Posts tagged ‘Poaching’

June 16, 2018

Week 275 – Death of Poor Bill Brown

There were two distinct ‘Death of Bill Brown’ songs put out by the broadside printers, although both would appear to have been based on an incident which took place at Brightside near Sheffield in 1769. You’ll find details on the Yorkshire Garland Group’s page for ‘The Death of Poor Bill Brown’, along with a recording of this song by the fine Yorkshire singer Will Noble. An example of the earlier version of the song is this printing of ‘Bill Brown’ by Harkness of Preston, put out between 1840 and 1866. The version shown below, which is much closer to the version which survived in oral tradition, was printed in London by H.P. Such between 1863 and 1885.

Poor Bill Brown, printed by Such between 1863 and 1885. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Poor Bill Brown, printed by Such between 1863 and 1885. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Like Will Noble I learned this song from the singing of Arthur Howard (1902-1982), although unlike Will I learned it from a record, not in person. Arthur Howard was a sheep farmer from a long line of South Yorkshire sheep farmers. Born at Mount Farm, near Holme, a few miles south-west of Holmfirth, he later lived and worked on a farm at Hazlehead near Penistone. He was a leading light among the singers of the Holme Valley Beagles, as heard on the Leader LP A Fine Hunting Day. This song, which he learned from his father, appears on Arthur Howard’s solo LP, Merry Mountain Child, released on Ian Russell’s Hill and Dale label in 1981. It was later included on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song.

The album cover shown below is pinched from Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site. I see that his copy, like mine, is signed. I seem to remember that in the early eighties Ian Russell advertised signed copies of the LP in the back of English, Dance & Song. I’m guessing that Reinhard ordered his copy from there, as I did.

Merry Mountain Child LP cover - from the Mainly Norfolk website

Merry Mountain Child LP cover – from the Mainly Norfolk website

The recording here is unaccompanied. Back in 1994, I recorded it for Magpie Lane’s second album, Speed the Plough. That arrangement had a typically tasteful guitar accompaniment provided by Pete Acty, with a Northumbrian smallpipes part which I wrote (and was rather pleased with) played by Liz Cooke. If you want a physical copy of that CD, I see there’s one for sale on just now. But you’ll find it cheaper to download from whichever tax-avoiding digital platform you hate the least.

One final note, in the verse that begins “I know the man that shot Bill Brown”, the word “clown” (in the line “I know him well and can tell his clown”) should perhaps be spelled “clowen”. I’ve been reliably informed (by a man who knows the great Graham Metcalfe) that this is a Yorkshire dialect word meaning “clothes”. Knowing this, the rest of the verse makes sense.

Death of Poor Bill Brown

October 17, 2014

Week 165 – Who owns the game?

I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.

This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.

The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.

You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.

Who owns the game?

April 5, 2014

Week 137 – Van Diemen’s Land

Learned from the singing of Walter Pardon, via his debut LP, A Proper Sort. And it’s a particularly fine performance by Walter as well – you can hear the same recording, made in 1974 by Bill Leader and Peter Bellamy, on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land (The Voice of the People Volume 4).

Van Diemen’s Land, in case anyone is unaware, was the former name for Tasmania. I retain Walter Pardon’s pronunciation of “Die-man” rather than the more usual “Dee-man”. There are actually two related, but distinct, songs which share the title Van Diemen’s Land. Roy Palmer believes that this one – Roud 221, originally Young Henry the Poacher – may have been a sequel to the original Van Diemen’s Land,  Roud 519. Writing in the Folk Music Journal in 1976, Roy argued that both songs were prompted by two major trials of poachers in Warwickshire, in 1829. This followed the enactment of  a new law in 1828 which stated that “if three men were found in a wood, and one of them carried a gun or bludgeon, all were liable to be transported for fourteen years” (FMJ Vol 3 No 2, p161). This ballad in particular, Roy says, appears to have been influenced by the events in Warwickshire.

Young Henry the poacher - ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

Young Henry the poacher – ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

I have a very distinct memory of singing this song at “One for Ron”, an event held to celebrate the life of Sussex singer Ron Spicer, a year or so after his death. There was a massive singaround in the afternoon – it must have gone on for around 3 hours, but there were so many singers present that hardly anyone got the chance to sing more than one song. When I got to the chorus of this one, I started to sing it in my normal way

Young men, all now beware
Lest you are drawn into a snare

But I quickly realised that a stronger force was at work in the room. In the far corner sat the mighty Gordon Hall – a big man, with a big voice. Gordon never liked to rush a song, and his way of singing the chorus was more like

Young men, a—-ll now bewa——re [pause]
Lest you are drawn int–o a sna——-re

There was nothing to do but go with the flow, and sing it at Gordon’s pace. Which was, clearly, the right way to sing it!

Van Diemen’s Land

November 20, 2011

Week 13 – Shooting Goschen’s Cocks Up

Now if you’ll listen for a while, a story I will tell you,
And if you don’t attention pay, I’m sure I can’t compel you

Another poaching song from the great George ‘Pop’ Maynard of Copthorne in Sussex. The song was apparently written by his friend Fred Holman, of Tatsfield in Surrey, who would write out the words for the price of a pint. It tells of a true incident which occurred on estates owned by the Goschen family near New Addington in Surrey. In time-honoured fashion, Fred used an older tune for his composition: “The Barking Barber” or “Bow Wow Wow” was popular in the 1780s,  published by Chappell in 1858, and sufficiently well-known to be parodied in Alice in Wonderland (thanks to Musical Traditions and for this information).

Pop Maynard was no stranger to poaching. As an old man he told Ken Stubbs

I should go out again if I had my time over again, before I should let my family go short of anything… I came home and I had my tea… and there was Arthur and Nellie wanted a pair of shoes bad, so I said to my wife, I said, “After I’ve had my tea, Polly, I’ll go out and see if I can catch a few rabbits, to see if I can earn they youngsters a pair of shoes”… So I went across the common into the field aside of the woods, and I pitched up my net twice and I catched six rabbits each time: that makes a dozen; and I took them home and I said, “There you are, Polly, now you can take they rabbits to old (the butcher) in the morning and you can get ten bob for them.” Tenpence each, then, good rabbits. And I said, “With ten shillings you can buy them both a pair of shoes” – so you could at that time.

(Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, December 1963)

I dedicate this one to my great friend Adrian, an incorrigible smoker, who always refers to the song as “Baccy all the while”.

Shooting Goschen’s Cocks Up

October 9, 2011

Week 7 – My Dog and I

Another song from the Willett Family LP The Roving Journeymen. This one was sung by Tom Willett on the album, and given the title ‘While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’, although those words don’t actually appear anywhere in the song. Neither do ‘Hares in the old plantation’, or ‘Dogs and ferrets’, which are other common titles for the song, so I’ve just used the first few words as the title It was only when I came to record this that I realised I’d never really given any thought to what I called the song. I’d guess that quite possibly Tom Willett never did either.

The Roud Index  currently has 53 entries for this song, nearly all from Southern England, and quite a few – like this version – collected from travelling singers.

My Dog and I

September 24, 2011

Week 5 – William Taylor

A poaching song from George ‘Pop’ Maynard of Copthorne in Sussex.

The song was recorded for the BBC by Peter Kennedy in 1956, and made available on the 1976 Topic LP Ye Subjects of England; it’s also on To  Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight (The Voice of the People volume 18).

I first heard it – I think – on Martin Carthy’s LP Crown of Horn; but would have heard Pop himself singing it on Ye Subjects of England not long after. And then I found the words and notation in a slim EFDSS pamplet, The life and songs of George Maynard (actually a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article from the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1963) which I picked up at my first Sidmouth Festival in 1978.

Pop Maynard - from the Musical Traditions website

Pop Maynard – from the Musical Traditions website

Pop Maynard was, as well as being a fine singer with some excellent songs, quite a character. Amongst other occupations, he had been a woodcutter and hop-pole puller – and poacher.  He was also a marbles champion, taking part in the annual Good Friday championships at the Greyhound pub at nearby Tinsley Green (now rather uncomfortably close to both Gatwick Airport and the M25). You can read more about the Marbles Championship at Tinsley Green – and see photos of Pop Maynard playing marbles in the 1950s – at


William Taylor