I learned it from the Silly Sisters LP, which I must have got not long after it came out. Actually I say I learned it – it’s one of those songs where at any given time in the last 40 years I could probably have sung about 95% of the song, but never properly nailed it until now. And I have to say it was worth making the effort to learn it properly – it’s a really good song.
On this recording, the accompaniment is provided (unwittingly) by Ian Kearey playing an epinette de Vosges with two pencils (HB, as I recall). I sampled this from an old Oyster Band LP, looped it, pitch-shifted it slightly, and played around with it a bit more in Audacity, Nero Wave Editor and Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. And hey presto! here it is.
A telegram received at Folkestone from Cromer leaves little doubt as to the fate of the brig Woodside, of Folkestone, one of her boats having been picked up. The Woodside left Sunderland on Dec. 20, and has not been heard of. She carried a crew of eight, and was bringing home a Dover sailor who had been discharged from Sunderland Hospital after illness.
Dover Express – Friday 18 January 1895
It’s coming up to Christmas, and the blog returns – but not with “a song for the time when the sweet bells chime”, as the piece popular at Yorkshire carolling sessions has it; more a song for the time when the bell shall toll…
Traditional singers, especially gypsies, would often end a song by saying “and that’s a true story”, but this one really is. It tells in five simple verses of the shipwreck of the brig the Woodside, returning home from Sunderland to Folkestone, which, like a number of other ships, foundered in the terrible storm of 22nd December 1894.
Between December 21st and 22nd, 1894, a whole fleet of British and German trawlers and cargoes were lost during the great storm over the North Sea. All were reported as missing and for some of them, floating wreckage was found
Just before Christmas 1894 the whole of the North of England was battered by a very severe gale. Commentators stated that nothing had been seen like it for over 40 years and it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.
It started around midnight on the morning of Saturday 22nd December 1894 and gradually increased in strength. The speed of the winds became so strong that they started to cause structural damage. In Leeds the chimney of Messrs. Richard Bailes & Co, Chemical Works at Woodhouse Carr was blown down onto the adjoining house on Speedwell Street. At the time a mother and her six children occupied the house, one of whom was sadly killed. Reports from Liverpool to Whitby reported similar tragedies with many people crushed or hit by falling buildings.
Two trams were blown clean off the rails in Leeds and many shop windows were blown in. In Pudsey a workman narrowly escaped death when the chimney of the factory he was working in came down. Chaos was caused to communications when, starting at midnight, one by one, the 20 telegraph wires linking Leeds with London started to fail. By 1:30 am they were all gone, there was also no communications between Leeds and Derby, Birmingham, Bristol and whole of the west of England, most other places in the north of England were also affected. The telegraph office issued a notice that all messages would only be taken at the sender’s risk.
Grave fears are entertained at Sunderland for the safety of the vessels – George, of Southampton; Woodside, of Folkestone; and Ketch Elizabeth, of Sunderland, which left the Wear on the 21st of December, and have not since been heard of. The crews number 20. Anxiety is also felt concerning the steamer Prescott, which left the Wear on the 29th ult. For Marseiiles. [and which was indeed lost with all hands]
The Globe, Tuesday 08 January 1895
Details of the Woodside and its crew were related in the Folkestone Express, January 1895:
THE LOSS OF THE WOODSIDE COLLIER.
There is now unhappily no doubt that this vessel foundered in the recent disastrous gale in the North Sea on Saturday, December the 22nd, and that the crew were drowned. No particulars of the disaster will ever be known. Her crew consisted of six men and a boy. Their names were Henry Milton, of Fenchurch street, master, who leaves behind a widow and family, the youngest child being about 12; Jesse Wooderson, mate, widow and three young children; Benjamin Cotterell, ordinary seaman, recently married; John McKay, able seaman, single; William Baker, able seaman, single; and Charles Woollett, boy. There was also on board a man named James Batchelor, supposed to belong to Whitstable, who had broken his leg, and the captain was giving a passage to Folkestone.
The young man, Benjamin Cotterell, was a son of Mr. Cotterell, of the Ham and Beef Warehouse, High Street. He has another son who during the heavy gale was in great peril in another ship, not far away from the spot where the Woodside is supposed to have foundered. Writing on board the schooner Via, from Gateshead-on-Tyne, on Boxing Day, to his father, he says: “We arrived here safely on Monday evening, after having a fearful time of it. We left London on Wednesday, blowing a gale, and got out clear of the river, when the forepeak halyards came down, and we had to put back to Sheerness with the head of the sail split. Left again on Thursday morning, and went into Harwich in the evening. Left Friday morning, and got down off Flamborough Head on Saturday morning at four o’clock, when that terrible gale struck us, It had been blowing a moderate gale all night. We were blown right off the land – blew all our head sails to ribbons and two of the head stays with them. At last we got her hove to, with only a close-reefed mainsail on her, and oil bags over the side. I very nearly lost the run of my mess, owing to the lower topsail. We lay hove to for about 10 hours, seas breaking aboard all the time. I think it was a lot worse than last year. I was over to Sunderland yesterday, and was told the Woodside left on Thursday. I hope she came all right out of it.”
We understand arrangements are being made to raise a fund for the benefit of the widows.
It seems likely that this song was locally composed as part of, or to draw attention to, those fund-raising efforts. It has been collected only once, from the brothers John and Ernest ‘Ted’ Lancefield, of Aldington in Kent. They were employed as gardeners at Goldenhurst, Noel Coward’s country home. Francis Collinson, who noted the song down in June 1942, would have moved in the same circles as Coward – both were involved in musical theatre – so it is no surprise that he should have visited Goldenhurst; he might even have been invited over specifically to meet the musical Lancefield brothers.
In Collinson’s MS the song is headed ‘The Woodside Woodison’. The second word in this title always puzzled me but, looking at the list of victims above, I see that Jesse Wooderson was mate of the Woodside. Aldington is not far from Folkestone where the Woodside was based, so the Lancefields may well have known members of the Wooderson family. I’m not sure how old Ted Lancefield was when he died in 1954, but it’s not inconceivable that he knew Jesse Wooderson himself.
‘The Woodside Woodison’ as collected from John & Ted Lancefield, June 1942. From the Francis Collinson MSS via the Full English.
A saucy song, and no mistake, which I learned from the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for More: Traditional Songs from the Sussex Coast, featuring Mike Yates’ 1976 recordings of the irrepressible Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty. Or, possibly, learned from my friend Adrian Russell, who had learned it from a Johnny Doughty recording.
I listened to Johnny singing this recently, and found that he only had a few verses. I then looked online for fuller versions, and couldn’t really find any. So I have made use of my knowledge of the female anatomy, imperfect though I’m sure this is, to expand the song.
‘They forged the last links with their lives’: Sir John Franklin’s men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Another song introduced to the folk revival by A.L.Lloyd. Lloyd claimed to have learned the song in November 1937 on his famous whaling trip (although, like much else about his early life, the exact circumstances surrounding that trip – such as what his role was on board – seem to be a little vague). Dave Arthur, in his excellent biography, Bert, writes on page 89
Another song he submitted to Sing (August/September 1957) was a version of ‘Lord Franklin’ collected, so he said, from Edward Harper, a whale-factory blacksmith from Port Stanley in the Falklands.
Later, on page 192, he comments on songs such as ‘Lord Franklin’ and ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’, which Lloyd claimed to have collected in 1937, but which he kept to himself until twenty years later. Why, Dave Arthur asks, was there no mention of them in The Singing Englishman (1944) where he specifically says says that the whaling ship workers didn’t have their own repertoire, but sang the same songs as in factories ashore?
If Bert did indeed collect them he was remarkably fortuitous. If not, he was remarkably talented. Either way they are fine songs and deserve their popularity.
Lady Franklin’s lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.
I first heard this song on the Pentangle LP Cruel Sister, where the arrangement featured a rather tasteful electric guitar solo from John Renbourn, and Bert Jansch playing chords on the concertina (was this the only sighting of Jansch playing the instrument, I wonder?). At the time I had never heard of Lord John Franklin or his ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845, but this song captured my imagination, as it has many others’. In the 1980s I read Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, in which they suggest that lead poisoning, from the lead used to seal tinned foods in those days, was a significant contributory factor to the deaths of all of Franklin’s crew members (although, obviously, getting stuck in the ice in the first place was the greatest contributory factor!). That argument is supported by an article in the journal Arctic in 1997, The final days of the Franklin expedition : new skeletal evidence. However I seem to remember that in a question on QI a few years back, about the eccentric behaviour of members of the Franklin expedition in their final days, “lead poisoning” was the wrong answer, and in fact it was an opportunity for panel-members to play their “Nobody Knows” cards. I wasn’t sure if I’d made this up, but this Guardian article from 2014 reports that “New research suggests that ice, not contaminated food, killed Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1845”. I love the fact that “the fate of Franklin and his gallant crew” is still exercising scientists as well as folk singers.
The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. Image copyright University of Alberta.
About four or five years ago I went to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. This was one of the songs they played and, chatting to Martin in the interval, I must have mentioned it for some reason. “You should sing that”, said Martin, “it would suit your voice”. Well, if Martin Carthy MBE recommends that you sing a particular song, it strikes me that the only possible course of action is to follow his advice.
In fact I had known it vaguely, many years ago, as a result of buying a copy of the LP No Relation by Heather Wood and Royston Wood. I’d largely forgotten about it though, so set about learning it anew. I sought it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society No. 11 – completely forgetting that in fact it’s in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
The version in the Penguin Book was taken down by Henry Hammond from Joseph Taunton, at Corscombe in Devon in 1907, and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society the same year. Hammond’s notes say that “Taunton learnt this from a soldier when he was 17 years old” (in the Journal the song’s provenance is given as “Mr. Taunton learnt the song 50 years ago from a man-of-war’s man” i.e. he learned it circa 1857).
The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.
Hammond also noted a version in Dorset, from Marina Russell. The opening line of Mrs.Russell’s version ran “French Admiral he is gone to sea”. Although the collector added that
Mrs Russell said “I don’t know whether ’tis “”Finch” or “French Admiral”
This must have been one of the first Copper Family songs I ever learned – although if my chronology is right, I think by the time I heard A Song for Every Season in the autumn of 1976 I was already familiar with the two-part harmony version on Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1.
Back then, I used to sing it with my friend Mike Eaton (he was Ron to my Bob). I doubt I’ve sung it in public for many years, but it’s one of those songs which frequently gets an outing in the car, or when I’m just singing around the house. It might be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, but it’s a classic – is there anyone on the English folk scene who doesn’t know this song? (apart, it would seem, from the person who chose to sing this at the Bob Copper Centenary event back in January).
I’ve only recently worked out the concertina accompaniment, having borrowed a Bb/F anglo from Rob Fidler, the Fool with Bampton Morris. Previously I could never decide on a suitable key to play it in, but Eb (the People’s Key!) is just right – so many thanks, Rob.
This was number 286 in Professor Child’s list. But it’s not one of the “big ballads”, and the storyline (disappointingly, I’m sure, for ballad aficionados) has no incest, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, prolicide or suicide. Indeed the song is often sung to a fairly jaunty tune, and I must admit that, when planning a setlist, this is usually included in the “jolly songs with chorus” category. Having said that, stop to think about it for a while and you realise that the death toll is actually quite high.
This version comes from the Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty, although I learned it from Everyman’s Book of British Ballads, edited by Roy Palmer. At the time I suspect I’d never heard Johnny Doughty singing, although subsequently I saw him singing a number of times at Sidmouth and the National Folk Music Festival. He was a real entertainer, who relished being the centre of attention. His performances were punctuated by sly winks, and asides to his wife sat in the front row, especially when the topic of “a drop of treacle” arose (as I recall, his favourite tipple was a pint of Guinness).
Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article “Johnny Doughty… an interview with Vic Smith”
A recording of this song made by Mike Yates was included on the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for more, and I think I must have heard that at some point in the early eighties. I never owned a copy, however, until earlier this year when I was sorting through my parents’ record collection and, to my surprise, found a copy of the album snuck in amongst the country dance bands, the Tim Laycock, the Strawhead, the Max Bygraves, and Your One Hundred Best Tunes compilations.
Mike Yates’s notes on Round Rye Bay for more (quoted at mainlynorfolk.info) provide this background on the song’s origins:
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
And it is called the Sweet Trinity,
And was taken by the false gallaly,
Sailing in the Lowlands.
So begins a blackletter broadside [Version A in Child], “shewing how the famous ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally, and how it was again restored by the craft of a little sea-boy, who sunk the Gally,” that was printed during the period 1682-85 by Joshua Conyers, “at the Black-Raven, the 1st shop in Fetter-lane, next Holborn.”
The history books appear to have missed this particular episode in Raleigh’s life—no doubt because it was a flight of Conyers’, or some other unknown printer’s, imagination; a simple attempt to increase sales by the addition of a romantic and well-known name to an otherwise commonplace tale. Whatever the origin, the ballad certainly caught the popular imagination with the result that more than a hundred sets have been collected throughout England, Scotland, America and Australia. Johnny’s final couplet is, to my knowledge, unique to his version.
Johnny Doughty’s unique ending was a half-verse
Was there ever half a tale so sad
As this tale of the sea
Where we sailed by the lowlands low?
If I were learning the song today, I would almost certainly keep that in. But 30-odd years ago for some reason I found it unsatisfactory, so I made up my own, somewhat tongue-in-cheek final verse, in which the young cabin boy wreaks terrible revenge on the perfidious captain and his crew. Which, of course, increases the death toll even more…
The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.
A song of naval derring-do from the Copper Family. My friend Mike and I used to sing this many many years ago. We learned it from the paperback of A Song For Every Season but I think we may also have heard Bob and Ron singing it on Sailormen and Servingmaids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series, The Folk Songs of Britain)
Looking at the various versions of the song in the Full English archive it seems that the gist of the story stays fairly constant, but there’s tremendous variation in the details: the ship may start from Liverpool Straits, Spithead or Plymouth Sound; and while the Coppers have the action set on 8th June, other versions have the date as 4th April, 15th September, 4th November, 18th November etc. etc.
A.L. Lloyd provides this background on the song:
The song began its life in the seventeenth century and concerned the little merchant ship Marigold, 70 tons, owned by a Mr Ellis of Bristol, which fought a brisk and successful skirmish with “Turkish” pirates off the coast of Algiers. At the end of the eighteenth century the song was re-jigged to suit the times, and now it dealt with an encounter with the French, fought by a ship variously called the Nottingham and the London (the London was one of the ships involved in the Spithead mutiny, and it poked its bowsprit into several songs of the time, through being in the news). For some reason the ballad has been particularly well liked in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a version called Liverpool Play; Sam Larner called his set The Dolphin).
‘The Irish Captain’ as notated by Francis Collinson.
If you look at the Full English archive you’ll also find a couple of versions of a related song called ‘Lord Exmouth’ (including one, tune only, collected at Wittersham in Kent). The Lord Exmouth in question is this chap who led an Anglo-Dutch fleet against the Barbary states in 1816, and whose successful bombardment of Algiers secured the release of 1200 Christian slaves. There’s an article by Roly Brown on that battle, and the resulting ballad, on the Musical Traditions site.
It would seem that ‘Lord Exmouth’ was not taken up – or at least not preserved – in the oral tradition to the same extent as the more generic tale of a naval skirmish. The only collected set of words starts off with the first verse and chorus of the ‘Lord Exmouth’ broadside shown below, but subsequent verses are very much in the ‘Warlike Seamen’ mould.
The battle of Algiers – ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online.
One of the great English songs, learned from Pop Maynard, a singer whose repertoire contained quite a number of great songs. I first heard the song in the late seventies or early eighties on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England and learned it from there, with assistance from a slim EFDSS pamphlet, The Life and Songs of George Maynard (a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article in the 1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society). It must have been around the same time that I heard what I still regard as the folk revival’s finest take on the song, that by Martin Carthy on Prince Heathen.
Under the title of ‘The Valiant Sailor’, this first appeared in 1744 as one of ‘three excellent New Songs’ in ‘The Irish Boy’s GARLAND (EDINBURGH, Printed and Sold in Swan Close, a little below the Cross-Well, North-side of the Street’). Through the long period of oral transmission since then the song has kept remarkably close to the same powerful text, and has usually been found with fine, soaring tunes.
George ‘Pop’ Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936. Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.
I’m a fool. Having recorded a song which begins “On the fourteenth of February” I then completely forgot to post it on 14th February. So, one month late, here it is.
My tune comes from the Butterworth MSS, but was actually collected in September 1910 – at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent – by his friend and associate Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll (the family surname, I believe, rhymes with “treacle” rather than “heckle”).
As was common practice at the time, Jekyll appears to have noted the tune but not the words. And, as always in these circumstances, my first port of call for a singable set of words was the Copper Family songbook. In truth, words for this song don’t vary that much from singer to singer; although in retrospect I do wish I’d shopped around a bit, and managed to provide the pirate with a loud-speaking trumpet (as in Sam Larner’s version and the printed ballad sheet shown below).
I can forgive the collector for not writing down the words of the song. But rather less forgivable is the fact that he failed to record the singer’s name. That’s pretty poor in any circumstances, but somehow it seems worse given that the singer was an inhabitant of the Minster Union (Workhouse). Almost certainly going into the workhouse was a source of shame and indignity for the singer. And, because an Eton-educated folk song collector couldn’t be bothered to find out his name, he (I assume it was a him, ‘Bold Princess Royal’ seems like the sort of song which would have been sung mainly by men) is robbed even of claiming a place as a minor footnote in history. It’s really not good enough.
I must thank George Frampton for originally drawing this song to my attention – and the others which Jekyll collected on Sheppey – some years before they became more readily available via the Take Six, and now the Full English archive.
The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.