Posts tagged ‘Shepherds’

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

May 20, 2012

Week 39 – Stroll Away the Morning Dew

It must have been 1976 or 77 when I discovered a remarkable thing: folk dancing can be fun. It happened like this…

Before I was born, my parents used to go out dancing a lot: ballroom, old time, barn dances, square dances. Then in my teens, when I was old enough not to need a babysitter any more, they started dancing again, mainly at dinner dances organised by the school PTA. When my Mum tried  to teach me to waltz, or do the foxtrot, I was completely uninterested. And although a bunch of my schoolfriends went to a PTA barn dance – and had fun, to be fair – I don’t think any of us considered it might be something we’d want to do on a regular basis. Similarly, when I discovered folk music at the end of 1975, I enjoyed the jigs and reels played by bands like Steeleye and the Chieftains, but thought of them only as music to listen to, not as music you might dance to.  But when my Mum and Dad were invited to a barn dance in the village hall at Warehorne, a few miles from where we lived, at the last minute I tagged along. And it was a revelation.

What really made the difference was the band – the Oyster Ceilidh Band, whose music was not only extremely energetic and danceable, but also very listenable. I was hooked, and (along with quite a number of my teenage friends) became a regular at the dances organised by Ron and Jean Saunders at Warehorne. It was a tiny village hall, and the six or seven-piece band would crowd onto a stage created by placing boards on top of the snooker table (some years later I discovered that this had also been the practice in the 1930s, when Charlie Bridger – of whom more another week – used to play for village hops in the same hall).

At my 18th birthday party John Jones, Chris Taylor and Cathy Lesurf from the Oyster Ceilidh Band came along to play and call a few dances. And as a birthday present Cathy gave me a copy of Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring Volume 2. This is a collection of songs collected by Cecil Sharp, and over the years I’ve found it to be a really good source of songs. But I was particularly excited to find that one of the songs had been collected in  Warehorne.

This was a song which, in The Crystal Spring, is given the title of ‘The Baffled Knight’, and which Sharp collected in Warehorne on 23 September 1908 from James Beale. Even at 18 I realised, I think, that ‘The Baffled Knight’ was a ballad scholar’s title, not what a traditional singer would have used (it doesn’t even mention a knight in Mr Beale’s song – it’s a shepherd’s son who is “baffled”). A few years later, when I looked at the copy of Sharp’s manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I found that in fact Mr Beale had also sung “Stroll away the morning dew”, rather than the more usual “Blow away the morning dew”. So that’s what I’ve sung ever since, and that’s how I refer to the song.

James Beale’s last verse was

So if you meet any pretty girl
And your father in the town
O never mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of her gown

But I prefer to stick with the “if you will not when you can / you shall not when you would” verse given by Maud Karpeles.

You can find out more about the ballad and its history at

Stroll Away the Morning Dew

November 28, 2011

Week 14 – The Shepherd’s Song

An inconsequential but charming piece of pastoral romance – in which the shepherd, as usual, gets his girl – from the repertoire of the Copper Family. Surprisingly, the Copper Family seem to be the only source for this song, apart from one other version, collected along the Sussex coast at Arundel in 1911 (from an apparently unnamed singer), by the archaeologist Cecil Curwen.

The Shepherd’ Song

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

September 3, 2011

Week 2 – A Shepherd of the Downs

The largest single source of songs in my repertoire is almost certainly the Copper Family of Rottingdean in Sussex. So this is just the first of many.

Like a lot of the Coppers’ repertoire, this started life in the 18th century as a rather flowery romantic pastoral ballad, ‘The Contented Lovers: or A Courtship, between a SHEPHERD and a NYMPH’ – see the Bodleian Library’s Broadside Ballad collection. The oral tradition has introduced a number of changes – not least the opening line “Shepherd Adonis being weary of his sport” has been changed to something likely to resonate more with a Sussex shepherd. And all mentions of nymphs have disappeared, along with around a dozen verses. The finished article, as the Coppers sing it, is still pastoral and romantic, but it’s no longer twee – it benefits from a fine tune, and the words have a quiet dignity. I find much to admire in the shepherd’s outlook on life:

“No pride nor ambition, he valued no care”

I think that the first time I heard this song was on the LP No Relation by Royston Wood and Heather Wood, and I suspect that I learned the song from Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season some time before I’d actually heard Bob and John sing it on the 4 LP set of the same name. That set was of course on Leader Records so, like the rest of the albums on that label has, for reasons which are well-known (but none the less unfathomable and quite frankly unforgiveable), never been released on CD. You can however hear Bob and Ron sing the song on the excellent Topic CD Come Write Me Down.

You can find the Copper Family words at

A Shepherd of the Downs