Week 163 – Mistress’ Healths

Two healths from Sussex. I learned the first one from Shirley Collins’ album Adieu to Old England (where it is followed by Lumps of Plum Pudding played on anglo-concertina by the inimitable John Watcham). A L Lloyd’s notes to the LP say

Harvest-homes were ceremonial suppers, given by the farmer to the harvest labourers when the crop was gathered. The custom has been widespread all over Europe, at least since the Middle Ages, maybe longer. It’s an occasion for big eating and drinking and plenty of music; but very ceremonious, and an important feature was the singing of elaborate compliments in the form of toasts. At the harvest-homes in England, right up to the present century, the queenly qualities of the farmer’s wife were commonly extolled (“anything for another mug of ale” was a comment reported by a 19th century observer). This toast, doubtless referring to Elizabeth I, was traditionally applied to the farmer’s wife in many parts of Southern England. The Cuckfield baker Samuel Willett noted it from harvest hands and passed it on to Lucy Broadwood.

Lucy Broadwood printed the song in her English County Songs. A health which starts with very similar lyrics turns up in North Yorkshire, as a ‘Bridal Song’ sung by Jack Beeforth (1891-1974):

Here’s the bride’s good health we’ll now begin
In spite of the Turk and the Spanish king.
And as for the bridegroom we’ll not let it pass
We’ll have their drink in a flowing glass.

So see, see, see that you drink it all
See, see, see that you let none fall
For if you do you shall have two
And so shall the rest of the company too.

This is included in Volume 2 of David Hillery’s PhD thesis Vernacular song from a North Yorkshire hill farm : culture, contexts and comparisons. I have to confess I’ve only discovered this work whilst Googling this morning, but it looks to be an interesting read.

“Harvest Home” – illustration from Chambers’ Book of Days

The second song here is one of several healths and toasts included on Vic Gammon’s double-LP set The Tale of Ale. It was collected from Henry Hills of Lodsworth in Sussex and included in the very first volume of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1901, in an article by the collector W P Merrick. For more on Henry Hills and folk traditions in Lodsworth, see the ‘Lodsworth Folk Songs and Carols’ section in Notes for a History of Lodsworth by Wilfrid Lamb M.A. who was Vicar of Lodsworth 1955-1961. There are some nice photographs of harvest suppers from that era, from Bodiam in East Sussex, at www.bygonebodiam.co.uk.

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Mistress’ Health (Our Mistress’ Health we’ll now begin)

Mistress’ Health (Now Harvest is over)

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