Posts tagged ‘Alfred Williams’

February 10, 2013

Week 77 – Needlecases

I learned this from All Buttoned Up, the first LP on Topic Records by the Cock and Bull Band – apologies, the Hemlock Cock and Bull Band – where it was sung by drummer John Maxwell.

It seems to have been particularly popular (or at least, most frequently collected) in Oxfordshire: Peter Kennedy recorded a version from Arthur Smith of Swinbrook in 1952, Francis Collinson had the song from Bob Arnold (of Archers fame) at Burford in 1946, Mike Yates recorded it from Freda Palmer of Witney in 19767, and John Howson recorded the Bampton morris dancer Francis Shergold singing it  in 1987.

Francis’ version was included on the Veteran CD It was on a market day Volume 2, and his words can be found at I don’t have a copy of All Buttoned Up to hand, but I seem to remember that the sleevenotes referred to Alfred Williams as the source of the song. Be that as it may, looking at those lyrics, I think it highly likely that John Maxwell had learned the song from Francis Shergold.

Alfred Williams did collect a version from Eli Dawes of Southropp in Gloucestershire, and the song was recorded in the same village, some 40 years later, from a singer by the name of Jimmie Maunders in 1957. Apart from that the only other version listed in the Roud Index – and the only one not from the Cotswolds –  was printed in Kidson & Moffat’s English Peasant Songs (1929).

Having recently quoted Henry Mayhew on the subject of poor frozen-out gardeners I thought I would see what he had to say about sellers of needlecases. There are a number of references; the following unflattering description comes from London labour and the London poor : a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work (Volume 1) – Mayhew is here actually quoting the views of “an educated gentleman (who has been before alluded to in this work), and as he had been driven to live among the class he describes, and to support himself by street-selling, his remarks have of course all the weight due to personal experience, as well as to close observation”:

I come now to the third class of patterers, — those who, whatever their early pursuits and pleasures, have manifested a predilection for vagrancy, and neither can nor will settle to any ordinary calling. There is now on the streets a man scarcely thirty years old, conspicuous by the misfortune of a sabre-wound on the cheek. He is a native of the Isle of Man. His father was a captain in the Buff’s, and himself a commissioned officer at seventeen. He left the army, designing to marry and open a boarding- school. The young lady to whom he was betrothed died, and that event might affect his mind ; at any rate, he has had 38 situations in a dozen years, and will not keep one a week. He has a mortal antipathy to good clothes, and will not keep them one hour. He sells anything — chiefly needle-cases. He ‘patters’ very little in a main drag (public street);  but in the little private streets he preaches an outline of his life, and makes no secret of his wandering propensity. His aged mother, who still lives, pays his lodgings in Old Pye-street.



January 5, 2013

Week 72 – The Deserter

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

I can’t actually remember much about the rest of the novel, but that opening sentence is totally unforgettable.

Which is completely unrelated to this week’s song, except that the narrator of the song very nearly faces a firing squad, and is saved from his fate – somewhat implausibly – at the last minute.

I came across this version in Cecil Sharp’s MSS at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Sharp had it in December 1908 from Jack Barnard at Bridgewater in Somerset.

Mr Barnard started the song with “the first time I deserted…”
That’s fair enough, but I thought I’d give the central character a bit of back-story, so I added an initial couple of verses (from an unnamed source) in the Alfred Williams collection.

The Deserter


Jack Barnard, photograph by Cecil Sharp; copyright EFDSS.

Jack Barnard, photograph by Cecil Sharp; copyright EFDSS.

The Deserter, from the Bodleian Library collection.

The Deserter, from the Bodleian Library collection.

July 21, 2012

Week 48 – I’ll weave her a garland

'The Garland of Love' - broadside from the English Ballad collection, National Library of Scotland

When I was a student in Oxford in the early 80s, Len & Barbara Berry were regular visitors to the Heritage Society, the University folk club. In fact they were regular visitors to pretty much every folk club in the area, as well as running their own monthly club in Kirtlington Village Hall.

Len sadly passed away at the start of the year, and the obituaries give a sense of the affection in which he was held.

Barbara did a lot of work on the songs collected by Alfred Williams, and published in Folk Songs of the Upper Thames. Williams noted only the words, so Barbara found suitable tunes, or simply composed her own – as was the case with this song, which was always my favourite.

Alfred Williams collected the words  from Mrs Rowles of Witney, and noted that it was “Formerly sung by her father, W. Barrett, of Marston Meysey.”

A search of the Roud Index reveals that the song was published on a number of broadsides – the example shown is from the English Ballads collection being built up by the National Library of Scotland. A couple of verses were even included in Theodore Hook’s Hungarian melodrama Tekeli

As performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane.

This piece made its first appearance at Drury Lane, on the 24th of November, 1806, and is said to be a translation by Mr Hook, Jun. and by him adapted to the English stage. The interest is supported with much ingenuity through the whole performance, and the music on which the success of this species of drama so much depends, well suited to the action. It abounds in loyal and noble sentiments, calculated for the meridian in which it was produced. It was received with the most unbounded applause, and announced for a second representation amidst repeated bravoes.

[text above corrected by me from the poorly OCR-d version at the Internet Archive]

When I asked Barbara Berry if I might sing this song, she said “yes” – as long as I credited her as my source. I have of course always been very happy to do so. Thank you, Barbara.


Len Berry & his son, Bob – photo by Bob Naylor

Len Berry & his son, Bob – photo by Bob Naylor


I’ll weave her a garland