 Dec 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Photo of a 'Black Country Sheet-Iron Works' - from Roy Palmer's postcard collection. "Where have you been all the day, Henry, my son?
Where have you been all day, my beloved one?"
"In the meadow, in the meadow.
Make my bed, there's a pain in my head,
And I want to lie down and die."

"What have you had to eat?"
"Poisoned berries."

"Who gave you poisoned berries?"
"My sister."

"What will you leave your father?"
"Gold and silver."

"What will you leave your mother?"
"Love and kisses."

"What will you leave your sister?"
"A rope to hang her."

"How shall I make your bed?"
"Long and narrow."

As a ballad this can be traced back in English for some two hundred years, though the story derives from five centuries before that, to a poisoning in the family of an Earl of Chester called Ranulf or Randall ... hence Child's preferred title, Lord Randal.  Roud notes almost 500 instances of the ballad, more than half of which are from North America.  It was widely found in both Scotland and England, but less-so in Ireland - and it can still be found today.  There have been more than 40 sound recordings made, though not many have made the transition to CD.  The mention of Rounder CD 1775 Classic Ballads 1 will alert readers to the fact that the recordings by Jeannie Robertson, Thomas Moran and Elizabeth Cronin found there are only a couple of verses each, but complete songs can be heard from George Spicer (MTCD311-2), John MacDonald (Topic TSCD653) and Mary Delaney (Topic TSCD667).

George Dunn learned the song 'in his youth'.  His daughter, Mrs Valerie Chapman, helped him remember the words, which she appeared to have learned independently.  It is unusual to find, as in this version, that the protagonist's sister is the poisoner.

SM, p. 65

10 - I wish, I wish - fragment (Roud 60)
(Recorded 21 Sept 1971, by Roy Palmer)

I wish, I wish, but it's all in vain,
I wish I was a maid again.
A maid again I never shall be
Till apples grow on an orange tree.

I grieve, I grieve, I'll tell you why,
Because she's got more gold than I;
But her gold will melt ...

These verses, which float from song to song, including Waly Waly, Died for Love and Love is Pleasing, are nevertheless deeply poignant.  The tune here is also widely used, for The Croppy Boy, Lady Franklin's Lament, McCaffery, and others.  Very unusually, although Roud has only 25 examples, the majority (15) of them are sound recordings.  Walter Pardon (Topic TSCD665), Jeannie Robertson (Rounder CD1720) can be found on CD.

TSF, p. 218.
Cf: R Vaughan Williams and A L Lloyd (eds), The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Harmondsworth, 1959), p.53; Stephen Sedley (ed), The Seeds of Love (1961), pp.112 and 161.

11 - All Fours (Roud 232)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

A young man was walking early one morning,
Feeling quite happy and taking the air,
When he beheld a most beautiful damsel
Walking before him along the lane.

He walkèd up to her and gently did ask her,
"Oh where are you going so early this morn?"
She said, "Kind sir, I am going to Leominster,
For that is the very place where I was born."

"Shall I go with you, sweet maid?" he asked her;
"Shall I go with you along this lane?"
She turned herself round and she lookèd all on him:
And said "Yes, if you please, kind sir", she said.

They had not walked an half mile together
Before he offered to learn her a game.
He threw himself down and he pulled her down by him,
And said, "I will show you a sweet pretty game."

"You see, young man, I am not used to gaming,
But along with you I am willing to try;
And if I, by chance, should happen to beat you,
You must not think I am telling a lie."

So she cut the cards and he choosed to deal them,
Not dealing himself a ace, but the jack;
And, by chance, dealing the ace into her hand,
Which is commonly called the best trump in the pack.

She played down her ace and stole his jack off him,
Which made her cry, "High, low, jack and the game.
You see, young man, I have fairly beat you;
You dare not play the game over again."

"The game, for me, requires much effort,
And I'm in no condition to play it again;
But if you by chance should come this way tomorrow,
Then we will play the game over again."

When forty long weeks had gone and passed
A sorrowful tale this young woman could tell;
She cursed the very hour she played at All Fours
Because it made her feel very unwell.

I wish my baby it was born,
Sat smiling on its daddy's knee,
And I was in some churchyard lying
With the green grass growing all over me.

On the surface we are dealing with card play, and Hoyle's Rules of Games(1955) indeed lists All Fours.  In her edition of Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs (1974), Maud Karpeles places in the section devoted to sports and pastimes The Game of Cards, a version of the song he noted in 1908.  Yet this is a transparently erotic piece which had to wait until 1960 to appear in respectable print, in James Reeves's anthology of English traditional verse, The Everlasting Circle.  That it was well known a century earlier is attested by the broadside issued by Henry Disley of London, a political adaptation or parody dealing with Garibaldi's struggle for Italian unity under the title of The Game of All Fours (British Library, 11621 h 11, Crampton Ballads, vol. 7, fol. 263).  At much the same time, the catalogue of the Manchester ballad printer, T Pearson, included the original Game of All Fours, twinned with The Steam Loom Weaver.

George Dunn's mention of Leominster is merely a localisation: other versions have Leicester, Glasgow, Croydon and Windsor.  His two-verse coda is not found elsewhere; he has to vary his langorous tune to accommodate it, and the moralising is at odds with the erotic tone of the rst of the song, in which the apparently naive woman proves the sexual superior of the man.

Among Roud's 41 noted instances, all from the southern half of England, are 15 sound recordings - indicating that the song was still popular in recent times.  Indeed, many Travellers still sing it today, and George, Sam Larner and Charlie Wills are the only Gorgios in the list.  Recordings by Sarah Porter (MTCD 309-10) Phoebe Smith (Veteran VT136CD) and Levi Smith (Topic TSCD 661) are the only others available on CD.  Vic Legg informs us that All Fours is still played in a number of pubs in the china-clay areas near St Austell in Cornwall; indeed, they have a League - for the card game, that is.

The song appears in Songs of the Midlands, p. 57, from a recording made by Charles Parker in April 1971, which has a number of differences, notably that it begins 'As I was a-walking one bright summer morning'.

12 - Little Grey 'Oss (Roud 393, Wehse 128)
(1971 by Ewan MacColl and Peggt Seeger)

Long time I've travelled the north countery,
Seeking to find good company;
Good company I always could find
But none was pleasing to my mind,
With me fal the dal ee, fal the dal ee,
I had in my pocket but one penny.

I saddled my horse and away I did ride
'Til I came to an alehouse beside the road side.
I called for a pot of strong ale that was brown,
And along with it I took myself and sat down,
With me fal, etc.
I had in my pocket just no money.

... 'Ee's paid for 'is beer!

I saw three gentlemen playing at dice;
I took them to be some noble knights.
They were at play and I looking on;
They took me to be some nobleman,
With me fal, etc.
I had in my pocket then, no money.

They asked me if I would play,
And I asked them what bets they would lay.
The one said "a guinea" and I say "five pound";
The bets they were laid but no money put down,
With me fal, etc.
I had in my pocket just no money.

I took up the dice and I gave them a spin;
It happened to be my good luck for to win.
If they had a-won and I had a-lost
I should have to have pawnèd my little grey 'oss,
With me, etc.
For I had in my pocket just five pound three. (repeat)

Was ever mortal man more glad
Than I with myself and the money I had?
I'm a hearty good fellow, as you shall find,
For I'll make you all drunk with the drinking of wine,
With me fal, etc.
I had in my pocket ... five pound three.

I stayed there all night and part of the next day,
Then I thought it was time to be jogging away.
I asked the landlady what I had to pay;
She said, "Nothing, love, kiss me and go on your way
With your fal, etc."
I had in my pocket ... five pound three.

This song was printed under the title The Adventures of a Penny, the earliest printing probably being that of Evans of London in the late eighteenth century.  A L Lloyd has argued that copies issued early in the nineteenth century respectively by Pitts of London and Kendrew of York influenced oral tradition in the south and west of England on the one hand, the Midlands and Yorkshire on the other.  George Dunn remembered only two verses (5 and 7), but seized gleefully on the full text I offered, which had the same interlaced refrain, and re-acquired the song.

Apart from a single Australian and two Irish entries for this song, all the rest of Roud's 38 examples come from the southern half of England - several from the SW Midlands.  It also seems to have been quite a favourite amongst Travellers.  Although there are six other singers who have been recorded, none but George is available on CD.

TSF, pp. 290-1 (A).

13 - This Cock it Must Have Crowed (Roud 16895)
(Recorded 5 June 1972, by Roy Palmer)

This cock it must have crowed in the tower of Babel,
Fed by Cain and Abel and reared in Noah's stable,
For all the bullets ever fired on the field of Waterloo
Could[n't] penetrate and dislocate
That double-breasted, iron-chested,
Delegated, armour-plated cock-a-doodle-do.

This is not a fragment, but an epigrammatic song said to refer to the fighting cock carved in place of the traditional eagle on the lectern in St Bartholomew's Church, Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

For another version, see Roy Palmer and Jon Raven (eds), The Rigs of the Fair (Cambridge, 1976), p.36.

14 - The Rowdy-Dowdy Boys - fragment (Roud 16896)From Roy Palmer's broadside collection.
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Now, boys, now, boys, now for a jolly spree,
Ran, san, tiddley-ann, come and have a round with me;
Come and have a round or two, I don't care what you do,
But I say, clear the way, for the rowdy-dowdy boys.

George Dunn here sings a version of the chorus of the song written by Tom Conley (1872-1903) and Felix McGlennon (1856-1943), and published in 1891.  He remembers that it was adopted by Aston Villa supporters as the club's theme song.  The illustration from Hull City Library pairs The Rowdy-Dowdy Boys with Daisy Bell (which appeared in 1892) on a street ballad sheet without imprint.

15 - The Best Man Here (Roud 1542)
(Recorded 5 June 1912, by Roy Palmer)

I pray for all, the army, the state and the throne;
I pray for all, from birthday until the last call.
If it was not for the parson you'd soon go to the wall,
For I am the best of the company here, I pray for all.

I fight for all, the army, the state and the throne;
I fight for all, a Briton I'm sinew and bone.
If it was not for the soldier you'd quickly have to fall,
For I am the best of the company here, I fight for all.

I pay for all, the army, the state and the throne;
I pay for all, a Briton I'm sinew and bone.
If it was not for the workman you'd very quickly fall,
For I am the best of the company here, I pay for all.

Inns called the Three, Four or Five Alls are not uncommon, with signs depicting different pecking orders; farmer or labourer usually at the bottom.  George Dunn's song on the same theme has a strong Victorian flavour.  This appears to be the only time it has been noted, let alone recorded.

TSF p.295.

16 - Don't Go Down in the Mine, Dad (Roud 2334)
(Recorded 29 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

A miner was leaving his home for his work
When he heard his little child cry.
He ran to the bedside, the little white face:
"Oh, daddy, I've had such a dream.
I dreamt last night that the pit was on fire,
And men struggled hard for their lives;
The scene it then changed, and the top of the pit
Was surrounded by sweethearts and wives,

So don't go down in the mine, Dad,
Dreams very often come true,
And Daddy, you know, it would break my heart
If anything happened to you.
Go and tell my dreams to your mates,
For as true as the stars do shine,
Something is going to happen today,
Dear Daddy, don't go down the mine."

The miner, a man with a heart good and true,
Sat by the side of his son:
"My lad, it's my living, I can't stay away,
And duty, my lad, must be done."
Before the day ended the shift [pit] was on fire,
And men struggled hard for their lives;
He thanked God above for the dream his child had,
That night when the little lad cried,

The song, written in 1910 by Robert Donnelly (words) and Will Geddes (music), was enormously successful, and continued to be widely sung (including by my own father) for a good part of the ensuing century.  A tear-jerker perhaps, but it reflected a very real background of pit disasters - during the first decade of the twentieth century, counting only major incidents, over a thousand miners died in British pits, 480 of them in 1910.

As it was not the sort of song many British collectors would be interested in, it's unsurprising that most of Roud's 21 instances are from the USA or Canada.  He collected a version from Charlie Ryder and his wife, in Vernham Dean, Hampshire, whilst I also had it from Mrs Lucy Woodall (another chainmaker), of Cradley Heath, Worcestershire.

17 - Lawyer and Parson - fragment (Roud 350)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

A lawyer and a parson they went out one day;
Said the lawyer to the parson, "Let's kneel down and pray."
And what they did pray for it was pretty clear:
"May the lord send us happiness and plenty of beer;
And if he sends one barrel I hope he'll send ten."
Said the lawyer to the parson; said the parson "Amen."

An unusual variant of The Topman and the Afterguard, of which George could unfortunately remember no more - it's the well-known soldier-sailor dialogue song.  I collected a forces' version from a Mr Mays in nearby Warwickshire just a year before recording George Dunn.  Roud has only 37 examples, but almost half of these are sound recordings - although, sadly, only one is available on CD: Harry Cox (Rounder CD 1839).

Cecil Sharp had a version originally learned from a singer born in 1779, and believed that the song derived from The Mare and Foal, (Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs, ed. M Karpeles (1974), no.276).

18 - The Female Highwayman (Roud 7, Laws N21)
(Recorded 1971, by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

Shiloh, Shiloh, one day, one day,
She dressed herself in man's array;
With a sword and pistol by her side
To meet her true love,
To meet her true love away did ride.

She met her true love on the plain
"Stand and deliver, sir", she said,
"Stand and deliver, sir", she said,
"Or else this moment,
"Or else this moment I will shoot you dead."

He stood and delivered of his golden store.
She then cried out, "There is one thing more.
There's a diamond ring I know you have:
Deliver it,
Deliver it your dear life to save."

"The diamond ring was given by my love
Was a token of our own true love.
To deliver it would not be right,
So I'll keep the ring,
I'll keep the ring if you take my life."

Next morning in the garden green
Just like two lovers they did meet.
He saw his watch hang down her clothes,
Which made him blush,
Which made him blush like any rose.

"What makes you blush, you silly thing?
It was I that wanted your diamond ring;
It was I that met you on the plain,
Oh take your watch,
On take your watch and your gold again.

"I only did it for to know
Whether you were my true love or no,
But now I have contented mind:
My hand and heart, love,
My hand and heart, love, and all is thine."

And now this couple married were,
And they did live a happy life.
The bell did ring and the music play,
And they got pleasure,
And they got pleasure both night and day.

Under various names, including Priscilla, Zillah, Sylvia, Sovay, Sovie and Cecilia, our female highwayman tests her true love's allegiance in a song with a soppy scenario but a good tune which commanded widespread admiration for a couple of centuries.  Almost all Roud's 62 examples are from southern England - but I also collected a version from one J Francis, from nearby Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire, in 1974.  There are only two other British recordings of this song known to Roud; by Timothy Walsh, of Devonport, and Mabs Hall, of Billingshurst, Sussex.

George, who had no title for the song, initially remembered a substantial fragment, and eventually the full text.

TSF, pp. 285-6 (fragment)

19 - Edward - fragment (Roud 200, Child 13)
(Recorded 3 Dec 1971, by Roy Palmer)

"What did you kill your dear little brother for?
My son, come tell it unto me."
"For killing three little dicky birds
That flew from tree to tree."

"What will you do with your houses and land?
My boy, come tell it unto me
...  ...  ...
...  ...  ...

"What will you leave your dear little brother now?
My boy, come tell it unto me."
"I'll leave him a rope to hang himself
On yonders high tree."

"What will you do when your father comes home?
My boy, come tell it unto me."
"I shall place my foot on board a ship
And sail to Amerikee."

"When shall I see your dear, dear face again?
My boy, come tell it unto me."
"Never 'til the sun sets on yonder high tree
And that will never, never be."

Child considered this to be "one of the noblest and most sterling specimens of the popular ballad".  It was very well known (having 212 Roud entries: 20 from Ireland, 40 from Scotland, 130 from the USA - and some 40 sound recordings), yet seems not to have been so in England, and was recorded from oral tradition there only a handful of times in the whole of the twentieth century.  Of the recordings, those by Angela Brazil, Thomas Moran, Mary Ellen Connors, Jeannie Robertson (all on Rounder CD 1775), Paddy Tunney (Topic TSCD 653) and Mary Delaney (Topic TSCD 667) may be found on CD.

George Dunn's version, which he remembered from earliest childhood, is haunting and poignant.  He remembered the final verse on a different occasion from the rest.

SM, p.66

20 - They Laid Him Away on the Hillside - fragment (Roud 3226)
(Recorded 4th April 1971, by Charles Parker)

They laid him away on the hillside
Along with the brave and the bold.
Inscribe his name on the scroll of fame
With letters the purest in gold.
"My conscience shall never upbraid me"
He cried with his last dying breath;
"May God speed the cause of freedom
Through which I am sentenced to death."

George must have acquired this several decades later than most of his repertoire, since it is the chorus of the song better known as Lay Him Away o'er the Hillside, which deals with the execution in India in November 1920 by the British Army, of Private James Joseph 'Jim' Daly for leading a refusal of duty in protest at the atrocities committed in Ireland by the Black and Tans.

Roud shows no Irish collections from the tradition, but does list John Gregson, of Burnley, Lancs, and Pop Maynard, of Sussex.  George Townshend, of Sussex, also knew at least part of the song.

Cf: Roy Palmer, What a Lovely War. British Soldiers' Songs (1990) pp.65-6.

21 - Polly Oliver (Roud 367, Laws N14, Wehse 375)
(Recorded 5 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

One morn as Polly Oliver lay dreaming in bed
The thought of her true love came into her head.
Neither father nor mother shall make me false prove,
For I'll 'list for a soldier and follow my true love.

Next morning Polly Oliver very early arose
And dressed herself up in a man's suit of clothes,
With a waistcoat and jacket and a sword by her side
On her father's green dragon away she did ride.

Oh, she rode till she came to the sign of the Crown,
And called for a pint of strong ale that was brown;
And the first that came in was a man from abroad [above],
And the next that came in was Polly Oliver's true love.

"Oh, good morning, kind captain, good morning", said she;
"I'm a new-'listed soldier to fight for my queen;
To fight for my queen, my boys, on land or by sea',
... ... ... ...

When supper was over she hung down her head
And called for a candle to light her to bed.
The captain made this reply, "There's a bed at my inn,
And you may lie in it, countryman, if you please."

Next morning very early Polly Oliver arose
And dressed herself up in her own suit of clothes.
... ... ... ...

'Er went down into the bar and the captain followed 'er down, and he said to 'er:

"If I lay with you the first time the fault was not mine,
And I hope to use you better, love, the very next time."

George Dunn was chagrined at not fully remembering this, 'one of Ferther's owd uns', and it was remiss of me not to have tried him on another occasion.

A fuller version may be found in the broadside printed by J Russell of Moor Street, Birmingham (Madden Collection, Cambridge University Library.

Polly Oliver's Rambles

One night as Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A comical fancy came into her head,
Neither father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I'll list for a soldier and. follow my love.

Early next morning this fair maid arose,
She drest herself in suit of men's clothes,
Coat, waistcoat and breeches and sword by her side,
On her father's black gelding like a dragoon did ride.

She rid till she came to fair London town,
She dismounted her horse at the sign of the crown,
The first that came to her was a man from above,
The next who came down was Polly Oliver's true love.

Good evening, good evening kind captain said she,
Here's a letter from your true love Polly Oliver said she,
He open'd the letter and a guinea was found
For you and your companions to drink your health all round.

Supper being ended she held down her head,
And called for a candle to light her to bed,
The captain made this reply I have a bed at my ease,
You may lie with me countryman if you please.

To lie with a captain is a dangerous thing,
I'm a new enlisted soldier to fight for my king,
To fight for our king by sea and by land,
Since you are my captain I'll be at your command.

Early the next morning this fair maid arose
And drest herself in her own suit of clothes,
And down stairs she came from her chamber above,
Saying here is Polly Oliver your own true love.

He at first was surprised then laugh'd at the fun,
And then they were married and all things were done,
If I laid with you the first night the fault it was mine
I hope to please you better love, for now it is time.

The song, which may date from the wars with France of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was widely popular, to judge by the large number of broadside printings such as this.  By the first half of the twentieth century it seems to have been better known in the American oral tradition than in the English, and George Dunn's version represents a rare survival.  Certainly, it appears to be the only sound recording - though Ginette Dunn heard, and may have recorded, Ruby Ling singing it in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, in the late-seventies.

TSF, pp.286-7.

22 - Break the News to Mother (Roud 4322)
(Recorded 27 Sept. 1971, by Roy Palmer)

While the shot and shell were screaming upon the battlefield
Our gallant boys were fighting the noble flag to shield;
Came a cry from their brave captain: "Look, boys, our flag is down.
Who'll volunteer to save it from disgrace?"
"I will", a young voice shouted, "I'll bring it back or die"
Then sprang into the thickest of the fray;
Saved the flag but gave his young life, all for his country's sake.
They brought him back, and softly heard him say:

"Oh, break the news to mother, she knows how dear I love her.
Tell her not to wait for me, for I'm not coming home;
And say there is no other can take the place of mother.
Kiss her dear, sweet lips for me, and break the news to her."

From afar a famous general who witnessed this brave deed:
"Who saved our flag? Speak up, my lad. 'Twas noble, brave, indeed."
"There he lies, sir", said the captain, "he is sinking very fast"
Then slowly turned away to hide a tear.
The general in a moment knelt down beside the boy,
And gave a cry that touched all hearts that day:
"'Tis my son, my brave young hero. I thought you were safe at home."
"Forgive me, father, for I run away ...

So break the news to mother, and tell her how I love her,
Tell her not to wait for me, for I'm not coming home;
And say there is no other to take the place of mother.
Kiss her dear, sweet lips for me, and break the news to her."

Charles K Harris (1867-1930) wrote the song in 1897.  George learned it during the Boer War and it remained in his memory for the rest of his life.  It has been noted infrequently in England, Canada and the USA, and we only know of three other recordings; by Fred Jordan, Bob Hart (MTCD301-2) and Walter Pardon (MTCD305-6).  It was published in A Ballad History of England by Roy Palmer (1979), pp. 160-1.

23 - Far, Far Away on the Banks of the Nile (Roud 5386)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Far, far away on the banks of the Nile,
Thousands of miles from his own native soil,
A brave Irish soldier so gallant and true
Read his mother's letter by the light of the moon.
He stole from the camp this little note to read;
The news that it brought made his stout heart to bleed
Whilst he was fighting at the head of his band
His mother was evicted by the laws of the land.

And the tears rolled down his sun-burned cheeks,
And dropped on the letter in his hand.
Is it true?  Too true,
More trouble in my native land.

Told how the widow whose rent she can't pay,
Told how the agent came one dark, dreary day
To burn down the stable for the trifle she owed,
And the mother and her children were turned in the road.
"I know I'm doing wrong", a poor old neighbour said,
"By harbouring you a welcome in my own humble shed;
With all my heart you're welcome, for such laws I scorn
This shelter shall be yours until your son returns."

Trouble in Your Native Land is known to have been in the repertoire of Dan Crawley (1872-1912) a music hall artiste, and was written by Tom McGuire probably in the late 1870s or early '80s.  A newspaper, The Derry Journal, described it in c. 1909 as 'a ballad written 30 years ago' (and later published the text in an anthology, Old Come-all-Ye's, issued in four editions between the 1930s and the 1950s).

Strangely, Roud knows of no Irish instances of the song in traditional repertoires, and all his five named sources are from England - although it does appear in Chas. Sanderson's Favourite Songs in Country Districts p.2, implying a Scottish source.  The only other examples on CD are Ria Johnson, of Glemsford, Suffolk (NLCD 5) and Sophie Legg, Cornwall, (soon to be re-released on Veteran).

George's words are very close to the Derry version, though his second verse consists of four lines of the original verse 2, combined with the last four of verse 3.  QB, p.25 (text).

24 - Father, Come Home, Do - fragment (Roud 16899)
(Recorded 29 June 1971, by Roy Palmer)

Photo of a chainshop interior - by Pat Palmer. "Oh mother, where is father dear?
Is he upon the sea?
It's been so long since he was here
And kissed us, you and me."

"I'm writing to him, my child, tonight
He's in some foreign land."
"Oh pray, dear mother, let me write;
You guide my little hand."

"I'll say, dear father, come home, do
And mother will not weep.
I often hear her pray for you
When she thinks I'm fast asleep."

"So, mother, guide my little hand,
For I know what to say
When I write to that foreign land
To father far away."

"I'll say, dear father, come home, do
And mother will not weep.
I often hear her pray for you
When she thinks I'm fast asleep."

George Dunn learned this Victorian tearjerker from his father.  Michael Kilgarriff in his exhaustive book, Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song, 1860-1920 (Oxford, 1998), lists Father Come Home in the repertoire of Billy Bennett (1887-1942) but provides no other details - so it could be the Henry C Work song which begins 'Father, dear father come home with me now'.

25 - Hear the Nightingale Sing - fragment (Roud 140, Laws P14)
(Recorded 24 May 1971, by Roy Palmer)

This one is about a soldier, he was from the north country, as he was a-walking it home - he'd been discharged from the army - and he was walking it home and he met this beautiful damsel - there was a lot of beautiful damsels!  Her met her and he started to talk to her.  He asked if he could take her in the wood where the pretty flowers grew - she told him that - in the wood where the pretty flowers grew and the nightingale sung; and 'er took him in the wood and showed him the stream and the flowers... They both sat down together, when out of his knapsack he pulled out a fiddle and he played her such a merry tune, made all the woods ring ...

And he played her such a merry tune, made all the woods ring.
"Hark, hark", says the fair maid, "how the nightingale sing."

"Oh now", said the fair maid, "can you marry me?"
"Oh no", said the soldier, "that never can be,
For I have a wife of my in my own countery,
And as pretty a little woman as ever you did see".

"Oh now", said the fair maid, "you must marry me."
"Oh no", said the soldier, "that never can be;
But if ever I return again, it shall be in the spring,
For to see the pretty flowers grow and hear the nightingale sing."

Under a variety of titles, including The Bold Grenadier, The Soldier and the Lady and The Nightingale, this gentle, sensuous song had a huge spread across Britain and North America. Roud's almost 150 entries include more than 20 sound recordings, but only that by Raymond & Frederick Cantwell (Rounder CD 1778) appears to have made the transition to CD.

From Roy Palmer's broadside collection. TSF p.288.

26 - The Watercress Girl (Roud 1541)
(Recorded 14 July 1971, by Roy Palmer) (Recorded 1971 by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

One day I took a ramble down by a running stream,
Where the water lilies gambol - it was a lovely scene;
And there I saw a maiden, a maiden from the dell,
She was gath'ring watercresses,
'Twas Martha, the watercress girl.

And her hair it hung in tresses,
Down by the stream that's close to the mill
She was gath'ring watercresses,
'Twas Martha, the watercress girl.
('Twas my little watercress girl.)

I asked if she was lonely
She answered with a smile
"Kind sir, I am not lonely, for here I daily toil.
I have to rise up early my cresses for to sell.
My christian name is Martha,
They call me the watercress girl."

The day is not far distant when Mary will be mine,
And on our wedding morning it will be nice and fine.
I'll have to rise up early and dress up like an earl
To go and marry Martha,
The sweet little watercress girl.

More Victorian sentimentality, with the working class girl again snapped up by (we gather) an affluent man. Water Cresses or The Watercress Girl, published in 1863, was sung (and probably written by) Harry Clifton (1832-72). Clifton also wrote The Calico Printer's Clerk, My Rattling Mare and I and Jemima Brown, all of which entered oral tradition. The Water-Cress Girl (see illustration), with a final verse rather different from George's, also appeared on a broadside without imprint.

Johnny Doughty, of Brighton, sang it, as did Amos Beckett (Winslow, Bucks) and Tommy Morrissey (Padstow, Cornwall) - though none of these recordings is now available.

TSF, pp.292-3; Roy Palmer, ed. Everyman's Book of British Ballads (1980) no.92.

Roy Palmer - December 2001

George Dunn's known recorded repertoire:

All Fours
Basket of Eggs
Best Man Here
Boney crossing the Alps
Boy at the Auction
Break the News to Mother
Broomfield Hill
Bull and Bush
Caroline and her Young Sailor Bold
Christians Rejoice
Christmas Rhymes
Church Bells they were Ringing
Cock it Must Have Crowed
Cold Blows the Wind (Unquiet Grave)
Cruel Ship's Carpenter
Darling Mabel
Don't Go Down in the Mine, Dad
Don't Sell My Mother's Bible
Edward.Eggs For Your Breakfast
Election Chants
False Hearted Sailor
Far, Far Away on the Banks of the Nile
Father, Come Home, Do
Female Highwayman
Fiddler Joe
Follow the Van
Gallant Poachers
Gathering Bluebells
Go to Sleep my Little Piccaninny
Hear the Nightingale Sing
Henry, My Son
Here We Come a-Wasslin'
Here's Fifty Guineas
Home on the Farm
How Beautiful Upon the Mountain
I Wish you a Merry Christmas
I wish, I wish
I'll Pay When I'm a Man
I'll Take you Home Again, Kathleen
I've Got a Warren
I've Had a Letter In a Wayside Cottage
It was My Cruel Father (Parents)
Jack the Sailor
John Riley
John Barleycorn
John Bull
Keep Right on to the End of the Road
Lawyer and Parson
Litte Drummer Boy
Little Grey 'Oss (Penny Wager)
London Bridge is Falling Down
Miller's Song
My Father's a Farmer
My Father Keeps a Crowing Cock
My Bonny Lad is Young
Nelson’s Death
Nottingham Poacher
Oh Reapers in the Whitened Harvest
Oh Master the Tempest is Raging
Oh Molly Riley
Oh She Was So Good and So Kind to Me
Once I Had a Blue Eyed Lover
Open the Door
Oyster Girl
Polly Oliver
Rolling in the Dew
Roses of Picardy
Rowdy Dowdy Boys
Seeds of Love
Seven Joys of Mary
She is Handsome
Squire's Bride
Sweet Marie
There was a Frog lived in a Well
There's a Secret in my Heart
They Laid Him Away on the Hillside
Trees they do Grow High
Watercress Girl
Where are you Going to, my Pretty Maid?
While Shepherds Watched
While Shepherds Were Watching
Who Will O'er the Downs
Wild Rover
William Taylor
Young Sailor Bold
Young Leonard


All of the above (except some of the song notes) was written by Roy Palmer. The main part of the notes on George Dunn's life previously appeared in George Dunn: the Minstrel of Quarry Bank (Dudley Library, 1984) and has been specially updated for this Musical Traditions publication. Roy also provided all but one of the photos included.

The recordings were made by Charles Parker (1971), Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (1971), and Roy Palmer (1971-5); the appropriate recording credits are given beneath each song title.

My sincere thanks to Roy, and to everyone who has helped to make this project a reality …

Steve Roud - for providing MT with a copy of his Folk Song and Ballad Indexes, whence came some of the historical information on the songs, and for valuable additions to the song notes, help with finding songs and allocating Roud numbers to new entrants to the Index.

Danny Stradling - for checking the song transcriptions and proof-reading.

Janet Kerr - for the fine photo on the cover, now in the possession of Chris Coe and John Adams - and thanks to John for scanning it for me.

editing, DTP, printing; CD: formatting, digital editing, noise reduction, production - by Rod Stradling, Winter 2001

A Musical Traditions Production ©2002

Article MT089

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