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Category: Musical histories

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

Introduction

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.


Summary

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)

    Conclusions

    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!

Introduction

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.

 


Afterword

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.

The Well-Travelled Dulcimer

In my riffling around in amongst the musical traditions in my part of the world (East Anglia) I have been fascinated by one instrument above all others, the beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding dulcimer.

It is sometimes referred to by modern-day folk musicians as a hammered dulcimer, but this distinction is only really needed in the USA where a completely unrelated instrument also exists, which is known as the Appalachian or mountain dulcimer. In England it was always just dulcimer, and in the eastern counties sometimes dulcimore.

 

This particularly beautiful dulcimer, made by the very best of makers, Mark Widdows of Norwich, between 1845 and 1889, has proved to have a very interesting passage in its history. I first came across it in 2005, when I met Frank Read, who had owned it since 1983 when his daughter bought it for him from an antique shop in Wymondham, Norfolk, to replace one he had owned earlier in life.

 

But what of the earlier life of the dulcimer itself?  Well! … the instrument case revealed some surprising information. Written in pencil on the outside of the case – just visible – was the name Henry Edwards and inside the case were various items of ephemera which indicated that, in the early twentieth century, the same Henry Edwards had taken this dulcimer all the way across the Atlantic to New York!

Inspired by the idea of this instrument’s journey, I set off to uncover as much of the story as I could. After a more than usually difficult genealogical investigation spanning nearly a decade, I eventually became confident in my identification of the dulcimer’s owner as one Henry Edwards, born in Norwich in 1863, a bootmaker from a city with a busy footwear industry.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War One, Edwards travelled by train to Liverpool, where he boarded the Caronia on 2nd June 1914, bound for Boston; this was the Caronia’s last voyage before she was requisitioned for war service. He was even luckier with his return journey, made on the Lusitania in April 1915: the Lusitania was sunk just two weeks later, on 7th May 2015, with the loss of over a thousand lives.

So why did Henry Edwards travel to the United States and where was he heading for?

The Caronia’s outgoing passenger list and incoming passenger manifest from Boston give plenty of detail, not all of which is accurate. Henry’s destination was Canton, a town in St Lawrence County, near the Canadian border in New York State. The shipping manifest states that he was single (he was not) but it also says he would be staying with his son. This inconsistency could possibly be explained if he had separated from his wife – in such cases, the documentation of the time might have classified his position as single, or, he may simply have lied to the emigration officials.  Another incorrect detail is that he is described as living with his father at 5 Trafalgar Street in Norwich. His father, James, had died 20 years previously, but his brother Alfred was living at this address! The documentation from the Liverpool end also gives his trade as printer, and – oh dear – there was another Henry Edwards in Norwich who was a printer, also had a brother called Alfred and a father called James: you can now begin to see why it proved difficult to pin down ‘our’ Henry Edwards! It was a combination of the Trafalgar Street address, and more recently, access to the 1939 census and the United States census records that has allowed me, at last, to make a really positive identification despite these red herrings. The Boston manifest describes his appearance: 5’8” tall with fair hair and grey eyes, and we have no other proof of his appearance.

So Edwards was not the first of his family to make this journey: he went there to visit his son Henry James Edwards, who had emigrated four years earlier.

I did wonder if it was the latter that was the dulcimer player, and his father was delivering it to him, but the fact that Henry Edwards senior brought it back to Norwich suggests it was indeed he who was the owner and player of this instrument.

On his return to Norfolk in 1915, Edwards continued to work in the boot-trade in Norwich, retiring some time before the Second World War. He died in late 1955 at the age of 92, followed within just six months by both his wife and his only daughter.

I can only speculate as to the reason for Henry Edwards’ long sojourn in the United States and why he took the dulcimer with him. He stayed for ten months during which time, back in Norwich, his only daughter got married and his wife would have had to survive without any income from him. He had enough money to sail to the USA and to return (third class tickets in either direction) and had the minimum of $25 with him. Had he intended to make a new life out there alongside his son? Maybe he returned to Norwich only because transatlantic travel was about to close down due to World War One, or maybe because he was needed at home. He wasn’t of a class or a period to take a ‘gap year’ so he must have been working out there. Whatever the truth of the matter, his dulcimer was clearly important to him, and quite possibly playing it was also a way to make some money.

Nothing further is known about the dulcimer until Frank Read acquired it twenty-eight years after Edwards’ death, but I do hope that, after Henry Edwards came back from New York, he continued to play to entertain himself and maybe also his family and community. This beautiful instrument has clearly been treasured over the years, and exists complete with all its bridges and what is probably the original tuning key. It’s also interesting to reflect on the fact that Edwards chose his instrument case as the place to keep the reminders of his once-in-a-lifetime trip to America.


If by chance, any members of Henry Edwards’ family should come across this, do please leave a message here – it would be great to be in touch!


For more about the maker of this instrument, see my article on Mark Widdows on the East Anglian Dulcimers website

I wonder if Henry Edwards might have come across any other dulcimer players whilst in New York State? There were certainly plenty about: Paul M. Gifford has identified many players in the Great Lakes region in a slightly earlier period, but none in the Canton district itself.  http://www.giffordmusic.net/dulcimer.html

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

The Perfect Cure

The Perfect Cure is one of  several country dance tunes collected in Norfolk which were played for the traditional ‘Long Dance’, and it is often thought of as a quintessentially Norfolk tune. But it turns out that this tune already had a bit of history before that, as suggested by this music cover (left).

A little bit of musical archaeology reveals not only other regions that see the tune as being distinctively theirs, but also a glimpse of the way melodies moved between different performing contexts before tunes were pigeon-holed into different genres.

The Norfolk connection comes from the fact that it was published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society: firstly in ‘The Coronation Country Dance Book’ in 1937, a year or so after it had been noted down from melodeon player Herbert Mallett (right) of Aldborough by folklorist Joan Roe, and subsequently, and probably with a longer lasting influence, in ‘The Fiddler’s Tune Book’ Volume 2 in 1954. In July 1950, Herbert Mallett visited the BBC studios in Norwich and recorded several items including The Perfect Cure. 

Dulcimer player Billy Cooper from Hingham also played it, with a slightly different B music, which is given below, however it is Mallett’s version which has become the standard English version of the tune in modern times.

It’s also known – usually as She Hadn’t The Thing She Thought She Had – within the musical tradition of Sliabh Luachra from the Cork/Kerry borders in south west Ireland.  Some years ago, Con O’Drisceoil from County Cork was performing at a concert in Suffolk and introduced what he considered to be one of the more unusual items in his local repertoire – a 12/8 jig (known as a slide) – which turned out to be The Perfect Cure. I don’t know who was the more surprised, the audience or Con!

A set of words was noted down from the Oxfordshire fiddler Sam Bennett in 1950:

‘The cure, the cure, the perfect cure, you are a perfect cure,
And all at once the maid she cried, You are a perfect cure!
Some got trampled underfoot, some crushed beneath the wheel,
Lord how the parson he did curse and how the pigs did squeal!’

The phrase ‘perfect cure’ was a slang phrase, current from the mid nineteenth century, for an eccentric and amusing person. The original song dates from that period, and consisted of ten verses written in 1861 by F. C. Perry. The song was a roaring success in the Music Halls, made popular by James Hurst Stead, who, after the final verse, went straight into an early version of the punk pogo dance, where he is said to have jumped up and down 400 times during the song, and sometimes performed it in four different venues in the course of one night!

The actual melody, composed by John Blewett, predates this set of words, as it was originally written for a song called The Monkey and the Nuts. The original tune was written as a schottische although it is now commonly played as a jig.


There’s a lot more about James Stead on the Studied Monuments blog about the St Pancras and Islington cemetery by Bob Davenport, and for more about the tune itself, visit the excellent Traditional Tune Archive.

 

If you’d like to know more about Billy Cooper and East Anglian dulcimers, visit my other website East Anglian Dulcimers

 

 

The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library holds the original acetate recordings of Herbert Mallett, and this tune and others can be heard on the Musical Traditions website, in The Life and Times of a Norfolk Melodeon Player by Chris Holderness.

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

 

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