Posts tagged ‘Healths and Toasts’

October 11, 2014

Week 164 – Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Two more Sussex healths learned from Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs. Miss Broadwood didn’t have to travel far to collect these songs: the singer, John Burberry, was a retired gamekeeper, who had worked on the Broadwood family estates at Lyne in Sussex.

About the ‘Carter’s Health’ Lucy Broadwood wrote:

“Hey” and “Ree” are right and left respectively; “Who with a hey and ree the beasts command” (Micro-Cynicon, 1599). “Hoo” or “Ho” is the same as “Woa” – stop; “So when they once fall in love there is no Ho in them till they have their love” (Cobbler of Canturburie, 1608). “Gee” is of course “Go on.” “Gio” used in this sense is quoted in Dialogus Creaturarum, 1480.  In the “Chorus” part, the four names are sung by four of the singers in order, all joining in at “But the bobtailed mare.” 

A carter is, of course, “One who drives a cart” (OED). A wagon is probably not the same as a cart, but I really like this harvest-time photograph from East Sussex County Libraries’ Historical Photos collection on Flickr. A collection well worth checking out if you like old photos like this.

Hay wagon c.1890  Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer's original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

Hay wagon c.1890 Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer’s original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

The notes on the ‘Mistress’s Health’ say:

When sung at harvest homes and the like, the singers, at the words “O is she so?” &c., carry candles up to the mistress as if to investigate her claim to be “the fairest of twenty.”

We recorded these with Magpie Lane (as separate items) on our second album Speed the Plough. Then a few years ago we found that if we took one health down a bit, and the other up a bit, they worked pretty well together.  At our 20th birthday concert at the Holywell Music Room last year, we had at least twenty people on stage singing this, including Jackie Oates, Chris Leslie, John Spiers, Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, Hilary James and Simon Mayor. That was really special (actually it was even better at the run-through in the afternoon – the acoustics in the Holywell are really good, but they’re even better without an audience to soak up any of the sound!). I’d like to share that with you, but have never managed to get my hands on the recordings. Grrr. Anyway, here’s a live recording of the normal five-person band line-up, made last autumn in Bampton Church.

Incidentally, we have some gigs coming up over the next few weeks: Leafield, Oxon (Friday 24th October), Lichfield Festival of Folk (Saturday 25th October), Oxford Folk Club (Friday 14th November). Then in December we’ll be doing our Christmas shows as usual. Further details at

Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Magpie Lane

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

Recorded Saturday 21st September 2013, St Mary’s Church, Bampton, Oxfordshire.

October 4, 2014

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 very nice photographs of harvest suppers from that era, from Bodiam in East Sussex, at

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

Mistress’ Health (Now Harvest is over)