Week 108 – Horkstow Grange

Recorded onto a phonograph cylinder by Australian musician, composer and (briefly) folk song collector Percy Grainger in 1908, this fragment of a song has continued to fascinate singers, arrangers and composers alike. It was first sung to Grainger by George Gouldthorpe at Brigg in July 1906 – see his transcription below from the EFDSS’s magnificent Full English archive. I learned the song from the (also magnificent) Leader LP Unto Brigg Fair: Joseph Taylor and Other Traditional Lincolnshire Singers Recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger.

Mr Gouldthorpe was born around 1840 – he told Grainger he had “a vast of years” – and had lived most of his life in the place of his birth, Barrow-upon-Humber. He had worked as a lime-burner and, by 1908, after a spell in Brigg workhouse, had moved in with his sister at Goxhill. Regarding this move, Mr Gouldthorpe said “I was easier in my mind”. Which, as Bob Thomson comments in his notes to Unto Brigg Fair, “one suspects is a grim understatement of the circumstances”.

You can read about the background to the song itself on Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site and on this page on the Lincolnshire County Council website, part of  a series of articles headed Legacy of Lincolnshire Songs. In short, nothing is known of the old miser “Steeleye” Span, or his foreman John Bowling, still less of this exchange of fisticuffs between them. Although the song has all the hallmarks of a local composition, it would seem that George Gouldthorpe may have got the names confused. With the expansion of local newspapers, court reports and other archival material on the web, it’s entirely possible that details will eventually emerge. Part of me hopes that they do. But another part of me feels that, maybe, it’s best if some mysteries just remain as mysteries,

'Horkstow Grange', from Percy Grainger's MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Horkstow Grange’, from Percy Grainger’s MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Horkstow Grange

5 Comments to “Week 108 – Horkstow Grange”

  1. We passed Horkstow Grange some months back when Julie and I passed through the county where I grew up on a nostalgia trip…

    It’s a very impressive establishment, you’d have to say. Horkstow was clearly a big, well monied farm back in the day, perhaps even an estate. Today it still has brick walls and big brick-built barns, and I guess a big bartons and stables, and obviously would have employed many tens of men in it prime

    I’ve sung the song since I was given the same LP as a present when I was 16 or 17, but this was the first occasion I’d actually seen the setting of the celebrated falling out between Tom Bowlin and his old miser of a boss.

    For some reason I’d always imagined that the farm concerned was a relatively small outfit, run by maybe the old man and one or two labourers. But I now realise that Horkstow Grange was a big, relatively industrialised kind of farm (if one can put it that way) and it’s now my theory that the boss was more likely to be a tyrant or a skinflint or both and may have been making life miserable for a large number of farm workers for years – and that this might account for Bowlin’s sudden and desperate action.

    If only we had more details that might flesh out the story! There could be something in old local newspapers, of course, if only we knew what kind of era we should be searching.


  2. George Gouldthorpe was my great uncle and it was so lovely to listen to his voice here. Thank you very much.

  3. Thanks for leaving a comment, Rose.

    There’s some more on your great uncle here: http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/residents/archives/events-gallery-and-document-of-the-month/on-line-exhibitions/legacy-of-lincolnshire-songs/11-george-gouldthorpe-(1839-1910)-folksinger/workhouse-inmate/79587.article

    The recording of him singing Horkstow Grange was released on the long-unavailable 1970s LP Unto Brigg Fair, and unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have surfaced on CD, and therefore not on Spotify or anywhere else like that on the internet. They ought to have a copy somewhere in Lincolnshire public libraries or local studies centre though, I’d have thought. And they definitely have CD copies of Percy Grainger’s original wax cylinder recordings at the British Library Sound Archive. Worth a trip if you’d like to hear your ancestor singing the song.

  4. I did some research on this some years ago, with no definite results. However, a couple of possible leads emerged. Firstly, there were two Granges, North and South. Today’s Horkstow Grange was the South Grange. The North Grange was possibly once owned by the Espener family, who were local landowners. Their name might be confused with “Span”? In one Trade Directory a John Espener, gentleman was listed in Horkstow. A possible contender for JS Span? There the trail ran cold; no census or other relevant records that I could find.

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