Article MT043

Cyril Poacher

Plenty of Thyme - MTCD 303

Musical Traditions' second CD release: Cyril Poacher - Plenty of Thyme - MTCD 303, is now avilable and reviewed in these pages.  See our Records Page for purchase details

As a service to those who may not wish to buy the record, or who might find the small print hard to read, I have decided to reproduce the relevant contents of the CD booklet here.

[Introduction] [Biography] [Learning songs] [Attitude] [Two Personal Views]
[Broadsides] [Song Ownership] [Repertoire] [Performance] [Song Notes] [Credits]

Track List:

1 - Plenty of Thyme
2 - Running Up and Down Our Stairs
3 - Green Broom (Broomfield Wager)
4 - I'll Be Your Sweetheart
5 - The Irish Jolting Car
6 - The Black Velvet Band
7 - The Great Big Wheel
8 - Bold General Wolfe
9 - The Farmer's Boy
10 - The Bonny Bunch of Roses
11 - Fagan the Cobbler
12 - Captain Ward and the Rainbow
13 - Your Faithful Sailor Boy
14 - Slap Dab (Whitewash)
15 - Nancy of Yarmouth
16 - The Bog Down in the Valley
17 - Australia
18 - Joe Moggins
19 - The Nutting Girl
20 - Just a Rose in a Garden of Weeds
21 - Green Bushes
22 - Two Little Girls in Blue
23 - A Young Man From the Country
24 - A Broadside
25 - Flash Company
26 - Lamplighting Time in the Valley
27 - The Maid and the Magpie
28 - A Sailor and His True Love
29 - Strolling Round the Town
30 - Australia - 3 verses only
31 - Nancy of Yarmouth - live


This CD came into being in rather a strange way.  When my wife and I were visiting East Suffolk on a regular basis in the late 1960s, we heard Cyril Poacher sing only once or twice and met him socially only once, I think.  We must have had cloth ears at the time, because both then and five or six years later when the Topic LP The Broomfield Wager came out, we were largely unimpressed.  It was only quite recently, and particularly when The Voice of the People was issued, that we realised what we'd been missing at the time.

Our belated realisation of Cyril's quality happened, luckily, before my preparation of MT's first CD publication - Bob Hart's A Broadside (MTCD 301-2) - for which I was hunting both material and information.  Ginette Dunn's book The Fellowship of Song provided lots of the latter, and gave hints of more - related to her PhD thesis work in Snape and Blaxhall - and even the possibility of recordings.  As it turned out, the discovery of 'the Dunn hoard' - thanks to lots of detective work by Vic Gammon - took almost a year (far too late for inclusion in the Bob Hart project), but also revealed three full 5" reels, plus several tracks on three others, of the songs and comments of Cyril Poacher.  Even before having heard any of it I decided that this would be my next personal project - MT has about a dozen other CD projects in the pipeline, but since these are all dependent upon the co-operation and activity of various collaborators, I don't know their ultimate fate as I write this in July '99.

A comment dropped by Topic's Tony Engle caused me to ask him about using the tapes he made of Cyril in 1974, and his agreement, meant that the project was a certainty from the start.  The following six months were spent in attempting to find other sources of both recordings and information, and in putting what I found into a coherent form.  As with my previous project, I've been extremely fortunate in having the help of Paul Marsh for sound resoration on some of the less-than-well-recorded tape examples.

Although the text of this booklet is much longer than the Bob Hart one, I am aware that the picture of Cyril which emerges is rather less clear and vibrant than that of Bob.  It's the usual plea of an editor that s/he can only work with what s/he's given - and that is as true here as elsewhere - but I do believe that Cyril was a more difficult personality to penetrate, and few of my sources provide a very clear assessment of his character beyond 'sharp and cantankerous'.  Well, so be it .......

Cyril Poacher

... was born at Stone Common, near Blaxhall, Suffolk, in 1910, to Alice (nee Ling) and Lewis Poacher of Blaxhall.  Like his father he was a cowman almost all his life.  "Father was Lewis Poacher.  He lived with us for the last 12 years.  He was the one who taught me how to milk.  He taught me to milk at Blaxhall Hall when I was 16.  I could milk 'cos I used to do it with him at night times when I come out of school. I left Blaxhall School at 14 and I went to work at the Red House Farm Blaxhall for 6/- a week and I went from there to the White Cross Farm, Tunstall and I got 10/- week there, then I went with me father and I got 30 bob a week, then I went from there to Bleishall, Little Glemham and I got £3 a week. Then I come to Mr Oaks and I got £6 a week."

Ursula Hixson [Cyril's daughter]: "He worked as a county roadman until he was called into the Army in 1940 - he left a week after I was born, so I saw very little of him during the next five years due to the war.  After the war we moved to Thatch Cottage - Dad worked as a second cowman for Mr Rope at Grove Farm.  In 1948 he was promoted to the head cowman's job and we moved to Grove Farm where they lived until they moved to Snape".

He married, joined the army and was stationed at Catterick Camp during Second World War, before returning to Blaxhall in 1946, to work at Grove Farm, where he remained until he retired in 1975.  He had two daughters who both married American servicemen and left to live in the United States - one has subsequently returned.  In the early ‘70s, he moved to Snape with his wife.  He latterly lived in a nursing home in Suffolk, and died peacefully at the age of 89, on September 21st, 1999.

Learning Songs:

He learned songs as a child by listening to his grandfather, William ‘Cronie’ Ling, and his grandfather's brothers, Aaron and Aldeman, and he began singing at eight years old.  He first sang in public in Blaxhall Ship at the age of about nineteen. His cousin, Stanley Day recalled: "He sit on grandfather's knee, and he's only a young little babe, little boy like I was, and grandfather used to have a stone jug of beer, and he used to give Cyril a swig and a puff of his pipe and he used to sing all the old songs to him, and that's where Cyril learnt them from."

Poacher: "I learnt five of them off my grandfather ... The Nutting Girl, Joe Moggins, Young Man from the Country, and Once I had Plenty of Time, and one more - oh, Nancy from Yarmouth, yes."

He also learned songs from other local singers there, many being of his father's and grandfather's generations.

"Johnny French - Jack they called him - he was about the best singer in his day.  He'd do The Barley Mow - I can sing that too.  I first started singing when I was eight.  My grandfather Cronie Ling would put me on his knee and sing The Nutting Girl - that was the first song I heard, and he used to let me smoke his pipe too.  Young Man from the Country - he did that too.  I got A Wager from my mother Alice Ling - she sang that down the Ship.  Spencer Leek was another good singer - his name was George, the same as his son.  He was engineer down the Maltings when I knew him but he'd been in the merchant navy.  He used to wear a peaked cap and stand at the door of the pub until he heard Wicketts call on him to sing.  "Good Old 71" they'd shout. He'd sing I've a Brace of Dogs and an Airgun Too and Captain Ward - I knew bits of them.  Joe Moggins and Plenty of Thyme - I got them from him - Captain Ward.  He'd sit by the fire and sing with his eyes shut and once Walter Friend shouted to Wicketts "Wake that man up, Alf, he's singing in his sleep!" Walter was a damn good singer and he played the tin whistle too.  He was the first one to sing Green Bushes and Australia."

Village life in East Anglia has always centred on the pub and Cyril first sang in his local, The Ship Inn, when he was about nineteen.  The villagers would meet in the noisy little bar and the 'Chairman', Alf 'Wicketts' Richardson would call on each man in turn to sing, recite or pay for a gallon of beer.

"At that time of day when there weren't nothing, no television or not, there used to be sing, recite or pay for a gallon - and I don't pay for any gallons, I always used to sing, that's how it used to be ...  They'd get up and if they could only say it, they'd get up.  Nearly every night of the week ... and you'd get them right the way round and they sing, sing something or say something to the best of their ability rather than pay."


“Cyril Poacher is in some ways a sober man ... he is serious about his singing and how people regard it, since for him the singing role is endowed with value and he takes the spotlight with gravity”.  So said Ginette Dunn of the man when she did her fieldwork in Snape and Blaxhall in the early ‘70s.

Neil Lanham remembers an incident from the mid-'60s: A perfect example of Cyril's attitude to his songs and his singing came one night we gave him a lift home.  "Give us a song" someone said, and he obligingly did.  Not knowing the directions, I just carried on driving not knowing where, and Cyril carried on singing without batting an eyelid.  When he finally finished the lengthy Maid and the Magpie, he added an extra line "Where are you're a'goin on?" - we were nearly in Tunstall, two or three miles in the wrong direction.  The journey came a very poor second to the telling of his story - an attitude that defines good traditional singers - and Cyril was as steeped in his tradition as any I know.

By the time we met Cyril in the late ‘60s he had stopped singing regularly in the local pubs (despite being only in his late fifties) and I think we only heard him twice.  Lanham again: "Cyril was cantankerous - which made him interesting. He was aware of you and what you were after.  His piercing brown eyes would peak beneath his second-hand cap.  Sometimes he would sing, sometimes nothing would persuade him."  Along with many of his near contemporaries (Wicketts Richardson and Jumbo Brightwell being obvious examples) he turned away from the pubs when decent order could no longer be expected for a serious song.

His friend Bob Hart was very like him in this respect, but their reactions to poor order for their singing were quite different - Bob would be hurt, Cyril would be angry.  But Bob always came back for more - he needed the company of the people he could share his songs with to help alleviate the pain of the loss of his wife and sons.

Poacher: “Now when Walter or Aldie Ling got up to sing, and someone started talking, they'd stop and sit straight down again - they wouldn't sing, and I won't either.  But if Wicketts called for order, you got it.”

Richardson: “When I tapped on that table, you could hear a gnat fart!”

That was in the ‘50s - but by the ‘60s things began to change for ever:

Richardson: "We used to carry on like that till they turned you out, then, at ten o'clock, and we had a lovely evening, but I kep' it up till what - ten years ago, yer, but you got, you know, so that when the sorta young ones come in they didn't want any old songs and that.  They used to 'Oooh we don't want any of that,' see.  I packed it up, I was no longer MC ...  Once you give an order, they were quiet, till latter years ...  Didn't stop going, I never stopped going.  I used to join in with them when they used to sing, if I knew the songs.  I used to join in with the chorus and that, yer."

Cyril’s pride and anger stopped him from getting as much enjoyment out of the singing thereafter.  A further event also had its effect.

Keith Summers: “In 1953 a film was made in Blaxhall Ship including songs and music by Fred Pearce, Wicketts, Cyril, and Bob Scarce.  Many of the locals put a lot of hard work into it (especially Wicketts).  Unfortunately, despite promises by Alan Lomax, the film was never seen in Blaxhall, which caused a lot of ill-feeling locally, and was one of the main reasons why no local singer recorded or appeared at a festival for over 20 years”.

Cyril had also put a lot of work into it (famously being required to do nineteen ‘takes’ of The Nutting Girl) and I believe that the lack of courtesy subsequently shown by the collectors to the village made it obvious that the outside world, as well as Blaxhall, had no real respect for his music any more.  As a consequence, when Bob Hart, Percy Webb and Percy Ling began visiting the local folk clubs for a more serious and committed audience, Cyril rarely joined them, despite being a friend.

(People often express surprise that Messrs Hart, Webb and Ling would visit their local folk clubs - as ordinary members, not only as special guests - on a quite regular basis.  In response, I ask them what they think the Blaxhall Ship, Eel’s Foot, etc., singing evenings were - if not prototype local folk clubs).

Two Personal Views:

The only one of my informants outside the family who had any sort of a close relationship with Cyril Poacher is Keith Summers.  After prolonged dredging of the memories of almost 30 years ago, Keith came up with the following personal picture of the man:

I first met Cyril in the summer of 1971 on my first visit to Blaxhall Ship where in the company of Bob Scarce, Wicketts Richardson, Geoff Ling, Fred Pearce and others he talked with relish about the old days at the pub.  It was not for another few weeks though before I was to hear him sing. I turned up at the Ship early on a Friday evening.  Only Cyril, Jack Saunders the landlord and two other locals were in the bar and I did my best to ingratiate myself with them and to turn the conversation towards singing.  They all knew what I was after and thanks to some considerable encouragement from Jack, Cyril stood up, turned his back on the rest of us and facing the wall, sang Lamplighting Time in the Valley.  I dont know why he did that and I never saw him do so again - but it was certainly memorable.

Over the next few years I would like to think that we became good friends.  I loved his singing.  He was a charismatic, forceful performer in the classic declamatory Blaxhall style that drew out all the drama of those great old songs.  There was nothing flippant, nothing playful about his singing.  This was his legacy, he knew it and he meant it.  He was a living link to a tough and vibrant past and made no concession to the cosy village character image that others may have sought from traditional singers.  No - Cyril was one serious character.

Bernie was the landlord of Worlingworth Swan at this time and was a real good bloke.  Although only in his forties he loved the old songs and music he had grown up with on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, so taking over the Swan where that fine melodeon player Font Whatling (who lived opposite the pub) played regularly must have been a right result.  Bernie had shown me much kindness and encouragement in my search for music and had always wanted me to bring over some singers for a lunchtime session.  So one Sunday I picked up Cyril, Billy Bolton from Peasenhall and Fred Whiting from Kenton and headed for the Swan.  Now none of these chaps knew each other or Font or Wattie Wright from Worlingworth so the first hour and a half (it seemed longer!) consisted of a lot of guarded conversation and much weighing up of each other - but no singing.  Eventually and to my great relief Font broke the ice and then of course you couldn't stop them.  Cyril was the best singer there by some distance and everyone knew it but time permitted only one song, Nancy of Yarmouth.  Right on the last knockings, Wattie stepped to Font's playing and the result can be heard on Toubles They Are But Few - Topic TSCD 664.  As the tune ends you can hear Cyril saying "come on boys you should keep this going".  Typical.

The only other occasion I heard Cyril sing outside of Blaxhall was at the Leiston Folk Festival about 1975. After a considerable search of the festival site (a large and largely empty field) the words "know where ya gooin' boy?" came from a small tent.  There was Cyril sitting on his own on a bale of hay while in another corner Bob Hart and Percy Webb, the session having finished, were playing up to a small group of young friends and admirers. Cyril, patently bored, looked at me, his half drunk plastic glass of real ale discarded at his side (Cyril drank mild) and without further conversation being required we set off for the nearest pub. We found one and had a good drink there - a very good drink.  Now Cyril loved the old fruit machines and always involved the entire company in his success or otherwise and here he proceeded to play for about three hours.

I recall thinking at the time that this was probably the only gay bar in Leiston at that time and that most of the regulars, mainly Americans, had never been through anything like Cyril's "Two pears now can you boy?" or "Blast, where's that cherry" routine.  They loved it and genuinely liked him - and of course it had to happen.  Just as I'm tapping my watch to say it's time to go (he had a song session with Bob and Percy at 7pm.) - Three Bells - Jackpot! To our dismay it turned out to be tokens only and Cyril exchanged the lot (well over £100) for bottled beer, shag tobacco and cigarettes. Not having access to a small van, Cyril gave away all we could not carry to his newly found admirers and we skedaddled.  On arrival at the hall in noisy mood, we both accidentally dropped a number of bottles in the middle of Steve Ashley's set and were told quietly but firmly to go.  So I drove Cyril back home.

Cyril's hobby, verging on obsession, with the fruit machine reminds me of the summer of 1977.  I had booked a fortnight's holiday to go recording in Suffolk where Taffy Thomas had kindly loaned me one of his caravans near Chillesford.  The first weekend got off to a disastrous start when I managed to lose virtually every penny I had for the fortnight playing poker dice in Dennington Bell. Strange, really - because I won the first three games! The next day I drove to the Ship and explained my plight to Cyril.  "Never mind boy - there's work on at Iken Cliff - potato picking".  Cyril, who had just retired and was a bit short himself, organised the job, organised the lift (me) and for the next five days I picked him up at 5.30am and drove to Iken for six hours of back-breaking work picking the smallest spuds I have ever seen.  Come Friday - payday - and I arrived at Cyril's at midday only to be told "No he's gone to pick up the money".  Off I sped to the potato field - "No he's gone down the pub".  So there in a deserted Butley Oyster is CP playing the 'bandit'.  Eventually I had to ask about the money.  "Well boy, it's like this.  I've lost half the money - and it was your half!"  Stone-faced, Cyril milked the moment just long enough to test my normally placid nature before saying "just a joke, boy".  How I laughed!

As I've said, I loved Cyril's singing and always enjoyed his company but it must be said he could be a cantankerous old bugger on occasion.  Even when in the company of younger people who genuinely appreciated his singing he was often aloof, uninvolved and occasionally awkward.  With hindsight I put this down to his knowledge that along with his cousin Geoff Ling he was the last bearer of a grand tradition of village singing and that our appreciation was at best a poor substitute for the acclaim of his peers - Bob Scarce, Jack French and Arthur Smith.  But those men were no more and the whole village structure that created such a tradition was rapidly being lost.  Twenty years on though, I just hope that this CD gives Cyril the acclaim that such a very fine singer surely deserves.

And these reminiscences from Cyril's daughter Ursula, who now lives in Florida:

My mother Vera had quite a good singing voice and she often sang with Dad at home, especially on Sundays when we sang hyms ... she loved to sing her hymns - their voices actually complemented each other.

I spent many a winter evening singing with Dad around the fire at home - we sang lots of different songs.  Of course, I know the words to all of his songs ... I'm glad you have included Two Little Girls in Blue - that's one of my favorites.

I also spent time with Dad at the farm - feeding the animals, hoeing beet, watching the new calves born.  He had a name for every one of his cows and knew exactly who was who (they all looked alike to me).  I helped him to set up a log book for them so he could keep up with their milk production and when they were due to calve, etc.

I have lots of special memories of him ... picking up the new potatoes as he dug them up; playing darts at the Ship with him; picking daffodils in the spring; gathering chesnuts in the winter and eating them until we had a stomach ache.  He would say to me "Gal, you ought ta stop eating them - they'll bind you up."

I married an American serviceman (Jim), we have three daughters and one son, three grandsons and one granddaughter.  Mum and Dad came to Florida in 1976 to visit us - they had a great time.  I really don't have any pictures of Dad as a young man and only a few in later years.  I am sending you a picture of him and my mum taken in 1965.

Like my sister, my mum was a very private person - she didn't go to Blaxhall Ship with Dad.  She spent her time being a very good wife and a good mum to her daughters and nanna to her grandchildren.

By the way, my daughter Linna and I really enjoyed the magazine on the Internet - neither one of us believing that we were actually listening to Dad sing.  Brought a tear to the eye!


The notes to Topic’s 1975 LP The Broomfield Wager (12TS252), by Mike Yates and Keith Summers, frequently refer to songs in Cyril’s repertoire having once been printed as broadside ballads.  I imagine that most readers will know what these were; usually cheap single sheets of texts of ballads and other songs which were printed in huge numbers by a series of printers up and down the country and sold around the streets and fairs by all kinds of merchants and pedlars.  They rarely had the tunes in notation, but usually quoted the name of another well-know tune to be used for the song.

If a particular song did well for one printer it wasn’t long before another one pirated it and added it to his list as well.  Thus songs were spread around the country far more quickly and widely that would have been the case with purely oral transmission.  More to the point, they tended to remain coherent over very wide areas without the changes which oral transmission would have inevitably imposed.  Thus we find some songs having very similar texts all over these islands.

Needless to say, this is not the whole story.  The individual printers did make their own changes to the texts and, of course, the ‘folk’ did impose changes, oral transmission did still take place.  The most obvious of these was in the melody used for a particular song.  If the buyer of a sheet didn’t know the ‘popular’ tune, s/he would promptly use another which fitted the purpose.  But texts also underwent changes - most particularly in those songs made up mainly of ‘floating verses’, where there isn’t a clear ‘story’ being told in the song.  Thus we find the big old ballads, where the story has been honed to near-perfection over centuries, remain very coherent - since changing anything would obviously spoil the story - while simple songs of love or yearning often undergo extremes of meddling so that it is often difficult for even the most learned of scholars to figure out what they may have originally been versions of.

This is all relevant to Cyril Poacher and the East Suffolk villages where he spent his life, due to the concepts of ‘song ownership’ established there (and elsewhere, too).

Song Ownership:

In her book The Fellowship of Song, Ginette Dunn deals at length with this idea and the way in which it affected the singing in Snape and Blaxhall.  Since Cyril Poacher’s name was often raised in discussions on this issue, it’s worth having a brief look at what was involved.

At heart, it concerns the natural respect for private property and for the older members of the community, which was unthinkingly accepted by that society.  Thus an older and respected singer (say, Bob Scarce) was deemed to ‘own’ the right to sing a number of songs.  No one else would dream of singing one of ‘his’ songs if he were in the company, and possibly not in the local pub, even if he wasn’t.  Dunn asked Cyril whether any of the old singers ever told them that they could have a song or anything of that sort.  He replied “No, they didn't tell you. They weren't supposed to know you were learning on it, were they?”

This all seems perfectly right and proper until one considers the effect of such a concept on the singing community as a whole.

Many of these old singers remained active into their eighties - in fact, often became more active as singers when they had retired from daily work, lost their wife, children moved away from home, etc ...  Also young men who showed interest in the singing would begin going to the pub quite early in life and were often encouraged to sing by the older men as young teenagers.  Many of the singers who speak in Sing Say or Pay! attest to this.  (Cyril was unusual, I would think, in coming from a musical family, yet not singing in the pub until the age of nineteen).  But what were they to sing?

Coming from a musical family was a great help - certain songs were felt to belong to families and there was often an old aunt or uncle who’d pretty well stopped singing who would ‘give’ a song to a youngster - and songs learned from parents or grandparents were considered yours by right.  But where these conditions did not apply a young man would need to look outside the community for enough songs to be able to make an acceptable contribution to an evening’s singing.  (I speak of young men here, because women rarely sang in the pubs - but the same applies to them in their own song venues.)  In the old days he would often look to the broadsides - in more recent times it was records, the radio and the Sunday papers.

In Sing Say or Pay, Fred Ling says: “When me and Cyril and Eli Durrant used to get there - you see we were all about the same age - well, we knew a lot of those old songs from our relations, but we didn't like to sing them too much because they belonged to someone else - they knew.  So the songs we did were the more recent songs off the wireless and the gramophone.  But if the chap who normally sang it wasn't there, well maybe we'd have a go.  We knew them because we’d heard them so many times.”

Tom Goddard: “I learned a lot of my songs off records - the big 78s.”

Fred Whiting: “My pet hornpipe is The Flowers of Edinburgh - I first heard that when I was about 12 on an old gramophone record by John McClusky”.

Eely Whent: “We used to pick up some of our tunes from records you know”.

Percy Richardson: “We used to buy the News of the World for tuppence and they had songs in them.  My poor old mother used to stitch them to pieces of brown paper for us”.

In the 'Blaxhall Rovers' chapter of Sing, Say or Pay! we learn that a flourishing concert party operated in the village in the late-'20s / early-'30s, and a good deal about where their material came from.

And this is where the problems begin, because if my grandfather and your great-uncle learned the same song off broadsides they bought at an Ipswich market or an Aldeburgh fair, (or our fathers got it off a record or from the paper) and we learned it from them ... which of us ‘owns’ it and has the universally accepted right to sing it in the local?  From such simple stuff are village feuds made - as well I know!


So the system protected the rights of the accepted singer of a particular song, but made it difficult for the next generation to get enough of a repertoire to keep them fully interested in the idea of being a regular singer.  Nor was it always easy to get new material from pubs in neighbouring villages:

Poacher: "There was a time when Blaxhall and Tunstall couldn't agree nor us and Snape very sharply - and they hated the sight of Blaxhall chaps at Little Glemham.  It was mainly over wages - someone would be getting a shilling a week more than the other and if they met up at a pub there'd be a row.  So you didn't used to go round different pubs much ... "

Those who did want to keep up the singing bolstered their repertoire with pop songs of the day - which goes some way to explain the large numbers of these found in traditional singers’ repertoires.  I've also learned from Al Sealey that an informally organised 'pub circuit' of music hall gigs operated in East Anglia right up to the early 1930s, where second-string semi-pro performers would put on shows of their own songs together with the popular hits.  (This might help to explain the huge number of good, though not widely known, music hall type songs still to be found in the area.  It's also interesting to note that the main group of Blaxhall/Snape singers we know about - those born in the closing years of the 19th century - would have learned these songs as young men, say around 1910.  At that time, they were more recent than the Presley / Holly / Everley / Donegan / Beatles songs you so often hear in sessions today!)

Many of the country singers made little discrimination between these songs, but a few of the more serious-minded clearly felt that the old songs were more important than the new (even when the ‘old’ ones weren’t particularly old, had they known it).  The net effect was to keep the village fund of old songs pretty small and to limit what any singer could fairly call his own.  Again, this didn’t cause too many problems for most people - though I do believe that it may have contributed in a small way to the demise of singing as an acceptable entertainment.  A singer with half a dozen songs might not have minded giving them up as much as one with a hundred.

But, as in every community, there are a few exceptions, and every now and again we come across a singer who has a drive to learn (and sing) lots of songs.  Bob Hart in Snape had over 100, Harry Cox (up in Norfolk) had about 150, and Henry Burstow (down in Sussex) had 420!  People of this sort may have been more common than is generally supposed - in Blaxhall, George Ling told Keith Summers: “Our family were always singers.  When I was a boy, the pubs were open all day and my grandfather Aaron would go down to the Ship with his brothers and sit there all day singing, one against the other, and they'd very near have a scrap over who was the best” - a story one hears time and again from old people talking about the way things were at the turn of the century.  Clearly the Ling brothers had substantial repertoires.

Cyril Poacher may have fallen somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.  I’ve got references to him singing some 35 songs, yet Dunn quotes him as saying “I don’t know many more’n fifteen.  Well I might know a couple more, but that takes a lot of finding, fifteen”.  He was certainly one of those who differentiated between the old and the new, and I suspect that he meant that he had about fifteen old songs - as indeed he had.  But there are a lot of songs a singer will pick up as a regular attender of singing nights, just through having heard them so often.  S/he will know them, but may never sing them in social situations.

“Well, you see the ones we learnt are the ones he sung the most.  I mean, it wasn't no good hearing him sing one today, dinner-time say, for instance, and he didn't sing that song no more.  I wouldn't learn that in a dinner-hour, but he used to sing this one so many times that you knew what you was going to have”.


Neil Lanham: "Like all good singers, Cyril was firstly an entertainer - milking the moment with the right song or the right story for the right people at the right time.  The first time we went to the Ship he knew what we were after, so I was 'young Johnnie' in front of his audience and my girlfriend 'the Nutting Girl' who 'strew' (as we say in Suffolk) her nuts away ... "

Here, I’d like to quote at length from Ginette Dunn’s book, The Fellowship of Song, and her account of the singing which took place in Blaxhall Ship, 19th July, 1974.

At about 8:30 pm the singing begins with Cyril Poacher being asked by a few of the men to sing The Nutting Girl.  His reaction is to stand immediately, his beer on the table in front of him, facing his audience, hands in pockets.  His face becomes very lively and bright and, not looking anyone in the eye but turning his head upwards, he begins.  His first note is prolonged, a way of drawing attention, and it is also the introduction to the lines which refer directly to the audience present, and to the song situation.  Cyril's energetic and pronounced tremolo on the syllables he accents invites close listening, and the rhythm is emphatic.

It is important that the song is the first requested since it is one of the few of the entire evening which addresses the audience so directly. Cyril is the most regular customer of the Ship of all the singers present, and it is therefore fitting that he should sing first, invited to do so by some male members of his regular audience, and that he should oblige so willingly, perhaps in recognition of his own special position in the company.  It is likely too, that if he is usually a willing singer, then he is more likely to be first called upon.

At the end of his introduction, still sung with energy, he prolongs the last note and then moves into the narrative.  The feeling of the sixth line of the verse is that he is making a factual statement, that the cessation of the singing rhythm established in the introduction is deliberately made to bring the song into the realm of truth.  Under the guise of reality, the song's sexual fantasy can continue.  A few, including Percy Webb, join in with the chorus, which Cyril repeats, with a flourish that is like a short descant to the singing, and which is exclamatory, attention-drawing and highly rhythmic.  This repetition of the first chorus seems to be another way of catching the ear of the audience.  In the second verse, the declamatory rhythm of 'His voice was so melodious' is an indication of the power of the ploughboy's singing, and is oral expression of his youth and virility rather than a classical interpretation of his melodious performance.  Cyril seems, in his singing, to be able to reproduce the sounds which he describes.  The chorus is sung once, and he moves into the third verse.

Very clearly the words are enunciated, and there is a line less in this verse so that the sexual suggestion of the last two lines is rapidly reached ...  The truncation of 'She could no longer stay' suggests that something unusual is about to happen; it stops short and allows a moment of suspense, and the slightly quickened speed of the verse's final two lines is by way of emotional and narrative answer to this.  The chorus this time is sung by far more people in the audience, and there is laughter as well.

Momentum increases as the seduction draws nearer, a fact now fairly clear to the audience, whose increased participation is heard in the chorus singing and in their vocal reaction to the story.  'He took her to some shady broom' is sung with preliminary and final pauses, the first of which adds suspense, since so far in this verse the ploughboy has been the attracting still centre and she has been the active character, and the last of which allows the audience to express its reaction to his sudden and unmistakable move.  Percy Webb gives a hoot of mock prudery, whistles come at the end of the sixth line from men sitting nearby, and Cyril maintains the declamatory pitch and utilises a sexually suggestive euphoric running together of words in the line, 'She said, "Young man I think I feel the world go round and round." '

In Cyril's final verse, the emphases he uses again suggest direct appeal to the audience, from him, and not from any hypothetical creator of the song, and the rhythm he chooses is peculiar to the verse and therefore suggests that it has a special purpose here.  Cyril uses some of the stylistic rhetoric of the sermon, suggesting that he is delivering a personal warning, but his rendition of the last two lines is not ponderous and inverts the earlier solemnity in its comedy.  This resolution does not appear to take the girl's fate very seriously, but rather to enjoy the sexuality and virility implied.  It is in contrast to the mood Cyril sets at the beginning of the verse that the outcome gains humour, and it is the declamatory style which decides favorable reception of the events here presaged.  There is loud and prolonged laughter and there are cries of 'Good old boy' amid the applause.

Cyril Poacher is in some ways a sober man, but a gleam comes into his eye as he stands to sing this one.  He is nobody's idea of the sexually promiscuous, nature-loving, fancy-free, bucolic seducer, and he is shocked on another occasion when I laugh at two of Percy Ling's often-told dirty jokes.  He is serious about his singing and how people regard it, since for him the singing role is endowed with value and he takes the spotlight with gravity.  But once he has crossed the threshold from audience to performer, he changes.  Perhaps he expresses his fantasy life as he sings.  His manner would suggest this: in song, there is a quickening of his face, and a more forthright way of confronting the eyes of his audience.  The unfixed gaze at the beginning soon becomes animated and moves over its audience, his head moves, his body sways, his eyes are bright, and his face holds back a wide grin.


Somebody starts to call once more for CP and the circle starts again.  His song (Joe Moggins) is prefaced by three bangs on the table with a beer mug, to call order.  His face carries a mischievous expression, but he does not actually smile or laugh, and he stands with his hands in his pockets looking up above the heads of his audience.  The sexual implications and innuendo of the first two verses he allows to carry themselves, by his suggestive rather than comical manner, and as the sexual fantasy of the song becomes more explicit in the third verse, where the protagonist's prowess and attractiveness are laid bare, the reaction from the audience suggests that the titillation of the previous verses has succeeded, and that the expected and the desired have occurred.

Joe Moggins is hardly a song of sexual fantasy in the same sense as The Nutting Girl because it involves the conventional sequel to seduction, marriage and children.  But the responsibility is offset by Joe's character, which is free and easy, like that of the hypothetical and possibly mythical bucolic lover.  Again it is of note that Joe is unlike Cyril, but that Cyril has chosen to sing this song.  During the enthusiastic applause, Cyril, still standing, picks up his beer mug and raises it with a broad grin.


Cyril now stands to sing Flash Company amid shouts for order, and Webby whispers to the people at our table that it is his song, not Cyril's.  By this time, most of us have been drinking for about two hours and accompanying and chorus singing is sporadic and out of tune.  Cyril uses more grace notes than in his earlier songs, possibly because of the amount he has drunk.  However, he sings in such a way that sympathies are directed.

He is once more narrating a first-person experience, and the tragedy of the events is suggested in his emphasis of the low dominant, which runs through the song like a ground bass.  The rests after 'fiddling', 'dancing' and 'delight' are evocative of the downfall that has resulted from this love affair; legato singing of these lines may suggest happiness in these apparently pleasurable pastimes, but the breaks make sure there is no such ambiguity.  The tale of treachery is also emphasised by the staccato end of 'delight', and the triplet on 'my' is sung like a cry of despair; similarly, the two passages or ritardando draw out the despair and give it voice.  The a tempo recoveries serve to highlight what has gone before and to make the mood more explicit by contrast.  Cyril sings each verse flexibly, turning the melody he knows to the best medium for each set of words; there is variation from verse to verse, which is best seen as a local suitability to words.  Rhythms are altered, rests, pauses and grace notes added as the feeling aroused by the words and the melody which carries them surfaces.  It is a fittingly sober tone and speed that Cyril uses, with a slightly faster rendition of the symbolic chorus.  But the speed and tone do not prevent the performance from being energetic, and vocal ornamentation helps make every phrase alive.  The significance of the yellow handkerchief seems to be lost, but the words 'in remembrance of me' must call up echoes in most people present.  A fatalistic mood which ennobles the story of the verses emerges from Cyril's singing of the chorus.

In 1977, when the last of these recordings were made, he was still singing - when conditions were right - to the company in Blaxhall Ship on some Saturday nights, and occasionally at a local folk club ... but he preferred to remember the days when Saturday night was singing night and when Wicketts would beat the bar with the cribbage board and cry “Order please ladies and gentlemen, I have much pleasure in calling on our good friend Mr Cyril Poacher to oblige with a ditty.”

The Songs:

Plenty of Thyme  (Roud 3)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 3.10.74)

Once I had plenty of thyme
I could flourish by night and by day,
'Til a saucy sailor lad, he chanced to come that way,
And he stole all my happy time away.

There was a gardener standing close by
And I asked him to choose them for me;
He chose to me the lily, the violet and the pink,
But I did refuse them all three.

For the lily will very soon fade,
And the violet 'tis very much the same.
But as for the pink, I will give them all a ??
And he says I will tarry until June.

For in June comes that red and rosy bud,
And that is the flower for me.
For I ofttimes pluckèd off the red and rosy bud,
'Til I gained the goodwill of them three.

Now, it's very well a-drinking of ale,
But it's much better drinking of wine,
And it's far better sleeping in a saucy sailor's arms,
Where he stole away that fair heart of mine.

Now here is success to our Queen,
Likewise to our jolly Jack Tar.
We'll drink and be merry and we'll tarry out the moment,
And we'll drink 'til the sun rise again.
Oh, we'll drink and be merry and we'll tarry out the moment,
And we'll drink 'til the sun rise again.

Cyril Poacher learned this fine song from George Spencer Leake, a merchant seaman from Snape who was nicknamed 'Good Old 71'.  Plenty of Thyme, or The Sprig of Thyme / Seeds of Love as it is better known - though Garners Gay seems a far closer relative to Cyril's version - belongs to that class of songs and ballads (going back at least to A Nosegaie Alwaies Sweet... included in A Handful of Pleasant Delights, 1584) which centre around the symbolism of flowers - thyme for virginity, rue for its loss, rose for passion, willow for regret, etc.  Cyril's mildly patriotic final verse also appears in some other collected versions, possibly put there by Henry Parker Such who was the last broadside printer to publish the song.

The leading nineteenth century music-antiquarian, William Chappell included Seeds of Love as one of the three most popular songs with servant-maids of his time (1859).  It doesn't turn up in the written record until 1816, although one characteristic verse appears in a version of The Gardener printed in a Scottish chapbook in 1766.  It wasn't common on broadsides, but was widely collected in Britain and North America.

Running Up and Down our Stairs  (Roud 13305)
(Recorded by Neil Lanham at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 1965)

Now my wife's mother, she's a big ?? stout
For an eighteen stoner, she's a fair knock out.
She's admired by the country farmers
When they see her in pyjamas.
Just for a bit of exercise
A fine idea she's planned;
Every morning, three o'clock'
Clock-weight in each hand

She's a-running up and down our stairs,
A-running up and down our stairs.
One fine night she made a bit of fuss,
Puffing like a great big hippopotomus.
Suddenly a great big nail,
It caught poor Mother unaware,
She slipped and punctured her India rubber tyre
A-running up and down our stairs.

I had a very funny dream last night. Ha ha,
I dreamt I was in the ?? with a shah.
I had a turbot (turban?) on my barnet
Suddenly I woke up in a fright,
My Missis pulled my nose.
There were fifteen firemen
With a blooming great big hose.
A-running up and down our stairs.
A-running up and down our stairs.
I jumped out of the bed in a fright,
Rushing round the room with me whiskers all alight.
Just to save our happy little home
I was shifting the tables and the chairs.
And I was very busy in me little short shirt
A-running up and down our stairs.

Now a lodger next door he made me weep,
Brought a lot of black sheep's heads up cheap
To keep them sweet 'til the following May.
They were ?? the whole night long,
They woke me from my snore.
And the next day morning when I awoke
What do you think I saw?
A-running up and down our stairs.
A-running up and down our stairs.
These sheep's heads without a bit of doubt,
All of them had their tongue hanging out.
They didn't seem to care for me,
For there they were in pair,
Singing Baa baa black sheep have you any wool?
Running up and down our stairs.

Now I'm the owner of a big black cat,
She's always a-sitting on the front door mat.
Washing herself for the occasion
? the cats of the male persuasion.
I didn't get a wink of sleep
From ten o'clock 'til four,
There was puss, puss, puss in company
With a young man cat she knew.
A-running up and down our stairs.
A-running up and down our stairs.
There on the landing they would sit and spoon,
Talk about the place for your honeymoon.
Their courtship came to an end
And I had to say my prayers.
There was ten little kittens and a pa and ma
A-running up and down our stairs.

A music hall comedy piece popularised by Frank Seeley ...  It was essential that every singer, no matter how serious his approach to the singing, should have at least one such bit of frivolity in his repertoire for judicious use in structuring a singing session.  These are the cement which builds a social event out of what might otherwise be just a series of songs.

It's interesting that Cyril Poacher is normally the stereotypical declamatory Blaxhall singer, very much in the classic style of Bob Scarce - from whom he learnt many of his songs.  Bob Hart, on the other hand, though a close friend of both, used a noticeably different performance style.  Yet on this song, Cyril employs exactly the same approach as Bob - on first hearing Ginette Dunn's recording of Running Up and Down our Stairs I wasn't sure whether it wasn't Bob Hart!

Green Broom (The Broomfield Wager)  (Roud 34 / Child 43)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 10.9.74)

"A wager, a wager, a wager I'll lay you,
I'll lay you five thousand to your one,
That a maiden I will go to that merry broomfield,
And a maiden I'm sure I will return."

And then did this young maid back on her bay hobby's back,
All for to ride it to that green broom.
And when she got there, she found her own true love
Lying in that merry green broom fast asleep.

Nine times did she walk round the crown of his head,
Nine times 'round the sole of his feet,
Nine times did she say, "Awake, Master,
For your own true love is standing nearby."

And when she had done all she dare do,
She stepped behind that bunch of green broom.
All for to hear what her own true love should say
When he awoke out of his domestic sleep.

He said, "If I had been awake instead of being asleep,
My will I would have done toward thee;
Your blood it would've been spilled for those small birds to drink,
And your flesh it would have been for their food."

"You hard-hearted young man, how could you say so?
Your heart it must be as hard as any stone.
For to murder the one that lovèd you so well,
Far better than the ground that you stand on."

"Nine times of this bell did I ring, Master,
Nine times of this whip did I snap.
Nine times did I say, "Awake, Master,
For your own true love is standing nearby"."

Cyril learned The Broomfield Wager from his mother, Alice Ling, who used to sing it in Blaxhall Ship.  (Oddly, he’s quoted as calling her Susan ... maybe he meant his aunt Susan? ... in Sing Say or Pay!).  It is an ancient ballad which has been somewhat stabilised into its present form by broadsheet printers.

In its original form, the ballad tells of a bargain between a girl and a supernatural knight who threatens her virginity, and wagers she will not keep a tryst with him.  To outwit this would-be suitor the girl resorts to witchcraft, agreeing to meet the knight in a broom field where the plant's magical qualities will send him to sleep.  As in all good ballads, the magic works and, after encircling the knight's sleeping body as a further magical precaution, the girl slips her ring on to his finger, thus proving her presence and, accordingly, winning the wager.

An ancient song then, but one which nevertheless still proves popular among country audiences, not only in East Anglia but also in Sussex and Staffordshire where versions have recently been found.

On Cyril's earlier recording, made by the BBC (Child Ballads Vol I, Topic 12T160), the singer and audience constantly interject the phrase 'hold the wheel'.  This allegedly arose as a result of the singer trying to explain the story to a visiting yachtsman who misunderstood 'had his way' as 'hold the wheel', but by the 1970s Cyril had gone back to the old way of singing it.

I'll Be your Sweetheart   (Roud 13465)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.75)

Once there was two lovers in a garden,
A little boy and girl with golden hair.
At first I thought of asking them their pardon;
On second thoughts, I watched the loving pair.
The boy, all blushing, gave the maid a kiss
And passionately murmured this:

I'll be your sweetheart if you will be mine;
All my life I'll be your valentine.
Bluebells I've gathered,
Take them and be true.
When I'm a man, my plan
Will be to marry you.

The bluebells were accepted by the maiden,
Who said, "I'll keep them safely all my life.
But, suppose that you should meet some other lady,
Then I should never be your loving wife."
The boy, all blushing, took another kiss,
And tenderly he murmured this:

Another of the music hall songs which have found their way into so many country singers' repertoires - this one was composed by Harry Dacre in 1899, and widely sung by Lil Hawthorne.

"I learned that off a man called Albert Clark - Mr [Frank] Woolnough's uncle. He used to have two or three horse and traps and he used to have gangs of men going round cleaning out ditches for him ... Mr Woolnough was one of them, he was one of the foremen, actually."

The Irish Jolting Car (Irish Jaunting Car)  (Roud 13464)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.75)

I am an Irish commer ?
Sure old Ireland is me home,
There's not a spot in all the earth
Than here I wish to roam.
I always treat the stranger
As I drives them near and far,
If they'll just take a ride with me
In an Irish jolting car.

Riding on my jolting car
From Roscommon to Kildare,
From Dublin Town to County Down
And on to County Clare,
Cork to Limerick and Athlone
And home by Mullingar,
You can view the lights of Killarney
From an Irish jolting car.

Now, some people for a change of air
Go riding o'er the main,
To the beauty ? of Italy,
Of Italy and Spain.
But all the world that I would to be,
If I could but give command,
If they'd just take a ride with me
In an Irish jolting car.


Now, old Ireland, for scenery
Command the poet's pen;
Old Ireland on the battlefield
Produce the best of men.
On the field of humanity
Is old Ireland's guiding star,
If they'll just take a ride with me
In an Irish jolting car.


Cyril learned this song from PC 'Tugboat' Smith, an ex-policeman from Haverhill who retired to Blaxhall.  "He used to sing that up the Ship.  They used to craze him to sing it ... that's the first time I ever heard it sung and he sung it four of five Saturday nights and that was that.  He's been dead a good twenty years".  It's not sung by anyone else we know of in East Anglia - indeed, Steve Roud's Folksong Index has no other English sources at all, and only a couple of Irish and American ones.

This song is also known as Larry the Carman, reputedly written and performed by T P Carey in the 1870s.  At least three other Irish songs use the 'Jaunting Car' phrase in their title, not forgetting the 'young maid / old man / glamour-boy' one which features this dashing conveyance, and is often referred to by the same name.  The tune is played by 96 year old John ‘The Yank’ Harrington on his recent CD.  He was born of Irish parents and lived in Oregon and Montana before returning to Cork aged 16 and remaining there for some seven years.  Coincidentally, Harrington also plays White Wings, another song known in the Blaxhall / Snape area, which Harrington learned off the radio in the ‘30s.

The Black Velvet Band  (Roud 2146)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 4.8.74)

I was born in the fair town of London.
A printer I once served me time.
Many happy hours have I spent there,
I spent there in fair London Town.

And her eyes they shined like diamonds,
I thought her the pride of the land.
Her hair hung over her shoulder,
Tied up with a black velvet band.
repeat chorus:

One day, as I was out walking,
A damsel clasped me by the hand;
Her hair hung over her shoulder,
Tied up with a black velvet band.


I was taken before the Lord Justice.
He said, "Your case is quite clear.
If I'm not much mistaken,
You're doomed for seven long year."
The gold watch she stole from my pocket,
He gently slipped into me hand.
I was given in charge to a bobby.
Bad luck to the black velvet band!


Henry Parker Such printed The Black Velvet Band on a broadside during the period 1869-86.  His lengthy version, without chorus, is full of slang and cant terms which at times obscures the plot.  The later music-hall no doubt added the chorus providing us in the process with a song which is still popular today.  Cyril Poacher learnt the song in the 1950s from Alf Moseley of Harwich when the latter took his summer holidays in Blaxhall.  As with The Faithful Sailor Boy, this common song has a few variations on the 'standard' melody - whether these are Cyril's or Alf's is not known, but the result sounds, to me, like what Cyril seems to enjoy doing with a tune everyone knows.

It (well, Harry Cox's version) is mentioned in The Singing Island where the editors quote Bert Lloyd's opinion that it probably began as a stage song in the 1890s.  Roud reports 12 versions from tradition plus a variety of songbook and broadside sources.  The song seems particularly common in Australia and New Zealand where it has provided the basis for an emigrant ballad in which the sweetheart, with her black velvet band, is forced to remain behind.  There is a also a version published by Maureen Jolliffe in the Third Book of Irish Ballads, Mercier 1970, as The Black Ribbon Band, which sets the scene of the action in Tralee. This version was taken up by Irish showbands as a sort of cover of the Dubliners/Harry Cox one - apparently, it made the hit parade there.

Finally, there is a country music standard called The Girl in the Blue Velvet Band.  This is not so much a version as a rewrite.  Frank Shay prints an enormous text, about 33 verses, in More Pious Friends and Drunken Companions, 1828, and it gets a mention in Bluegrass Breakdown by Robert Cantwell.  Neither publication names the author, but Cantwell says it is a Bill Monroe song.  It may have come from the great Cliff Carlisle - there's a '30s record of Carlisle singing it (superbly).

7  The Great Big Wheel  (Roud 13302)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Blaxhall Ship, 5.9.75)

Mary Ann the servant maid was allowed to ??
She was given strict injunction to return again at ten.
She had a soldier sweetheart and to him did appeal,
To take her down to Earl's Court for a ride on the wheel.

Oh, poor Mary Ann, when she got to the top,
Her heart went flippety flop,
And the wheel began to stop.
The Man in the Moon come out to laugh
And Mary Ann did squeal.
She lost her situation through the great big wheel.
Though she tried with might and main
She couldn't move the wheel.

Mary got so hungry, the cold began to feel.
Around her soldier's neck she clung,
Been on the wheel all night.
"Pack up your tricks you saucy mix (minx)
And clear out of me sight."


Now when this wheel it reached the top
And quickly to the ground,
Mary to her situation quickly toddled round.
Around her soldier's neck she clung,
"Oh dear, oh dearie me!
I promised to be home at ten
And now it's half-past three."


A song of this title was composed by E W Rogers in June 1895, and sung by Arthur Lennard (1867-1954) on the Halls - but we don’t know for certain if it’s the same song.

Bold General Wolfe  (Roud 624)
(Recorded by Neil Lanham at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 1965)

General Wolfe unto his men did say,
"Come, come my lads and follow me
To yonder mountain, it looks so steep,
All for your honour, all for your honour.
All for your King and your country."

As we were a-climbing atop of the hill
Our General was wounded in his left breast.
And there he lay, but he could not stand,
Saying, "Fight you on so boldly.
Whilst I've got life I will give command.

"Now where are my treasures,
They are but gold.
Take them and part them
'Til my blood run cold.
Take them and part them,"
General Wolfe did say,
"You lads of honour,
Who've showed the French such a galliant play.

"Now to old England I should've returned.
You can tell my parents I'm dead and gone;
You can tell my mother so tenderly
Not to weep for me,
For I died a death that I wished to share."

Cyril might have learned this song from a number of sources - his grandfather Aaron Ling sang it, as did his cousin George.  In the neighbourhood, Alec and George Bloomfield, Bob Scarce and Bob Hart all had it in their repertoires.  Only Bob Scarce, I think, would have dared the superb melodic variation Cyril uses in his second verse.

One of several songs on Wolfe, it was common on 19th century broadsides, from about the 1830s.  Roud has 42 instances of this song, almost all from the south of England and, with about three exceptions, all from Suffolk or Sussex.  The Copper family, Pop Maynard and Shepherd Haydon all sang it.  It has also been noted in Canada, occasionally in USA, but not in Scotland or Ireland.

9   The Farmer's Boy  (Roud 408 / Laws Q30)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 3.10.74)

The sun was set beyond yon hill
Across the dreary moor,
Weary and lame, a boy there came
Up to a farmer's door.
"Can you tell to me where'er there be
One that will me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

"My father's dead, my mother is left
With her five children small,
But what is worse for my mother still,
I'm the elder of them all.
Though little I be, I will labour hard
If thou wilt me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy."

The farmer's wife cried, "Try the lad.
Let him no longer seek."
"Father do," the daughter cried,
Whilst the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"For those who'll work tis hard to want,
And wander for employ.
Don't let him go, but let him stay
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy."

The farmer's boy grew up a man;
The good old couple died.
They left the lad the farm they had,
And the daughter for his bride.
For the lad that was, and the farm now has,
Often smiles and thinks of joy.
He will bless the lucky day when he came that way
To be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

There you are!

One of the most popular of collected songs in England, probably dating from about the 1820s ... and it is one of the songs sung by the Boggins prior to the Hood game on January 6th at Haxey, Lincs.  It was very common on 19th century broadsides and songsters, and also collected quite regularly in USA and Canada, but not much, apparently, in Scotland.  It was once fairly popular in Irish songbooks and ballad sheets (John Moulden has half a dozen references to it), but is seldom sung there now.  The known texts vary very little.  The tune is apparently Ye Sons of Albion - which dates from the Napoleonic Wars and the earliest record of the song so far is The Lucky Farmer's Boy in the 1832 Catnach catalogue.

In mid-Cheshire there is a tradition that the original 'farmer's boy' of the song was the Reverend Thomas Smith, to whose memory there is a tablet in the Baptist Chapel at Little Leigh, near Northwich.  He is said to have come to the village 'weary and lame', looking for work.  He called at Heath House Farm, was given a job, and in time married the farmer's daughter - just as the song relates.  Later he became a Baptist minister and he is buried in the graveyard of the Chapel.

10  The Bonny Bunch of Roses  (Roud 664 / Laws J5)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, September, 1974)

In the dangers of the ocean
All in the middle of the month of June,
Our feathering ones do falter,
See him lie in ?? grief and woe,
Converted by young Boneyparte,
Concerned in the bonny bunch of roses-o.

"How now," said young Napoleon,
As he clasped his mother by the hand.
"Oh mother, do have patience,
Whilst I've got life I will give command.
I will raise a terrible army,
Through tremendous dangers go,
And in spite of all that unity
Will gain the bonny bunch of roses-o."

He took five thousand men,
Likewise horses to ride thereon;
He was so well provided,
He was enough to sweep this world along.
And when he came near Moscow
He was overpowered by the driven snow,
And Moscow was a-blazing;
We lost the bonny bunch of roses-o.

"Oh son, look at your father,
In St Helena his body lays low;
And you must follow after;
Be aware of the bonny bunch of roses-o."

"Oh, mother, adieu for ever,
As I lay on my dying bed.
If I'd have lived I might have been clever,
And now I have lost my youthful head.
And when my bones lay smouldering,
Weeping willows o'er me grow.
In the deeds of old Napoleon
We will stink that bonny bunch of roses-o."

Napoleon Bonaparte was unquestionably a hero - or potential liberator - to sections of the English working classes (we may presume that this attitude extended to oppressed classes throughout Europe).  This may be attributed to the social and economic conditions of the time; Combination Acts, Transportation, inhuman floggings, the Peterloo massacre ... everything in fact that Shelley had in his sights when he wrote The Mask of Anarchy.

The times were extremely oppressive: ideals of freedom and democracy for the lower orders were anathema to the ruling class; and aspirations of liberty and equality had filtered down to the lower orders from a then undemocratised emergent bourgeoisie.  Revolutions never happen in vacuums, and the conditions which gave rise to the French and American Revolutions, and indeed the abortive Irish one, were at work all over Europe.  Also, the success of the first two was fed into the consciousness of oppressed peoples everywhere.  The French Revolution had acted as a beacon to the contemporary English working class in just the same way that the Russian Revolution mobilised left wing labour a century or so later.  Thus, Napoleon was viewed as the emblem of liberty and the saviour of the working classes in the same way as Lenin and Stalin eventually were.

It is likely that many Napoleonic songs are Irish in origin, yet it would seem that they had a common currency throughout these islands. For instance, Robert Cinnamond's Napoleon Bonaparte was learnt by him from someone who'd picked it up in England.  Henry Burstow’s repertoire included seven Naopleonic songs and Holloway & Black in Later English Broadside Ballads list about a dozen, all from English printers.  In this context it’s worth remembering that the working poor of both Ireland and England suffered very similar oppressions, for much the same reasons, from much the same people ... and sometimes from exactly the same people!  Whatever the case, it's interesting to note that of the literally hundreds of Napoleon ballads printed in England at the time (mostly jingoistically opposed to 'The Little Corsican'), almost all those remaining in the country singers' repertoires a century later were either ambivalent or actually pro-Bonaparte.

If Napoleon provided the basis for many broadside ballads, none has survived so well as this supposed conversation between Marie Louise of Austria, Bonaparte's second wife and her son Napoleon II.  Following Bonaparte's abdication in 1814, the Allies refused to recognise Napoleon II who was left alone in Vienna.  Like his father before him, the young Napoleon's dreams of power were dashed, in his case by an early death from tuberculosis.  It is another song that Cyril had from Bob Scarce.

11  Fagan the Cobbler  (Roud 872)
(Recorded by Neil Lanham at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 1965)

My name it is Fagan the Cobbler;
I've been at it now all my life,
Trying to earn an odd shilling
To take home to my darling young wife.

While I keep twine, twine, twine, twiddle twine,
With my twine twine twiddle all day.
Singing wack for the riddle ol laddie,
Wack for the riddle ol day.

Now my wife she's started drinking,
She's drinking her pints by the score.
And now she's spending my money,
Spending and buying galore.


Now my wife she's turned a teetotaller,
She says she won't mop anymore,
And now she's a-saving all my money
She's putting it by in galore.


Another Irish song found (in England) only in Suffolk, and it is of interest to note that in the 1940's the Anglo-lrish composer E J Moeran commented that there was a strong cross-flow of songs between East Anglia and Ireland brought about by fishermen who would often shelter in each other's ports.  Both Albert and Wicketts Richardson had it as Fagan the Cobbler, Percy Ling just called it The Cobbler, and Charlie Stringer, over in Whickham Skeith, called it Kibosh the Cobbler.  Roud lists 18 references, but only these four are from England - and, unusually, all the singers have been recorded.  This is the only known recording of Cyril singing this - what he would have considered Wicketts' song.  The Cobbler (under various titles is also found in Scotland and the USA.

12   Captain Ward and the Rainbow  (Roud 224 / Child 287)
(Recorded by Mike Yates, Blaxhall, 1974)

Her name it is gallant Rainbow,
You might have heard her name.
With four and twenty of the king's fine ships
To drive her back again.

"Go ye home, go ye home," cried Captain Ward,
"Your galliant Rainbow sail.
With four and twenty of the king's fine men
To drive her back again."

A two verse fragment of a song Spencer Leake used to sing.  Roud reports a variety of sources, mostly American, one Scottish, and one English - Cyril Poacher.  A broadside version is printed in John Ashton, Real Sailor Songs, and Vaughan Williams once made a choral setting of it.  The notes to the CD re-issue, TSCD 499, say that John Ward was Barbary Coast pirate during the seventeenth century. There existed several songs about him, plus a play, 'The Christian Turned Turk', which was produced in 1612.  Bert Lloyd, who wrote the notes, goes on to say that this song doesn't appear until fifty years after Ward's death and he thinks it is about a different pirate altogether; William Rainborrow.

13  The Faithful Sailor Boy  (Roud 376 / Laws K13)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.75)

It was on one dark and stormy night,
The snow laid on the ground.
A sailor boy stood on the quay,
His ship was outward bound.
His sweetheart standing by his side
Shed many a silent tear,
And as he pressed her to his breast
He whispered in her ear:

Farewell, farewell my own true love
This parting gives me pain.
I'll be your own true guiding star,
When I return again.
My thoughts shall be of you, of you,
When the storm is raging high.
Farewell, my love, remember me,
Your faithful sailor boy.

And with the gale the ship set sail,
She kissed her love goodbye.
She watched the craft hie out of sight,
A tear bedimmed her eye.
She prayed for Him in Heaven above
To guide him on his way.
The loving parting words that night
Re-echoed o'er the bay.


It was sad to say the ship returned
Without her sailor lad;
He died whilst on the voyage and
The flag was half-mast high.
And when his comrades came on shore
Told her that he was dead,
A letter she received that night,
The last lines sadly read:

Farewell farewell my own true love,
On earth we meet no more.
We soon shall be from storm and sea
On this eternal shore.
I hope to meet you in that land,
That land beyond the sky,
Where you will never be parted from
Your faithful sailor boy.

Cyril learned this from one Bob Frank - "it was about the only song he did sing".  Either Bob or Cyril have changed the tune slightly, so that the first line ends on the dominant rather than the usual subdominant, and this motif is repeated in other parts of the tune.  Like a good craftsman, Cyril doesn't use it at every opportunity, but drops one in now and again just to keep you guessing.  This is just one of a number of occasions where he varies a well-known tune.

The Faithful Sailor Boy was written by G W Persley towards the end of the 19th century.  Few songs have achieved such widespread popularity among country singers and their audiences.  It turns up again and again in tap-room sing-songs throughout Britain, even through into the 1980s.  Gavin Greig described it as being “Very popular in Aberdeenshire in the early years of this century” (and, sure enough, Daisy Chapman had it in her repertoire), and we have heard it in both Donegal and Cork in the last few years.  Two versions have been found in the North Carolina mountains (there's a '20s hillbilly recording by Flora Noles, Sailor Boy's Farewell - Okeh 45037), while other sets have been reported from as far away as Australia and Tristan da Cunha.  Healy also prints this one, again without melody, and calls it Your Faithful Sailor Boy.  The text is very much as Cyril (and Percy Webb) had it.

14  Slap Dab (Whitewash)  (Roud 1754)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 3.10.74)

Now, I am a very handy man,
To save a bit of my plan,
Yesterday, I said to me wife,
"The backyard want a wash,
So it do, upon me life.
So we'd better go and do the job."
So I did and help me, Bob.
Mixed a pile of whitewash, set to work,
And the old girl helped me like an old Turk.

Slap dab, slap dab, up and down the brickwork,
Slap dab all day long.
In and out the corners, round the Johnny Horners,
We were a pair of fair clean goners.
Slap! Dab! The old white brush.
Talk about a fancy ball.
I put more whitewash on the old woman
Than I did upon the garden wall!

Now, my Missus and I confessed,
She put me in a new nightdress.
A nightcap, too, she made me wear.
She was dressed like me and we looked like a pair.


Now, feeling very dry just here,
I went to get a drink of beer,
When the kids from the house next door, I think,
Attracted by the whitewash, came and had a drink.
There's goin' to be an inquest now,
And I'm in a dreadful row.
Now I have done my mechanical schemes,
Every night in all my dreams.


"Got that from my father.  Last time I heard him sing it, he was about 84".  It was written by F Murray & F Leigh in 1896, as The Amateur Whitewasher and sung by Frank Seeley among others.  There is even an American recording - by The New Arkansas Travellers (Victor 21288), recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1928, where the song is called Handy Man, and is delivered in a probably fake, though very creditable, Cockney accent.

15  Nancy of Yarmouth  (Roud 407)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 10.9.74.  Track 31 recorded by Keith Summers at Worlingworth Swan, 1977)

Oh, it's Nancy of Yarmouth she's me joy and delight,
I have a long letter I am going to write,
It is to inform you what we undergo
All on the salt sea, boys, where the stormy winds blow.

It happened one night just before it grew dark,
Our bold honourable captain he shew us the mark,
The mark that he showed us, it appeared in the sky.
How he showed us, how he told us, that a storm was nearby.

It came rattling down like thunder and it tossed us about,
Caused many a bold seaman, with hearts bold and stout,
They stood shivering and shaking through hope and despair,
One moment on the ocean and the next in the air.

Oh, a ship in distress is a most dis-a-mal sight,
Like an army of soldiers they are going to fight.
A soldier he can fight, my boy, by the sound of his gun,
Whilst a sailor is committed to a watery grave.
A soldier he can fight, my boy, by the sound of his gun,
Whilst a sailor is committed to a watery grave.

Oh, it's Nancy of Yarmouth, she's me joy and delight.
What can I do for her so far from the shore?
I can wait for my sailor, what can I do more?
What can I do for him, so far from the shore?
I can wait for my sailor, what can I do more?

Many songs and ballads tell of the exploits of a young girl called Nancy.  One lengthy ballad, which runs to fifty-six verses in some versions, is called The Yarmouth Tragedy or Nancy of Yarmouth and when John Pitts first printed our present song in the early 1800's he gave it the title Nancy of London to distinguish it from the longer, and better known, Yarmouth Tragedy.  Well, that was the idea.  Singers, however, had other ideas and when one encounters the song nowadays, be it in East Anglia or along the American Maritime coast where it is highly popular, the sailor's sweetheart is usually said to live in Yarmouth.  Cyril Poacher had the song many years ago from a distant relative, Fred Ling, a sailor who lived in Snape.  This version has the more modal, almost minor key tune, seemingly common throughout East Anglia, which suits the dark nature of the text rather better the lively sing-along tune which the Young Tradition made famous.

(An interesting aside: That version of Nancy of Yarmouth appeared on their 'Young Tradition' LP for Transatlantic in 1966.  The sleevenotes say 'This version was collected in Middlesborough, Yorkshire'.  Now, Steve Roud's database shows 37 published entries for Nancy of Yarmouth and not one of them is noted as coming from Middlesborough.  Moreover, the only singer collected from Middlesborough that anyone seems to know about is Arthur Wood and apparently the song is not in his published repertoire.  Heather Wood doesn't know where Peter Bellamy got it from.)

16  The Bog Down in the Valley  (Roud 129)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 4.8.74)

And a bog down in yon valley-o.

In yonder wood there stands a tree,
A fine tree, a rare tree,
Tree in a wood, and a wood down in yon valley-o,
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Now on this tree there was an arm,
A fine arm, a rare arm.
Arm on the tree, and the tree in the bark,
And the bark in the bog
And the bog down in yon valley-o
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Now on this arm there was a bough
A fine bough, a rare bough,
Bough on the arm, and the arm on the tree,
Tree in the bark, and the bark in the bog
And the bog down in yon valley-o
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Now on this hill there was a branch,
A fine branch, a rare branch,
Branch on the bough, and
the bough on the arm,
Arm on the tree
And the tree in the bark
And the bark in the bog
And the bog down in yon valley-o
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Now on this branch there was some twigs,
Fine twigs, rare twigs
Twigs on the branch
And the branch on the bough
And the bough on the arm
Arm on the tree,
And the tree in the bark
And the bark in the bog
And the bog down in yon valley-o
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Now on these twigs there was some leaves,
Fine leaves, green leaves
Leaves on the twig
And the twig on the branch
And the branch on the bough
And the bough on the arm
Arm on the tree,
And the tree in the bark
And the bark in the bog
And the bog down in yon valley-o
Real bark, good old bark
And a bark down in yon valley-o.

Cyril says he learnt The Bog Down in the Valley from his mother, Alice Ling, in Sing, Say or Pay!, but tells Ginette Dunn he learned it from his grandfather.  It is, of course, a version of the well known Everlasting Circle , which is scattered throughout Europe and most English versions follow the pattern set by John Pitts who printed the song in the early 1800's.  Cyril, however, seems to have the Irish set of words - lending support to E J Moeran's thesis (above).

17  Australia  (Roud 1488)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, September 1974.  Track 30 recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 10.9.74)

Now come all you young fellows wheresomever you be,
If you listen I'll tell you a story.
When I was a young man of about seventeen,
I ought to been serving Victoria our Queen,
But those hardhearted judges, oh, how cruel they've been
To send us young lads to Australia.

I fell in love with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected my work more and more every day.
And to keep her like a lady, I went on the highway,
And for that I got sent to Australia.

You should see how they stand with their whips in their hand;
They drove us like horses to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows, we worked in that jailyard.
How sad was our fight in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I shall never see no more
I'm worn out with fever, cast down at death's door,
But if ever I should live to see seven years more,
I will then bid adieu to Australia.

Cyril and his neighbour Bob Hart both had this song.  Cyril learned it from Bob Scarce, who probably learned it, as did Hart, from Walter ‘Yinka’ Friend - with whom both of them worked for many years in Snape Maltings.  Listeners may find it of interest to compare Cyril's singing of the song with that of Bob Hart on the latter's double CD, A Broadside (MT CD 301/2)

Cyril Poacher - “Walter was a damn good singer and he played the tin whistle too.  He was the first one to sing Green Bushes and Australia.”

George Ling - “John Thurston was another - he sang Australia - but that was Yinka's song, I think.”

It is one of a considerable number of transportation songs in the traditional repertoire, but is unusual in the nature and motive of the crime - highway robbery, 'to keep her like a lady'.  More often it's poaching - brought about by necessity.  Contrary to certain record sleeve-notes, the song owes little to Van Dieman's Land, but is clearly derived from a much earlier song called Virginny (a fragment of which was collected from Mrs Goodyear, of Ashford, Hants by George Gardiner in 1907), with the transports' destination having been changed to Australia when this became current (i.e. post 'First Fleet').  This explains why the song is unusual; in the 18th century highwaymen were transported to Virginia - in the 19th they were topped!

The process of keeping songs up-to-date goes on - I have one version on tape where Cyril sings the second stanza of the first verse:

For when I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to been serving Elizabeth, our Queen ...

18  Joe Moggins (A Careless Young Lad)  (Roud 847)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 4.8.74)

My name is Joe Moggins, a farmer am I,
I once courted a pretty girl who felt rather shy.
I fell in the water tank, got nearly wet through.
Then she said, "Yo! me love! Won't you come in and dry yourself?"
"I'm a careless young lad, I don't care if I do."

Fal de ra ladidi
Fal de ra ladidi
Fal de ra ladi
Right fal de ral day

I went down to the kitchen, I made things alright.
Ten pound of fat tiger(?) I popped out of sight.
Then she said," Yo! Have a dumpling or two."
"I'm a careless young lad, I don't care if I do."


I hugged her, I squeezed her, 'til lovers' delight.
She wanted for to get married all on that same night.
Then in come the parson, book in his hand,
From this book these very words said,
"Better or worse, take her and go."
"I'm a careless young lad, I don't care if I do."


And now we are married and happily we,
We've got no little children to hop round our knee.
Then she said, "Yo! We'll have a dozen or two."
"I'm a careless young lad, I don't care if we do."


Joe Moggins belongs to that large class of songs which concern the 'simple' countryman.  The song's popularity today is widespread, no doubt as a result of its publication in the 1870's by printers such as Fortey and Such in London and Pearson in Manchester.  It is also met with frequently in Ireland where it was often included in Victorian Songsters.

"That come from Mr Spencer Leake, he was an old man who died when I was about 30.  He wasn't actually a Blaxhall man, he was a Snape man - he worked at the Maltings with Bob Hart."

The song was known to John Maguire of Roslea, Co Fermanagh as Joe Higgins (Leader LEE 4062).  It was fairly common in England, Ireland, Canada and Australia.  The first printed version we can find is in a songbook of 1872, and the song probably dates from around that time.

19  The Nutting Girl  (Roud 509)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 4.8.74)

Come all you jovial fellows,
Come listen to my song,
It is a little ditty
And it won't contain you long.
It's of a fair young damsel,
She lived down in Kent,
Arose one summer's morning,
She a-nutting went.

With my fal-lal, to me row tal-lal,
And a wack for the dear old day,
And what few nuts that poor girl had
She's threw them all away.
Repeat chorus:

It's of a brisk young farmer,
Was ploughing of his land,
He called unto his horses
To bid them gently stand.
As he sit down upon his plough,
All for a song to sing,
His voice was so melodious
Made the valleys ring.


It's of this fair young damsel,
She was nutting in the wood,
His voice was so melodious
It charmed her as she stood.
She could no longer stay ...
And what few nuts she had, poor girl,
She threw them all away.


She then came to young Johnny
As he sit on his plough,
She said, "Young man, I really feel,
I cannot tell you how."
He took her to some shady broom,
And there he laid her down.
Says she, "Young man, I think I feel
The world go round and round."


Now, come all you young women,
This warning by me take,
If you should a-nutting go
Please get home in time.
For if you should stay too late
To hear that ploughboy sing,
You might have a young farmer
To nurse up in the spring.

Chorus, twice:

The Nutting Girl came to Cyril Poacher by way of his maternal grandfather, William ‘Cronie’ Ling, and its popularity today stems from the fact that most of the 19th century broadside printers carried it in their catalogues.  Harry Green (Veteran VT135) down in Essex had pretty much the same text, but with a rather different tune and a completely different chorus.

During the last century the song was frequently used as a basis for political and satirical songs, while the tune has been used by both Morris and country dancers. In Ireland, Samuel Lover based his well known Lowbacked Car on the air, having taken the tune from Edward Bunting who had noted it from an elderly harper in 1792.

20  Just a Rose in a Garden of Weeds  (Roud 13303)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.74)

Down in the Devil's own garden
Amidst all the weeds on the ground,
'Twas there in the gloam
I found a sweet bloom
Was shedding its perfume around.

Just a rose in a garden of weeds,
No-one knows why they planted you there.
Although you're alone
How sweet you have grown
With no-one to tend you, or care.
Never mind, little rose, never mind,
'Though you're lonely, and nobody care,
When the light sheds a dew
It's a tear shed for you,
Just a rose in a garden of weeds.

Sleep, little rose, 'til tomorrow,
Though life be weary to you.
When day brings the dawn
You'll wake with the morn
To find a new sun shining through.


You've got to pitch that right or you won't get it.

Written by W H David and R B Saxe in the 1949 and featured on the soundtrack of the James Stewart classic 'It's a Wonderful Life'.  It was sung on a record in the UK by Donald Peers - which sounds a likely source for Cyril's mother's learning it.

"Learned that one off me mother.  There's a lot of people try to sing that song but they get it too high and have to pack it in.  If you don't catch that right you won't get to the end of it".  Do you sing it often at the pub?  "Well, I have done ... they clap and shout cause I generally give it more than what I did just then"

21  The Green Bushes  (Roud 1040 / Laws P2)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, September, 1974)

It was early one morning in the merry month of May,
The cocks were a-crowing, the lambs they're at play,
There I spied a female, so sweetly sang she
Down by the green bushes, where she used to meet me.

"I will buy you fine beavers and rich silk and hose,
I will buy you flounced petticoats that hang to the ground,
If you will prove loyal and come along with me
Down by the green bushes, where she used to meet me."

"I want none of your clothing, nor your rich silk and hose,
I don't want none of your flounces that hang to the ground,
But if you will prove loyal and honest and true
I'll forsake my own true love and get married to you.

"Come, let us be going from under these trees,
Come, let us be going, kind sir, if you please.
For yonder he's a-coming, my true love I see,
Down by the green bushes, where he used to meet me."

And when he had come there and found she was gone,
He felt like some lambkin and cried quite forlorn.
"She is gone with another and forsaken me,
Adieu to the green bushes forever," said he.

Cyril could have learnt this song from either Yinka Friend or his cousins Geoff or George Ling - but the style of performance leads me to guess that he may also have heard it from one of Blaxhall's gypsy families - the Smiths, Hewitts, Taylors, Picketts and Diapers - since it was very popular among southern English travellers.  Both Ling brothers spent a lot of time with the Smiths as young men.

Although The Green Bushes was printed widely on broadsides it does not appear to have survived well in tradition, a surprising fact when one considers its one-time popularity.  In 1845 J B Buckstone used the song as a basis for a stage play and in 1850 the popular music-hall singer Sam Cowell included a set in his '120 Comic Songs', and a similar tale appeared in Carey's 'Musical Century' of 1740.  Some scholars, including Cecil Sharp and Sabine Baring-Gould, believed however that The Green Bushes is based on the Scots song My Laddie is a Cankert Carle which, in an English form called Whitsun Monday can be dated to around 1760. 

It was fairly popular in Ireland due, possibly, to a 78 recording.  It has been seen published in a 'Sing a Song of Ireland' type book and has been sung at fleadh competitions, where it seems acceptable as an authentic Irish ballad.  Roud lists 81 oral sources, of which only five are Irish.  He also identifies an Australian version from the superb Sally Sloan of New South Wales.

22  Two Little Girls in Blue  (Roud 2793)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.75)

An old man gazed at a photograph
In a locket he'd worn for years.
His nephew then asked him the reason why
The picture had caused him tears.
"I'll tell you my story, come listen to me,
Although it is strange, but true.
You father and I at the school one day
Met two little girls in blue."

Two little girls in blue, lad
Two little girls in blue.
They were sisters, we were brothers,
We learned to love the two.
There's one little girl in blue, lad,
Who won your father's heart,
Became your mother, I married the other
And now we are drifting apart.

"This picture," he said, "is one of these girls,
Who once to me was a wife.
I thought her unfaithful, we quarrelled, lad,
We parted that night for life.
You see that jealousy wronged a heart,
A heart that was good and true,
For two better girls never lived than these
Two little girls in blue."


"I learned that off a blind man called Ally Storey - he used to live in an old hut, a farm ... and he used to sell cotton, soap, garden seeds ... all little things like that ... he sang it in the pubs, where he used to come to sell his seeds ... I heard him in the Farnham George and in the Ship, that's where I heard it off him, he sung it a couple of times down there and couple of times up there - I sung it meself after that".

An American song which was regularly included in 20th century collections in America, but ignored by British collectors - presumably because at the time they were active it was too recent.  This song was written by Charles Graham in 1893, and was sung in English Music Halls by Lily Burnand.  The chorus at least is still well-known to the older generation.  The tune is a blatant copy of the smash hit After The Ball by Charles K Harris.

23  I'm a Young Man from the Country  (Roud 1510)
(Recorded by Tony Engle at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 4.8.74)

'Twas down in Northamptonshire
Where I had hilarious news;
All the shams and fancies
Of mighty London Town.
So I took it into my head one day
I'd tramp that place to see.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
And I'm far too wide awake.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But I'm far too wide awake.

As I was stand staring in a shop window,
Had a handsome chain and golden locket,
A London chap behind me stepped,
Shoved his hand into my pocket.
Says I, "Young man, your hand is in the wrong place
You're making it rather free,
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But you can't pickpocket me.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But you can't pickpocket me."

Now another chap stepped up to me
And swore that he would nick it.
He said, "Young man, I've pawned my watch
And I want to sell the ticket."
So I kept a sharp watch on his game
And soon I shewed to he.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But you cannot ticket me.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But you cannot ticket me.

Then up stepped a dashing lady
And by my side did keep.
Her cheeks were all rubbed up with paint,
Just like we mark out sheep,
Saying, "Here's a shilling for the lad,"
And he offered one to me.
I'm a young man from the count-a-ry
But I'm far too wide awake.

"I got that from my grandfather.  He learned me that when he learned me Nutting Girl.  I used to sit on his knee and he'd sing it to me and I weren't no more than 10 years old. His name was William Ling."   As far as is known this is the only ‘traditional’ version, but it was printed on broadsides in 1860s/'70s, usually with seven verses.

Many black-letter (pre-18th century) broadsides exist which tell of confrontations between rural and urban dwellers.  The point, of course, is that the supposed country bumpkin comes off better than the sly townsman.  It's an old idea which has parallels throughout Europe and the Middle East and, undoubtedly one which always proves popular with country audiences.  Folksongs such as The Rigs of London Town and Paddy's Ramble to London are based on the idea, as is the American song The Arkansas Traveller.  A more common 19th century song of the same title concerned a servant girl who lost her place because the ‘Young man from the country kept company with me’ kept stealing things from her employer.

24  A Broadside  (Roud 492 / Laws N4)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 3.10.74)

As we sailed out one morning along the Spanish shore,
Our wars drums they did beat and our cannons loud did roar,
We spied a lofty French ship come bearing on the main,
Which caused us to hoist up our topsail once again.

"Come, come, my lads get ready. Come, come, my lads be true.
To face this French admiral is all that we can do.
If he should overtake us along the ocean wide,
We shall nearly draw up to him and give him a broadside."

Now a broadside, a broadside, and at it we went.
For killing one another, that was our full intent.
The very first broadside, our admiral he was slain,
And a young damsel rose in his place to remain.

Now we fought them four hours, four hours severe.
We fought 'til there was not a man he could stand on board.
We fought 'til not a man on board could fire of his gun,
And the blood from our quarterdeck like water did run.

"For quarters, for quarters", the Frenchmen did cry.
"You'll get the finest quarters," this maiden did reply,
"You'll get the finest quarters that ever we can afford,
You must fight, sink or swim, my boys, or else jump overboard."

And now we've gained our victory, we'll take a glass of wine.
You drink love to your true love and I'll drink love to mine.
But here's to the damsel who spotted us on the main,
And the good ship the Royal, called Rainbow by name.

Cyril had his fine version from Bob Scarce.  Again the Poacher and Hart versions (probably from the same source) have diverged noticeably in a generation.

The young girl who disguises herself as a man in order to follow her sweetheart to sea is a popular theme in folksong.  This example, collected in England, Scotland, USA and Canada, though not common on broadsides, is generically known as The Female Warrior.  It's also sometimes called The Rainbow, for its last verse, just to confuse it with Captain Ward !   Harris of Birmingham printed a broadside on this theme but, inexplicably, omitted the usual introductory verses. The result was our present song, and the girl's sudden and unexplained appearance has confused numerous listeners.

In her book 'Warrior Women and Popular Balladry 1650 - 1850', Cambridge UP, 1989, Dianne Dugaw claims that the female warrior was a popular subject in balladry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  She has identified more than 100 ballads on the subject.

25  Flash Company (The Yellow Handkerchief)  (Roud 954)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 10.9.74)

Once I loved a young girl as I loved my life
And to keep her in flash company has ruined my life.
Flash company, my boy, like a great many more,
If it hadn't been for flash company, I should never have been so poor.

So it's take the yellow handkerchief in remembrance of me,
And tied it 'round your neck, love, in flash company.
Flash company, my boy, like a great many more,
If it hadn't been for flash company, I should never have been so poor.

Once I had a colour as red as a rose,
But now it's as pale as the lily that grows,
Like a flower in the garden, with all my colour gone,
Oh you see what I am coming to through loving that one.


Oh it's fiddling and a-dancing was all my delight,
And to keep her in flash company has ruined my life,
Has ruined my life, like a great many more,
If it hadn't been for flash company, I should never have been so poor.


That's the best I can do.

Flash Company was popular all over East Anglia.  Cyril Poacher learnt it from Ely Durrant of Blaxhall - and we heard it in the repertoires of at least six singers in that area in the late 1960s.  The song was first noted in Limerick in the 1850's and was still well known recently, not only in East Anglia, but also among Travellers throughout southern England.  Phoebe Smith can be heard singing her version on Veteran’s recent The Yellow Handkerchief CD (VT136CD), as can Percy Webb on the record of the same name, Flash Company (Topic 12TS243).

Despite being really nothing more than a collection of floating verses, the song maintains a similar form all over East Anglia - and is unusual in that the verse:

In the middle of the ocean, there shall grow a willow (myrtle) tree,
If ever I prove false, my love, to the one that loves me.
... which is common to almost all other versions (and a good many other songs besides) is rarely found here.

26  Lamplighting Time in the Valley   (Roud 13304)
(Recorded by Neil Lanham at Blaxhall Ship, 1965)

(There's) a lamp shining bright in a cabin,
In a window it's shining for me,
And I know that my mother is praying
For the boy that she's longing to see

When it's lamplighting time in the valley,
Then in dreams I go back to my home.
I have sinned against home and my loved ones,
But still I can never more roam.
Repeat chorus.

In the lamplight each night I can see her
As she rocks in her chair to and fro,
Though she thinks that I'll come back to see her,
But still I can never more go.


When it's lamplighting time in the valley,
And the shadows of night they gently fall,
It is then that I long for the valley,
And I miss you, Mother dear, most of all.
So she lights up the lamp and sits waiting,
For she knows not the crime I have done.
So I'll change all my ways and I'll meet her
Up in Heaven when life's race is run.

When it's lamplighting time in the valley,
And the shadows of night gently fall,
I can see that old lamp in the window
Will guide me wherever I roam.

This is an American country standard.  Ola Belle Reed recorded it on Rounder 0077 and the notes tell us "Lamplighting Time in the Valley: Written by Herald Goodman and performed on the Grand Ole Opry by the Vagabonds in 1932, this song quickly passed into tradition.  By 1936 it was recorded by a Library of Congress fieldworker in Crossville, Tennessee (3174 A2), and it has since been recorded by many professional groups."

27  The Maid and the Magpie  (Roud 1532)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.74)

Once there was a maid kept an old magpie,
The parson who prayed livèd very close by,
And when she met the parson, they both stopped to talk
And often on the quiet they would go for a cosy walk.
For her lover was a sailor; he crossed the raging main,
He promised she would be his bride when he returned again,
But still she let the parson see her home from church,
Kissing and never thinking of the magpie on the perch.

So the maid and the magpie would talk all the day,
The maid would not believe all the magpie did say.
She said, "I love the parson. Don't you tell the tar."
And the old magpie only said, "Qua, qua."

Now when stationed at Gib-a-raltar, the sailor, so it seems,
Whilst he was sleeping in his bunk, he had a funny dream.
He dreamt the girl he'd left behind on dear old England's shore,
Whilst he was away she was flirting with a half-a-dozen more.
So he made his passage homeward as quickly as could be.
He landed safely at her house, but no maiden could he see.
When talking to the magpie who was dancing on the perch,
And the magpie told him all about the parson at the church.


For he then went for the parson, and unfor him did search.
He found which way the wind blew, so he hooked him from the church.
They brought the magpie into court, who told a truthful tale.
And to get what he required, of course, this maiden she did fail.


Now when the sailor met this maid, he passed her with disdain.
She sued a breach of promise for five thousand to obtain.
The lawyer could not find it out, so the case went on the shelf,
And the tricky little maiden had to live all by herself.


Talking birds abound in classical mythology.  The present song, however, concerns a rather more down-to-earth magpie which, like the parrot in the ballad of The Outlandish Knight, is privy to its mistress’s dark secrets.  Unlike the parrot it is not bribed with promises of an ivory and gold cage - and so promptly spills the beans in court.  Suggestions that the magpie may simply be the rationalisation of an older and more magical creature seems, to me, to be nothing more than a wish to reinvent old mythologies.  In its present form The Maid and the Magpie was printed in the 1860's by at least two well-known broadside merchants and it’s likely that Aldeman Ling's father, John (born 1823), from whom Cyril says he learned the song, had his version from one of these sheets.

It is not a common song - Alfred Williams collected a version in Berkshire, and another was found in Sydney, Australia, sung by one Jack 'Hoopiron' Lee.  There was also another 'magpie' song around at a similar time.

28  A Sailor and his True Love  (Roud 660)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 26.6.75)

A sailor and his true love were a-walking one day
Through the fields and the meadows, they were scattered with hay,
And the songbirds and the thrushes sang on every green tree,
And the larks they sang melodious at the dawning of the day.

And the larks they sang melodious
And the larks they sang melodious
And the larks they sang melodious
At the dawning of the day.

"Oh it's Nancy, me dearest Nancy, I can no longer stay.
Our topsails they are hoisted and we're anchored away;
We are bound for the Indias by the next blowing tide
And if ever I return again I will make you my bride.


Now the ring from her finger she entirely drew
Saying, "Take this, dearest William, and my heart will prove true."
And as he embracèd her, tears from her eyes did flow,
Saying "May I go along with you?" "Oh no, my love, farewell."


Yet another song that Cyril had from Bob Scarce of Blaxhall.  A Sailor and his True Love or Pleasant and Delightful as it is often called, is another song that has proved especially popular with East Anglian singers.  It was a favourite of the late Sam Larner of Winterton in Norfolk and most of the collected texts are similar to the one used by Henry Parker Such under the title The Blackbirds and Thrushes, though for some reason few traditional singers seem to use Such's final verse.  The song is often called The Larks they Sang Melodious in this area of East Anglia, because the refrain from the first verse is used as a chorus throughout, whereas the refrain is often different for each verse in other parts of the country.

29  Strolling Round the Town  (Roud 13322)
(Recorded by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, 3.10.74)

My birthday comes but once a year and it's everyone's delight
To keep it up, to keep it up.
We started drinking champagne, but our money wouldn't last,
And just as I was counting up, two charming ladies passed.
They called me Charlie, not me proper name,
'Til I gave a wink, and shouted, "Have a drink."
And so they did and soon full up they got.
We made them booze as bad as us, and all the blinking lot ...

Strolling round the town, knocking the people down,
Tasting every kind of wet, having a rare old time, you bet.
Treating all the boys, we didn't care a sou,
Rare old, fair old rickety rackety crew.

At three next morn we all stood leaning up against a wall
To keep it up, To keep it up,
Surrounded by a dozen police who on their duty call,
And when they shouted, "Move on straight" we couldn't move at all.
Every station round about the town,
Ambulance were fetched, and on them we were stretched.
And before her nibs next morning we were sent,
They fined us fifty bob a piece, just because we went ...


Ursula Hixson: "My grandad Lewis Poacher lived with us for 12 years.  He was a dear, and didn't sing much except on his birthday - he would sing Strolling Round the Town up at the Ship."

A song of this title was written by Harry Castling, 1893, and sung by Charles Deane on the Halls.  I fear I can't tell you any more about it - or where Lewis Poacher learned it - though the East Anglian music-hall pub circuit, mentioned above, might be a likely contender.

30  Australia

Come all you young fellows wheresomever you be,
If you listen I'll tell you a story.
When I was a young man of about seventeen,
I ought to been serving Victoria our Queen,
But those hardhearted judges, oh, how cruel they've been
To send us young lads to Australia.

You should see how they stand with their whips in their hand;
They drove us like horses to plough up their land.
You should see us poor fellows, we worked in that jailyard.
How sad was our fight in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I shall never see no more
I'm worn out with fever, cast down at death's door,
But if ever I should live to see seven years more,
I will then bid adieu to Australia.

A lovely performance recorded by Ginette Dunn - but, sadly, Cyril misses out the second verse.  Nonetheless, I though it was too good to miss, given that there was some space left.

31  Nancy of Yarmouth

Oh, it's Nancy of Yarmouth, she's me joy and delight,
I have a long letter I am going to write,
It is to inform you what we undergo
All on the salt sea, boys, where the stormy winds blow.

It happened one night just before it grew dark,
Our bold admiral captain, he shew us the mark,
The mark that he showed us, it appeared in the sky.
How he showed us, how he told us, that a storm was nearby.

It came rattling down like thunde; it tossed us about.
Caused many a bold seaman, with hearts bold and stout,
They stood shivering and shaking through hope and despair,
One moment on the ocean and the next in the air.

Oh, a ship in distress is a most dis-a-mal sight,
Like an army of soldiers, they are going to fight.
A soldier he can fight, my boy, by the sound of his gun,
Whilst a sailor is committed to a watery grave.

Oh, it's Nancy of Yarmouth, she's me joy and delight.
What can I do for him so far from the shore?
I can wait for my sailor, what can I do more?

Possibly the only song Keith Summers ever recorded from Cyril - during the evening he organised at Worlingworth Swan in 1977, described in his pen-picture of the man earlier in this booklet.  It is extremely difficult to start recording someone with whom you have become friends ... I understand his predicament - I have only about three recordings of Oscar Woods!

Despite the poor sound quality at the start of the track and the level of ambient noise throughout, this live recording captures Cyril at his best and, I think, makes a perfect finale to the record.


Various sources report the following songs in Cyril Poacher’s repertoire, but no known recordings of those marked * exist.
AustraliaGreen Bushes
The Barley MowIf I were a Blackbird *
The Black Velvet BandI'll be Your Sweetheart
The Bog Down in the ValleyThe Irish Jolting Car
Bold General WolfeJoe Moggins (A Careless Young Lad)
The Bonny Bunch of RosesJust a Rose in a Garden of Weeds
A BroadsideLamplighting Time in the Valley
The Burden of the Spray *The Maid and the Magpie
Captain Ward and the RainbowNancy of Yarmouth
The CobblerThe Nutting Girl
Crystal Chandeliers *Plenty of Thyme
The Dark Eyed Sailor *Running up and Down our Stairs
Your Faithful Sailor BoySailor and His True Love
A Farmer’s BoySlap Dab (Whitewash)
Flash CompanyStrolling Round the Town
Galway BayTwo Little Girls in Blue
The Great Big WheelI'm a Young Man from the Country
Green Broom (Broomfield Wager)        A total of 35 songs.

The Credits:

The material in this CD and booklet was selected from a number of sources: the text primarily from the writings of Ginette Dunn and Keith Summers; and the recordings from those made available by Ginette Dunn, Tony Engle, Neil Lanham, Keith Summers, Mike Yates and Karl Dallas.

I had to make a selection because there was insufficient material for a double CD and too much for a single - and even taking into account the specialist nature of the market for MT records, some of the tracks were not really of publishable quality.  It should be remembered that the Dunn, Lanham and Summers recordings were never intended for anything other than personal listening, and many of the actuality recordings - live sessions in Blaxhall Ship - suffered either from poor recording technique or from the company having had rather too much drink taken - or both!

My selection was made by 'feel' ... the best performances were given priority, and so were those never before publicly available - thus, comparatively few of the Topic and none of the Transatlantic tracks have been used.  In addition, Cyril was not the most consistent of singers and a number of recordings were of incomplete songs; fuller versions have been used where they were equally well performed.  There are even a couple of duplications - as a few spare minutes of space remained, I included a beautifully sung Australia with its second verse missing and a brilliant, though noisy, Nancy of Yarmouth to finish the record.  I have tried to make this the best 74 minutes of Cyril Poacher's singing, yet containing as much material as possible that people will not have heard before.  As far as I can tell, a version of every song he ever recorded except If I Were a Blackbird and Galway Bay is included - the recording of these two is very poor, and they are only fragments.  There will inevitably be some listeners who are disappointed by the omission of one favourite track or another - my apologies ... but life's like that.

In the end, material from the following people was included in this production:

Ginette Dunn - In preparing her 1977 Leeds University PhD thesis 'Popular singing traditions in and around Snape and Blaxhall', Ginette made about 100 tapes of songs, music and conversation.  The Cyril Poacher material was recorded mostly at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, on the 10th September, 3rd and 17th October, 1974, and the 26th June 1975.  Further actuality recordings involving Cyril were made at Blaxhall Ship on 19th July and 15th November, 1974, and 5th September 1975.

Most of the 'performance' section of the booklet is quoted from her book 'The Fellowship of Song' (Croom Helm 1980), and a number of other quotes and pieces of information come from this source.  Ginette returned to her native New Zealand in the early '80s and I have been unable to find anyone who knows her present whereabouts - a pity, as I have a great deal to thank her for, both in this present production and in MT's previous double CD of Bob Hart - A Broadside (MT CD 301-2).

Tony Engle - Recorded Cyril in August and September 1974, and almost all of that material appeared on the Topic LP The Broomfield Wager (12TS252).  I am extremely grateful to Tony for making all that material available to me in preparing this CD.

Neil Lanham - Recorded Cyril several times around 1965. I am extremely grateful to Neil for making that material available, particularly as he is intending to use some of it in his own (Neil Lanham Tapes) publications.

Mike Yates - Recorded Cyril only once, in 1978 - capturing the fragment of Captain Ward and the Rainbow, and took a couple of lovely photos.  He was also the co-author of the notes to the Topic LP.  I am extremely grateful to Mike for allowing me to use all this material.

Keith Summers - Recorded Cyril only once or twice, despite being a good friend and having been in his company very regularly.  Also thanks for the personal portrait of Cyril and additional information and numerous quotations lifted from his superb small book 'Sing, Say, or Pay!', originally published in Traditional Music magazine, 1977, and now republished in Musical Traditions Internet magazine, 1998.  Keith was also the co-author of the notes to the Topic LP.

My sincere thanks to all of them, and to the following who have helped in so many different ways to make this project a reality .......

Paul Marsh - for lots of sound restoration work and technical help with the sound files.  And coffee .......

Steve Roud - for additions to the song notes, and providing MT with a copy of his Folksong and Ballad Indexes, whence came a lot of the historical information on the songs.

Ursula Hixson and Linna Rogers - respectively Cyril's daughter and granddaughter, living in the US - for corrections to the booklet text, family reminiscences and a photo.

Keith Chandler, Fred McCormick, John Moulden, Max Tyler and Al Sealey - for additions to the song notes.

Professor Katie Wales of the Leeds University School of English - for allowing me to borrow Ginette Dunn's tapes.

Vic Gammon - for initially tracking down the Dunn tapes at Leeds and subsequently for setting up a meeting and smoothing the way for my borrowing them.

Not forgetting Malcolm Taylor, Gordon Potts, Dorrie Hart, Des Wilson, Roy Clinging, Clare Gilliam, my wife Danny ... and probably many others ...........

My sincere thanks to them all for co-operation, help, generosity, understanding and kindness -
without virtues such as these we would all be in a very sorry state!

Booklet: text, editing, DTP, printing;  CD: formatting, digital editing, production -
by Rod Stradling, Summer 1999

Article MT043

[Introduction] [Biography] [Learning songs] [Attitude] [Two Personal Views]
[Broadsides] [Song Ownership] [Repertoire] [Performance] [Song Notes] [Credits]

Top of page Home Page Articles Reviews News Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services  Updated: 19.2.07