unsung histories

everyman and everywoman

Welcome to Unsung Histories

Welcome to this series of true stories never told before  – about people you may never even have heard of – but whose life stories reverberate across the decades and centuries.

Many of these stories start with the life of someone who played a musical instrument or sang an old folk song, and many of them lived in my home area of East Anglia, but there are other stories here as well, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

There’s already plenty to read here, but do come back soon to read about singing marshmen and photographers on the Norfolk Broads, a 19th century dance band in Suffolk, Italian street musicians in Norwich, a dulcimer in a travelling circus and much more. I am also a working musician myself, and some of my other musical researches are published on my other website: katiehowson.co.uk

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.


Thirsty Work Part 1: traditional singing on the radio 1940-41

A chance finding in the BBC Radio Times Archive led to this investigation into a series of seven programmes featuring traditional singing from across England, called Thirsty Work, broadcast between April 1940 and March 1941.

Illustration from the Radio Times, 4th May 1940: Redmire (see part 2 for details)

The Radio Times descriptions didn’t actually mention the words “folksong” or “traditional singers”, so in the early days, I wasn’t even sure if that was the kind of song which was featured in the series (it was!).

Most people in Britain will be aware of the Radio Times, a weekly publication which gives the schedule for all the BBC broadcasts for the week ahead, together with a few articles on some of the programmes. Starting with radio only in 1923, it expanded to cover television, and over the years, has been an extremely popular magazine with a huge circulation.

All the old issues of this magazine are now online in the BBC Radio Times Genome Archive.

Investigating the Thirsty Work programmes in detail has unearthed a lot of fascinating material and so I have divided it into four articles here.

This first one provides an introduction and background to the series, followed by:

Thirsty Work part 2: the North -singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

Thirsty Work part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northants

Thirsty Work part 4: the Cotswolds – two programmes with an unexpected link with “The Archers”: singing from North Littleton and Ebrington.

So, first of all, a little bit of background to these programmes broadcast between 9th April 1940 and 7th March 1941 – a time when much of the world was involved in the horrendous world-wide conflict of World War Two, and Britain was experiencing an intense period of bombing – with the London, Coventry and Swansea blitzes all happening in this period, plus many troops deployed in northern France and increasingly across Europe and northern Africa.

Radio broadcasting in wartime

The Thirsty Work series was broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme – a channel specifically designed for those British Armed Forces in France – which started transmissions on 18th Feb 1940. The Forces Programme was meant as an alternative to the Home Service, the only British broadcasting channel that existed at the time. (The Home Service had previously been the National Programme, which had been complemented by a Regional Programme, but that was closed down at the start of the War, as was the nascent television service.)

In fact, there were more troops stationed in training camps in Britain than there were in France at this point. Forces Radio became very popular with civilians, with its lightweight content, aiming to boost morale with music and entertainment rather than to provide factual news content.

Radio Times 9th April 1940

This page from the Radio Times, showing the first in the Thirsty Work series, gives an idea of the type of scheduling typical of the Forces Programme in this period. Most programmes lasted about 30 minutes and the majority consisted of light music, including dance music, jazz and popular songs. There were also variety programmes and musical plays recorded in London theatres and a twenty-minute programme aimed at the British troops stationed in northern France: Parlez-vous Francais?

These programmes were recorded in a “BBC Mobile Recording Unit” – this consisted of one or two engineers working in the back of a converted laundry or furniture van, using direct disc-cutting machines. Each double-sided disc had just 4-5 minutes recording time per side, requiring careful management of the proceedings.

I have now found that there are BBC acetate discs of songs from the first two programmes in the British Library Sound Archive – although they are not identified in the catalogue as being part of these radio programmes, they most definitely are! Programmes 5 and 6 were repeated, so they must have been recorded, but as yet there is no trace of any discs. For programmes 1 and 2, the song content totalled about 15 minutes, and each programme had a 25 minute slot. The extra airtime would probably have been filled with introductions and background by a commentator in the studio, live at the time of broadcast. I think it is safe to assume that all the programmes were produced in this way, and I look forward to visiting the BBC Written Archives Centre to find out more.

In wartime, as may well be imagined, there was a shortage of both recording equipment and materials, as well as experienced engineers. When you also factor in petrol rationing, it’s amazing that these sorts of programmes got made at all.

Part 2 and Part 3 both refer in more detail to the recordings made for these programmes.

How this series came to be made: the producer, Maurice Brown

The producer of this series, Maurice Brown, was evidently key to the series.

Maurice Penton Brown (1909-1981) came from London, his father was a bank manager. He was educated at Stowe and Oxford, before starting at the BBC in the then new gramophone department, whilst in his early twenties. The first mentions of him in the media show him working on the musical side, in what we would now call documentaries, but were then usually referred to as “features”, for example, as reported in the Nottingham Journal, 4th August 1934: “Historic Occasions 1: Twenty Years Ago, a radio report of events preceding the outbreak of World War, 4th August, 1914 compiled from the original documents, by Harold Temperley; music arranged by Maurice Brown; produced by Lawrence Gilliam.”

He married Dorothea (known as Thea) Vigne in 1934 and they had one daughter, Caroline in 1936. It is thanks to Caroline’s page on the genealogy website Ancestry that I was able to find the photo of her father. I have tried to contact her, but to no avail, so I hope if she or any other family members come across this article, they will be pleased to see it, and perhaps contact me via this site.

Brown’s other work included many Children’s Hour stories and a whole raft of programmes involving sailing craft of various kinds. By 1940 he was reported as holding the post of Music Director in the Theatre and Drama Department.  In 1943 he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and recorded features whilst on board various Naval vessels. In 1949, in an echo of the 1934 programme, he produced Five Years After, first broadcast on Sunday 5th Jun 1949: “The memories and reflections of seven men – Richard Dimbleby, Chester Wilmot, Maurice Brown, Robert Dunnett, Colin Wills, Joel O’Brien, and Stanley Maxted – who were present at the invasion of France on June 6, 1944, and who have since revisited the beaches and battlefields of Normandy. Programme edited and produced by Maurice Brown.”

I believe that Saturday Night at the Eel’s Foot – recorded and broadcast in 1939 – was his first foray into broadcasting traditional singing in its natural habitat, shortly followed by the Thirsty Work series.

A letter to The Listener, published on 14th August 1941, shows him to be well informed about the folksong genre, and also demonstrates how much of a pioneer he was in broadcasting traditional singing. The letter is in response to a feature about Cecil Sharp in a programmed entitled Everybody’s Scrapbook – whilst acknowledging Sharp’s “magnificent work” he argues against Sharp’s daughter, who, in the programme, had talked about folk-song singing as something that was dead and gone and clamed “If my father had started any later, there would have been little to collect.” Brown refers to the Thirsty Work series and says, “The singing itself is very varied, but there are still singers of great style, with all the swagger, decoration and rhythmic changed of real folk song delivery.”

In October 1947, he collaborated with E.J. Moeran to produce East Anglia Sings with recordings made again in the Eel’s Foot and also in the Windmill Inn in Sutton, Norfolk. In his later work, he continued to work with singers such as Bob Roberts, and recorded more unusual items such as A Serbian Christmas – “A sound picture of traditional celebrations, both religious and secular, recorded at the Yugoslav Volunteer Workers Hostel at Debach, Suffolk, in January 1950” in collaboration with writer, broadcaster and singer John Seymour.

He retired to Suffolk where he died, in Long Melford, in 1981.

How this series came to be made: contacts around the country

Brown evidently used his contacts around the country, which are likely to have included dialect societies, folksong collectors such as Francis Collinson, (who also worked for the BBC, producing the well-known Country Magazine programme which often included folksongs) and also, as evidenced in Programmes 5 and 6 from the series – writers with experience of writing regional features and dramas.

Brown worked within the BBC Radio Features and Drama department, which was relocated to Wood Norton Hall in Evesham at the outbreak of War in August 1939. On the 1939 Register taken a few weeks later we find Maurice and Dorothea Brown living in the Market Place, with his occupation given as BBC official. The department moved on to Manchester in November, but Wood Norton Hall continued to be used by the BBC for the duration of the war. So Brown probably wasn’t in the town for more than a few months, but evidently long enough to have come into contact with Charles Gardiner, who was an amateur writer of “sketches” for the BBC Regional Programme. I was alerted to the significant role Gardiner played in this series by the fact that he appeared on the listing for two of the programmes. This immediately suggested that he was not “just” one of the local singers – see Part 4: The Cotswolds for more details.

A decade after these programmes were made, the BBC actually employed people as folk song collectors and recordists, including Peter Kennedy, who when he started out in 1952, was given regional contacts by the BBC’s Dialect Advisor – one of those contacts was Charles Gardiner, although Kennedy reported that they were unable to actually meet, as Gardiner was busy at work whenever he called. This shows the connections being made between dialect and folk song, and in Redmire (and possibly Ambleside) there are certainly indications of this sort of networking with dialect enthusiasts.

There are also indications from Redmire – where the BBC’s visit was particularly well documented in the local newspapers – of the wider singing repertoires of the people featured in these programmes, and a glimpse of the editorial policies which resulted in singers and songs thought to be typical of their regions being chosen. For example, in programme 6, some of the participants in the Ebrington session had been brought in from nearby Chipping Campden, but not the most well-known community singer there, Tom Hooke, who was born in London and who had worked professionally on the music halls. The music hall song (What are You Going to do About) Selina which was clearly one of Kit Jones’ favourites in Redmire, was likewise excluded, although known to have been sung on the night of the recordings.

Little more is known about the making of this series, but I do now know that there is some documentation in the BBC Written Archives Centre, but as with so many things in 2021, there is a delay in gaining access: any additional information will be posted here in due course.

Thirsty Work: pub locations and broadcast dates

  1. 9 April 1940 from the Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland
  2. 4th May 1940 from King’s Arms, Redmire, Wensleydale, Yorkshire
  3. 13th May 1940 from Eel’s Foot Inn, Eastbridge, Suffolk
  4. 14th June 1940 from The Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire
  5. 22nd July 1940 (repeated 17th Sept 1940) from The Ivy, North Littleton, Worcestershire
  6. 28th Nov 1940 (repeated 3rd January 1941) from the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Gloucestershire
  7. 7th March 1941 from the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire.

For these web articles I have grouped the programmes geographically:

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 2: the North -singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northamptonshire

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 4: the Cotswolds – two programmes with an unexpected link with “The Archers”: singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

References and links

My researches started in the time-honoured way, building biographical sketches of the singers through the usual genealogical sources. As more information was revealed, I was able to consult the more usual folk song resources such as the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, British Library Sound Archive etc and there are links to some sound recordings within the following articles. I’m indebted to John Baxter for alerting me to Maurice Brown’s letter in The Listener.

Radio Times Genome Archive – this has a good search facility, or you can browse by year.

The BBC website has several good articles on its radio history

Asa Briggs’ five part history of the BBC is extremely comprehensive; the first three volumes are the most relevant:  The Birth of Broadcasting: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol. 1, Asa Briggs (1961); The Golden Age of Wireless: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol 2, Asa Briggs (1965) and The War of Words: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol 3, Asa Briggs (1970). Or for a potted version, see: The Origins of BBC Policy, Paddy Scannell, in The Regions, the Nations and the BBC, ed. Harvey & Robins, BFI (1993).

Also relevant to this article were: A Formative Force: the BBC’s role in the development of music and its audiences in Northern Ireland 1924-1939, Ruth Stanley; and Tom Western’s knowledgeable and perspicacious writings on radio and ethnomusicology (all available on Academia.edu).

Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.


Thirsty Work: part 2: the North – singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

This article covers programmes 1, 2 and 7 in the Thirsty Work series broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme between 9th April 1940 and 7th March 1941.

It makes most sense if you read the introduction to the series (‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1) before this one.

  • Programme 1 was broadcast on 9th April 1940 from recordings made at the Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland
  • Programme 2 was broadcast on 4th May 1940 from recordings made at King’s Arms, Redmire, Wensleydale, Yorkshire
  • Programme 7 was broadcast on 7th March 1941 from recordings made at the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire

Programme 1: The Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland, broadcast 9th April 1940


“Maurice Brown has made a great study of the songs they sing in the village inn, many will remember his rousing programme ‘ At the Eel’s Foot’. He has set out in this new series to reproduce the voice of the tap-room in song, and he is making a start with northern England. Typical songs of the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales will be heard in this opening programme.”

In fact all these singers were from Ambleside, and the Yorkshire singers were featured in the second programme, a month later. Presumably plans changed sometime in the early Spring – after the copydate for this issue of the Radio Times – and the recordings were made into two separate programmes.

From this programme, four songs and some speech are preserved in the British Library Sound Archive on BBC acetate discs. They are not identified as being from this programme, but they were recorded on 28th March 1940 and Brait (wrongly called Bert) Black is named, whilst audience members can be heard exclaiming “Well done, Alf” – Alfred Creighton. The fact that the records contained so much actuality – introductions, audience chatter and applause – is again an indicator that these were made for a radio programme.

Singers and songs

From the BLSA catalogue we know that the songs sung on this occasion were:

John Peel (unidentified singer)

All Jolly Fellows (unidentified singer)

Sally Gray (unidentified singer – but it is definitely Alfred Creighton)

Joe Bowman (unidentified singer – likely to be Brait Black)

Brait Black – full name Braithwaite Black – would appear to have been at the centre of this occasion, as he was also recorded talking about legendary Lakeland hunter Joe Bowman, and he was clearly a larger-than-life character himself.

Black (1883-1944) was the oldest of the singers, in his mid-fifties, and was a quarry worker living with his brother on the northern outskirts of the town. On his death, the Westmorland Gazette published a long obituary (22nd July 1944), describing him as a respected mountain guide, terrier-breeder, hound trailer, athlete and rugby player and member of a male voice choir. I’ve also unearthed a story about him being involved in a mountain rescue in 1934, and a poem – The Ballad of Braithwaite Black – written about that event.

Poignantly, the real Joe Bowman, huntsman with the Ullswater Hunt for over 40 years and the man credited with breeding the Patterdale Terrier, had died only three weeks before this recording was made, just fifteen miles north of Ambleside.

Alfred Creighton is the other singer who can be identified from the recordings, as the audience can be heard congratulating him by name (“Alf”). Although described as a shepherd in the Radio Times listing, Creighton (1900-1989) always appears in official documents as a gardener, which had been a family trade for decades. He was brought up at Sunnyside Cottages, Ambleside, in an extended family setting which included his uncle William. In 1939 Alf and his wife Florence were living in the centre of Ambleside on Compston Road where Florence was running a boarding house.

It was Alf Creighton who sang Sally Gray, written by “The Cumberland Bard” Robert Anderson in 1802. The image above is taken from John Graham’s 1910 book Dialect Songs of the North.

Both these songs, and John Peel are songs clearly identified with this particular region, whilst the fourth, All Jolly Fellows, was a song with widespread appeal, conjuring up a bucolic agricultural vignette which could be from any part of rural England. An unidentified man introduces this song by saying: “There’s been ploughing today, let’s have a ploughing song …” so my guess would be that one of the farmers in the company, Johnny Bell or John Kirby, may have sung that one. In the following programme, it is the landlord who acts as “chairman” or MC, but in the Royal Oak, the licensee was Mrs Nora Abbott, a widow, who would not have taken this role at that period. Readers will note the complete lack of women in all these listings of performers. Yes, these recordings all took place in the taprooms of pubs, which were largely the dominion of men at the time, but this is not a completely accurate reflection – see Part 3: East Anglia for more comments on this.

Programme 2: The King’s Arms, Redmire, Yorkshire, broadcast 4th May 1940


“Here are farmers, farm labourers, shepherds, the village blacksmith, and the one-armed keeper from Bolton Castle, which stands on the hillside above the pub. Under the vigorous conductorship of Joe Alderson, the landlord, this congenial company loves to spend an evening in uproarious song. Few of them have ever been trained in singing, but you will probably all agree that their rendering of typical North Country songs rivals any professional choir in enthusiasm.”

A couple of articles in The Yorkshire Post have provided much useful information about the songs, and in this case, once again, the BBC acetates are in the British Library Sound Archive.

“A REDMIRE BROADCAST – Dialect songs from the bar the Kings Arms Inn, Redmire, will be broadcast on the Forces programme on May 4. About 14 Dalesmen will sing old-time songs, unaccompanied. The songs will probably include “Wensleydale” and “White Cockade.” Mr. Kit Jones, aged 77, will sing “The Old Cock crows” and “Selena” with his own concertina accompaniment.” 

The mention of “dialect” songs here is interesting, and may provide a clue as to how BBC producer Maurice Brown and his team located suitable locations for the programme. In 1938 and 1939, Redmire had hosted a Dialect Drama festival which was deemed successful and they looked forward to greater events in the future. The Yorkshire Post (15.4.1940) claimed that “The fame of these Wensleydale Saturday nights reached the B.B.C. after one of their officials had found a pile of hymns one day on top of a pub piano.” Perhaps that “official” had just come out of one of the Festival events held in the Town Hall, which adjoins the King’s Arms.

Redmire stands in the shadow of Bolton Castle and many in the village used to be employed on the estate. The pub was one of two (possibly three) in the small village, and was well-known to leisure fishermen, who could buy their licences to fish on the River Ure on the Bolton Castle estate from the pub’s landlord. The other pub in the village – the Bolton Arms – was later used as a filming location for All Things Great and Small about a Yorkshire vet.

A few months before this broadcast, when the 1939 Register was taken in September that year, the only occupants listed at Bolton Castle were artists Fred and Muriel Lawson. They actually lived in a tiny cottage a few yards from the castle entrance and Lawson painted many local scenes and wrote in The Dalesman about local events, including traditional events such as Redmire Feast with its “Cheesecake Gatherers”. A short article about this is planned as an adjunct to this one in the near future.

Songs and singers

Two BBC acetate recordings are held in the BLSA, and again there are four songs, and this time, two of the performers listed in the Radio Times are identified: Kit Jones and Jim Lambert.

I Like to Hear the Old Cock Crow (Kit Jones)

Our Old Nan’s a Mazer (Jim Lambert)

The White Cockade (possibly Joe Alderson)

On Ilkley Moor Baht’at (unidentified singer, but largely choral singing)

There is no evidence of the other songs mentioned in the newspaper reports – Wensleydale and Selena – actually being broadcast. The latter song turns out to be What are You Going to do About Selina, a song made famous in the 1920s and 30s by Music Hall star Lily Morris. The Yorkshire Post report also mentions that Ernest (Heseltine) sang Rocking the Baby to Sleep – another song that didn’t make the final selection – and that the men carried on singing after the BBC had finished recording for the night. See References & Links below for the full text of the article.

Amazingly, a photograph has recently come to light of the actual radio recording taking place, courtesy of Dales historians Bob Ellis and Ian Spensley. The central figure with the concertina is Kit Jones, and I believe that the man whose face shows just above the concertina is landlord Joe Alderson.


Kit (Christopher) Jones (1869-1957) was described in the Radio Times as a “bookmaker” – this was most probably a sideline (and an illegal one at that) as his main occupation had been as a licensee and hotel proprietor. His wife Ann had been brought up in the pub trade and together they took on the Crown Hotel in the centre of Hawes (they were there at least 1911-1917) and may also have kept the Wensleydale Heifer Inn in another local village, West Witton at some point. By 1939 Kit had retired from the pub trade (although his daughter Mabel continued as landlady of the Bolton Arms in nearby Leyburn) and was living at “The Bungalow” in nearby Preston-under-Scar. Albert Calvert recalls this as a one-roomed cabin with no facilities and Kit had to use the earth closet in his sister’s garden next door – so not a comfortable retirement! Albert also recalled him playing the concertina out on the hills and entertaining the children with a ventriloquism act. Kit Jones was easily the oldest participant in this Thirsty Work programme, aged 71 at the time.

Jones also had some knowledge of a mumming play and wrote a song called This is the Christmas Time which folksong collector Peter Kennedy recorded from Tom Horner in nearby Swithinwaite in 1959. Kennedy had visited Jones in 1954 (by which time he had moved to Darlington) but found him “not suitable” to record.

Jim Lambert (1890-1971) who sang Our Old Nan’s a Mazer, worked in Redmire Quarry and lived with his wife and family near the Post Office in the centre of the village. The song is a dialect piece, associated with North East Yorkshire and Tyneside.

Joe Alderson (1889-1961) had been licensee of the King’s Arms since around 1930 and remained there for the rest of his life. The pub then changed hands and eventually closed in 2004. In 1960, folksong collectors Nigel and Mary Hudleston recorded Alderson singing The Summer’s Morning, which is a local name for The White Cockade. They noted that it was sung as part of a custom known as the Burning of the Bartle, held every August in nearby West Witton. So it was quite possibly Alderson who sang it for the radio recording in 1940 too.

Bill (1910-1995) and Dick Balderston (1912-1989) were brothers, the youngest men in the gathering, both single men in their twenties, living with their mother on a farm in nearby Aysgarth. Also from Aysgarth was Bob Bushby (1892-1969), a roadman. These three men were known to sing together regularly.

The other farmer amongst the singers, Ernest Heseltine (1896-1982) kept a dairy herd at Hogwra Farm, Redmire, where he lived with his wife and family. Ernest is remembered as a regular in the King’s Arms in the 1970s when Ian Spensley’s family kept the pub.

The Radio Times also mentions “the one-armed keeper of Bolton Castle”. This would be John Batty (1886-1960) who is listed in 1939 as the caretaker there – a single man in his early fifties, living with his two unmarried sisters, whose father and brothers also worked on the same estate. The Yorkshire Post article mentions a couple of other people who took part in the chorus singing: “the cobbler” – this would be Tom Hunter, listed in 1939 as bootmaker and auxiliary postman; and “the blacksmith” – two were listed in 1939, clearly related but as the older one was single, they were not necessarily father and son: James Robinson, aged 58 and Edward William Robinson (aka William Edwin Robinson), aged 25. Local opinion is that it is possibly James (“Tag”) Robinson on the left behind the presenter in the photograph of the BBC recording.

Several references have indicated that the participants here sang as a group, and the same newspaper article clarifies that they were arranged into tenors and basses. The radio producer Maurice Brown commented; “I think it is the best natural singing I have ever heard, except the Welsh. It is in no way typical pub singing. They take great trouble with what they call blending.”

One of the singers, a farmer said: “Jazz is no ewse tiv us [ …] we’re partial tiv a bit o’Sankey” – referring to hymns popularised by American evangelist singer Ira Sankey, known as “The Sweet Singer of Methodism”. They were popular with a number of “traditional” singers including Norfolk’s Sam Larner and Harry Cox.

The area was also known to American collector J. M. Carpenter who collected a pace-egging (“Pay Segging” on the manuscript) song from Jane Elizabeth Ryder and descriptions of other calendar customs from a Mrs George Robinson in nearby Preston-under-Scar, about a decade earlier. See References & Links section for further details.

Programme 7: The Star Inn, Harome, Yorkshire, broadcast 7th March 1941

“An evening of popular and country singing, recorded by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit in a North Riding inn. Master of ceremonies, Tom Oldfield; Melodeon, Robert Ford; Singers: John Flintoft, John Collinson, Jack Cobley, George Dodds, Charles Young, and other regulars of the Star Inn, Harome. Produced by Maurice Brown.”

Unfortunately Programmes 1 and 2 are the only ones for which we can be certain of the songs recorded – we have no such information for the other programmes, and in the case of this location, even the singers are difficult to identify!

The pub is an attractive medieval thatched building, and was run by the Bradley family from 1800 to 1946. The landlord mentioned here, Tom Oldfield (1884-1975) had married Jane Bradley; they bought the pub in 1933 and were the last members of the family to keep it. It is now a famous “gastropub”!

Unlike the first two programmes, no occupations were given in the Radio Times listing, making life even more difficult. There were two Robert Fords – one a farmworker (1866-1965) the other a woodsman (1864-1951) – and two John Flintofts, both farmers, father (1875-1950) and son, John Bentley Flintoft (1915-1998) – living in Harome at the time, and despite contacting relatives, I have not been able to establish which were the ones featured in the radio programme.

Working from the 1939 Register, none of the other men were living in Harome itself, or even nearby. This leads me to think that they may have been “shipped in” from elsewhere or possibly in the forces, stationed nearby.

None of these names has yet turned up in any search of folksong archives either … yet!

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1: traditional singing on the radio 1940-41

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northamptonshire

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 4: Cotswolds – two programmes with an unexpected link with “The Archers”: singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

Look out for a forthcoming article on this site about Redmire’s traditional cultural life, focussed on Fred Lawson’s paintings and writings, including accounts and photographs of the Clockdresser’s Procession, the Cheesecake Harvesters and Pace-Egging.

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Genome Archive which is very easy to browse and search.

Thanks to Sue Allan (Ambleside), Bob Ellis (Redmire) and Steve Gardham (Redmire) for their generous help and interest. 

For Ambleside see also:

The website Minor Victorian Writers contains an image of the song Sally Gray as published in Johns Graham’s 1910 book Dialect Songs of the North.

Lakeland Hunting Memories has a lot on Braithwaite Black and a big section on songs.

For Redmire:

The Yorkshire Dales is well supplied by interesting websites including Yorkshire Dales History which has more about Redmire Quarry and Fred Lawson’s painting. For more about Fred Lawson see the Yorkshire Dales website. 

The photo of the Redmire recording session was first seen in Bob Ellis’ tremendous book about the instrumental music of the Dales: There was None of this Lazy Dancing! (2020) and comes from the Dales Countryside Museum collection. You can buy his book from the website too.

Also relevant are Dales Genealogy and the Redmire village website.

For references to the audio recordings, see: British Library Sound & Moving Image catalogue

For Peter Kennedy’s recordings in the Redmire area in the 1950s, see the archived website for his recording label, Folktrax. Although the recordings are not currently available, the documentation is still accessible, if sometimes difficult to locate – here’s a direct link to: The Lass of Richmond Hill: Songs and Customs of the Yorkshire Dales

Joe Alderson’s version of The Summer’s Morning has been published in two books: Songs of the Ridings by Nigel Hudleston (1970), and The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs by Steve Roud & Julia Bishop (2012).

For Yorkshire songs in general, see The Yorkshire Garland website.

If you’d like to read the full report of the recording session, here it is: Yorkshire Post 15 April 1940

Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have far more biographical and anecdotal evidence about the singers than can be published here – if you are a relative or a researcher, please do get in touch, I would be very happy to share the information I have.

Thirsty Work Part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northants

This article covers Programmes 3 and 4 in the Thirsty Work series broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme between 9th April 1940 and 7th March 1941.

It makes most sense if you read the introduction to the series (‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1) before this one.

  • Programme 3 was broadcast on 13th May 1940 from recordings made at the Eel’s Foot Inn, Eastbridge, near Leiston in Suffolk
  • Programme 4 was broadcast on 14th June 1940 from recordings made at the Exeter (or Exeter’s) Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire.

Unfortunately Programmes 1 and 2 are the only ones for which we can be certain of the songs recorded – we have no such information for these other programmes.

Programme 3: The Eel’s Foot, Suffolk, 13th May 1940


“An evening of local and popular songs recorded in a Suffolk inn by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit
Those taking part are Philip Lumkin, chairman; Walter Button, concertina; ‘Velvet’ Bright-well, singer; Douglas Morling, singer; Tom Goddard, singer; Fred Ginger, singer; Harry Cook, singer; and other regulars of the Eel’s Foot, Eastbridge.”

The singing nights at the Eel’s Foot Inn had already been the subject of a stand-alone programme broadcast on 29th July 1939 – Saturday Night at the Eel’s Foot, produced by Maurice Brown, as indicated in the Radio Times “blurb” for the first Thirsty Work programme. This had come about as a result of A.L. Lloyd paying a visit to his friend Leslie Morton, the Marxist historian who, in the early 1930s, had settled a couple of miles away, teaching at the progressive Summerhill School and founding the Leiston Communist Party. Morton also had an interest in “the people’s” songs and had become an accepted part of the company of singers in the Eel’s Foot on a Saturday night.

The 1939 programme  (illustrated, left) – and a later one, East Anglia Sings, broadcast in November 1947 – are well known, and the original recordings can be heard on a CD called Good Order, on the Veteran label (see Links section). It seems possible that this 1940 programme used the same material which had been recorded on 13th May 1939 – and broadcast it again exactly one year later, to the day. The Thirsty Work programmes were broadcast one per month, apart from in May 1940, when Programme 2 was broadcast on 4th May, with this one following just 9 days later.

In lieu of any other information about the content of the 1940 programme, these are the songs recorded from the relevant singers from 1939.

  • Poor Man’s Heaven (Tom Goddard)
  • The Foggy Dew (Douglas Morling)
  • The Indian Lass (Velvet Brightwell)
  • Pleasant and Delightful (Velvet Brightwell)
  • Duck Foot Sue (Harry ‘Crutter’ Cook)
  • The Old Sow (Fred Ginger)

The songs were mostly traditional songs – apart from Poor Man’s Heaven sung by Tom Goddard, which was written in New York in 1930 – the disc on the right below is by Carson Robison. The Old Sow – sung in the Eel’s Foot by Fred Ginger – is often thought of as a 20th century song, as it became well known from commercial recordings by Albert Richardson (1928) and Leslie Sarony (1934), but it was actually composed over a hundred years earlier.


In addition, there were other songs recorded in 1939 by people who do not appear on the Thirsty Work list, possibly because this was a shorter programme. The first two programmes in this series seemed to feature just four songs each, but we don’t know the details for Programme 3.

The singers were all very local, and were regulars in the pub, which held frequent sing-songs, often after a darts or quoits match. They all lived in easy walking or cycling distance, and worked in a variety of occupations including the railway, gas works and the engineering firm of Garrards in the nearby town of Leiston, an unexpectedly industrial little town in this coastal area of marshes and heaths.

Here again there was a chairman, on this occasion Philip Lumpkin, who famously used a cribbage board to bang on the table and keep order when things got a bit rowdy, which they apparently did on these recordings, as the BBC was footing the drinks bill! Lumpkin was not the first to take the role of Chairman at the Eel’s Foot – although the names seem a little muddled in the various reports, it seems that an older man, possibly Jack Button or a relative in his eighties, had previously acted as chairman.

We have evidence from both the 1939 and 1947 broadcasts from the Eel’s Foot of fees paid by the BBC to performers. A newspaper report from 1939 states the fee to be one guinea, and letters from the BBC Talks Booking Manager to Douglas Morling and Fred Ginger in 1947 offer them each a fee of two guineas, with the letters all being sent care of the Eel’s Foot pub.

The ongoing relationship between the Eel’s Foot and the left-wing intelligentsia continued through 1940, with a double-page spread of atmospheric images appearing in the photo-journal Picture Post on 14th December.

The caption to the large photograph reads: “Folk singing as our forefathers knew it. Every singer in the room has had a turn. Now it’s “Time, please!” Round the table hands are joined. “Auld Lang Syne” ends the evening.”

It is interesting to note there are nearly as many women as men, and that a young woman, Ethel Morling is pictured singing. Ethel was married to Douglas Morling – son of the landlady, Lily Morling, who was married to Philip Lumpkin, the chairman. So this is really an extended family group with a few friends and neighbours including Velvet Brightwell, Percy Denny, Syd Cook and Albert “Diddy” Cook amongst those identified.

Listeners to the Thirsty Work series might have thought women took no part at all in this pub-based singing and music-making, and of course, the tap-rooms of rural pubs were mainly the dominion of men, but apart from Ethel Morling pictured here, The Royal Oak in Ambleside (programme 1) was run by a woman, as was the “other” pub in North Littleton (programme 5), where the landlady was herself a singer. Other pubs were often run by women, even when it was the husband’s name on the licence and there is growing evidence that women – particularly those involved in the pub-keeping trade – were accepted as singers and musicians.

Singers, songs and participants

Tom Goddard (1903-1977) was a farm worker and warrener. At the time of this programme he was living on the Common, next door to the retired Eel’s Foot landlord, Fred Rouse. Apart from Poor Man’s Heaven, he was also known to sing the classic folk song Australia and light-hearted songs such as Buttercup Joe and Lavender Trousers. In an interview with folklorist Keith Summers in the 1970s, he said he learned a lot of his songs off records.

Douglas Morling (1910-1993) was not remembered as a regular singer in the pub. His mother, Lily, ran the Eel’s Foot from 1929, and after her first husband died in 1934, she married Philip Lumpkin, although she continued to use her previous surname. A year earlier, Douglas had married Ethel née Lumpkin, who was presumably a relative of his stepfather. They lived very close to the pub and his trade was plastering.

Philip Lumpkin (1888-1960) had a job in the gas works, but helped out in the pub, continuing to do so after his wife Lily Morling died and her son Stanley and daughter-in-law Eileen took it on, in 1945. He is famous as the chairman of the sing-songs, keeping everyone in order by banging a cribbage-board on the table and calling “Good Order, ladies and gentlemen please!” but he did also sing occasionally, one of his favourites being My Father Kept Two Rabbits.

Fred Ginger (1910-1984) was born into the family that had kept the Eel’s Foot since at least 1841. His grandfather Fred Rouse kept the Eel’s Foot when he was born, then his mother and father (Ethel née Rouse and James Ginger) took it on from 1922 until the Morlings came in 1929. He married Dora Brightwell, daughter of Velvet (and sister of Jumbo). Local people recalled that Fred worked for the river board, but this may be his father, who in 1939 was living in the cottages near the sluice, whilst Fred and Dora were living in Leiston, where he was working as a plate-layer. It’s not known what else he sang apart from his “star turn” The Old Sow.

William “Velvet” Brightwell (1865-1960) After trying life at sea for a year or two, Velvet took a job locally, working as a plate-layer on the railway at Garrett’s Engineering works in Leiston. He became a foreman and joined the Royal Order of the Buffaloes, where he enjoyed singing at the meetings – it’s not on record what this would have been. His nickname came from his favoured velvet waistcoat. He had two songs on the 1939 radio programme: The Indian Lass and Pleasant and Delightful. Folksong collector Peter Kennedy recorded him when he was 91, when he sang Scarboro’, the Faithful Plough, The Foggy Dew and The Loss of the Ramillies (learned from his father Robert).

His son Jumbo (also William, 1900-1980) had a large repertoire of folksongs, some of which he learned from Velvet, and at least one from his mother. He was recorded by several collectors from the 1950s through to the 1970s, resulting in tracks on a number of compilations as well as a solo LP Songs from the Eel’s Foot issued on the Topic label in 1975.

Harry “Crutter” Cook (1868-1954) Harry worked as a sluiceman on the marshes. He had been born and brought up in Eastbridge, then moved out to live near the hand-operated sluices, from where he would walk up the pub every Saturday night. By 1939 he had moved to the nearby village of Westleton with his wife Emily Maud. Apart from the comic (very un-PC) song Duck-Foot Sue, he is also remembered as singing Blow the Candle Out, Ramble Away and Newlyn Town.

Walter Button (“concertina” in the Radio Times) – this could be an error, as local knowledge has this person as Jack Button (William John Button 1873-1955) who played the melodeon, not the concertina, as can be seen in the Picture Post photospread. He was brought up next door the Eel’s Foot and later moved to Leiston where he ran a shop with his widowed mother. He married in 1904 and his early married life included a spell back in Eastbridge, but by 1939 he was again in Leiston, working as a gardener. His daughter Aline married Alfred Stollery, and both she and her son Eric were singers recorded by Keith Summers in the 1970s.

E.J. Moeran, the composer and folklorist, who instigated the 1947 recordings (East Anglia Sings) wrote about that occasion in the 1948 Journal of the  EFDSS: “Two weeks after my preliminary trip I went again with a recording van. The singers seemed quite excited about it and were out to do their very best. The engineers, for the most part, arranged things in such a way that all the men had to do was sit and sing and carry on as usual.” At no point did there seem to be any acknowledgement that this was not the first time this had happened, but other comments here, about the singers being “uncontaminated by outside influences” reveal a somewhat naïve view of the social context, and ironically, in a 1946 article written for The Countrygoer in Autumn”, Moeran wrote: “Until the advent of the radio, [spontaneous singing of the old songs] held on in certain isolated districts …” so he must have been uncomfortably aware that the very medium that he was working with was (in his view) contributing to the decline of the phenomenon they were recording.

Programme 4: The Exeter(s) Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire, 14th June 1940

In some ways this fourth programme in the series is potentially the most interesting, as it is from a geographical area little covered by collectors. Wakerley is technically in Northamptonshire, but is right on the border of Rutland, about 10 miles from Stamford and 20 miles west of Peterborough.

“An evening of country singing recorded by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit. Produced by Maurice Brown; Chairman, George White; Pianist, Jim Hopkins; Singers: Bill Pridmore, Peter Wilson, Thomas Hendrie, Luke Webster, Bill Prodger, Frank Smart and other regulars of The Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire.”

I’ve only been able to identify four out of the eight people, who were all from the small inter-linked villages of Wakerley and Barrowden. Wakerley itself is so small that in the 1939 Register, the houses are simply numbered, with no road names, e.g. “No.3, Wakerley”.

None of these singers mentioned seem to have been “collected”, and no recordings are indicated anywhere in the archives, so we really don’t have any idea what might have been sung in this radio programme.

Even the identity of the pub is slightly in question, as there had been a pub called the Exeter Arms in Wakerley, which closed at an unspecified date, and another pub in the contiguous village of Barrowden took on the name Exeter Arms, again at an unspecified date!



George White (1887-1967), listed as the chairman, is probably the most interesting of the personnel I have been able to identify. A commercial traveller in his day-job, it seems he had a performing career outside of chairing an evening sing-song in the local pub …

Two advertisements placed in the “Small Ads” in the Boston Guardian in 1945 and 1949 respectively stated:

“GEORGE WHITE. The Always Successful Comedian. Open for Engagements. Address. Wakerley. Oakham.” (24 January 1945)

 GEORGE WHITE. Comedian.— expert compere, for concerts, etc. Also M.C. socials and dances. —Wakerley. Oakham.” (2 March 1949)

As a young man he left home and in 1911 was lodging in Woking, Surrey. Then it seems that his life took a rather more adventurous turn – although I can’t be 100% certain this is the same man, it seems very likely – in the receiving book for Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, on 12th February 1924, a man with the same full name was committed to gaol for tax evasion, having been tried in Co. Longford. He was at that time a theatre manager of no fixed abode, born in 1887 in Wakerley, and had a wife, Dorothy, who was travelling with the theatre. This appears to be Dorothy Grafton and they were married in Naas, Co. Kildare in 1915. I don’t know whether she was English or Irish, as I can find no further trace of her. In the 1939 Register, back in Wakerley, after his mother’s death, George White is listed as married, but is living on his own.

His only other criminal conviction was for not paying for a dog licence in Wakerley in 1941 – so this remains a tantalising mystery at the moment!

It’s not known why the producer (Maurice Brown) landed on this pub in this region – I wonder who the contact was here, perhaps George White given his ambitions in the entertainment industry?

Bill Pridmore (1895-1980) was a farmworker from the neighbouring village of Barrowden, living in Wakerley itself in 1939.

Thomas Hendrie (1912-1980) was born in Yorkshire of a Scottish family and lived about 5 miles away at Apethorpe, where he worked in forestry. It looks as if he emigrated to Australia.

Bill Prodger (1876-1951) was Welsh and had lived in Yorkshire. Less than a year before this recording the 1939 register shows him living in Wrexham, working in a brickworks.

For the remaining four participants listed in the Radio Times – including pianist Jim Hopkins –  the nearest possibilities in every case were from Northampton, some 30 miles distant.

So for now, the singers – and the songs – in Wakerley remain an enigma.

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1: traditional singing on the radio 1940-41

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 2: the North – singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 4: Cotswolds – two programmes with an unexpected link with “The Archers”: singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Genome Archive which is very easy to browse and search.

The Good Order CD on the Veteran label was produced as a community project, with every household in the villages of Eastbridge and Theberton being given a free copy of the CD. Much of the research in this article was carried out for that project in 1999/2000 including interviews with people such as Eileen Morling, who had been landlady when the BBC visited in 1947, and family members of many of the singers featured. Further details on the Veteran CDs website. 

In the 1970s Keith Summers interviewed, recorded and photographed many singers and musicians in Suffolk. The resulting written work, Sing Say or Pay! is now published online, and there’s a Chapter on the Eel’s Foot.

E.J. Moeran wrote about his experiences at the Eel’s Foot in 1947 in Some Folk Singing of Today (Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, 1948) and also Folk-songs and some Traditional Singers in East Anglia (in The Countrygoer in Autumn, 1946).

Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have far more biographical and anecdotal evidence about the singers than can be published here – if you are a relative or a researcher, please do get in touch, I would be very happy to share the information I have.

Thirsty Work Part 4: the Cotswolds – singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

This article covers programmes 5 and 6 in the Thirsty Work series broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme between 9th April 1940 and 7th March 1941.

It makes most sense if you read the introduction to the series (‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1) before this one.

  • Programme 5 was first broadcast on 22nd July 1940 from recordings made at the Ivy Inn, North Littleton, near Evesham, Worcestershire, and was repeated on 17th Sept 1940.
  • Programme 4 was broadcast on 28th November 1940 from recordings made at the Ebrington Inn, Ebrington, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, and was repeated on 3rd January 1941.

As with programmes 3 & 4, we have no information about the songs sung on these programmes, as there seem to be no recordings in any of the archives. We do however know quite a bit about some of the singers – and songs that they were known to sing – and these two programmes made in the Cotswolds have provided an interesting story of their own!

Programme 5: The Ivy, North Littleton, Worcestershire, 22nd July 1940 (repeated 17th September)


“An evening of country and popular songs recorded in a Worcestershire inn by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit. Produced by Maurice Brown. The singers are: Charles Gardiner, George Norledge, Harry Gisboume, Bill Norledge, Wilson Ballard, Frank Norledge, Dick Emms, Sidney Gisboume, Jack Brookes and other regulars of The Ivy, North Littleton.”

In the Radio Times it actually says North Dittleton, but it’s a misprint. It was North Littleton, and there’s also a South Littleton and Middle Littleton, all villages a few miles north of Evesham.


Bill and George Norledge were brothers, the oldest in the company of singers when this programme was made. They were brought up in the nearby villages of Todenham and Offenham (home to one of the tallest permanent maypoles in England). Bill (1867-1946) lived his married life in South Littleton where he worked as a farm carter and coal haulier. George (1870-1960) also lived in South Littleton all his adult life and had various jobs including stone quarrying as a young man and jobbing gardener in later life.

Frank Norledge (1900-1986) was George’s son and Bill’s nephew. He grew up in South Littleton but by 1939 was living in North Littleton and working as a sanitary labourer.

Harry and Sidney Gisbourne were also brothers, who grew up in North Littleton. Harry (1891-1966) served in the First World War, becoming a sergeant in the Worcestershire Regiment. By 1939 he was working as a market gardener and assistant postman and living near the Ivy Inn. His younger brother Sidney (1900-?) also lived nearby and worked as a market gardener.

Wilson Ballard (1882-1945) seems to have moved about a bit, but by 1939 was settled in North Littleton, working as a market gardener with three sons working alongside him.

Jack Brookes (1882-?) also lived in the village, and worked as market gardener in his younger life, though by 1939 he was working as a carter on a farm.

I haven’t been able to identify Dick Emms.

Charles Gardiner (1902-1966) was born and brought up in Cirencester. Sometime after his marriage in 1925, he moved to the Evesham area where he became Clerk to Evesham Rural District Council and several other local authorities. By 1939 he was living in the village of Aldington, where he remained for the rest of this life. It is apparent from the Register taken that year that he was very active in the War effort locally, with his extra jobs including ARP Officer, Food Executive Officer and National Registration Officer. But Gardiner also had a creative streak – we shall come to that a little later in the section titled Cotswold Dramas. Through this connection we know that he sang The Village Pump and Good Ale, although we don’t know if either of these featured in the Thirsty Work programme. We also know that he collected songs in his local area, although to what extent isn’t known.

Songs from the Littleton villages

Although there are no recordings from this radio programme, and hardly anything is known about the repertoire of these particular singers, there is some evidence of songs that were sung by other people in the village.

James Madison Carpenter and Francis Collinson had both collected songs from singers in Littleton: Carpenter’s singer was Charles Rose, who was actually still alive when the Thirsty Work programmes were recorded – in his eighties, living in North Littleton. Carpenter made a wax cylinder recording of Rose singing Gaffy Gay, and noted down I am a Rover, King Arthur’s Three Sons and One-O. (Image above from VWML – see References & Links section.)

Collinson’s singer was Miss M. Osbourne, who sang Lord Nelson: this could have been either of two sisters from a pub-keeping family in the village. Millie May Osbourne was still alive in 1941, and living in North Littleton, where in 1939 she was licensee of the Blacksmith’s Arms.

The Evesham connection

Neither of these two singers featured in the Thirsty Work programme, so what had attracted the producer Maurice Brown to the Evesham area? Well, now things start to get very interesting, because the BBC itself had a special relationship with the area … and one of the participants had a special relationship with the BBC!

Firstly, the producer of the Thirsty Work series, Maurice Brown had actually lived in Evesham for a short while. In August 1939, the BBC Radio Features and Drama department evacuated to Wood Norton Hall in Evesham, and on the 1939 Register taken a few weeks later I did indeed find Maurice Brown and his wife Dorothea living in the Market Place, with his occupation given as BBC official. The department moved on to Manchester in November, but Wood Norton Hall continued to be used by the Monitoring Service for the duration of the war. So Brown probably wasn’t in the town for more than a few months, but evidently long enough to have come into contact with the last singer on the list from the North Littleton programme, Charles Gardiner, who apart from his day job in local government, was also an amateur writer of “sketches” for the BBC Regional Programme.

And some of these rural vignettes featured other local singers that we are about to meet in the next pub …

Programme 6: The Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Gloucestershire, 28th November 1940 (repeated 3rd January 1941)

“An evening of popular and country singing recorded by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit in a Cotswold inn. Chairman, Charles Gardiner. Singers: George Hawkins, Lionel Ellis, Ben Benfield, Garnet Keyte, Dick Taylor, Sydney Nicholls, and other regulars of the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington
Produced by Maurice Brown.


 “Maurice Brown took the recording car to Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, a few weeks ago, and made the recordings there for this programme. The name Ebrington is pronounced ‘ Yommerton ‘ in these parts, and is known locally as ‘ the place where the fools come from’. The villagers, however, say that ‘ only fools go there’. The singers will include a coal seller, a bricklayer, a policeman, and a man who says he is a Jack-of-all-trades. Many of the songs have never been recorded before, and most of them are drinking songs.”

Early folksong collecting in Ebrington

Ebrington is just a couple of miles out of the town of Chipping Campden and turns out to be a well-trodden location for folk collectors. When Cecil Sharp visited the area in 1909 (during which time he was also collecting morris dances in the Cotswolds) he noted songs from several singers in Ebrington, including Charles Woodward, Albert Parnell and Thomas Coldicott. The latter singer had first come to the Folk Song Society’s attention in 1892 when his song We Shepherds are the Best of Men was published in English County Songs. Lucy Broadwood and Fuller Maitland had been introduced to Thomas Coldicott by Frederick Scarlett Potter, a sculptor and writer. Scarlett Potter also noted down The Barrel of Pork and Job Jenkins from Higford Keyte, who was related to Thirsty Work singer Garnet Keyte in some way.

Later on, Francis Collinson also collected at least one song in Ebrington – from Garnet Keyte – The Foolish Boy, but there’s no date, and whether or not it’s the same person is not known – somewhat surprisingly for such an unusual name, there was more than one person by this name in the Chipping Campden area in the same period.



The Thirsty Work singers

 “Our” Garnet Keyte (1883-1971) was born and brought up in the nearby town of Chipping Campden where his father ran a coal business. On his first marriage he was described as a farmer, but a few years later when his father died he went into the coal business himself and was successful enough to buy two houses in 1919. That same year saw the death of his first wife, but he soon met and married his second wife, who was herself a widow with three young children after her first husband had been killed in World War One. By 1939 they had moved out of the centre of the town and were living in a new council house on Station Road, from where Keyte continued to run the coal business and he was a familiar face around the town carrying hundredweights of coal from the lorry to houses and cellars.

Lionel Ellis (1904-1986) was living in Chipping Campden High Street in 1939, where his widowed mother was running a fishmongers and greengrocery, whilst he was working as a market gardener. He married in December that year, and in 1945 he and his wife Dorrie had a house built at their market garden on Aston Road. He lived his whole life in the town, working in younger life in his father’s basket making business making skeps for the produce grown locally, and later running a successful market gardening and floristry business. In May 1920 Lionel Ellis, then aged 15, and two of his older brothers Michael (1904-1982) and Don (Percy McDonald, 1906-1993) first danced with the Chipping Campden Morris. Morris historian Keith Chandler interviewed both Lionel and his brother Don, and in 1997 he described Don as “the custodian of the tradition and its history across more than eighty years.” Lionel Ellis stopped dancing sometime in the 1950s. He and Garnet Keyte clearly knew each other well, as can be seen by their many radio projects detailed in the next section. In the interview with Keith Chandler, he sings a snatch of The Village Pump, but says “I never considered myself a singer … in fact I was damned nervous.” 

Ben Benfield (1906-1979) also lived in Chipping Campden for his whole life and in 1939 was living on Aston Road and working in the building trade, although later he worked as a groundsman at the Grammar School. He was another morris dancer, joining the team in 1931 and remaining a member of the side until the mid 1950s.

Sydney Nicholls (1903-1975) was from Ebrington itself. He worked as a farm labourer and seemed never to have married.

Dick Taylor (1914-1986) lived in Ebrington and in 1939 was married and working as a builder’s labourer.

George Hawkins (1869-1961) was often known as “Shep” or “Shup”. In his youth he moved around a fair bit in villages around the Evesham and Stratford area, but when he was about 40 he settled in Ebrington where he remained for the rest of his 92 years. He is generally described as a shepherd, but in 1958 when he won a long service award from the Royal Agricultural Assocation, his employer Mr Harry Stanley told the Tewkesbury Register “It was impossible to put Shep in the wrong job. He was shepherd, shearer, thatcher, mole catcher, drainer, mower, ditcher and hedge cutter, and in the days when wheat crops were weeded by hoeing, Shep always set the pace for the rest of the team, even when he was 70.” Another report reveals that “Shep” Hawkins was also a noted athlete – winning sprint races at the age of 80. At the age of 78 he appeared on Wilfred Pickles’ popular Have a Go radio show and boasted that he had two children aged eight and nine with his second wife! Thirsty Work was not Hawkins’ first radio appearance, as he had been a guest on a 1939 radio programme scripted and hosted by Charles Gardiner (See next section), called Down on the Farm. This had been recorded in Evesham Town Hall, where Hawkins turned up in his full shepherd’s regalia.

Peter Kennedy visited Shep Hawkins in 1957. Hawkins had memories of the morris dancing tradition in Ilmington as well as songs he had learned from older generations, such as The Little Black Horse, or The Penny Wager, which Peter Kennedy recorded from him in 1957. See the Links section below to listen to that recording.

Cotswold Dramas

Finally we get to consider the circumstances in which this group of men came to be gathered for the Thirsty Work recording in Ebrington, and to find out more about the man who probably arranged it, who acted as chairman for this session and who also sang in the Ivy Inn in North Littleton: Charles Gardiner.

And in fact, according to notes made in 1952 by Peter Kennedy, it was Gardiner who had originally collected the song mentioned above, The Little Black Horse.

Searching the Radio Times genome archive for Gardiner turned up a number of programmes written by him: mostly dialect “sketches” set in the fictional village of Upper Slocombe, which ran until the mid 1950s. Garnet Keyte and Lionel Ellis were regularly performers in these regional dramas, but their first radio appearance actually predated Gardiner’s work, when they were in The Campden Wonder, written by John Masefield, on 9th January 1935. Ellis had been on the radio even earlier, on a documentary in 1934 called The Microphone at Large, the first edition of which came from Chipping Campden.

Gardiner’s first programme was broadcast on 18th March, 1936: Motor Cars or Hosses – “Being a Truthful Account of one of the more Deplorable Episodes in the History of the Parish Council of the Cotswold Village of Upper Slocombe.” The Gloucestershire Echo (20th March) commented after the programmes that: “Very few people could have recognised the voice of the author in the preliminary anecdotes, nor will many realise that the solo which was rendered in the inn scene was actually sung by Mr. Gardiner.”

The second in the series was Pump and Circumstance broadcast in May 1937 and again (with a different producer) in 1938 – “A faithful account of another deplorable episode in the History of the Parish Council of the Worcestershire village of Upper Slocombe. Reconstructed from the unofficial records by C. H. Gardiner. Re- enacted by a group of Local Inhabitants. The first ‘ deplorable episode’ reconstructed by C. H. Gardiner, who is Clerk to Evesham District Council, concerned a conflict between advocates of ‘hosses’ and ‘motor’ for a new fire engine. The present play deals with a dispute about whether the parish pump, the water of which is contaminated, shall be replaced by a piped water supply. Pump and Circumstance will be acted by Worcestershire players in the local dialect.”

A full listing of Charles Gardiner’s output (so far as I have been able to ascertain) is appended here as a PDF: Charles Gardiner’s radio programmes Just a reminder here, that if you would like to use or refer to any of this original research, please credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

In the 1982 interview with Keith Chandler the Morris historian, Lionel Ellis describes how, as a result of him and several others refusing to join the Actors’ Union, Equity, their involvement in this dramatic work came to an end. The story within the family was that Ellis and a couple of others asked to be paid for rehearsals. This was refused and Ellis “stormed off”! His last drama was The Silver Bowl (1955), a retelling of The Campden Wonder, written this time by Georgie Herschel, who had produced a costumed version for the Chipping Campden celebrations of the Festival of Britain in 1951. He continued with occasional involvement in features and documentaries, such as the 1957 programme People Today where he was the subject of an interview by film-maker Philip Donellan, who also included both Lionel and his wife in his 1966 film The Abbey of the English about Westminster Abbey.


You may recognise the name Bob Arnold in this group of men. He went on to play the part of Tom Forrest in the long-running radio series The Archers – set in the fictional village of Ambridge, which is said to be based on the village of Inkberrow, a few miles northwest of North Littleton.

Other men in this photo who were regulars in Gardiner’s dramatic productions and who subsequently went on to be long-running cast members of The Archers were Bill Payne from Ebrington who played Ned Larkin, and George Hart from Campden who played Jethro Larkin, until 1987.

Bob Arnold worked with Charles Gardiner regularly, and in the library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is a proposal by Gardiner for a radio programme Songs of the Upper Thames, about the folksong collector Alfred Williams, detailing the songs the two of them would sing (see Links). This was broadcast on the Western regional programme on 1st July 1949.

Arnold (born George Richard Arnold, 1910-1998) came from Asthall near Burford, in the south Cotswolds, and had a successful radio career melding together singing (especially before the War), reading (Morning Story, Children’s Hour), acting (The Mayor of Casterbridge) and compering, with a busy sideline in being a guest celebrity asked to open fetes etc. He credited his early radio involvement to influential acquaintances such as William and Peggy Kettlewell who lived in Burwell; the latter was the first secretary at the English Folk Dance Society in 1911, and the two were acquaintances of Cecil Sharp; these links with the EFDSS provided Arnold with further radio work such as English Dance Party in the 1950s. A BBC radio producer who was involved in the earliest actuality recordings from the Cotswolds in 1934 – Owen Reed – also produced The Mayor of Casterbridge and other programmes where Bob Arnold was involved in an acting role some twenty years later.

Bob Arnold first heard folksongs in the pub run by his grandfather, The Three Horseshoes (now the Maytime Inn) in Asthall and learned Good Ale from Charles Gardiner. He made an LP Mornin’ All in 1972 with the Yetties consisting of a selection of standard rural folk songs. His last appearance on The Archers was at Christmas 1997, when – very appropriately – he was singing folksongs in the Ambridge pub, The Bull.

So there you have it, the roots of The Archers in the “Upper Slocombe” series of sketches, written by Charles Gardiner and featuring several of the singers from Programme 6 in the Thirsty Work series. I have often wondered if the name of Gardiner’s fictitious village was inspired by Marie Slocombe, who worked for the BBC: she was based at Evesham in the War and went on to become an integral part of the team fronted by Peter Kennedy that recorded folk song in many more locations than the seven featured in this radio series.

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1: traditional singing on the radio 1940-41

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 2: the North – singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

‘Thirsty Work’ Part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northamptonshire

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Genome Archive which is very easy to browse and search.

Thanks to Gwilym Davies, Judith Ellis and Keith Chandler.

Gwilym and Carol Davies and team have put together a splendid local resource on their Glostrad website.

Peter Kennedy’s 1957 recording of Shep Hawkins singing The Little Black Horse may be heard on the British Library Sound Archive website. 

Peter Kennedy’s typewritten reports for the BBC make fascinating reading: here’s a link to one of his 1952 trips which included Charles Gardiner, Lionel Ellis and Bob Arnold as well as referring to the dialect liaison link: Peter Kennedy Archive (see pp 1, 8, 9, 10).

Francis Collinson’s transcription of Garnet Keyte singing The Foolish Boy is in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and can be seen in their digital archive. 

Charles Gardiner’s outline of his 1949 radio feature Songs of the Upper Thames  on the work of Alfred Williams may also be read in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library digital archive. Gardiner had a lifelong interest in dialect, publishing a number of articles in the Evesham Post in 1959-1960, which were gathered together in a booklet entitled The Old Cotswold Dialect published by the Evesham Historical Society in 2008. He refers many times to the village of Ebrington.

James Madison Carpenter’s collection of songs, mumming plays etc has an online catalogue.

Chipping Campden Morris can trace their history back to the 18th century. They have a unique tradition which has been passed on down the generations and is not danced by any other morris sides. For more history on the team, see Chipping Campden Morris Dancers – an outline history by Keith Chandler, The Morris Dancer, 1997.

The Chipping Campden Historical Society has a brilliant website with several related stories on it, from where I sourced the good quality photo of the Cotswolds drama team in 1949. Here’s a link to the Have-A-Go story from the Evesham Journal on their site. They also published a booklet called Campden Characters in 2011 which includes Garnet Keyte and the Ellis family, and mentions morris dancing, singing and mumming.

The Ivy Inn in North Littleton has its own folktale The Mystery of the Ivy Inn, told on its website.

Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have far more biographical and anecdotal evidence about the singers than can be published here – if you are a relative or a researcher, please do get in touch, I would be very happy to share the information I have.


Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’

This is the second part of a long piece of writing about Esther Gayton, a young  ballet dancer from the early years of the nineteenth century whose name has been preserved through the folk music and dance world.

This section concerns the tunes, social dance and stepdance routine known to us today, whilst Esther Gayton part 1: the Ballerina and the Baronet looks at her personal life and stage performances from 1803-1809. I really recommend that you read that first, as it will fill out some of the references to ballet and theatre in this article  – as well as the link with the barrel organ that went to the Arctic – and help put the longevity of these tunes and dances into context.

Social dance

It was common practice in the early 1800s for social dances to be named after celebrities and stage characters, and some seemed to stem directly from stage productions. A dance was named after Esther from her appearance in Tekeli; or the Siege of Montgatz. The show premiered at Drury Lane on 24th November 1806, and in August 1807, J. Pearce of Soho, was advertising “a new sheet of dances, No.3, including the Miss Gayton dance in Tekeli …”.

This would consist of the music and very brief dance instructions for a set of figures in the fashionable longways configuration of the time, and it seems very possible that it was published later in 1807 for the 1808 season in Vol.1 of Elegant and Fashionable Country Dances, Reels, Waltzes &c by Voight & Wheatstone (although the original booklet is not dated, expert opinion dates it to this season). We do however have all the details for a publication in late 1808, published by Button & Whitaker in their Twenty-Four Country Dances for the Year 1809 (as advertised in the Bury & Norwich Post on 24th November 1808). Whether the dance published by Pearce was the same or not, we won’t know unless a copy of that publication turns up sometime. Interestingly, the dance printed next to Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe in Button & Whitaker, Major O’Flarty, is not named after a real person, but a stage character (see Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up).

There was also another dance and tune called Miss Gayton’s Fancy published around the same time in another of Button & Whitaker’s publications, their No. 9 Selection of Dances, Reels and Waltzes. There is further information regarding the dances at the end of this article.

It’s difficult to be definitive about the composers of either of these two tunes. The hornpipe might have been written either by James Hook for Tekeli (November 1806) or by Henry Bishop for Love in a Tub (November 1808). Miss Gayton’s Fancy only appears once under that name, in the publication above, where it follows a tune called simply Caractacus, so it could have been composed for that ballet by Henry Bishop (March 1808); however, the melody for Esther Gayton’s Pas Seul in  Bishop’s original score is not the same tune, and it’s not the Hornpipe either. I have not been able to inspect the scores for Tekeli or Love in a Tub.

The tune and country dance Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe were published many times (in collections of country dances, mostly printed in London) from the initial printing during Esther’s dancing heyday until 1817, with Button and Whitaker claiming the copyright under new laws in 1814. After 1817 I have found no instances of it in print for a number of years, but there are many instances of the tune being copied out into fiddler’s private manuscripts. In 1850 it was deemed well known enough to be suggested as an air for a song on a broadside printed in Manchester. This suggests it was in widespread use by musicians 1817-1850, possibly more amongst amateurs than professionals in this period. The tune came back into vogue in the 1880s, and was then published a good number of times for the next hundred years, but almost exclusively in Scotland, perhaps reflecting dance tastes in that long period.

A publication dating from just shy of a century after the first appearance of Miss Gayton’s HornpipeAunt Kate’s Dance Music Book includes what is recognisably the same tune, albeit transposed into G, given a 2:4 time signature instead of (cut common time), and with a slightly simplified ending. This booklet was published in December 1904 (announced in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 10th December) and was part of a series of publications by J. Leng, of Dundee and London, including Aunt Kate’s Conjuring and Parlour Magic and Aunt Kate’s Knitting and Crochet Book, which was evidently aimed at women. The preface to our dance book states: “The publishers anticipate that the present collection will appeal to a large circle of those who are interested in parties and kindred gatherings … [the] aim has been to provide a book suited to average requirements, one that would be equally serviceable in the ball-room and in the home. With this object in view, no popular dance has been omitted.” There are no dance instructions, the only other tunes which gets the direction “same dance” are Pop goes the Weasel, John Peel and Garry Owen, which today are all much better known tunes that Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, but all the associated dances have faded equally into obscurity.

From 1990 to date the tune has again been published a good many times: in those thirty years mostly in England and the USA.

If you are interested in the many and various publications and manifestations of the dance, there is a link at the end of this article to a PDF summarising the dates and sources. If you come across any other instances, please do get in touch!

The Traditional Tune Archive also has a good page online covering most of the publications for which there is actually a score available – see Further Information at the end of this article.

Stepdance routine

However it was not this social dance to which my attention had originally been drawn by Simon Harmer.

Simon is a wonderful stepdancer and knew of a stepdance routine called Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, collected in south west Scotland by Tom & Joan Flett in 1959. The lady who demonstrated this dance to the Fletts was Elizabeth Porter Wallace, whom the Fletts noted as being 65 at the time. She was a dancing teacher whose father, grandfather (Joseph Rae Wallace) and grand-uncle (Alexander, known as Sandy Porter – his mother’s maiden name) had all taught dancing in the Kilmarnock area. The Fletts had her name as “Miss Elizabeth Wallace” but although she used this name professionally, she had in fact married in 1925, to Thomas Parker. Elizabeth (1893-1983) seems to have taken a break from teaching from 1924 until 1937, coinciding with the birth of a son, who tragically died at a very young age. There was apparently no next generation to take on the dance teaching mantle, and I can find no trace of Elizabeth in the newspapers after 1938.

However, one newspaper from 1908 reveals her father, Joseph Wallace (1856-1932) teaching the very dance under discussion!

Joseph reputedly had a large repertoire of social dances and a collection of early ballroom guides as well as “a large repertoire of solo dances, some of which he undoubtedly learned from his own father and uncle” according to Tom and Joan Flett in Traditional Stepdancing in Scotland (p.151). They also state that “Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe was taught by Wallace to his young girl pupils, usually aged about eight to twelve years old. They held their dresses slightly out to the side with their thumbs at the back. Three morris dance type bells sewn to a band of elastic at each wrist.” They were unaware of exactly who Miss Gayton was, and surmised that the dance was probably made up by a dancing teacher for a favoured pupil – a not unreasonable supposition, and not too far off the mark. We do not have conclusive proof that this dance was actually danced by Esther Gayton, but we do know that as early as 1829 a Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe stepdance routine was being taught by dancing masters, so the odds on it referring to a different Miss Gayton are slight.

The 1829 reference comes from a programme for “Mr. Lowe’s third annual ball” in the assembly room in Elgin. The original programme is in the National Library of Scotland but my source is a typewritten transcription reprinted in The Thistle, the newsletter for a Scottish dance society in Vancouver, in 1972/3. The programme reveals, at number 18 out of 29 items in the first half alone, Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, danced by four girls. So this was an end-of-term show for the pupils of Mr. Lowe, a dancing teacher, rather than a society ball for adults.

Writing in 1972, the author of the article in The Thistle reflected on the repertoire of dances from the ball: “Apart from the fling and reel steps, most of this material has been lost. The only dance from this programme which has been preserved is Miss Gayton’s hornpipe (collected and taught by Joan and Tom Flett).”

The Fletts did not know of the Lowe connection with this specific dance, but they did know that Joseph Wallace had in his collection a copy of The Ball Conductor. This book was first published in 1822 in Edinburgh, by the four Lowe brothers: Joseph, James, Robert and John, and was republished again in 1830 and 1860. The Mr Lowe referred to in the 1829 ball programme would be John Lowe, who was probably the first of the brothers to open a dancing school. His brother Joseph had been teaching in Elgin, but by early 1827 John had taken over from him, continuing to teach in Perth as well until his death in January 1839. I am indebted to Paul Cooper for much of the information about the Lowes.

A colleague in Australia, Heather Clarke has kindly sent me newspaper references to the dance being taught in a similar context of juvenile balls from at least 1894 to 1911, in and around Bathurst, New South Wales. The progenitors there were various members of another dynasty of dancing teachers, the Allison family.

A modern interpretation of the stepdance

Although we cannot know if the steps now known as Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe are the same as Esther Gayton danced in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the expert opinion is that they are likely to be very similar. In private correspondence with Simon Harmer, Anne Daye (Director of Education and Research for the Historical Dance Society) commented “There is nothing in the step sequence that would be unknown in her day; the opening sequence uses ballonnés or cuts common in social dancing; heel and toe combinations are timeless; shuffles ditto; backskips as in the break are footing steps (feature of my presentation), so the dance is the closest we can get today to Miss Gayton’s performance. She may not have done the same step sequence at each performance, and she would have done the dance in a showier manner, perhaps using her skirts a bit more, making a flourish of the fancier steps, maybe a circling of the stage on the intro.”

Simon learned the dance after being inspired by the story of the barrel organ being taken on board William Edward Parry’s ships on his searches for a North West passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1819-1825. The barrel organ contained five barrels, each having eight tunes, the majority of which were contemporary dance tunes, including Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe. More detail about this is in Part One: the Ballerina and the Baronet and also A Barrel Organ in the Arctic.

Having seen the illustration above of three midshipmen stepping – dating from Parry’s third Arctic voyage in 1825 – Simon went back to the Fletts’ notation, and to Chris Metherell, who had been taught the Wallaces’ version of Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe by Joan Flett, and to Lesley Gowers, who had learned it from Jennifer Millest, again taught by Joan Flett. Simon reinterpreted it in a more robust style, as might have befitted a midshipman of the nineteenth century. For his version of Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe Simon added arm positions from the Staub illustration and other contemporaneous images of sailors dancing.

Simon comments on this illustration that Edward Bird (on the left) could be dancing Step 5 of the sequence, and Francis Crozier (on the right) Step 3 or 6. In this illustration by the otherwise unknown C. Staub, they have a live musician, Charles Richards, rather than the barrel organ to dance to. The midshipmen look so carefree in this illustration – however, although Bird went on to have a distinguished Naval career, Crozier was to perish on the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the North West Passage.

Here is a video of Simon Harmer dancing Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe to the playing of Will Allen.  

In the autumn of 2020 Simon took this one step further, when the research into Esther Gayton and the hornpipe named after her was the heritage focus for the Step Your Way dance project in Portsmouth. The young dancers were introduced to the idea that dance styles evolve from many different influences. Information based on our researches was provided to back up what the dancers were experiencing physically: a journey from the hornpipe, through creolisation with black dance, to current urban styles. You can see the Step Your Way output video here.

For a full list of all the instances I have found of Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe – tune and dance, publication, collection and mentions, you can read this PDF file: Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe (history) Please remember, if you’d like to use this information, acknowledge this as your source!

Part One of this article is Esther Gayton: the Ballerina and the Baronet

See also A Barrel Organ in the Arctic and Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!

A huge number of people have helped discuss various aspects of this research, my thanks to them all, especially, for this second article: Heather Clarke and Paul Cooper for information and discussions about the historical aspects of the dance and tune; Adrian Turner for giving me Aunt Kate’s Dance Music book (with no idea it would come in useful in this way); Chris Partington, Nick Barber, Paul Burgess, Rob Say, Derek Schofield, Will Allen, Anne Daye and last but absolutely not least, another huge thank you to dancer and researcher SIMON HARMER for the inspiration on these stories and specifically for his contributions to the section on the stepdance routine.

Further Information

Many of the tunes from Parry’s barrel organ were recorded following restoration in 1972, and that album – Parry’s Barrel Organ – is still available on the Saydisc label.

Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe is the second of two tunes on track 5 on the album: neither of which were identified at the time the recording. The first tune is the 48 bar jig Paddy Carey and both were originally on barrel no. 5.

At the time of writing it is also available to listen to on YouTube here.

A brief history of the tune may be found on the Traditional Tune Archive website.

The social dance Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe is shown in a moving diagrammatic form on Paul Cooper’s Regency Dances website here and also Miss Gayton’s Fancy here.

Digital images of these tunes and their associated social dances in their original settings may be found here: Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe  and Miss Gayton’s Fancy

Thomas Lowe’s 1829 ball programme is transcribed in The Thistle (December 1972) and more about Thomas Lowe and his brothers can be found in research paper No. 24 The Lowe Brothers – Teachers of Dancing in Scotland on the Regency Dances website, by Paul Cooper. 

Heather Clarke, who supplied the information about Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe being taught in Australia, has a superb website about dancing in early colonial Australia.

The Fletts’ handwritten notes may be found on the Instep Research Team‘s website, which holds a treasure trove of such original material. Here is a direct link to the relevant Flett notes. Tom Flett’s notes and notation from Elizabeth Wallace are on pp 13-35, with the steps for Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe on pp 16-20. The dance notation may also be found in the Fletts’ 1996 book Traditional Stepdancing in Scotland, pp 151-156.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have unearthed far more material on Esther Gayton’s performances and personal life, the tune, and the dance, than can be written up here. Please do get in contact if this is a special area of interest or study to you, I would be happy to tell you more.


Esther Gayton part 1: the Ballerina and the Baronet


Esther Gayton is my original inspiration for the Unsung Histories website.

I still find it hard to believe that this woman’s story is not already “out there” somewhere, as in her time, she was actually quite well-known, albeit for a brief period. Even on family history websites, Esther Gayton’s descendants seem not to know of her years as a teenage dancing star. I am not aware of anyone else researching her life and performances so here we go with her story in full.

It was a tune, Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe which first set me off on her trail. A random post on Facebook had got me looking again at a set of tunes on an album first issued in the 1970s. However, these were not live recordings of an actual musician, but recordings from a barrel-organ which had been made in the very early nineteenth century and restored to playing condition in 1972, resulting in an LP on the Saydisc label. What was quite extraordinary was that this barrel organ had been on board a ship which sailed to the Arctic under the leadership of William Edward Parry, searching for a north west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (See A Barrel Organ in the Arctic for the full story.) The music on the barrels comprised mainly social dance tunes popular in the period, but the album compilers had not been able to identify them all at the time, and so I asked on FB for help from musical friends who might recognise these tunes, many of which are still played in the folk music repertoire. One of the previously unnamed tunes turned out to be Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, and as I was also aware of a stepdance routine by the same name, I did wonder who Miss Gayton was, and whether the crew on Parry’s ships had danced this same dance, or whether it was a social dance, as most of the other tunes on the barrel-organ were of this type.

As in so many of these explorations, there remain unanswered questions, but I was able to find out a huge amount about Miss Esther Gayton herself, who turned out to be not only – as I had suspected – a society lady – but actually a famous dancer on the stage for a brief period. She may have been much better known today if she hadn’t left the stage to marry a besotted clergyman twenty years her senior when she was only seventeen!

This page is Part One, which explores who she was, her personal life and stage performances from 1803-1809.

Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’ looks at the tune and social dance together, and explores the links with the stepdance routine.

I normally put the thanks at the end of the article, but there is one person who has been absolutely central to this research, and that is dancer Simon Harmer, who has been equally as intrigued by this story as I, and who explored and reinterpreted the stepdance routine as a special project in 2020 (see part 2)

Esther Gayton: her life

Esther was the eldest daughter of George and Martha Gayton. She was baptised in St Andrew’s, Holborn, London on 30th May 1791, and if we are to presume that her parents arranged the ceremony within a few weeks of her birth, as they did with their other children, we can surmise that she was born in early spring that year. By 1795 the family was in Islington, where all of Esther’s younger siblings were baptised, in St James. Islington at that time was quite a rural settlement on the fringes of London. We know from a newspaper report on Esther’s marriage in March 1809 that George was a hairdresser, a job which involved maintaining wigs and the high bouffant hairstyles of the period. Ordinary people did not use a hairdresser as a matter of course.

She seems to be the only member of her family to have taken to the stage, and appeared at Sadler’s Wells for the first time aged twelve or thirteen. In that period, children of much younger ages were often featured doing specialist dances, which may be why the newspaper announcement of her first appearance put her age as nine (see next section on her stage appearances).

Nothing is known about what her life was like as a young girl performing several times a week in the most prestigious London theatres, but dancing and acting were careers fraught with the potential for stepping outside the moral boundaries of the time. Esther’s behaviour seems to have been impeccable, and her one known suitor, William Murray, who became her husband, was clearly besotted with her, as comments in the press make clear. This man was over twenty years her senior, a clergyman with a living in Yorkshire, but who spent most of his time in London. William was the third son of a Scottish Baronet, and at the time of their marriage, was reputed to have an income of £2000 per year, so he clearly represented a stable future for Esther, who was in a notoriously fickle career herself. She was a minor at the time of her wedding in March 1809, but her father was a witness at the ceremony, so she had the support of her family, which is more than can be said for her groom. The marriage was described as “a mighty foolish business” by William’s brother, Sir James Pulteney Murray writing to Sir Charles Hastings on 30th May 1809, “but being, as you say, done, it is useless to think more about it.”

In 1812, William set up Esther’s father George (the hairdresser) in a completely different business: managing and driving a stagecoach. This was an area in which George clearly lacked practical expertise, although experienced at trying to give customer satisfaction.  After leaving the carriage unattended in order to assist a lady passenger, the horses bolted, causing an injury to one of the passengers and he was charged with negligence. The Kentish Weekly Journal commented: “This was an action brought by a Bricklayer, against the father of Miss Gayton, late of the Opera Ballet, and now the wife of the Rev. Mr. Murray, who when he took the daughter off the stage placed the father upon it, establishing him in business as the proprietor driver of an Edmonton stage coach, running four horses …”

In 1813, William and Esther’s first child was born, James Pulteney Murray, baptised in Daventry in Northamptonshire. There followed five more sons and three daughters, all baptised in London. Tracing where the family lived has been very difficult, but one tragic incident which took place on New Year’s Eve 1821 reveals that they were living at quite a superior address: 22 Charles Street, off Berkeley Square, a house later lived in by the Duke of Clarence. The horrific incident must have scarred the survivors for life, as their son James, aged eight, managed to accidentally shoot dead Esther’s 16 year-old sister Mary with a pistol belonging to William. It is not hard to imagine the recriminations that probably took place between husband and wife over this tragedy.

Their youngest child, Esther Jane, was born in 1825, when Esther herself was 35. In those days it was normal for women of all classes to carry on bearing children until the menopause, unless a medical condition or marital problem intervened. The possibility of a breakdown in Esther’s marriage is supported by other (albeit sparse) evidence. I would expect to be able to trace Esther through the censuses from 1841 onwards, but she has proved extraordinarily elusive and in 1841, William and most of the children are found in Cadogan Place in Kensington, but there is no trace anywhere of Esther. William died in 1842 and his will, drawn up on 23rd July 1827, contains not a single mention of Esther. Coincidentally (or not) on the same day, Esther’s name appeared in a paragraph in the Stamford Mercury exonerating the behaviour of another actress and including her amongst those actresses living a respectable life.

After the death of his older brother John in 1827, William became the 9th Baronet of Clermont/Dunerne (the title seems to vary in different sources).

In 1851 I believe we may have now identified an Esther Murray – aged 60, visitor in a boarding house in Marylebone, but described as born in Scotland – as “our” Esther. The woman on the line above her is also the widow of a clergyman and the whole establishment is clearly very well-to-do. I have drawn a complete blank on the 1861 census, but have definitely found her in 1871, living on Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, at the same address where she died on 6th February 1875. The circumstances are again a bit strange, in 1871 she was a “visitor” with Jane Nicoll, the daughter of a clergyman, who from at least 1861 took in boarders. Jane passed away a year before Esther, but the doctor who signed Esther’s death certificate was her brother. It looks as if she was relying on the charity of other clergy families rather than her own children. Quite what income she had if William had cut her out of his will is not known; presumably her children, who inherited William’s title, money and estates, must have provided for her financially.

So a life that started in relative obscurity – albeit fairly comfortable and respectable – seems to have finished in the same way, but what happened inbetween was certainly not obscure, featuring in a number of newspapers and periodicals.

Esther Gayton: her dancing career

During Esther’s brief career on the stage, the London theatres were still severely restricted by the Licensing Act of 1737, so that only the two Theatre Royals (in Drury Lane and Covent Garden) could produce actual plays with spoken dialogue, and the other non-patented theatres had to work round these constraints by putting on a mixture of dance, mime, song and novelty acts to attract their audiences. Programmes would change every few days, and new items were often changed and reworked to tight schedules. Esther’s first public performance was in 1803, at Sadler’s Wells, in Islington, where she lived.

The Sadler’s Wells website says: “By 1801 [ … ] Sadler’s Wells had become more famous for incidents, both devised (spectacular sea battles) and accidental (a terrible stampede in which 18 people died) than for work of merit.” The 1810 picture on the left shows a real waterfall on stage.

It was taken over by Charles Dibdin junior late in 1802, and early in his tenure, Esther was a named performer (“her first performance in public”), performing a “Hornpipe, with a Skipping Rope” in an advertisement from 9th April 1803. She was described as a “pupil of Mr Jackson, late of Covent Garden Theatre, only 9 years of age”, although in fact she was twelve. The advertisement is for the opening of the new season, under new proprietorship and totally refurbished, and as such, spares no detail in trying to attract the London gentry to make the journey to Sadler’s Wells: “the private boxes in the lower part of the theatre have been totally altered from last season, and are now perfectly calculated to accommodate the nobility, gentry, and families in the most eligible manner; and for the convenience of the public, the proprietors have put on additional patrols in the field leading from the Wells to town, also a quantity of additional lamps in the said field, and in the avenues to the theatre.”

In June 1803 Esther had further roles at Sadler’s Wells, in dance pieces including Hey for the Highlands; or Jemmy’s Return and Ko and Zoa, the latter a composition by Charles Dibdin junior.

In October 1804 she performed in a benefit night at the Opera House, which included “the favourite Skipping Rope Hornpipe”, and the newspaper announcement for this event stated that she was now a pupil to Mr Gouriet. Dennis Francois Victor Gouriet was another high profile ballet master, born in Paris, who composed dances for Sadler’s Wells and also danced at the King’s Theatre under James Harvey D’Egville, who was Esther’s next mentor, from at least 1806.

D’Egville was the ballet master at Drury Lane and had started his choreography career at the King’s Theatre in 1793. Esther was evidently one of his star pupils, being picked out for special mention on several occasions, such as a benefit night for D’Egville at Drury Lane on 14th May 1806:

“The Public are most respectfully informed, the Ballets performed on this Evening are by Permission of the Proprietors of the King’s Theatre, and positively for this night only. For the BENEFIT of MR D’EGVILLE. This Evening their Majesties Servants will act the WEST INDIAN. At the end of Act 1 (by particular desire of several Persons of Distinction, the much admired ballet of PAUL and VIRGINIA. Arranged by Mr D’Egville for his pupils, and performed with universal applause at the King’s Theatre by Miss Gayton and the rest of Mr D’Egville’s Young Pupils. At the end of the play, the favourite Grand Ballet of CRAZY JANE. The part of Crazy Jane by Mad[ame]. Laborie. In the course of the ballet, the Minuet de la Cours and the Gavotte, by Mr D’Egville and Miss Gayton; and several new Dances by his Pupils. To which will be added. YOUTH, LOVE and FOLLY.”

D’Egville (1770-1836) is sometimes credited with being the most influential ballet master after John Weaver (1673-1760). During the Napoleonic wars the need was felt to train more English dancers, and he founded an academy of dance to do just that, although interest in developing English talent waned after 1815. The critic Henry Robertson was evidently not persuaded of this approach and wrote the following about D’Egville’s 1808 production of Le Mariage Secret; ou, les Habitants du Chene:

“In this ballet as well as every other production of Mr. D’Egville, the audience are annoyed with the perpetual introduction of his pupils, who are continually flitting before the eyes, and labouring by roughed faces, ghastly grins, and languishing attitudes, to compel admiration, while they only excite disgust or pity.”

Whatever the critics thought, the newspapers were unmitigated in their praise for Esther Gayton and D’Egville’s other pupils over the next couple of years. Esther was indeed fortunate –and clearly talented enough – to be taken on by such an influential teacher, and her first leading part came in February 1807, as the eponymous Emily; or Juvenile Indiscretion, in a dance composed by D’Egville. Newspaper reports from the time give a good flavour of how dance pieces fitted into the overall programme, and how they could be changed at short notice if they didn’t meet with the audience’s approval.

In 1808, Esther hit the big time. James D’Egville was appointed acting manager of the entire company as well as principal dancer and ballet master, and newspapers across the country announced his engagement at the Opera (i.e. Theatre Royal). Details of the main performers’ salaries are given: Esther’s is quoted as £150 per year, which is amongst the lower amounts, and certainly nothing like the thousands of pounds demanded by the star singers such as Angelica Catalani or even the £800 paid to D’Egville. Her appointment came with the retirement of Rose Parisot (pictured below, right) and although Esther wasn’t initially seen as the star of the new cohort, she actually attracted much of the attention, and performed Parisot’s famous shawl routine to critical acclaim: “Miss Gayton, pupil to the new Manager, succeeded Madame Parisot, and in the ShawI Dance in particular displayed so much elegance and grace, as to render her every way worthy of the situation she has been thus brought to fill. She is a native of England, and affords a gratifying proof that the talents we have hitherto sought in France, may be supplied at home. It indeed evidently requires only a discerning Master, capable (as Mr. D’Egville has proved himself) of making a judicious choice of the objects of his instructions, to render the Ballet Department wholly independent of foreign aid.”

The journalist for the Morning Post, where the above comment appeared on 4th January 1808, was clearly a big fan of Esther, as just a couple of weeks later he also wrote: “The ballet of La Belle Laitière succeeded, and we saw with increased pleasure the elegant performance of D’EGVILLE’s little pupil, Miss GAYTON, whose dancing is perhaps more graceful than that of any English actress that has appeared on the Italian stage.”

The Morning Chronicle in March noted once again the skills of her hornpipe dancing: “King’s Theatre – a new Pastoral Ballet was brought out on Saturday night, by Mr D’EGVILLE which has some pretty music, and in which the light and elegant Miss GAYTON danced a hornpipe with great éclat.”

By the summer, she was quite a fixture on the stage, and on 28th September had the honour of performing for many members of the royal family (including Queen Charlotte) at the Countess of Cardigan’s house, in fashionable and aristocratic Richmond Hill, overlooking the Thames: “MISS GAYTON from the Opera, exhibited her elegance and naiveté with the happiest effect. After her sprightly hornpipe, she was particularly called on for her shawl dance, which she performed to general admiration…”.

Later in the year she performed in two pieces for which she became widely known: Caractacus, in which she had the role of Isla and “the grand Romance Bluebeard; or Female Curiosity” which was revived at Drury Lane with a new dance composed by D’Egville.

It is the latter performance which is said to have inspired this couplet by Lord Byron, in a long poem called English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, written in 1808:

“While Gayton bounds before th’ enraptured looks
Of hoary marquises and stripling dukes;”

Below is Henry Bishop’s original score for Miss Gayton’s Pas Seul in Caractacus, and an arrangement retailed for amateur pianists.

1809 began on a very positive note, as the Sun noted on 7th January that “DESHAYES, MOREAU and MISS GAYTON retain their situations, so the Corps de Ballet will be very effective this season.” and Esther took on a leading role in Les Amours de Clauque. However, on 24th February Drury Lane burned down and the theatre world was thrown into disarray, as a dispute between the owners and performers ensued.

A shock of another sort was to come in March of course, and as a minor stage celebrity, Esther’s forthcoming nuptials attracted some press comment:

“Young Miss Gayton quits the stage next week, and is to be married to a well-beneficed clergyman who has been her constant admirer at the opera.” (Morning Chronicle, 9.3.1809)

 “The fascinating GAYTON danced for the last time. She is to be led to the hymenial altar by the REV MR. MURRAY.” (Morning Chronicle, 13.3.1809)

The Monthly Mirror carried a portrait of Miss Gayton and some “memoirs” of her and James D’Egville in its March edition:

“She is now about sixteen years of age [she was 18] and on the eve of being married to the REV Mr. MURRAY, aged forty-four [he was 40], when she will cease to “caper nimbly,” much to the sorrow of Mr D’Egville, whose pupil she is, and who will feel on the occasion just as Dr. Pangloss feels when he finds that the honourable Mr. Dowlass is about to celebrate his nuptials, and to discard his expensive ‘bear leader’ for ever.”

The writer refers here to two characters in George Colman’s 1800 drama The Heir-at-Law; the phrase “bear leader” initially meant exactly that – a man leading a performing bear – but was also used colloquially for a man who accompanied wealthy young men on their travels.

The gossip writers clearly picked up some issue over the wedding, which was delayed for a week, as even eighteen months later, in December 1810, the Morning Post felt the need to declare that the marriage had actually taken place.

So Esther’s stage career ended just as her star was in the ascendant. Some women dancers did continue their careers after marriage, but the expected pattern of frequent childbearing in those days did not, of course, work in their favour, so many did retire on marrying.

She was clearly seen as a dancer of great promise, and was particularly favoured as being an English dancer at a time when many of the stars were from mainland Europe.

For a fuller biography of Esther Gayton’s life, you can read this PDF: Miss Gayton’s Biography  or to read more about her stage performances: Miss Gayton’s stage performances. If you’d like to use this information in any way, please remember to acknowledge this website as your source.

The second part of this article is Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’ .

See also A Barrel Organ in the Arctic and Will the Real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!

A huge number of people have helped discuss various aspects of this research, my thanks to them all, especially for this first article: Dick “Dr Watson” Mathews for his genealogical insights and investigations and Keith Cavers for reading the section on the stage and ballet history.

Further Information

For information about the theatre and ballet in late Georgian times, and the London stage, there are some good sources online as well as the more specialist books I have consulted.

The British Library has good introductory pages on the London stage in the 18th century and the 19th century and the Sadler’s Wells website is also excellent, and the source of the 1810 image.

Sources referred to in the article:

The quote from James Murray about his brother William’s marriage to Esther Gayton is from Letters from America, 1773 to 1780 : being the letters of a Scots officer, Sir James Murray, to his home during the War of American Independence, edited by Eric Robson, 1950.

The quote about D’Egville’s pupils is from Ballet in Early Nineteenth-Century London as Seen by Leigh Hunt and Henry Robertson, by Theodore Fenner (Dance Chronicle Vol. 1, No. 2, 1977 – 1978)

The review of Tekeli or The Siege of Montgatz is from La Belle Assemblée 1806-1807, which can be found on Google Books.

Henry Bishop’s original score for Caractacus – including whole pages crossed through as the piece was deemed too long after its initial showing finished at 1am! – may be perused online in the Library of Congress’s digital archive.  The piano arrangement for Miss Gayton’s Pas Seul is also on Google Books

Newspaper reports:

  • Miss Gayton’s first appearance in public at Sadler’s Wells – The Sun, 9th April 1803
  • Mr D’Egville’s benefit night at Drury Lane – Morning Post, 14th May 1806
  • Advertisement for Miss Gayton’s Dance in Tekeli – Morning Chronicle, 11th August 1807
  • Esther dancing the Parisot shawl routine – Morning Chronicle, 4th January 1808
  • Esther dancing for the Royal family – Morning Post, 30th September 1808
  • Esther Gayton’s father’s episode as a stagecoach driver – Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 7th July 1812.

I was particularly interested in the reference to Esther dancing for the Royal family at the Countess of Cardigan’s house in Richmond. I grew up near there and a regular Sunday afternoon outing was with my grandparents to the Terrace Gardens, along the banks of the Thames. Little did I know that the thatched summerhouse and spooky, cold, ice-house that I loved to clamber around as a five year-old had stood in the grounds of that house where Esther enchanted the Royal Family with her trademark hornpipe dance! Information on Cardigan House and the Terrace Gardens gleaned from the Historic England listing.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have unearthed far more material on Esther Gayton’s performances and personal life, the tune, and the dance, than can be written up here. Please do get in contact if this is a special area of interest or study to you, I would be happy to tell you more.

Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!

This is one story of several inspired by the music on a barrel-organ which Admiral Sir William Edward Parry took to the Arctic journeys between 1819 and 1825. I have been looking at this material for a couple of years now, and this article is the first one out of the treasure chest! Please see the foot of this page for credits for this original research.

About two thirds of the 40 items on Parry’s barrel-organ are dance tunes, with some hymns and patriotic songs. Dancing was an incredibly popular pastime in that period for people of all classes, mostly done with a partner in a longways formation, and tunes for the dances proliferated with the expansion of printing, being the equivalent of buying recorded music in the twentieth century.

The tunes on the barrel-organ are absolutely typical of the period, including English and Scottish reels, with just two jigs, both with distinctly Irish sounding names:  Paddy Carey, which is a staple of the English session repertoire these days, and Paddy O’Rafferty, a well-known tune in the Irish repertoire, which I decided to investigate in some depth. Rather than go in strictly chronological sequence, I’m going to look at some of the various incarnations of the entity that is Paddy O’Rafferty, starting with the dance tune (and a passing mention of the dance itself). If you’re interested in the chronology of its early history, there’s one at the end of this article.

So here begins the interesting and complex back story for the multi-faceted Paddy O’Rafferty.

Dance tune (and dance)

In 1795 a tune by this name was collected from the playing of a Mr. J.McCalley of Balleymoney, Co. Antrim by Edward Bunting. A year later, a jig Paddeen O Rafardie was published in Glasgow by James Aird: that’s the one at the top here. In the middle you can also see very brief dance instructions – the dances were all in the same longways configuration and the figures were very formulaic.

From 1801 the tune was enormously popular as a dance tune at balls for the “nobility and gentry” when it often featured as the first or second dance of the evening.

The lack of copyright legislation (more of that later) allowed for frequent republishing of the tune and it turns up in dance and tune publications very regularly – as can be seen here – in many different settings; from two parts up to five parts, usually with something in common with other versions!

This image comes from the brilliant Regency Dances website – see below for the link.

The folk song

So far, so relatively simple, despite the large number of variations on the tune.

There is also a song by this name, so next I began to investigate the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and the Irish Traditional Music Archive, the Bodleian Library and other places where we are used to searching for “folk” songs.

These archives revealed a number of publications – broadsides dating from at least 1820 and songsters from later in that decade – printed in both England and Ireland. There were also some unrelated songs – “to the air of Paddy O’Rafferty” – showing how ubiquitous the tune became. The English and Irish broadside texts fall into two broad groups.

The first concerns Paddy O’Rafferty’s courtship and marriage – as seen in the example on the left, printed in Liverpool

The second group of songs is about how the marriage disintegrates – and ends with Paddy knocking his wife into a bog, burying her and dancing on her grave – as seen on the examples centre and right – the one on the right winning the prize for the most inappropriate woodcut illustration! She certainly could have done with a knight on a white charger, and it certainly wasn’t Paddy O’Rafferty!

Given the lyrics, I’m personally quite glad that these songs don’t seem to have survived much beyond the end of the nineteenth century – singer Elizabeth Cronin from Co. Cork is said to have known a song by the title of Paddy O’Rafferty, but in the book “The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin” Dáibhi Ó Cróinín took a set of words from an un-named ballad sheet (possibly from the Joyce collection), which is the Death of Mrs O’Rafferty song, which gives her name (as do the others here) as Biddy O’Dougherty  – conveniently rhyming with “property” …!

The stage song

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, we find Paddy O’Rafferty marrying another woman! – Kitty O’Donovan – and a completely different set of words, in a cantefable setting. This song – Tid Re I – was printed both as a broadside, and as sheet music with a tune, and it’s not clear which came first.

Certainly this song and skit was a big success for the English singer and actor William Twaits, who was engaged for the 1803 winter theatre season in Philadelphia, where this sheet music (above) was published soon afterwards.

So where did these words come from? And is this tune the same as the dance tune? No, of course it’s not, that would be far too straightforward!

Well, once you take off your “folk” binoculars (hopefully not blinkers!) this is when it starts to get even more complex, as the wider context for this song begins to be revealed.

Lack of copyright laws and legislation on what could be staged in different types of performance venues meant that songs, dramatic pieces and stage characters were used and re-used, revived and repurposed. That certainly turns out to be the case with this song Tid Re I, as the verses for this song – without the “patter” were actually written several years before, by the English composer and performer Charles Dibdin. He sang his own composition The Irish Wedding in London at the end of 1796, in a musical revue entitled “The General Election”, in which he interpolated the song with some rather more high falutin’ versification and in his original version, the groom was named only Paddy or Pat and the bride was anonymous.

The stage character and Paddy’s Rambles across the western world

So it’s becoming clear that this character Paddy O’Rafferty had a life on the stage and there is plenty of detail in the newspapers and journals of the early nineteenth century, revealing Paddy O’Rafferty’s rambles around the theatres of England, Ireland and America.

In the period before music hall developed, a night at the theatre consisted of at least three or four separate items which could include a couple of dramatic pieces, maybe a farce or a pantomime, and in the middle, an entr’acte entertainment which might be a stand-alone song or dance item. There was often a prologue or afterpiece as well, so it could be a long night! And almost all plays in the Georgian period included songs, which could be chosen at short notice during a season to suit the character.

It’s in this context that the songs about Paddy O’Rafferty and the stage “character” of Paddy O’Rafferty become increasingly intertwined.

The cast list on the right above, from 1798, shows John Henry Johnstone, an Irish actor, playing the part of Paddy O’Rafferty in a new farce called “False and True” which premiered at Covent Garden, then toured the English provinces – and was staged for the first time in Ireland at the Dublin Theatre Royal in April 1799. Although Johnstone sang songs in this production, none are related to “our song”, but the character has now been established.

From then onwards, Paddy O’Rafferty pops up regularly in the English and Irish theatre, sometimes in a comedy, sometimes in an entr’acte entertainment. The character also toured America. Perhaps the person who really made the part of Paddy O’Rafferty his own, was another Irishman who specialised in playing “Stage Irish” parts in both England and Ireland, the enigmatic Mr. Webb, in the centre below – about whom nothing at all is known, despite a recent trawl of a variety of primary sources – although the details of his 1822 season in Dublin are charmingly revealed in “The Daily Visiter or Companion for the Breakfast Table” published in Dublin.

There were a number of plays featuring various stock Irish characters, including Sir Callaghan O’Brallaghan in “Love a La Mode” and Major O’Flaherty in “The West Indian” portrayed here respectively by Johnstone on the left above and Webb in the centre …… hmm!!!

On the right above is another favourite Irish “delineator” Tyrone Power (ancestor of a whole dynasty of American actors with the same name!) who again played all the stock “Stage Irish” parts and took the part of Paddy O’Rafferty many times, notably in his own reworking of the 1798 farce “False and True” into a “new” piece “Born to Good Luck” in 1832.

Many other lesser known actors also played the character of Paddy O’Rafferty during the course of the nineteenth century, in provincial theatres up and down the land.


So our whistle-stop journey through Paddy O’Rafferty’s kaleidoscopic existence concludes – and here is a brief chronology to round it off.

  • The name of a dance tune – in various permutations – first noted aurally in Co. Antrim, printed in England, Scotland, Ireland and the US, and also reproduced on barrel-organs (1795 onwards)
  • A proto-Paddy O’Rafferty appeared (as “Paddy” or ”Pat”) as the bridegroom in the song The Irish Wedding written by English composer and performer, Charles Dibdin (1796).
  • A “stage Irish” character making appearances in various productions at English, Irish and American theatres (1798 onwards)
  • The name of a country dance, used as an opening dance at society balls in England (1801 onwards)
  • A character in a cante fable piece Tid Re I (Dibdin’s The Irish Wedding) and a related piece, The New Tid Re I or The Birth of Paddy O’Rafferty junior, both published in the US (1804 onwards).
  • A comic dance performed on the stage (1810)
  • A character in yet another song; words by Alexander Boswell, set to music, using the traditional air by Beethoven (1814)
  • A character in two other songs (Paudeen O’Rafferty and The Death of Mrs O’Rafferty) published on broadsides, in chapbooks and songsters in England and Ireland (circa 1815 onwards)


    The recycling of musical themes and titles was incredibly common and means we must have open minds about the relationship between different aspects of popular culture; songs, dances, instrumental tunes, theatrical pieces etc. The link with the stage (and particularly the relationship between London and the Dublin) provides a fertile area for song and tune research.

    This talk was originally part of a presentation for the Traditional Song Forum Zoom on 14th June 2020. Although later talks were recorded on YouTube, this was one of the early online meetings before such sophistication!

    For further information about Parry’s journeys, the barrel-organ and it’s other tunes, see A Barrel-Organ in the Arctic. See also Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’ . Further explorations of the music on Parry’s barrel-organ are in preparation.

    Many of the tunes from Parry’s barrel-organ were recorded following restoration in 1972, and that album is still available on the Saydisc label – “Parry’s Barrel Organ”. It is included on track 2 on the album and was originally on barrel no. 4.

    At the time of writing the album is also available to listen to on YouTube via this link. If you want to go direct to the Paddy O’Rafferty tune, it is the third tune out of four on this composite track.

    Paul Cooper has done some superb research into Georgian dancing culture and been very helpful in my work on Parry’s barrel-organ. The “research papers” section of his website Regencydances.org  is particularly informative.

    The English broadside images are from the Bodleian Library’s wonderful Ballads Online resource.

    The Tid Re-I song texts are from The American Antiquarian Society’s digital archive.

    The portraits of the actors Henry Johnstone and Mr Webb are in the Harvard Theatre Collection and the National Portrait Gallery respectively. These two portraits, supposedly of different people, are nearly identical – although it was very common for engravings to be copied and re-used. John Henry (“Jack”) Johnstone’s stage parts were extremely similar to Webb’s. His portrait is extremely similar to Webb’s in. No personal details are known about Webb at all, except some addresses given for his benefit nights, although he appears in theatrical cast lists regularly from 1801 to 1822. You might expect to read some remarks about Webb following in Johnstone’s footsteps, but I haven’t seen anything. So you might even wonder if they were actually the same person, except a Mr. Webb (though possibly not the same one) and Johnstone appeared on the same stage at Drury Lane in 1805. Further information about Mr Webb in Dublin may be found in “The Daily Visiter or Companion for the Breakfast Table” (1823), digitised on Google Books.

    The portrait of Tyrone Power came from the wonderful 1838 publication “Actors by Gaslight”, which together with its sibling “Actors by Daylight” is also digitised on Google Books. (Actors by Gaslight follows Actors by Daylight: Tyrone Power is featured in Volume 1, April 21st 1838, which follows Actors by Daylight December 22nd p. 348.)

    The newspaper advert for the “New Comic Ballet” of Paddy O’Rafferty is from Saunders’s News-Letter, 16 March 1810 and advertises a performance at the Theatre Royal in Dublin.

    The cast list for the premiere of “False and True” at Covent Garden on 11th August 1798 is taken from the original script by George Moultrie, which is again digitised on Google Books: “False and True”.

    Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

    I have dug out far, far more material on the song, the tune and the stage performances and performers than can be written up here. Please do get in contact if this is a special area of interest or study to you, I would be happy to tell you more.

A Barrel Organ in the Arctic

No you didn’t misread the title, it really is “in the Arctic”, not the attic!


In 1819, Lieutenant William Edward Parry was in charge of an expedition which made a (literal) breakthrough in the search for a North-West passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Parry was bold enough to carry on past the point at which his predecessor, John Ross, had turned back, and after 10 months in which his two ships, Hecla and Griper, were stranded by frozen ice, they found a route out. How they passed the time in those long dark days has fascinated me, in particular the idea that he took a mechanical musical instrument, a chamber barrel organ, on board with him.

On returning from this first trip Parry was promoted to Commander and subsequently made two further voyages to the Arctic in 1821-23 and 1824-25, and also made an attempt on the North Pole in 1827 which remained the record for the next 49 years. He was knighted in 1829 and eventually attained the rank of Rear-Admiral in the Royal Navy. To find out more about his explorations and achievements, Wikipedia will give you the bare facts, any number of books can fill it out for you, and his journals are also online.

I shall concentrate on the musical aspects of these journeys.

Please note: Although this is a long post, it is just the tip of the iceberg of a massive amount of original research. Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

Why take a mechanical musical instrument to the Arctic?

From various entries in Parry’s journals, it is clear that the barrel organ earned its place on the ship from the first voyage onwards …

In December 1819, when the Hecla and Griper were icebound in a natural harbour just off the coast of Melville Island, Parry wrote that, when the weather permitted, he sent the crew out to walk on the shore in the mornings and: “When the day was too inclement for them to take this exercise, they were ordered to run round and round the deck, keeping step to the tune of an organ, or, not unfrequently, to a song of their own singing,”

On the second voyage, in 1821, Parry noted: that the crews of the two ships came together for a religious service, when “ some psalm tunes, which had been purposely set upon an organ, were played at the proper intervals …”

Although the ships were icebound, the men were not entirely isolated, as they met some of the Inuit people (“Esquimaux” in the terminology of the time) living nearby, and it appears that the local women in particular were fond of singing, music and dancing, as several journal entries indicate.

In January 1822: “On our reaching the ships, these people expressed much less surprise and curiosity than might naturally have been expected on their first visit, which may, perhaps, in some measure, be attributed to their being in reality a less noisy kind of people than most of the Esquimaux to whom we had before been accustomed. Quiet and orderly, however, as they were disposed to be, this first visit showed them to be as fond of merriment as their countrymen are usually considered ; for, on Captain Lyon’s ordering his fiddler up on the Hecla’s deck, they danced with the men for an hour, and then returned in high glee and good-humour to their huts.”

“On the 4th a number of Esquimaux came to the ships, and […]  were then taken on board, and derived great amusement from our organ, and from anything in …the shape of music, singing, or dancing, of all which they are remarkably fond.

“On the 7th I paid another visit to the huts, where I found scarcely anybody but women and children, the whole of the men, with the exception of the two oldest, having gone on a sealing excursion to the northeastern side of the island. One of the women, named Iligliuk, a sister of the lad Toolooak, who favoured us with a song, struck us as having a remarkably soft voice, an excellent ear, and  a great fondness for singing, for there was scarcely any stopping her when she had once begun.”

“On the 8th we were visited by a musical party of females, consisting only of a few individuals expressly invited for this purpose. A number of the officers assembled in the cabin to hear this vocal concert, while Mr. Henderson and myself took down the notes of their songs, for which, indeed, they gave us every opportunity, for I thought they would never leave off. We afterward amused them with our little band of flutes and violins, and also by some songs, with the whole of which they were extremely well pleased.”

“On the morning of the 12th […] It was enough, however, with Iligliuk, just to make the motion of turning the handle of the organ, which, conveying to her mind the idea of music and merriment, was always sure to put her immediately into high spirits.”

“John Longman’s New Invented Patent Barrel Organ with bells, drum and triangle”, which produced such merriment, is now housed in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

Other onboard entertainment

The explorers weren’t totally reliant on mechanical music, as several of the officers on the various voyages were known to be musical, including Parry himself, whose violin is on display in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Parry noted in December 1819: “the men were permitted to amuse themselves as they pleased, and games of various kinds, as well as dancing and singing occasionally, went on upon the lower deck till nine o’clock, when they went to bed […] It is scarcely necessary to add, that the evening occupations of the officers were of a more rational kind than those which engaged the attention of the men. Of these, reading and writing were the principal employments, to which were occasionally added a game of chess, or a tune on the flute or violin, till half past ten, about which time we all retired to rest.”

Parry also describes the publication of a weekly satirical magazine and a series of theatrical entertainments which: “… took place regularly once a fortnight, and continued to prove a source of infinite amusement to the men. Our stock of plays was so scanty, consisting of one or two odd volumes, which happened accidentally to be on board, that it was with difficulty we could find the means of varying the performances sufficiently ; our authors, therefore, set to work, and produced, as a Christmas piece, a musical entertainment, expressly adapted to our audience, and having such a reference to the service on which we were engaged, and the success we had so far experienced, as at once to afford a high degree of present recreation, and to stimulate, if possible, the sanguine hopes which were entertained by all on board, of the complete accomplishment of our enterprise.”

The Scott Polar Research Institute has in its catalogue: “The New Georgia Gazette & Winter Chronicle” – Playbill (1): “Theatre Royal, New Georgia. On Friday next the 5th November 1819 will be performed Garrick’s celebrated farce of “Miss in her Teens”. Cast list (all male). Playbill (2): (no heading) “The North West Passage, or Voyage Finished” (cast list all male).”

The cast list for The Rivals shown here is from the second voyage, and indicates that men took the women’s parts. Costumes were taken on board specifically for use in theatrical productions and replenished by a donation from the ladies of Bath, Parry’s home town, at one point. After the first voyage, the newspaper idea was dropped, but they then had a Magic Lantern on board for visual as well as musical entertainment – it’s amazing what they found room for on those ships!


By the third voyage Parry and his colleagues felt the need to vary the entertainments slightly, and a series of masquerade balls were held. The drawing above, by the otherwise unknown C. Staub, is dated 2nd February 1825 and shows Charles Richards playing the flute while Edward Bird (left) and Francis Crozier (right) dance. In this illustration they do not appear to be doing a conventional social dance, and are more likely to be doing some sort of step dance – yes, possibly the Sailor’s Hornpipe, but all sorts of individual stepdances existed at the time. The article Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’ gives more details of this type of dance.

According to Regina Koellner’s article Edward Parry and the Birth of the Arctic Thespians, the idea was for “officers and men being able to participate on equal terms, where everything could be worn from a simple domino (which was the minimum costume to be admitted) to an elaborate fancy dress and everybody could decide freely how much he wanted to participate.” In 1821, in his record of the second voyage, Captain George Lyon noted: “Those ‘ladies’ who had cherished the growth of their beards and whiskers, as a defence against the inclemency of the climate, now generously agreed to do away with such unfeminine ornaments, and everything bode fair for a most stylish theatre.”

Some men would also have taken the ladies’ positions in the social dances of the day that went with the jigs, reels and strathspeys on the barrel organ, except when the Inuit women came on board and danced with them.

John Longman’s New Invented Patent Barrel Organ with bells, drum and triangle

The barrel organ that Parry bought was made by the well-respected firm of John Longman between 1801 and 1816. The various generations of Longmans entered into several business relationships (Broderip, Clementi etc) and was based in the centre of the music publishing business at the time, Cheapside in London. They published sheet music as well as making and selling instruments. The Horniman Museum and the Bate Collection have a number of clarinets, flutes and oboes made by the firm, and several of their barrel organs and pianos are still in existence, some in private hands and some in museums.

Developing new and improved systems of producing mechanical music was big business in this period, with several companies arguing over who had invented what. This type of chamber barrel organ was made for private entertainments, and newspaper advertisements of the time make it clear that it was the equivalent of the gramophone or the Dansette in the twentieth century – it provided dance music without the need for live music.

Newspaper adverts also indicate that Longman’s considered both their pianos and barrel organs to be able to withstand extreme heat, as mentioned in this 1802 advert:

“Longman and Co.’s new invented Patent Barrel Organs, with Bells, Drums and other Accompaniments (being the only Patent granted for ten years past), constructed on entire new principles, warranted to keep in order, and resist the hottest climates; additional barrels may be made without any pattern, and the very defective and inconvenient method of changing the Tunes by Notch pins entirely exploded.”

They were probably not the only makers looking at the colonial market, as the second advert here shows a barrel organ of unknown for private sale in the Calcutta Gazette of 25th June 1812.

Michael Kassler, in his examination of Longman’s instrument-making business in The Music Trade in Georgian England describes how, as well as taking instruments overseas for their own personal use, captains and other officers would sometimes buy pianos and barrel organs in London to sell off in foreign ports, and Longman’s offered a generous discount to those doing so.

The photographs above are of Parry’s Longman barrel organ (a) in situ in the Scott Polar Research Institute in 2016; (b) in the SPRI in the 1960s, prior to restoration; (c) interior view from the same date showing bells, tambourine (“drum”) and triangle with seven stops below the barrel. Confusingly, the 1960s photo says it has four barrels including one of sacred songs, whereas it is now known to have five.

The SPRI describes the instrument: “A hand-operated barrel organ with five cylindrical music barrels comprising eight tunes on each. The speed of play can be varied by the rate at which the handle is turned. The sound can be altered with the use of seven turned brass-handled stops on the front of the organ case, which allow the user to select which sets of bells and percussion instruments are included in the play cycle. The sound is produced through a series of 11 white metal cloche bells, a triangle and a tambourine. The instruments, barrels, and wooden and brass mechanical operating mechanism are built into a free-standing wooden cabinet with Neo-Classical carved fluting on the rectangular uprights and surrounds of the red textile-lined door cartouches. The double doors can be opened with a lock at the top of the cabinet to reveal the mechanism and to allow for replacement of the barrel. Printed instructions and handwritten song list has been pasted inside one of the doors. A painted roundel depicting the Royal coat of arms is below the stops on the cabinet exterior, and a gilded scroll with patent inscription is at the top of the cabinet frame.”

Parry’s barrel organ lay neglected and inoperative for nearly 150 years until it was donated by Parry’s great-grandson to the Scott Polar Research Institute in 1954 when an initial restoration was carried out by Canon A.O. Wintle and J.D. Budgen, followed in the early 1970s by a full restoration by Clive Holland and Fred Hill, a music teacher and watch and clock repairer who was a distinguished member of the Musical Box Society of Great Britain. The restoration was key to recordings being made and issued on an LP on the Saydisc label in 1972. This album (still available on CD) included all 8 religious items, God Save the King and 24 of the original 31 dance tunes.

Both the Musical Box Society and the Scott Polar Research Institute have been very helpful in providing obscure pieces of information, and quite recently the SPRI sent me the full playlist for this barrel organ, so I have been able to look at the entire repertoire contained on the five barrels. Typically these playlists were written by hand and pasted inside the cabinet of the organ, and the contents seem to have varied from instrument to instrument, whether at the behest of the owner or the maker isn’t known. Longman’s were also prolific music publishers so they may have tied in the barrel organ repertoire with their most popular publications.

The music on this barrel organ

Barrel 2 contains 8 hymns and psalms, and God Save the King is on Barrel 4, but all the other 31 tunes are dance tunes.

Dancing was an incredibly popular pastime in that period for people of all classes, mostly done by couples in a longways formation, and tunes for the dances proliferated with the expansion of printing, being the equivalent of buying recorded music in the twentieth century.

The tunes on the barrel organ are absolutely typical of the period, including English and Scottish reels, with just two jigs, both with distinctly Irish sounding names:  Paddy Carey, which is a staple of the English session repertoire these days, and Paddy O’Rafferty, a well-known tune in the Irish repertoire, which is the subject of Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up! Most of the tunes would have been “pop songs” of the time – popular dance tunes and a few songs, with one mystery item, which may be the subject of a future article – if I can find out a bit more!

Click here to see the Parry barrel organ complete listing. Some of the tunes were not able to be identified at the time the recording was made. As I have not been able to listen to all of the six unidentified tunes on Barrel 5 (the names are illegible due to the list from Barrel 2 having been pasted over the top) I can’t put them in the correct order. There were only five un-named tunes on the LP/CD, which are all now identified, but there is one more on the original Barrel. One of the tunes unidentified at the tme of the recording – is Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe; see Esther Gayton part 2: ‘Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe’.

On the LP, each tune is played through twice, which lasts for about one minute. The longways dances of the day would take longer than that, and although I’m not experienced in the practicalities of playing tunes on repeat, I understand this is quite possible. This barrel organ has seven stops, which can alter the instrumentation of the piece, and the speed is controlled by how fast the operator turns the handle.

In a great piece of good luck, someone contacted me last year with photos of the “twin” to this barrel organ, which is in North Carolina, and I have included a photo here as it is shows the “furniture” aspect of the instrument more clearly than those I have of Parry’s own barrel organ.

Also shown is the handwritten playlist from no. 40, which is mostly illegible, but out of 40 items on the 5 barrels that were originally with the organ (now all lost) less than half can be identified and one barrel ( 8 items) appears to be all patriotic. The others seem to be all dance tunes with only two being included on the Parry instrument (the ubiquitous Devil Amongst the Tailors and Speed the Plough). There is also, unusually, a song, the well-known folksong Barbara Allen which has quite a slow and sad melody.

The strength of the barrel organ seems to lie in upbeat dance tunes, rousing patriotic anthems and stirring hymns, which are the more typical contents of the other playlists I have studied for comparison.



There has been some real excitement recently around the idea that these mechanical instruments actually preserve musical performance styles from earlier periods, with contemporary decorations and embellishments which are not always evident from written scores. As Arthur Ord-Hume put it in a long article in The Music Box in 2013, “The programmers […] are those artistic craftsmen who could take a musical score with all its wide-open interpretational imperfections and from it create a genuinely brilliant performance via the process of translating the music into the pins and staples of the barrel or cylinder that formed the musical playlist for these instruments.”

That is a really fascinating concept, and the quality of the musical arrangement pinned on a barrel must be a result of the level of musicianship of the programmer, as well as of his/her craft skills. But Ord-Hume and subsequent researchers into this area such as Emily Baines, seem to be more interested in the classical pieces written by Handel, Haydn etc, expressly for barrel organs, whereas, I (as ever) am more interested in the popular culture represented by the dance tunes – and of course, in the people who made the instruments, bought and sold them, pricked out the music onto the barrels, carried them on board the ships, danced and marched and sang to the tunes on them.

I like to imagine the musicians on board (including Parry) getting these tunes stuck in their heads – what we call an “ear worm” these days – and getting home after a long voyage to find these tunes coming out from their fingers after having heard them so frequently in the long dark icebound days. A bit more fanciful is to imagine the Inuit women who were so attracted by this music taking the melodies back to their homes and handing them on to later generations who took up the accordion and created their own traditions using this European instrument …

See also Will the Real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up! and Esther Gayton part 2: Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe (forthcoming).

The 1972 Saydisc LP Parry’s Barrel Organ is still available on CD by mail order, and at the time of writing the whole album is also available to listen to on this YouTube link.

Parry’s barrel organ is housed in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. My thanks to them for their remote support during lockdowns.

Most of Parry’s journals and other contemporaneous material is digitised and may be viewed and downloaded by searching for “Captain William Edward Parry” on the Hathi Trust website.

You can read some marvellous stories about the entertainments on board Parry’s Arctic fleet on Regina Koellner’s 2016 blog about the life and times of Francis Crozier in her article Edward Parry and the Birth of the Arctic Thespians.

Much useful information about the dances and music of the period is on the Regency Dances website, where Paul Cooper’s research papers are published. Paul has been a huge support to all my research on the Parry barrel organ and its music.

Heather Clarke’s website Colonial Dance has several articles relating to dancing and music at sea. She has investigated the musical and dancing side of John Franklin, another Arctic explorer in the 1820s, who on sailing to Australia in 1836 took his treasured piano with him on board the Fairlie, where it was brought up on deck for his niece to play for country dancing and quadrilles. 

The Musical Box Society of Great Britain has been very helpful and interested in this project, and they have a great online archive of back numbers of their journal, The Music Box on their rather quirky website.  Arthur Ord-Hume’s article referred to above is entitled Learning from Interpretations by Mechanical Instruments and was originally presented on 7th July 2013 at the first Conference on Mechanical Music in London. The full article can be found online in The Music Box Volume 26, no. 5, Spring 2014.

A very brief report on the restoration of the barrel organ by Fred Hill and Clive Holland is online.

The photo of Parry’s violin is taken from Music of the Sea, by David Proctor, National Maritime Museum, 1995 and revised edition, 2005 – I recommend both editions, which can be bought at reasonable prices second-hand. I’ve also found The Music Trade in Georgian England, by Michael Kassler, Routledge, 2016 (first published by Ashgate in 2011) to be invaluable, with an impressive range of primary sources. It’s expensive but snippets can be viewed online.

The colour photo of Parry’s barrel organ is by Regina Koellner and the two mono ones come from the book Church and Chamber Barrel-Organs by Langewill & Boston. Mine is the second edition from 1970, before the major restoration of the instrument.

The newspaper advertisement for Longman’s pianofortes and barrel organs is from The London Courier and Evening Gazette, Monday 15th February 1802, and the advertisement for a private sale is from the Calcutta Gazette, 25th June 1812.

The portrait of Parry and the engraving The Crews of H.M.S. Hecla & Griper Cutting into Winter Harbour, Sept. 26th, 1819 are from Parry’s journals.

The drawing of the dancing midshipmen by C. Staub came from Regina Koellner’s blog and the original is owned by the Royal Geographical Society. The cast list for The Rivals also came from the same source.

Thanks to Ron Mack in North Carolina for the photos and information about the Longman no. 40. barrel organ.

Last but absolutely not least, thanks to dancer and researcher Simon Harmer for the inspiration on these stories!

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

I have carried out a lot of careful research into this specific barrel organ, comparable ones in both museums and private hands, the music on them and much more – I have far too much information to publish here. Please do get in contact if this is a special area of interest or study to you, I would be happy to tell you more.

Tales from the Harbour Inn


Other posts about Southwold on this website have mentioned The Harbour Inn at Blackshore, on the banks of the River Blyth, near Southwold as a place for singing across the twentieth century. This post draws all the information together, such as it is in early June 2021 -always pleased to hear more from any readers!

The pub itself

The pub dates from at least the early 1700s, when it was referred to in documents simply as the Blackshore Alehouse. By the end of that century it gained the name The Fishing Buss. This referred to a type of fishing boat which originated in the Dutch and Flemish herring fleet and was adopted by East Anglian boatbuilders too. During the course of the nineteenth century it was replaced by the dandy-rigged lugger, which was felt to offer more diverse opportunities for fishermen. The pub changed to The Harbour Inn when it was acquired by Adnams in 1898. In this photo, the pub, looking a bit run-down in the 1950s, is the building nearest the camera, on the right. In front of it is the foreshore of the River Blyth.

Previously, the ownership and management of the pub had been tied in with that of the Blackshore quay and wharf, used by trading vessels and fishermen, although many of these preferred to launch off the beach. The narrow entrance to the harbour, at the mouth of the river Blyth, was (and still is) notorious. This black-and-white image shows the pub on the left, looking towards the river mouth.

Early 20th century

The earliest mention I have come across of singing taking place is from 1911. This drawing, although executed in 1930, is captioned the Harbour Inn in 1911. It is by a little-known artist called J.W. Georges (more on him on the Up from the Sea post) and features someone known to be a singer – Billy Rogers – apparently in full flow.

It was published in the 2005 book Making Waves: Artists in Southwold where the author, Ian Collins, noted:

“The remembered figures, left to right, are landlord Charles James Prior, fisherman John Cannell of 3 Town Farm Cottages, North Road in Southwold (83 in 1930), ex-basketmaker W.M. Rogers (the blind son of ‘Old Dog’ Rogers), the late fisherman Henry Ladd and the artist himself.”

Billy was born Benjamin Willie Rogers in 1880, the oldest son of fisherman Benjamin Rogers and his wife Eliza, and in various censuses he is described as “blind from birth” and “totally blind”. Little is known of his life apart from these little vignettes. No occupation is given, and although he clearly couldn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, he must have contributed to the family economy somehow – Ian Collins source says he was a basket-maker (but also had his initials wrong). He lived with his parents, in Hollyhock Square near the Church, into adulthood. His father died suddenly from a perforated ulcer in 1906 and his mother died in 1913. His brother Bertie married early in 1914, and I think Billy probably lived with him and his wife Florence. In 1939 they were also in Hollyhock Square, so I guess the three of them continued to live in what had been the family home since at least 1901.

Billy’s brother Bertie, was interviewed by Bob Jellicoe in the 1970s and recalled his brother singing – here he is talking specifically about the Victoria, on East Street, but the scene in the Harbour would no doubt have been similar:

“Coh! There used t’ be uproar in there! “Go on!” they’d yell. “Give us another bit on it!” My brother generally used t’ do that. Shade of the Old Apple Tree used t’ be another. The Bay of Biscay. Used t’ have a proper high night in there, Saturday nights. ‘Cos us youngsters used t’ be in there along o’ the ol’ men as well. “Go on, boy, you can sing suthin’.” They used t’ keep you up till you did try an’ do suthin’. You could hear it all over East Street. There weren’t no music, anythin’ like that, just shoutin’ an’ hollerin’ in there singin’ ol’ songs. That used t’ amuse the ol’ fishermen y’ know. There were some hectic Saturday nights in there, especially if they’d done a bit o’ fishin’. O’ course when they never got anythin’ the place ‘ud be dead, nobody there. There weren’t many local songs, not that I can remember. Only the Lifeboat, Bravo Lifeboatmen, it was called.

Mid twentieth century

During World War Two, the Rogers’ family home was hit by a German bomb which also blew out the church windows, and the Harbour Inn was forced to close for the duration of hostilities, finally re-opening in 1946.

Only a year or so later, the folksong collector E.J. Moeran was scouting for singing pubs to feature in outside broadcasts for BBC Radio, and it was very probably the Harbour Inn that he visited in late 1947, remarking:

“I visited a hostelry near Southwold and found it crowded with fishermen, one after another in full song. About one song in five was a folk song and the wretched fellow at the piano would insist on trying to accompany the singer. Being totally without any modal feeling in his bones he not only put the singers off their stroke but forced them to alter their tune to suit his abominable machinations.”

The piano-player would probably have been Stanley ‘Tinny’ Townsend, also known for his singing of The Vicar and the Curate.

It was not unusual for BBC Radio programmes to include traditional singers and musicians in magazine-type programmes in the 1940s and 50s. Evidently the Harbour Inn did not pass muster on this occasion, and another pub nearby – the Eel’s Foot near Leiston, was chosen to feature – alongside the Windmill in Sutton on the Norfolk Broads – in a 50 minute programme called “East Anglia Sings”, broadcast on 19th November 1947. The Eel’s Foot had been the subject of its own programme in 1939, which was one of the earliest outside broadcasts. More on this topic in a future post on this website!

The piano accompaniment did not seem to be so much of an issue for author and broadcaster John Seymour, who took a more relaxed view of “the tradition” and remarked in his 1956 book Sailing through England: “That harbour entrance is their trouble. Whenever the wind blows on-shore – or even along the shore – it is hazardous for them to go in or out. If they go out in the morning they are never quite sure that they will be able to get in again at night. Consequently they spend a great deal of their time sitting about in the Harbour Inn, looking extremely picturesque, giving yachtsmen and others sound advice, singing extremely good songs extremely well, and having their photographs taken by ‘art’ photographers from Waldringfield …”

Mid twentieth century singers

John ‘Dusso’ Winter (1932-2019) was born into a fishing family which had been in Southwold for at least seven generations. His memory of the pub (and plenty of others in the town!) goes back to his days as a teenager and young adult, in the 1940s and 50s. He picked up many songs in the pubs, particularly the Harbour Inn and recalled some of the singers:

John’s father, Jimmy Winter (also known as ‘Dusso’) used to sing the song Four and Nine, with ‘Tinny’ Townsend playing the piano, and John also recalled Willy ‘Jarvo’ Jarvis singing Lovely Nancy (Pleasant and Delightful) in the Harbour. William Samuel Jarvis (1908-2000) was the foreman in a bedding factory in the town and was the son of a longshore fisherman.

Other singers recalled by John Dusso Winter were two men he worked with as a young man, who would sing ‘all day long’. One was Billy Welton, then around seventy, one of whose songs went: ‘We parted on the shore / As the crowd began to roar / eeley-o, eeley-o, we’re off to Baltimore’.  William Henry Welton (1873-1947) was the son of a mariner, a house painter and decorator who at various times lived at Blackshore, a stone’s throw from the Harbour Inn, and across the river in Walberswick before retiring to Reydon. The other was a retired drifter skipper called Jack Remblance, of whom Dusso remarked: ‘Although his singing was awful, the songs he knew were, to say the least, different, such as the The Shoreham Murder, which Jack warned me never to try and sing in Shoreham!’ Herbert John Remblance (1891-1981) started his working life as a fisherman alongside his brothers, and later worked for Adnams’ Brewery in the town.

Dusso Winter himself was well known in the town for his many activities in connection with the Sailor’s Reading Room, the Town Council, and as a singer and jazz musician. One of his party pieces was The Captain Told the Mate, which he first heard from Willy Jarvis. We met Dusso in the 1980s and my husband John recorded his songs can be heard singing this on the Veteran CD “When the Wind Blows”. Dusso was an essential part of the Blyth Voices community project which I curated and created and managed during my time as Director of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust. In that project, we taught some of the folk songs collected by folklorists and composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth on their visit to Southwold in 1910 (see The Real Ben Hurr) and some of Dusso’s songs to schoolchildren and young adults in the town in 2003-4.

Another night you might hear some songs from ‘Dinks’ Cooper (on the left in this photo, with Jimmy Meekins) whose best known song was Busky, Haul the Trawl (aka Heave on the Trawl) which he learned from his father. Robert ‘Dinks’ Cooper (1914-1988) lived in Southwold for some years, but made Walberswick, over the river Blyth, his home. He went to sea aged 14, in 1930, working on the trawlers and drifters on seasonal fishing which would take him as far as the Shetlands. After the war he acquired a car and would sometimes pick up Ernie Seaman and his brother Charlie from the nearby village of Darsham and take them over to the Harbour for a musical night. Ernie (melodeon) and Charlie (dulcimer) were renowned musicians with a repertoire of polkas and hornpipes for dancing as well as old-time songs.

One of Dinks’ favourite stories was how, in the East Coast Floods of 1953, he and Ernie Seaman were marooned for several days upstairs in the Harbour Inn with only twenty Woodbines (cigarettes) for sustenance. He also liked to relate how he once fell asleep at the tiller of his boat and passed under the pier unharmed. He clearly had more than one narrow escape at sea and was involved in the Dunkirk operation in 1940.  In another of Dinks’ favoured pubs, the Bell in Walberswick, a brass plaque can be seen on the wall proclaiming ‘Dinks’ leaning post’.

Another regular was Guy Barber (above left) who worked on the fishing fleet out of Lowestoft, who played the melodeon and sang popular songs such as The Volunteer Organist. His son John Barber (b.1927) (on the right in the right-hand photo, with his grandson Alex Goldsmith playing melodeon) carried on the family tradition and has sung and played in the Harbour and other local pubs for nearly seven decades. Until his retirement (aged 90) in 2017, John was the Town Bellman and a well-known figure in the town, dressed in his civic regalia, making announcements and proclamations. He learned one of his favourite songs The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen from his father Guy. John plays the melodeon and mouth-organ, and spent many years performing in the company of George Jackson and John ‘Wiggy’ Goldsmith at pubs and parties in the area. John has been particularly keen to encourage youngsters to keep the music going locally and taught his grandson, Alex Goldsmith, to play the melodeon, as well as playing a crucial part in re-establishing the band tradition in the town with the foundation of the Southwold & Reydon Corps of Drums in 1981. John is also known for his unusual and distinctive ‘jig dolls’, which he made from a design he remembered from his youth, when an old man in Victoria Street in the 1940s used to sit in his doorway and dance similar ones on a board. Another old character in Church Street used to play the dulcimer in his doorway, whilst sporting an enamel plate on his head, to protect himself from shrapnel! John, ever inventive, has improved the design of the jig dolls by adding bells underneath the board, and his own trade-mark cigar in the mouth of one of them!

The Harbour Inn has remained a favourite pub for singing – several men who were the sons of fishermen continued to sing there throughout the twentieth century, and until the Coronavirus curtailed such things, it has had a thriving folk session there in recent years.

This has been a mixture of instrumental tunes played on folk instruments such as melodeons, concertinas and guitars and songs, both accompanied and unaccompanied, with many items having a local flavour.

The news in June 2021 from the organisers of the Harbour Inn sessions is that they hope to restart soon! From what we know about the longstanding tradition of singing and music-making in the Harbour Inn, these last couple of years must have been some of the quietest in the long history of the pub, apart from during World War II when it was closed for nearly six years.

Other pubs in Southwold which are known to have welcomed singing at various times in the twentieth century include the Nelson, the Victoria, the Southwold Arms and the Red Lion.

Information about the Southwold Arms is to be found on the post entitled MacKenzie’s Lambs and the Leg of Mutton and there are several other posts about Southwold too, including Up from the Sea, The Real Ben Hurr, A Life through Five Sovereigns and The Battle of Sole Bay: an Unsung Song.

Thanks to John Barber for the photo of his father Guy, and to Derek Simpson for the photos of John Barber and Alex Goldsmith and the session photo.

Thanks to Ian Goffin for the photo of the Harbour Inn, which came from the Southwold Life and Times group on Facebook.

The excellent website Southwold & Son has lots of interesting photographs and ephemera and a detailed history of the licensees at the Harbour Inn amongst its many gems.

Making Waves: Artists in Southwold, by Ian Collins was published by Black Dog Books in 2005.

Bob Jellicoe, curator of the Southwold Museum and archivist for the Sailors’ Reading Room, has been kind enough to share information about Billy Rogers with me in advance of his forthcoming book Shorelines: Voices of Southwold Fishermen, due to be published in October 2021 by Black Dog Books.

John Winter’s singing is featured on the CD “When the Wind Blows” on the Veteran label. John Winter died in January 2019 and there’s a great tribute to him in The East Anglian Daily Times, here.

Dinks Cooper may also be heard on the same CD, and there are interviews with him on the British Library Sound Archive website here, and here re Heave on the Trawl.

Dinks also featured in a couple of films. In 1962, Dick Joyce interviewed him as part of the now legendary Anglia TV series, “Bygones”. Although currently (5.6.21) the film itself is not online, there is a description of it here.

Dinks is also in this 1954 film, Fishing off the East Anglian Coast.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

A Life through Five Sovereigns: William Hurr senior

I first came across the stories of the Hurr family through a folk song collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from one Ben Hurr: the coincidence of his name being a homophone of the chariot-driving hero Ben-Hur drew my attention immediately. Ben was a fisherman in Southwold on the Suffolk coast, and three of his brothers are known to have been singers too. Years of research have gradually revealed some more family stories, including some about their father, William Hurr (1811-1908), who, in his long life, lived through the reigns of five sovereigns of the English throne. William may have sung folksongs as well, though he died before Vaughan Williams arrived, and there’s no sign of anyone collecting folksongs in the area in his lifetime, so we will probably never know. However he did have some stories to tell.

William Hurr was born in Southwold in 1811, the oldest son of Thomas Hurr and Elizabeth Bedingfield. The family were of an independent religion – not specified, but probably Methodist – and pre the 1837 requirements for registration of births deaths and marriages, the records are a bit thin on the ground. William followed in the family occupation of fisherman, and at this time, the small sailing luggers and punts launched off the beach at Southwold, where the fishermen banded into beach companies to work together.

We find out what William looked like! … from a gaol receiving book

William’s first appearance in official documents is not auspicious: in 1839 he was imprisoned for one month for assaulting Sarah Bedingfield. Although this fact appears in the Suffolk Chronicle on 18th May, no further details are given. In a period when there were often many people with the same name, there are not many options for identifying this person, and it looks as if Sarah may well have been his aunt, his mother’s sister. It also seems likely that the same Sarah Bedingfield was admitted to the County Lunatic Asylum in 1849 and again in 1856, dying there in 1861. Whatever the circumstances, this looks like a sad scenario. This wasn’t the only time William expressed his anger or frustration through physical violence, as two years later, he and two younger brothers, John Bedingfield Hurr and Thomas Hurr, were convicted and gaoled for assaulting the newly-appointed Police constable in Southwold, John Parker. Again, no details of the assault are known, but for three brothers to attack him suggests a significant revolt against some action from Parker. In this case, the gaol receiving book (from Ipswich) gives interesting biographical details about William and his brothers. The photocopy of a photocopy in my possession is now very faded, so I have written over the top of it to make it more legible.

The receiving books describe all three brothers as having a dark complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes and a round ‘visage’. William, then aged 30, was 5’5½” tall and had an anchor on the inside of his left wrist. His religion was described as Independent, he had attended school in Southwold for two years and could read and write imperfectly and no occupation is given as mariner. At the time of his arrival in gaol, William had: flannel shirt & drawers, hat, coat, jacket, waistcoat, trousers, stockings, shoes, shirt, two handkerchieves and a knife. Note: not a guernsey or smock; he must have put on his best clothes for his court appearance. The two brothers convicted with him were John, aged 28, height 5’4” and Thomas aged 24, height 5’5”. John was noted as receiving parish relief. I have not traced either of these two in the 1841 census, but John was already married with a young child and Thomas married between October 1841 and January 1842 – more than likely on his release from gaol in November. William also got married shortly after this interlude, to Maria Watson in 1842. She was listed in the Hurr household in the 1841 census as well as at home with her mother in Lowestoft, so maybe they were already courting then.

Thankfully there are no further criminal activities evident in his subsequent life, but it was a life full of hardships.

Hard times

James Maggs 19th century diaries report on 17th April 1851: “Sale of Effects of Wm Hurr mariner- Under distress for Rent. Mrs J.F. Bokenham Landlady”. In the 1851 census carried out less than three weeks previous to this, the Hurrs were ‘near East St’. The landlady was not, as might be imagined, some well-to-do member of the landed gentry, but the wife of another mariner, Joseph Forster Bokenham. Despite apparently owning more than one property, when Bokenham died (drowned at sea in a fishing boat) on Christmas Eve, 1868 and probate was eventually sorted out nearly nine years later, his estate was worth less than £20.

At this point in their lives, William and Maria had three young children, and after moving round the corner to Victoria Street, they went on to have another nine children. Despite describing himself as “retired” in the 1881 census, he went on to be listed variously as a boat owner, fishing smack owner etc in commercial directories until 1892, aged 81.

The boats were also used occasionally in competitions during regattas, and William’s family and boats had some successes: in those days, the fishing boats were at the heart of the event. In 1888 his son Sam was placed 5th in the 20ft punt class, in the Vigilant, and in 1889, the Ipswich Journal of 30th August reported the following result: “Punt race (20 feet and under): 1st prize of 25s. to Hurr’s Susannah; 3rd prize of 20s. to Hurr’s Vigilant – which nearly took second place.” That was to prove the zenith of the Hurrs competitive success – in 1893, the Vigilant came in 5th, still gaining a prize of 15 shillings and after that I cannot find any of William’s family listed: a likely reason is about to be revealed …

1893 was probably the worst year of William Hurr’s life: two sons, Sam, who had skippered the Vigilant in the 1888 regatta, and Tom, both died in a fishing accident, and just a month later his wife Maria died.

“The boat’s name was the Susannah, as fine a craft as ever was floated off the beach, and the crew, two of whom were sons of the owner, William Hurr, and Gabriel Peek, launched about six o’clock in the morning to haul their lines, and in the ordinary course would have returned between eleven and twelve. Not returning as expected, many an anxious eye scanned the deep for some trace of the boat bet saw none, and as the day were on all sorts of conjectures were made as to their whereabouts; some thinking that during the fog they had boarded some craft off the Barnard and had sailed with them; others that they bad boarded some steamer, or had put into Lowestoft. Unfortunately all surmise was futile, and the truth was briefly told in the telegram.”

The Susannah had been run down by a larger Lowestoft boat, and through a tragic set of circumstances, all hands were drowned.

After Maria’s death, William’s two unmarried daughters, Susannah and Annie, lived with him. It seems Susannah, the older, had long-term health problems (the newspaper report above said “at the present time his wife and daughter are confirmed invalids”) and it was Annie who ran the boarding houses they established at Caterer House, 39 Victoria Street and subsequently at 22 Corporation Road, where the three of them moved after Maria and Tom (who had been living home) died and Walter, the youngest son, married.

A grand old man

William outlived several of his children, and in the early 20th century found himself being feted as a grand old man of the community.

In a newspaper report in the Norwich Mercury on 23rd July, 1902, we find William being honoured as one of the oldest inhabitants at a “capital meat tea” held for the aged poor of the town. Ale and pipe tobacco was provided too, so it may indeed have been a festive occasion.

“The Chairman called on the oldest man present (William Hurr, aged 91), who has lived in the reigns of five Sovereigns, beginning with George III, to come and sit on the platform, to which he was escorted by two young ladies amidst loud applause.”

The report also mentions that two photographers were present including Frederick Jenkins (whose son A.B. Jenkins who edited several collections of his work) but so far I have not sighted any photographs taken on the occasion.

Frederick Jenkins not only took photographs, but also took an interest in writing down some of the memories from the older generation, including William at this time too, including the following tales of haunting and smuggling.

The first story is about either William’s father (Thomas Hurr 1787 to 1825) or his grandfather, who served in the Royal Navy and was held as a prisoner-of-war by the French for some time.

“A French lady fell in love with him and wanted him to marry her. He told her that he had a wife in England, but if, when he was set free he found she was dead, he would send word and then if the lady came over he would marry her. When peace was proclaimed and he returned to Southwold his wife was alive. The French lady however did not wait until she hear from him, but started for England shortly after he did. The vessel in which she sailed was lost with all hands. After this occurrence for a long time she used to “trouble” him, or rather, his wife, for the latter was constantly ill-treated, pulled out of bed and sometimes seriously hurt by unseen hands. This got to such a pitch that he was often obliged to go out of the house in the middle of the night to prevent his wife from being ill-used for, it was only when he was with her that things happened. One night after his wife had been annoyed by the “spirit” he went out of the house which was on South Green where he saw a large white cat sitting. He hit at it with a stick saying “Get out cat”. At this it suddenly reared up in the form of a beautiful white horse which Hurr followed as far as the Market Place where it vanished, and he found himself walking behind a funeral procession, coffin, mourners and all. He still followed this and it went slowly down Church Street as far as the Churchyard when it suddenly disappeared and he found himself alone.”

This was told to Fred Jenkins in 1903, as was this tale of smuggling, which William Hurr said happened when he was about 10, in 1821, when he was cabin boy on the Hope, of which Henry Sayers was the master.

“While the vessel was lying at Reydon Quay discharging a cargo, he was left on board alone to look after the ship. In the middle of the night he heard a noise on the quay, looking out of the fo-castle he saw one of the crew of a smuggling boat which had come into the harbour with 300 to 400 tubs hidden on board. The smuggler, John Spence, a Southwold man, told him to go below and he would be paid. Hurr did so and the “crop” was landed. Coming onto the deck the next morning Hurr found a stone “Betty” (bottle) of gin on deck. A similar bottle was left on another vessel ling alongside the quay. Hurr found on the quay a quantity of hoops and slings which he took home but left the bottle of gin on the vessel. The next day Mr Candler, the Custom House officer, came to Hurr’s home and asked him where he had got the slings and hoops. He told him Reydon Quay and was then asked if there were any tubs of liquor on the quay and he said he had not seen any. On the following day the smugglers’ boat was found on Blythburgh Flats. The crew had got clear away and successfully landed their cargo.”

A couple of years later William Hurr also contributed to Jenkins’ store of stories about a “Shrieking Woman”:

“Many people claimed to have heard unearthly shrieks which unfailingly portended wrecks or loss of life by drowning. W. Hurr’s father and mother [Thomas and Elizabeth, née Bedingfield] were coming home one night from the High Street to their house in East Street. When they were near the “Clinkums” (by the entrance to Church Street) his mother saw a figure and said to her husband, “Tom, what a beautiful dress that lady has on.” She had no sooner said this than the figure began shrieking and ran down the lane and vanished. The night before, Waters and two Rogers were drowned by their boat being sunk by a vessel.”

If he’d lived to be a hundred, we might know if William also sang songs, as the folksong collectors Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth paid a visit to the town in 1910 and noted down songs from three of his sons, William, Robert and Ben. George is also known to have been a singer, so it seems very likely their father was too, and they may even have learned some of their older songs, such as When Jones’ Ale was New from him.

Details about PC John Parker and the distraint of goods in 1851 were found in The Southwold Diary of James Maggs 1818-1876, edited by A.F. Bottomley, published in 1982. Maggs was a schoolmaster in the town and his diaries are a wonderful catalogue of everyday happenings. And to top it all, they are now available online in two volumes and can be downloaded as PDFs.



The ghost stories were printed in A Selection of Ghost Stories, Smuggling Stories and Poems connected with Southwold by A.B. Jenkins, published in 1986.

The advertisement for the Southwold Regatta in 1895 was in the Halesworth Times on 13th August.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.

« Older posts

© 2021 unsung histories

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑