Posts tagged ‘Berkshire’

April 11, 2015

Week 190 – O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Ilsley remote amid the Berkshire Downs,
Claims three distinctions o’er her sister towns,
Far famed for sheep and wool, tho’ not for spinners,
For sportsmen, doctors, publicans and sinners.

This rhyme, apparently dating back to the seventeenth century, relates to East Ilsley – formerly known also as Market Ilsley or Chipping Ilsley – a village which you’ll see signposted just off the A34 as you drive North towards Oxford from Newbury. The rhyme was quoted in a 1924 History of the County of Berkshire, where the authors append the comment “The village still maintains its reputation with regard to sportsmen and publicans”.

The history continues

Though the training of racehorses is still one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants, East Ilsley is chiefly noted for its sheep fair, which is one of the largest in England. Almeric de St. Amand, lord of the manor in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, set up a market here on Tuesdays, which he claimed under a charter of Henry III. It was said to be injurious to the king’s market at Wallingford. (fn. 7) Sir Francis Moore in his digest of his title to the manor, compiled in the reign of James I, states ‘that the Tuesday market for corn was discontinued, but that a sheep market was held every Wednesday from Hocktide to St. James’ tide, and a yearly fair at the Feast of the Assumption.’ Sir Francis obtained a charter confirming his right to a market for corn and grain and all other merchandise, and ‘to take such toll as the Borough of Reading doth,’ also a grant of piccage and stallage and a court of pie-powder with all the fines, forfeitures and amerciaments thereof. Under the charter it was forbidden to have sales at Cuckhamsley, where they had previously been held, under pain of the king’s displeasure, the new site for the market being an inclosed square which has since been planted and is now known as the Warren. The markets are held by arrangement once or twice a month on Wednesdays from January to September. They increased rapidly until the middle of the 18th century, no less than 80,000 sheep being penned in one day and 55,000 sold, the yearly average amounting to 400,000.(fn. 8) In addition to the markets there are numerous fairs, the two largest being on 1 August and 26 August, while those at Easter, Whitsuntide, in September, October and at Hallowtide (on Wednesday after 12 November) draw dealers and graziers from all parts of the county. There is also a hiring fare in October. The wool fair has increased in importance and has been much encouraged by the annual presentation of two silver cups given by the Marquess of Downshire and other landowners to be competed for by the wool staplers and farmers. At one of the agricultural meetings formerly held at Ilsley the chairman wore a coat made from fleeces shorn in the morning, made into cloth at Newbury, and fashioned into a coat before the evening.

‘Parishes: East Ilsley’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 24-31  via British History Online.

David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History Website tells us that

The last proper fair was held in 1934, but it was semi-revived as a village fete in 1975. A plaque in the centre of the village records this. Being famous for its sheep farming, it is not surprising that Berkshire was one of the many counties to have developed its own breed of sheep: the Berkshire Nott Wether. Sadly, it is now extinct, but the Hampshire Down is a direct descendant.

There are some wonderfully evocative photos of a late nineteenth century sheep fair at Ilsley taken by the photographer Henry Taunt, which you can view on the Historic England site.

Check out

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire – late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair. Photographer: Henry Taunt. Date Taken: 1860 – 1922

This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack “Shepherd” Hayden (or Haden) at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 6th September 1909.  Shepherd Hayden had been born at Lyford, Berkshire in 1826, and he shepherded at Hatford near Faringdon before moving to Bampton in 1891. I don’t know if he ever did any shepherding on the Downs near Ilsley, but no doubt he met men who had, and learned this song (surely a local composition?) from one of them. Alfred Williams also noted down three verses of the song from Shepherd Hayden, under the title ‘On Compton Downs’, and noted “An old shepherd song, local to the Berkshire Downs between Wantage and Streatley, and one of the very few that were obviously written by rustics”.

Actually the Roud Index shows that Hayden’s is not the only version to have been collected – there’s also one clearly related fragment (where the location is given as Marlborough) collected by George Gardiner in Hampshire.

I learned the song  from the copies of Sharp’s notebooks in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library – now of course all available online – and we recorded it on the Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold in 2002. This is a live recording taken direct from the mixing desk at the Banbury Folk Festival in October 2007.

O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Banbury Folk Festival, October 14th 2007.

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello
Jon Fletcher – guitar
Mat Green – fiddle

December 24, 2013

Week 122 – Hymn for Christmas Day / Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol / Newton’s Double

Hark! hear you not a cheerful noise
Which makes the heavens ring with joy

Well happy Christmas everybody. And here to cheer you on your way are live recordings of Magpie Lane singing three Christmas carols with Oxfordshire connections.

First up, ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’ from a nineteenth century Berkshire manuscript. We came across the song quite by chance, towards the end of the recording sessions for our 2006 album Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Dave Eynstone, in whose studio we were recording, showed us a hand-written, leather-bound manuscript book which he had recently inherited, and in the front of which was inscribed

Thomas Eynstone  Cotthill  Berks 1840
Late of Drayton who Departed This Life
January February the 7th 1876
Aged 65 years

Alfred Eynstone  Black Horse  Berks 1876

Thomas Eynstone was an agricultural labourer from Cothill – just West of Abingdon – which has actually been in Oxfordshire since 1974. His manuscript book contains over 175 religious pieces – metrical psalms, anthems, and three pieces entitled ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’, one of which (No. 25) is Joseph Stephenson’s well-known ‘Hark, Hark What News’. This piece is No. 26, and it was completely new to me at the time. Subsequently, however, I found that the New Oxford Book of Carols also had a version, taken from A Book of Psalmody, published by Matthew Wilkins of Great Milton in Oxfordshire c.1760. Apart from the fact that the words were set to music twice by the American composer, William Billings, the NOBC editors had very little information on the piece. In Dave Townsend’s recently published Oxfordshire Carols he has transcribed ‘Hark, Hear You Not’ from A Collection of Church Musick, published by Elizabeth Wilkins, c.1775 – this would appear to be either Matthew Wilkins’ widow, or his daughter (they were both called Elizabeth). Dave doesn’t have anything to add on the provenance of the piece, but notes that it has now been found in another Oxfordshire West Gallery manuscript, belonging to Richard Herring of Marsh Gibbon.

Googling “Hark! Hear You Not A Cheerful Noise?” yesterday afternoon, however, I came across a YouTube “video” where someone had uploaded the recording of the hymn from our CD Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Putting to one side the fact that this breaks various copyrights (and no, adding a disclaimer “This video is for entertainment purposes only. I do not own the copyright for the music or image used in this video” does not get you off the hook) there was an intriguing note that it was “Written by English composer William Knapp (1698-1768) in 1744, appearing in the musical work entitled “Anthems for Christmas Day””. My first reaction was “No, that’s wrong”; but further Googling revealed that it does indeed appear to be the case. Francis Roads has compiled a list of Knapp’s works which shows that ‘Hark! Hear you not a chearful noise? An hymn for Christmas Day’ appeared in Knapp’s Anthems for Christmas Day (London 1744).  Now the Christminster Singers are very big on Dorset composer William Knapp – indeed we recorded an entire CD of his compositions. It would appear that recently, and not for the first time, we have been singing and enjoying one of his works without realising that he was the composer. Of course copyright law was not very fully developed in the eighteenth century, and Matthew Wilkins, like other publishers of “West Gallery” collections, seems to have had no qualms about reproducing works by composers such as Knapp in his printed books.

You can hear a MIDI version of William Knapp’s setting at (you’ll need the free Sibelius Scorch plug-in to play it). The Knapp, Wilkins and Eynstone versions are very similar: but the first two have four harmony parts while Thomas Eynstone’s has only three, and the parts are all subtly different; it looks to me as though the carol may have been passed via the oral tradition, rather than simply copied from book to book.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.














The other two pieces here are taken directly from Dave Townsend’s Oxfordshire Carols, although Ian and I have been singing both for a while, either with the Christminster Singers, or as guest vocalists with the Mellstock Band.

‘Sellwood Mollineux’s Carol’ is a bit of an oddity, not least because it is in 5/4. Now there are numerous examples of English folk carols which are wholly or partly in 5/4, but I can’t think of another example from the West Gallery canon. Indeed, in Matthew Wilkins’ A Book of Psalmody, from which this is taken, it is barred in common time – but, as Dave realised when transcribing the piece, it is quite clearly supposed to be in five-time. Wilkins has it as a setting for Psalm 145, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever”.  But there is a copy of the Wilkins book which is inscribed “Sellwood Mollineux 1775”, and in that copy this piece is marked “Carol tune”. In the absence of any other information, Dave decided to use the tune as a setting for Philip Doddridge’s text ‘Hark, The Glad Sound! The Saviour Comes!’. The Mollineux family, incidentally, were farmers in the Great Milton area; Sellwood is, I think, an unjustly neglected first name, due for a revival (although I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on any of my own children!).

Finally, ‘Newton’s Double’, from William Walton of Adderbury. In the 1910s Walton provided local folk-song collector Janet Blunt with numerous songs, information about the Adderbury Morris, and West Gallery style carols. He had sung the old carols, first as a boy, then as a man; and remarkably could recall all of the harmony parts from his youth. Blunt had trouble working out how the parts of this fuguing piece fitted together, but Dave Townsend has reconstructed it with reference to other sources, in particular the 1836 James Martin MS from Poole.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

























The recordings of ‘Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ were made at this year’s annual Magpie Lane Christmas concert in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. We were joined for these by our friends from Eynsham, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford. Many thanks to them and, of course, to Dave Townsend for making us aware of these fine carols.

Hymn for Christmas Day

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 8th December 2012.

Jon Fletcher, Marguerite Hutchinson, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green – vocals
Sophie Thurman – cello

Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

Newton’s Double

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

June 16, 2012

Week 43 – All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough

An Oxfordshire version of a well-known song – well-known in the folk revival, but also widely sung in oral tradition.

Although this was not included on the first Magpie Lane CD, it was certainly in our repertoire when we played our first concerts in May 1993, and was included on our second album, Speed the Plough. In those days we followed the song with the dance tune ‘Speed the Plough’, aka  “The National Anthem of English Country Dance Music”. But we’re a band that likes to move with the times, so in more recent years we’ve taken to playing – as on this this live recording – ‘New Speed the Plough’, from Vic Gammon’s A Sussex Tune Book (N.B. the word “New” in this context is relative – the tune comes from the Welch family MS, dated 1800).

We learned the song from the Oxfordshire section of Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs. There are four songs in that section, and the source for all of them is given as Mr R. Bennell. It’s not made clear whether Mr Bennell was simply responsible for communicating the songs to Miss Broadwood, or if she collected them directly from his singing . Fortunately Broadwood researcher Irene Shettle has provided the answer – Mr Bennell wrote out the words and tunes and sent them to the collector in a series of letters in November 1891.

Mr Bennell was a professional cornet player, then living in Richmond. The pieces he sent to Broadwood were songs which he remembered from his younger days, having been brought up at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire. Of this song he wrote

I have written the tune of (It was early etc) as I have always heard it sung round about Nettlebed in Oxfordshire where I was brought up. I have herd strangers sing it to the air of Villikins and his Dinah, which melody you are no doubt acquainted with.


I have also written two more, one I may call the Nettlebed Cricket Song as I have never heard a word of the song or a bar of the melody sung in any of my travels. Neither of the songs I have dotted down have the peculiar quaintness and minor tendency of most of our most rural district songs but I could commit several to paper, but the words I could not easily obtain now I am away. I have written the two first and the two last verses of the Leathern Bottle. I can remember no more. There are various difficulties in the way as regards the words of songs; our ancestors in their simplicity were rather coarse even in their sentimental ditties. This for one thing gives rise to a difficulty where as regards the tune there would be none. In answer to your enquiry as to my profession I beg to state that I am a musician and play the cornet for a living in all lines of the business theatrical or otherwise. I object to publicity regarding myself unless consulted. Any remuneration for my little efforts would be thankfully received to cover postage etc. If these songs should give you any satisfaction or be of any help to you in your labours I will furnish you with another or two

In English County Songs Lucy Broadwood gives the Nettlebed tune for this song (under the title ‘Twas Early One Morning’), but prints a set of words “from a gardener’s boy in Berkshire”.

All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough / New Speed the Plough

Magpie Lane

Andy Turner: vocal, one-row melodeon
Ian Giles: vocal, percussion
Mat Green: fiddle
Sophie Thurman: cello
Jon Fletcher: guitar

recorded direct from the mixing desk, Banbury Folk Festival, 14th October 2007