Article MT209

Songs from a Toolbox

Songs and Ballads of Old Deal

Between March 1932 and October 1934, the Deal, Walmer, Sandwich and East Kent Mercury published a spasmodic series of articles under the heading Songs and Ballads of Old Deal.  Its author was George Henry Warlow (1876-1941), and gives a fascinating insight into traditional song from the nineteenth century.  How Warlow came to discover and publish these songs is curious, since he was resident at Halstead near Sevenoaks at the time of writing, and his vocation was not that of a journalist for this or any other newspaper.  His obituary in the Sevenoaks Chronicle states that he was a bachelor and retired civil servant, and came originally from Gravesend.  His interest in local history led him to publish two small books on the histories of Halstead and nearby Knockholt respectively, serialising them in the Bromley and District Times, which appears to his only foray into journalism. 

In the first article published on 26 March 1932, he wrote:

'For very many years there stood in a loft above the boat-builder's shop belonging to the late Mr Edward Bristow, and at the top of some well-worn wooden steps, a very old tool chest, having the inside of its lid pasted over with a number of very old Deal songs and ballads collected by a former owner.  Possibly they were put there to keep out the dust from the tools.  Some of the old songs were complete, others incomplete; some easy to read, others indecipherable.  Some were mere fragments or scraps of verses, and others had only their titles legible.  The printing of many songs had faded; some were stained and yellow, and nearly all were covered in dust and cobwebs.  … The old tool chest has now disappeared and the boat-builder's shop has been pulled down.  The writer, more than twenty-five years ago amused himself during one holiday at Deal, in copying out some of these old songs, and as his copies were may perhaps be the only ones now in existence of some of the songs, they may possibly be of sufficient interest to be preserved in the columns of the Deal Mercury as they embody both national and local history.'
In all six articles appeared under the heading, with the first four directly attributed to Warlow; the remaining two follow the same pattern and could have come from his pen, but no authorship is claimed. 

How Warlow came to meet Edward Bristow is also unknown.  We must take at face value everything in the first article since it is little qualified in any of the others.  What we do know of Bristow can be gauged from local directories of the day.  He was indeed a boat builder, living and working at 3 Sydenham Place, Sydenham Road, in the north end of the town - an area housing many of the boatmen and fishing families, and noted for maintaining the old traditions, including the Christmas custom of the hooden horse.  He was christened on 2 April 1843, and died on 4 May 1921.  There is no obituary in the Deal Mercury by which we can measure the story of his life.

Warlow gives the full version of the words of six songs under his acknowledged authorship, two of which have words supplemented from other sources since they were either incomplete or illegible.  The fifth and sixth articles seem to be copied from broadside ballads with the word Deal contained in the lyrics.  In all, twenty-three songs are mentioned.

The Songs

The Wreck of the Ramilles

Warlow researched the background behind each of the songs.  The first one published was The Wreck of the Ramilles which, he says, 'was wrecked at Bolt Head on the 15th February 1760.  Only 26 persons - a midshipman and 25 men - being saved out of a complement of 750 men.  Her captain was Capt Wittewrong Taylor.  She served at Minorca, 20th May 1756.  She was formerly known as the Royal Katherine.  There was a later Ramilles stationed in The Downs during the smuggling blockade.'

You soldiers and seamen draw near and attend
Unto these lines that lately have been penned.
I'll tell you a story of the salt seas,
Of the wreck of the fated Ramilles.

Seven hundred and twenty brave men had we
With ninety good guns to bear her company;
But as we were sailing, to our sad surprise,
A most dreadful storm began to rise.

The sea looks like fire and rolled mountains high,
Whilst our seamen did weep and our captain did cry,
"My boys, mind your business, do all that you can,
For if this storm holds we're lost every man."

Then we all went to work our lives for to save,
Whilst our rigging did beat the salt waves
"Bear away", says our Captain, "our skill do not spare,
So long as we have sea room, we have nothing to fear."

In a few moments after, with a dreadful shock,
The fated Ramilles she dash'd against a rock;
Then Jews, Turks and Christians might solemnly lament,
To hear their sad cries when down, down she went.

Now all you that are willing to do a good deed,
In relieving the widow in time of need;
In time of her need and God will you bless,
For relieving the widow and children fatherless.

The Death of Parker

This was the second song reported by Warlow, and also appeared in the 'Deal Mercury' for 26th March 1932.

Warlow explains: 'Parker was the leader of the Mutiny of the Nore and was hanged at the yardarm of the Sandwich, 30th June 1797.  He was buried at Minster.  Sheppey, but his corpse only lay there one night.  His wife and some friends disinterred the coffin, and the next night sent it in a fish cart to Rochester.  Here she paid six guineas to the driver of a caravan to take it to London.  At the Hoop and Horseshoe in Queen street, Little Tower Hill, the corpse was exposed to view and attracted such great crowds that the magistrates interfered and stopped the exhibition.  Mrs.  Parker, when interrogated as to why she illegally removed the body from Minster, replied, "To take him down to his own family at Exeter, to bury him like a Christian." It was proved, however, that she did not exhibit the corpse of her husband for monetary consideration.  Eventually the body was, by an order of the Magistrates, buried in the churchyard of St.  Mary's, Whitechapel.' I had reproduced the verses as printed without prejudice, suggesting the tune going with it might not be the one any of us are more familiar with.

Ye gods above protect a widow
And with pity look on me;
Help! Oh, help me out of trouble,
Out of sad calamity.

It was by the death of Parker
Fortune proved to me unkind;
And, although hung for mutiny,
There's worse than him was left behind.

Parker was my lawful husband,
My bosom friend, whom I lov'd dear;
Yet at the time he was to supper
Alas! I could not him get near.

Again I asked, again I try'd them,
Three times o'er and o'er in vain;
They still the one request decried,
And order'd me on shore again.

The yellow flag I thought was flying
The signal for my husband to die;
The gun they fired as was required
To hang him at the yardarm high.

The boatswain did his best endeavour,
And I on shore was sent straightway,
Where stood watching like a mermaid
To take my husband's corpse away.

At dead of night when al was silent,
And many thousands fast asleep,
I by two female friends attended
Into the burying ground creep.

Our trembling hands did serve as shovels
With which we moved the mould away;
And then the body of my husband
Carried off without delay.

A mourning coach for him was waiting,
We drove to London with all speed,
Where decently I had him buried,
And a sermon preached over him indeed.

So now his sorrows are all over,
And he's free from grief and pain;
I hope in heaven his soul is shining,
Where I shall meet with him again.

Farewell, Parker, thou bright angel,
Once thou wert the Navy's pride;
Since we did not die together,
Separately we must abide.

I must wait awhile in patience,
On earth I hope not long to stay;
When we shall meet once more in glory
With all our sins purg'd quite away.

When Joan's Ale was New

The second article in the series was published over twelve months later on 15th April 1933, and featured the next two songs.  Of Joan's Ale, Warlow comments that it was 'incomplete, having in some places lines or words missing', adding 'these (missing words) have now been supplied from a version printed in the Ballads published during the Commonwealth.  He adds: 'the song … is said to have been very popular at one time.  The author of the above collection says: 'From the names of Nolly and Joan, and the allusion to ale, we are inclined to regard the song as a lampoon levelled at Cromwell and his wife, whom the Royalist party nicknamed Joan.  The writer seems to represent the Protector's acquaintance (who are held up as low and vulgar tradesmen) paying him a congratulatory visit on his change of fortune, and regaling themselves with Brewer's ale.' Once more, with words are reproduced as printed, regardless of alternative versions and verse order.

There were several jolly fellows,
And they all sat down to drinking,
For they were a jovial crew.
They sat themselves down to be merry,
And they called for a bottle of sherry,
"You're welcome as the hills," says Nolly,
While Joan's ale is new, brave boys,
While Joan's ale is new.

The first that came in was a soldier,
With his firelock over his shoulder,
Sure no-one could be bolder,
And a long broad sword he drew
He swore he would fight for England's ground,
Before the nation should be run down
He boldly drank the healths all round
While Joan's ale was new.

The next that came was a tailor,
With bodkin, shears and thimble,
What man could be more nimble
To join the jovial crew?
He call'd for liquor, likewise chalk,
Till this poor tailor was almost broke,
We made the poor tailor pawn his coat,
When Joan's ale was new.

The next that came was a tinker,
And he was no small beer drinker,
He swore he would be no shrinker,
But join the jovial crew.
He told them he could mend a kettle,
That his brass rivets were all good metal,
Good heart, how his hammer and nails did rattle,
When Joan's ale was new.

The next that came was a dyer
Who sat himself down by the fire,
For it was his heart's desire
To join the jovial crew.
He told the landlord to his face
The chimney corner was his place;
And he might sit and dye his face,
While Joan's ale was new.

The next that came was a hatter
Sure no one could be blacker,
And he began to chatter
Among the jovial crew.
He threw his hat upon the ground
And swore every man should spend his crown
And boldly drink their healths all round,
While Joan's ale was new.

The next that came in was a ragman
With is ragbag over his shoulder
Sure no one could be bolder
Among the jovial crew.
They sat and called for pots and glasses
Till they were all drunk as asses
And burnt the old ragman's bag to ashes
When Joan's ale was new.

The Death of Nelson

The next song is headed 'A Song on the glorious victory obtained over the French and Spaniards the 21st October 1805, by the English fleet under the command of the gallant Admirals Nelson and Collingwood' and is obviously a ballad, since it was 'printed and sold by T Evans, 70 Long Lane'.  It is supposed that Warlow copied it verbatim.  He appends the note 'This song appears among some Trafalgar Poems at the back of Trafalgar Year published by J.  Pitts.'

Come all my gallant heroes and listen unto me,
While I relate a battle was lately fought at sea;
So fierce and hot on every side as plainly it appears,
There has not been such a battle fought no not for many years.

Brave Nelson and brave Collingwood off Cadis harbour lay,
Watching the French and Spaniards to show them English play;
The nineteenth of October from the Bay they did set sail,
Brave Nelson got intelligence and soon was at their tail.

It was on the 21st, my boys, we had them clear in sight,
And on that very day at noon began the bloody fight;
Our fleet forming two columns then we broke the enemy's line,
To spare the use of signals was Nelson's bold design.

But now the voice of thunder is heard on every side,
The briny waves like crimson with human blood was dyed;
The French and Spanish heroes their courage well did show,
But our brave British sailors soon brought their colours low.

Four hours and ten minutes this battle it did hold,
And on the briny ocean men never fought more bold;
But on the point of victory brave Nelson he was slain,
And on the minds of Britain his death will long remain.

Nineteen sail of the enemy are taken and destroyed,
You see the rage of Britons is not to be annoyed;
And ages yet unborn will have this story for to tell,
The twenty-first of October our gallant Nelson fell.

I hope the wives and children will quickly find relief,
For the loss of those brave heroes their hearts are filled with grief;
And may our warlike officers aspire to such fame,
And revenge the death of Nelson while we record his name.

The Farmer's Lamentation

The next two songs appear fourth in the series, and was published in the Deal Mercury on 2nd June 1934.  Warlow comments that the first of these 'seems to have been a local production, and was printed by Atkinson, Printer, Deal.  The second song The Farmer's Warning was apparently a reply to The Farmer's Lament.'

Sad dreadful cried and moans we ear
In market towns you know;
The farmers stand with watery eyes
Crying corn sells very low.

One to another thus they say
Alas, what shall we do;
Our rents and rates we cannot pay,
The corn it sells so low.

The wheelwright and knacker is unpaid,
So is the blacksmith, too;
The butcher he likewise must trust,
The corn it sells so low.

Indeed we could drink wine last year,
When Boney he did crow;
But now we scarce can get small beer,
The corn it sells so low.

Last year we wore fine back strap boots,
When times so well did go;
But now can scarce get shoes to wear,
The corn it sells so low.

There's Ned he must the muck cart fill,
And Jack to plough must go;
I'm sure I cannot servants keep,
The corn it sells so low.

Miss Kitty must the parlour quit,
So must Miss Nancy, too;
And round the milking pail must strut,
The corn it sells so low.

My riding horses I must sell,
Likewise the whiskey too;
And on jackasses we must ride,
The corn it sells so low.

Alas! Alas! Good neighbours all,
Some pity on us show;
Or we shall shortly hang ourselves,
The corn it sells so low.

The reference to Bonaparte's campaign more or less pinpoints these verses as having been written in or around 1816.

The Farmer's Warning

These verses appear immediately after The Farmer's Lamentation.

Come, gentlemen farmers, I pray now attend,
Listen awhile to these lines I have penn'd;
The blessing of God on the poor now will smile,
While half of you farmers will quickly run wild.

The hops you have missed and the corn it is come.
Half of you will break and away you will run;
Therefore, dear farmers, let down your pride,
Never mount such gallant steeds when to market you ride.

Your slow team of horses with dainty corn is fed,
They are nothing but dogs meat when once they are dead;
But keep a team of oxen to plough up your land,
When the work is done they are meat for a mean.

Here is your silver buckles and fine silver spurs,
And nothing go down but madam and sirs;
A good old master and dame is kicked out of doors
As a man his wife when he wants her no more.

For these several years you have had your own way,
And on the poor you do craftily play;
Think of these words when I'm out of sight,
And lower down your pride before you're ruined quite.

At Michaelmas your landlord calls for his rent,
Having no money breeds discontent;
Immediately he calls for his lawyer to seize
And tear down your pride, you may like it as you please.

So now to conclude and to finish my song,
I hope you that are here will not take me wrong;
You that have got money, for I have got none,
Can buy up my ballads that I may have some.

Ambrose Gwinett

The last song directly attributed to Warlow is Ambrose Gwinett but, as he says 'The following lines are not taken from the old tool box, but appeared on a Catnach version of The Adventures of Ambrose Gwinett which are probably only fiction, although Pritchard has included the story in his History of Deal - which seems to be the only reason for including it.  The song was published in the Deal Mercury on 31st March 1934 before the two previous songs. 

In Canterbury I was born of decent family,
At sixteen years of age was bound an attorney for to be.
When I had reached my twentieth year I on a visit went
To see my only sister dear, who liv'd near Deal in Kent.

When night came on fatigued sore, I to an ale-house went,
And sought therein to lodge all night to which they gave consent.
One Mr.  Collins did me take his bed fellow to be;
Alas, alas, I little thought my ruin it would be.

For in the middle of the night I seized was with pain;
Downstairs I was compelled to go, when I came up again.
I found the bed did empty lie, and my companion gone.
I called, but getting no reply I went to sleep again.

Next day I stoutly was accused with murdering this man;
Was sent to jail, and tried and cast, and hanged for the same.
And in a field nigh unto Deal I hanged was in chains,
But by the Providence of God I came to life again.

Unto the sea I did repair, all in a privateer;
Where by the Spaniards I was took, confined for many a year.
And during my captivity the very man I found
For murdering of whom poor I was hung on British ground.

Then by the pirates I was taken, and eighteen dismal years
I passed in such woe and pain as mortal scarce could bear.
My sufferings were so very great they'd melt a heart of stone.
But time forbids me to relate what I have undergone.

At length I reached my native shore, a cripple, poor and lame;
My friends and parents were no more, a beggar I became.
Near Charing Cross I swept the way, for many a long year.
The whole of my said history you'll find recorded here.

And that is the end of what can be reliably held to be Warlow's contributions to the Deal Mercury.  However, on 15th September and 27th October 1934 respectively, the newspaper printed two songs under the heading: Songs and Ballads of Old Deal in the same spirit.  The first song was The Rowing Match (or The Tenth of August), 'compiled from the original, The Rowing Match contains the names of some old Deal boats not mentioned in The Last of Our Luggers.  It may date from the eighteen-thirties or forties.' The second song is headed Captain Swing and the Countryman with a 'derry down' chorus that dates its composition.  The newspaper says of it 'we reproduce from the original the following old ballad.  It is undated but 'Swing Riots' occurred between 1830-1833, when haystacks and barns were set on fire, and attributed to an imaginary 'Capt Swing.''

As said, it is uncertain who the author of either of the two fairly lengthy ballads were on these last two occasions, but the use of the words 'we reproduce' suggest it to be the initiative of a Deal Mercury journalist with a fascination for local history fired by Warlow's contributions, the last of which was printed only two months before Songs and Ballads first appeared.  In May 1935, the newspaper printed a four verse song Old Deal Town - a mock shanty - but it wasn't unknown for the Deal Mercury to publish occasional sundry verse and poetry.  No melodies are hinted at, with the exception of Captain Swing.  Even the versification of Death of Parker doesn't identify it with either tune given for it in versions indexed in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - both West Country sources - which intriguingly suggest Bristow's song might have been gauged from a local source.  We shall never know.

In the preamble to the songs published in June 1934, Warlow lists the remaining songs from Bristow's toolbox - which, of course, he says were fragments or indecipherable in some instances.  Many of the titles are familiar to us all: Brighton Camp'or The Girl I Left behind Me, Jack and the Brooms, Time to Remember the Poor, Captain Landing, Happy Stranger, A Drinking Song, The Lamenting Maiden, The Female Coachman, The Woodman, Captain Lucy, Jack Williams, Donald, the Pride of Dunblane.  However, after browsing through the remainder of the Deal Mercury for that year and the whole on 1935, there seems little evidence that any of these were further published, and one rues that he didn't complete this job, assuming there was one to complete.

George Frampton - 29.7.07

Article MT209

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