everyman and everywoman

Category: Norfolk Histories

Starry Night for a Ramble

The tune Starry Night for a Ramble has been an old stalwart of the southern English repertoire since the revival spearheaded by Rod Stradling and the Old Swan Band in the late 1970s, although at least two distinct versions have now developed even in that short space of time and context.

It has been collected from two traditional musicians in England – both from Norfolk: it was noted down from Mr Newstead in Wickmere in 1932, and subsequently published in ‘The Fiddler’s Tunebook Vol 2’ and was also recorded from Herbert Smith from Blakeney, titled Starry Night for a Randy. This version was included in my 2007 book ‘Before the Night Was Out’ published by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

Another Norfolk connection is given in the book ‘I Walked by Night’ – the autobiography of Frederick Rolfe, an inveterate poacher, even during his occasional spells of employment as a gamekeeper. Rolfe lived most of his life in the King’s Lynn area of west Norfolk. Rolfe’s book (published in 1935) gives the following words under the title The Ploughboy’s Song:


A starry night for a ramble, in the flowery dell,
Through the bush and bramble, kiss and never tell.

I like to take my sweetheart out (‘Of course you do’, says she)
And softly whisper in her ear, ‘How dearly I love thee’.

When you picture to yourself a scene of such delight,
Who would not take a ramble on a starry night.

The tune and lyrics were printed many times in the 1870s and it was a rapid success with many piano arrangements being published for amateur use. It’s hard to fathom who actually wrote it, possibly Samuel Bagnal in 1873, although a broadside print in the National Library of Scotland (above left) suggests an earlier imprint. The last verse of that version uses the word ‘velocipede’ which was fashionable in the 1860s and being replaced by the term ‘bicycle’ in the 1870s.
In 1907 the Edison Military Band recorded it in an instrumental selection on a phonograph and later on the song was recorded by Canadian tenor Harry McDonough, although this version is quite different to the Norfolk version.
Interestingly, the tune Starry Night for a Ramble has been far more popular than the song, and it has been interpreted in different rhythms: the original publication was in 6/8 timing, which is how it is still known in the East Anglian and broader English traditions. There’s also a tune by the same title, again a jig, which is used in the US as a contradance tune. The same melody was popularised in 3/4 timing by Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, as Starry Night in Shetland and, under its original title, Australian collector John Meredith found that ‘nearly every bush musician plays this beautiful waltz’ although he only collected lyrics to it on one occasion (‘Folk Songs of Australia’). There’s also a lovely recording of Tasmanian fiddler Eileen McCoy playing it on the CD ‘Apple Isle Fiddler’.

A pretty tune which it would be nice to heard played more often in its Norfolk version!

Starry Night for a Ramble from the playing of Herbert Smith, Norfolk fiddle player:


This work was first published in the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust newsletter in February 2012 and subsequently on their website. I founded and ran EATMT from 2000-2017. The original article was  revised in 2019 in the light of further information.

For more about Frederick Rolfe, read Charlotte Paton’s book The King of the Norfolk Poachers or this shorter article here: ‘The King of the Norfolk Poachers’ .

©Katie Howson 2021


Henry Flanders’ songbook

Some years ago I came across a mention of a handwritten book of songs from King’s Lynn in Norfolk, the personal collection of one Henry Flanders.

Having a long-term interest in the songs found in the town by composer and folk song collector Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1905, and then by oral historian Mike Herring in the 1960s, I was fascinated by the idea of this nineteenth century songbook showing us what was sung way back in the 1860s.

I contacted the owner (who was of one of Henry Flanders’ great-granddaughters, living in New Zealand) and we began a friendly correspondence, swapping information over the years. She sent me lists of the song titles, scans of some specific pages I had asked for and much biographical information, and I found her great grandfather’s second marriage and numerous newspaper articles to send her in return. We were in the process of arranging for the entire book to be scanned when she unfortunately became ill, and for the moment, things are on hold.

However, I had committed myself to including information about the songbook in a presentation for a conference entitled “The Folk Voice” in April 2021 (see Further Information, below), so I had to persevere, working mainly from the title list. The significance of the book lies not in a particularly unusual set of songs – they are all available in print elsewhere – but in the fact that it indicates the repertoire of a singing man in the late nineteenth century.

Whether or not Henry Flanders might be classified as a “folk” singer was one issue I was interested in: this is a collection of songs unmediated by the eye or ear of any folk song collector – whether or not it represents the “folk voice” is a matter for debate!

Who was the owner and compiler of this book?

Henry Flanders was born in 1842, the son of a clay pipe-maker living on St Ann’s Street in the North End of King’s Lynn. Henry’s older brother followed in the pipe-making business, and the family ran a shop and pubs in the street too. Henry himself became a mussel fisherman and shellfish dealer, trading in whelks for the London market. According to family tradition he supplied Queen Victoria with shellfish when she was in residence at nearby Sandringham.

The streets around the North End teemed with life, with many people leading cramped existences in the narrow and unsanitary yards, but Henry’s home was slightly more comfortable, facing onto one of the main streets, St Ann’s Street, with an entrance (through the gateway on the left of this photo) to Lane’s Yard which was the scene of a dispute between neighbours in 1875 – Henry was a witness.

The newspapers of the time also detail some court cases about illegal fishing. Henry licensed mussel grounds (stone banks man-made for the purpose) in the Wash, and there are reports of other fishermen trying to fish these grounds, and of accusations of fishing in the closed season. The mussel beds were about seven miles from the fishing port in Lynn, and often necessitated a very early start in the morning and occasionally sleeping overnight on the boat. Henry owned various boats between 1873 and his death in 1890, including the Queen, Charles & William, Henry, Gainsboro Lass, Dove and Wave. These were, I think, fishing smacks, sailed by a crew of two or three men, catching mussels, whelks and shrimps according to the season. We can hear Henry’s own voice in an 1883 newspaper report:

“I hire from the Norfolk Estuary Company a stone bank for the purpose of getting mussels therefrom. I hire the bank from year to year, at £3O per annum for the first three years, and then £10 a year afterwards.”


This evidence, together with the flowing and elegant handwriting seen here in the song book, and the Masonic or Friendly Society sash he wears in the photograph, indicates an upper-working class man rather than someone scraping along at the bottom of the pile.

So what does the selection of songs reveal? A man with middle class pretensions singing parlour songs, perhaps learned through membership of a harmonic society? A man who enjoys visiting the music hall and concert stage? Someone who enjoys a sing-song in the pub on a Saturday night and is looking for new songs? A fisherman writing down his family songs for posterity?

In total there are 150 songs and I’ve done a preliminary analysis of 90 of them, to try and shed some light on these possibilities.

What type of songs were in Henry Flanders’ book?

They are a real mixture. The initial impression was one of mainly “parlour” songs, which were in their heyday in the 1860s and 70s, when Henry was a young man. Many of these were published on sheet music and this really represented the early stages of our modern popular music industry, with some songs selling hundreds of thousands of copies and becoming huge “hits”. King’s Lynn had several music shops and stationers where these would have been available. A surprising amount of these songs were also published on song sheets and broadsides which would have been sold on street corners, at fairs and the town’s annual Mart.

  • 70 out of the 90 songs under consideration were published both in street literature and sheet music (77%)
  • 17 appeared only on street literature – i.e broadsides, chapbooks and songsters, where the music was not included (18%)
  • 3 were published only as sheet music – all of music hall origin (3%)
  • 34 are of music hall or minstrel origin (37%)
  • 14 are known to have originated in theatre or opera (15%)
  • Over half (60%) were composed after Henry Flanders was born – with many from the 1860s onwards. This was a period of huge growth in domestic music-making, coinciding with Henry’s young adulthood.

Where might Henry Flanders have come across these songs?

Flanders may have bought or borrowed them in print of course, but he would also have had the opportunity to hear live performances of some of those minstrel and theatrical songs locally.

Just five minutes’ walk from home, into the town centre, was the Music Hall at the Athenaeum, which in the 1860s and 70s provided opportunities to see top singers in a ballad concerts, such as Sims Reeves and Madame Sainton Dolby, as well as the various, highly popular, line-ups of Christy Minstrels.

These variety shows involved white people blacking up and singing largely sentimental songs, doing “eccentric” dances and some comic sketches. They became respectable family shows, popular with all classes, and a number of their very memorable melodies live on in the folk tradition today, thankfully without their lyrics or dressing up. The professional touring groups inspired amateur groups performing the same material, and a newspaper report of 1867 gives details of the Amateur Christy’s Minstrels. This group consisted of eight men from the town, the star amongst them being Cassius Boyce, a plumber who had once harboured ambitions of being an artist, and other members were Walter Dexter, a photographer; John Larwood, butcher; Joseph Batterham, corn merchant; William Plowright, cabinet maker; John Samson, licensee of the Ship Inn; Robert Offord, cutler and Edward Doyle, watchmaker. Between them they sang and played flute, violin, violoncello, banjo, tambourine, bones and piano, and Boyce performed an “eccentric dance”.

In a sweet little coincidence, the photographer who took Flanders’ portrait (above) was actually Walter Dexter – but I’ve no evidence of Flanders himself being involved in this or any other minstrel group.

There were certainly places in the North End itself where Flanders might have sung. The Dock Hotel stood on the corner of his street, and had its own “Music Hall” – the words still appear faintly on the wall in this modern photograph – and without walking more than a hundred yards, he would have had a choice of more than a dozen pubs.

He certainly built up a very large stock of songs, suggesting an active involvement in singing somewhere, and an interest in acquiring new material.

What if Henry Flanders had met Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Henry Flanders had lived another 15 or so years, he might well have got a visit from folk song collector and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who stayed in King’s Lynn for a week in January 1905 and noted down over seventy old songs, many of them from the fishermen and their families in the North End.

Flanders would have by then been in his sixties, a fisherman living in the North End, so he would have fitted the profile of a typical interviewee, although as previously noted, he did live in a rather bigger house and perhaps have a more comfortable lifestyle than some of the singers Vaughan Williams visited.

No doubt Vaughan Williams, in search of ancient melodies, would have asked if he knew any old songs.

If Flanders actually knew how old his songs were, he might have suggested some of the oldest in his repertoire such as Black Ey’d Susan, Roast Beef of Old England or Tom Bowling but these would probably have been deemed too ‘commercial’ in style (as well as originating from known writers such as Charles Dibdin), and Vaughan Williams would probably have been more interested in others such as Lash’d to the Helm or Tars of the Blanch. These two sea songs seem to have been published only on broadsides – song sheets sold on the streets, with just the words, and no music attached.

I compared his self-selected collection of songs with those noted by folksong collectors in the twentieth century and found the main differences to be that Flanders had a large number of songs with sentimental, comic and romantic themes, which were not represented in the 20th century collections. The themes of the sea and heroicism were found across the different periods, with a high percentage of such songs in the Vaughan Williams’ collections.

This came as no real surprise, but there were two things which did surprise me:

Firstly, not one of Flanders’ songs is to be found in Vaughan Williams’ collection from 1905. This could be at least partly due to the fact that Vaughan Williams was particularly looking for old folk songs, and much of Flanders’ repertoire was less than 50 years old). However, the second surprise challenges this view, as over 70% of the 90 songs have actually been found within the “tradition”.

Eleven of these songs have been recorded from two famous traditional singers from elsewhere in Norfolk, Walter Pardon and Sam Larner. They both lived over 50 miles from King’s Lynn, so I am not suggesting any direct link between them and Flanders, just noting that these “traditional” singers who perhaps epitomise our idea of the “folk voice” had some of these same sentimental and romantic songs in their repertoires too.


We know Henry Flanders enjoyed singing and that he was a member of the Masons, or a similar organisation, and also that he was a member of the Rifle Shooting Club, winning prizes in the 1870s and 1880s.

Ultimately, we don’t know where he sang, but I suspect it was outside the home. If the house was big enough for a parlour to house a piano, and the family possessed the sheet music, he would have had less need to copy out the words into his own songbook, whereas if he was singing with a harmonic society or in the music room of a pub, he would have been more likely to need his own copy of the words for reference.

It seems he had a taste for relatively modern songs, and I certainly don’t feel he was recording a repertoire handed down to him through his family, but had seen these songs in print somewhere in order to copy them out.

Further information

The significance of Flanders’ song book and a comparison with folk song sources in King’s Lynn in the twentieth century is discussed as part of my presentation for the Folk Voice Conference, “100 years of Singing in a Fishing Community: King’s Lynn 1870-1970″, given on 18th April 2021. The talk, which lasts twenty minutes and includes numerous slides, may be viewed on the Traditional Song Forum YouTube channel, here.

With enormous thanks to the book’s owner and her family.

Thanks are also due to the wonders of local communities on the internet, especially the King’s Lynn Forum.

The newspaper report containing the names of the amateur minstrel entertainers is from the Lynn Advertiser, 9th February 1867.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.

The Herring Singers

Welcome to another in the series of posts about the traditional folk singers from King’s Lynn.

A few years ago Elizabeth James was kind enough to pass on to me a copy of a transcript she had made, whilst deputy curator at King’s Lynn Museum, of some field recordings of folk songs and interviews held by the museum. The interviews had been conducted on three separate occasions between 1965-1967, by Mike Herring, who had lodged copies of his tape recordings with the Lynn Museum. The actual recordings had, over the years, been mislaid.

At that time, the transcript was a great asset for a community arts project I created and managed in King’s Lynn, under the title North End Voices, and together with singers and tutors Chris Coe and Alan Helsdon, we were able to pass on some of the songs to new generations.

There was only one thing missing … those original voices! It was several years later that some far-flung pieces of the jigsaw eventually fell into place and I finally found someone who had safe keeping of Mike Herring’s recordings. There are now copies lodged back with the transcripts in the archive of True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum in the heart of the old North End.

However, the tapes I have heard and the transcripts do not marry up exactly!

The original recordings have been edited into a compilation of songs only, with no conversation in between. The written transcript included George Bone singing The Titanic, but this was not on the recordings I have had access to, although there were two extra tracks, neither of which was mentioned in the transcript of the original recordings.  These are recordings of “The Samphire Man”, singing his tradesman’s call as he drove a horse-drawn cart around the residential streets selling this local seaweed delicacy, and a recording of a woman singing Roll the Old Chariot Along, possibly Jean Harding, but nothing more is known about her.

George “Young Bussle” Smith (1885-1970)

The main singer, with eight songs, is “Bussle” Smith. Mike Herring recorded him on three occasions, first on an unspecified date in 1965 when he sang The Drunken Sailor, then in April 1966 he sang Yellow Handkerchief (Flash Company), Rarum Tearin’ Fisherman, Golden Slippers, The Old Grey Mare and I, and finally, in December 1967 he sang Fill up Your Glasses (Easy and Free), The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee and Mother Machree (Land of the Shamrock Shore). On that occasion, Mike Herring also recorded an interview with Bussle and his daughter, Ethel Scott.

Ethel: I mean like a few years ago they’d go up to the Tilden Smith and have a good old sing-song but there’s not many old ones left now that sort of remember the songs that you want to know, that’s the trouble.”

Bussle: “The Tilden Smith, I used that for years, ’cause I knew who the landlord was down there, been there about two year……. Then years ago I used to go round the pub on the Saturday Market Place, the Duke of Fife.”

Ethel:  “And what about when you used to go down below? You used to sing when you went down below?”

Bussle: “We used to sing one or two of the old songs, some on’ us; several years ago I won a prize at Yarmouth Hippodrome when … I won two quid and two ounces of ‘bacca – but I never smoked in my life!”

“Bussle” is George Edward Smith (1885-1970) who was the son of George William Smith. In the interview with Mike Herring, Bussle says that he learned some songs from his father who he remembered as only singing at home. His father, known as “Old Bussle” (pictured left) might well have been the “Mr Smith” who sang Bold Princess Royal for Vaughan Williams in the North End in 1905. Young Bussle followed his father into fishing, and married Harriet Benefer, daughter of another of Vaughan William’s singers, Lol Benefer. She died quite young and Bussle remarried in 1923, when he gave his occupation as fishing, but by 1939 he and his family had moved out to Smith Avenue and he was working in the sugar beet factory at the time the 1939 register was carried out. He may have carried on fishing part time, as work at the sugar beet factory was probably seasonal.

Ten years before Mike Herring carried out his first interview with Bussle, he had been featured in a radio programme made in the Tilden Smith, when he sang Golden Slippers and Drunken Sailor and also Yellow Handkerchief with his brother-in-law Tom Benefer. There is more about the 1955 radio programme here, in The self sufficient singers of the Tilden Smith.

Rarum Tearin’ Fisherman (with various spellings!) is the local name for a well known song usually called The Dogger Bank, and this has been immortalised in an art installation in Loke Road Recreation Ground, where a set of words has been engraved on a large rock. Some of Bussle’s songs are more unusual, and he must have been an active singer to have at least these eight songs in his repertoire. Younger members of his family still know the words to Golden Slippers, but I’m not sure any of them are active singers.

John “Slinger” Wood (1896-1974)

In the transcripts, this man is named as “Slinger” Woods, and he turned out to be John Harold Wood (pictured on the right here) who was a good friend of Bussle Smith. Bussle’s grandson Malcolm Smith told me that Slinger would go to the Smith’s house on Christmas Day “and sit there drinking navy rum & blackcurrant.”

Mike Herring recorded four songs from him in total. In 1965 (date unspecified), Slinger Wood sang: Sailor Cut Down in his Prime. This is an old song, and was noted down in King’s Lynn in 1905 by Ralph Vaughan Williams from fisherman Joe Anderson.

In April 1966 Slinger Wood sang When the Flagship Victoria Went Down, Bounding Over the Raging Main and It was a Four-Wheeled Craft.


Slinger had a slow, powerful song delivery and some interesting songs – the first two are found only rarely in folk song tradition and the third is best known from barge skipper Bob Roberts under the title The Fish and Chip Ship. John “Slinger” Wood was born and brought up in south London and enlisted in the Royal Navy in August 1914, on his 18th birthday, at Chatham Docks. He left the Navy in 1926 and settled in King’s Lynn, marrying a local girl in 1927. They lived in South Lynn, near the docks, and had two children together before his wife died in 1937. Slinger worked as lock gate keeper on the docks, retiring in 1961, by which time he had moved out to a council house in North Lynn.

The “Samphire Man”: Henry Dewson (1920-2010)

On the tapes themselves was also a recording of the “Samphire Man”, Henry Dewson (1920-2010). Henry sold samphire (a local seaweed delicacy) from his horse-drawn cart around the residential streets of King’s Lynn and surrounding villages for a couple of months every year, for a period of over seventy years. He and his family would go out to the marshes to pick it and then load up the cart and measure it out into his customer’s own receptacle, using an old saucepan as a measure. His way of letting people know he had arrived was to sing out – in what an obituary termed an “operatic” voice – the words

“Samphire long and green samphire, Any samphire you ladies, you neighbours, Saaaaamphire, long and green samphire …”

On the recording, he is clearly some way distant but the words can be made out clearly. Henry is not known to have been a singer in other contexts.

George Bone (1895-1985)

In the transcripts are the words to a song The Titanic sung by George Bone in December 1967, but unfortunately this song, which is rare in the oral tradition, is not on the recordings I have heard.

However, I have can at least tell you that it was recorded by Robert Carr (aka Ernest Gray), soon after the disaster happened in 1912, under the title Stand to Your Post, and you can listen to it here: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/media/audio/stand-to-your-post.mp3


George Bone (on the right in the picture below) came from an old North End fishing family, but was brought up in the Victorian terraced streets just outside the old fishing quarter. He enrolled in the Naval Reserve in 1915 and returned to fishing after the First World War. He is said to have been quite successful in the cockle business and owned two fishing smacks.


Mike Herring also interviewed Turk Pratt and Bill Chase about their memories, and the names of Trunky Bunn, Tippenny Goodson, Turkey Stevens and Charlie Fysh, Tom Senter, Dave Scott, John Benefer were all mentioned in conversations about singers who had then passed on.

There is more information about Charlie Fysh on The self sufficient singers of the Tilden Smith and about Tom Senter on The fishermen that got away.

Thanks (as always, in relation to my King’s Lynn stories) to the wonderful Trues Yard Fisherfolk Museum, and also to Liz James, Mike Herring, Pete Shaw & Johnny Adams.

Images courtesy of Trues Yard Museum and Kings Lynn History Forum. I found the photo of the stone in Loke Road Recreation Ground on the Hullandhereabouts blog.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.

The fishermen that got away

In 1905, the composer and folk song collector Ralph Vaughan Williams made a now legendary visit to the town of King’s Lynn, where he stayed for nearly a week, noting down old songs from the fishing community of the North End, and elderly residents in the workhouse. I and many other people have written about that at length, and there is a link at the bottom of this page.However, Vaughan Williams was only there a few days and in my pootling around all-things-King’s-Lynn I have turned up references to several other singers and folk musicians whom he did not get to meet, for whatever reason.

Here are potted biographies of the main ones.

Tom Senter, 1843-1935

According to oral history, Tom Senter was a “natural” musician who played a number of instruments. Singer “Young Bussle” Smith remembered Senter as a singer.

“A NEW PHOTOGRAPH OF TOM SENTER. MR. THOMAS SENTER, of Framingham’s Almshouses, Lynn, who will be 91 next month, claims to be the oldest fisherman in Lynn. He began work at the age of six. He was born and bred in Lynn, as was his father before him. This arresting photograph, taken by Mr. P. M. Goodchild, of Lynn, has been accepted for exhibition in London by the Professional Photographers’ Association.”

Unfortunately no-one seems to have talked to Tom Senter about his music or noted it down at all, so his repertoire and style is all in our imagination!

In fact, Tom Senter was closely related to one of Vaughan Williams’ main singers, William Harper – they were half-brothers and brought up together, although Harper was 13 years older. (See the foot of the page for links to information about William Harper.) Tom Senter was the son of his mother’s second marriage – her first being to William Harper’s father – and he was born in 1843 in one of the yards off North Street, an area he lived in until he was in his forties, then moving into one of the Victorian terraced streets a little bit to the north of the old North End itself. In 1911 he and his wife Elizabeth (née Bone) moved into Framingham’s Almshouses on the London Road, quite a way from his home area.

In 1934 he featured in the local newspaper several times – they were very fond of reporting the advanced ages of some of the town’s residents – and he was said to be the oldest guest at a Christmas entertainment in the almshouses that year – whether he himself provided any of the entertainment by playing a tune or not, the article didn’t state! (Lynn Advertiser, 2nd January 1935). He died in April 1935.

Edward “Wacker” Bunn, 1869-1933

Frank Castleton in his book Fisher’s End, tells this story:

One evening when my mother was in bed having her fourth child, the midwife in attendance, my father (who had  good tenor voice and used to sing to a piano accompaniment in pubs and clubs) decided to take me with him – probably to get me out of the way. He took me to a singing contest in the Fishermen’s (sic) Arms. The contest was to see who could sing the longest song. The first man to stand up before the piano was Wacker Bunn … Lord Bacon … This went on for 96 verses …”

“Lord Bacon was, he was, he was a noble lord of high degree, 

He shipped his-self on board a vessel for some foreign parts he would go see.

He sail-ed east, he sail-ed west, ‘til he came to proud Turkey

There he was captured and made a prisoner ‘til his poor life was most weary.”

This occasion seems likely to have been in August 1905  – contemporaneous with Vaughan Williams’ visits, but Vaughan Williams is not known to have visited any pubs in King’s Lynn, and would probably not have been happy with the piano accompaniment if he had set foot in the Fisherman’s Arms (pictured below, shortly before demolition) on a Saturday night.

The song is not, of course, called Lord Bacon, but Lord Bateman, and whilst it might not actually have 96 verses, it is certainly a lengthy ballad, which tells the story of a nobleman who travels to Turkey and falls in love with a beautiful princess. Their relationships takes different trajectories in different variants of the song: much information can be found on the Mainly Norfolk website – see the bottom of this page.

I’ve worked out that “Wacker” was Edward Bouch Bunn, a fisherman born and brought up in North End Yard. After his marriage to Annie Eliza Freeman the family continued to live in the same Yard until sometime after the 1911 census, when they moved out to Lansdowne Street, one of the Victorian terraced streets, where Wacker died in 1933. Frank Castleton recalled that Wacker owned the Lilly May, a 30 ft Shrimper built by the Worfolks in 1910, and would never install an engine although at the time most other boats had small engines installed and were getting bigger catches.

Charlie Fysh, 1866-1961

Another fisherman living in the North End in 1905 who escaped Vaughan William’s notice was Charlie Fysh. He did however capture the attention of a later visitor to the town – author and broadcaster John Seymour, who got to know Charlie quite well in the mid 1950s and included his singing in a radio programme called The Voyages of Jenny III. Full details of that occasion may be found on The self sufficient singers of the Tilden Smith on this blog.

The recording was reported in the King’s Lynn News and Advertiser of 8th July 1955, and Charlie comes across as quite a character:

“The first song came from 89-year old Charlie Fysh, the oldest fisherman in Lynn. Now everyone knows Charlie and everyone knew this was going to be good. It was. It had been carefully explained to Charlie beforehand that he would have to leave out of the song certain words that might be considered offensive to the more aesthetically-minded listeners of the BBC.

Even so, some of the banned words crept in and were received with gleeful appreciation by the less aesthetically-minded patrons of the Tilden Smith. What the BBC is going to do about it is their affair.

Charlie stood there stiffly to attention, his cap perched at a jaunty angle and his good eye making up in brightness for the one that was obscured by the familiar patch.

The microphone was thrust before him and he started away on the first line of ‘Ole Johnnie Bowker.’ Then there was a flash as someone took a picture of him. Charlie stopped abruptly. “What the ——— was that?” he snapped. “Never mind about that, keep on singing,” said Francis Dillon. “Never mind about it? Oi nearly broke me braces when it happened,” complained Charlie.

So Charlie started again and this time sang all the verses, everyone else who had not been rendered incapable by laughter coming in with the chorus. When he came to the last verse, Charlie faltered a moment and said “———— me! I can’t remember what comes next!” The microphone was hastily switched off.”

The newspaper reporter described Charlie’s song Old Johnnie Bowker as “a delightful story – it concerns a man who had a wife who broke her leg. He called in the doctor who examined her and prescribed that the injured limb should be rubbed with gin. One of the choicest verses goes:”

So Ole Johnnie Bowker he thought it were a sin,

To rub his wife’s leg with the gin,

So he poured the gin down his old throttle

And rubbed his wife’s leg with the empty bottle.

In Sailing through England (1956), John Seymour wrote about Charlie:

“Charlie Fysh will be ninety by the time this book is published. He is the Grand Old Man of the Lynn Fisher Fleet. (The Fisher Fleet is the creek up which the Lynn fishermen keep their smacks: the creek a part of which became a railway siding, and which was allegedly stolen from the fishermen.) Charlie gave up fishing a year or two ago, but still spends a lot of his time down at the Fleet, watching the smacks dome in, and he seldom missed an evening at the Tilden Smyth. If I can sing like he can when I am ninety I shall be a happy man.

“Charlie came on board Jenny, and in fact we came to see quite a lot of him. To know such a man is no longer to dread old age. He was very fond of Jane. I got him to record the story of how the Fleet was cut in half, and half of it stolen from the fishermen.”

Charlie Fysh was brought up in the old North End, his father was a fisherman, and in the early 1900s he was living in one of the yards off Chapel Street. Early married life saw him move a little further out, into Birchwood Street, again in that Victorian development of terraced housing which was definitely more sanitary than the old North End yards. One of his great grandsons is Roger Taylor, drummer with the rock band Queen! 

Sam Southgate, 1864-1945

“Old Sam Southgate had in his day been a seaman, fisherman and Wash Pilot, and was a man of great seagoing experience.  He was tall and heavily built and as solid as an iron anchor, with hands the size of shovels.  He was also short tempered and irascible, particularly with small boys.  His sons ran two grocery shops on opposite corners of North Street and St Anne’s Street and he liked to pull up an old crate to sit on next to the trays of fruits and vegetables, which were always on display.  Care had to be taken when walking past as he had a nasty habit of giving out sudden whacks with his walking stick.  “What’s that for?” would be the cry.  “That’s for pinching that apple yesterday,” he would shout, “Didn’t think I saw you, did you?” “Kids would wait outside the pubs on Saturday nights and bet with marbles or cigarette cards as to who would fight with who. Old Sam and Tipney Goodson were always good bets.”

These memories were from Arthur Painter’s now defunct Northenders website, and he also quoted Sam Southgate’s daughter, Emily van Pelt:

“My father was not a fisherman. He had been three times round Cape Horn under sail. He was a deep sea sailor not a pilot. Went out of Lynn Docks when he was 15. No matter what the weather was he would have to go aloft to the sails in terrible weather conditions. To get the men to go they would have gold sovereigns when they came back.”

The historical documentation shows that in early life he did work as a fisherman, and at least from his thirties, he was an able seaman in the Merchant Navy. In the 1911 census he was keeping watch on a 961 ton steel sailing barque, the Kinfauns in the Alexandra dock. This was a Dundee-owned ship which in early March that year had returned from a voyage to Mejillones, in Chile, so if Sam Southgate had been part of the crew then, that might have been one of the occasions on which he sailed round the Horn. He was away from home for each census in 1891 and 1901, so may very well have been away on a long passage when Vaughan Williams visited in 1905, but also, with his eyes set on more distant horizons, perhaps Sam, at that time, was not so much a part of the fishing community anyway.

Sam’s father was a maltster, living in Lane’s Yard off St Ann’s Street. Growing up there, he was also a near neighbour to Henry Flanders, who had a hand-written book of songs – see the foot of the page for a link. In 1898 he married Eleanor Johnson and they lived on North Street, next to the Black Joke pub, which was run by her father. She was living there in 1901 with their one year old son, while Sam was away at sea, an able seaman on the Turret Chief, a trading steamer with a multicultural crew and officers of 15, which was berthed at Jarrow on census night. Sam and Eleanor remained living on North Street for the rest of their lives.

One of Sam’s favourite songs, perhaps not surprisingly given his long-distance travelling in earlier life, was:

“All hands to man the capstan, see the cable is all clear.

Then across the briny ocean for old England we will steer.

Rolling home to merry England, rolling home across the sea,

Rolling home to merry England, rolling home England to thee.”

This song recollection also came from the old Northenders website.

Vaughan Williams was introduced to singers in the North End by the curate of St Nicholas’ Chapel, the Reverend Alfred Huddle, and in fact he only visited a small number of singers in a small area of the North End. The average age of the singers he met was over sixty. I’ve written elsewhere at length about Vaughan Williams’ visit and the singers he met then (including William Harper).

Finding these other singers indicates the wider musical activities going on, sometimes in pubs with piano accompaniment, and amongst a younger generation.

Further information about singing in the mid twentieth century is on this blog, see The Herring Singers.

For information about “Wacker” Bunn’s song, Lord Bateman: https://mainlynorfolk.info/joseph.taylor/songs/lordbateman.html

For more about the songbook belonging to Sam Southgate’s neighbour, Henry Flanders, see Henry Flanders’ song book.

Portraits of Tom Senter and the 1955 news item courtesy of Trues Yard Fisherfolk Museum who have a brilliant archive as well as their static displays and exhibitions, and deserve our support. https://truesyard.co.uk/ 

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.

The self sufficient singers of the Tilden Smith

John Seymour is now best known as a guru of the self-sufficiency movement, writing books such as “The Fat of the Land” (1961) and “Self Sufficiency” (1973). He also wrote a number of other books and made many radio programmes, often based around his own travels.  

In 1955, with his wife Sally and young daughter Jane, he sailed up the east coast of England and then across through rivers and canals to Liverpool in a 34-ton Dutch sailing yacht; experiences which were to form the basis of a radio series, The Voyages of Jenny the Third and a book published in 1956, Sailing Through England

John Seymour, whilst probably not considering himself to be much of a singer or musician, could play the melodeon and come up with a song when the company was right, and his writings are dotted with references to singing and merry-making in pubs wherever he found himself. In June 1955, on board the Jenny III he found himself in King’s Lynn, in north west Norfolk, on the banks of the river Great Ouse, a mile or two south of The Wash.

Writing in Sailing Through England he noted that the fishermen

“had seen our strange-looking craft when they were fishing for roka off Hunstanton, and they came, some of them, to have a closer look at us. They took us to the pub that most of them use, the Tilden Smith.”

The atmosphere in the pub, and the singing that took place there impressed Seymour enough for him to write it into his forthcoming radio programme too.

The first programme in this series, The Voyages of Jenny the Third, was broadcast on 9th December 1955 and a significant part of it had been recorded on Monday 4th July in the Tilden Smith pub, on the edge of the old North End in King’s Lynn.  Unfortunately no recordings of the radio programme appear to be in existence, but the local newspaper took a keen interest.

The Lynn News and Advertiser carried a full report in the edition of 8th July 1955 which conveys the atmosphere of the radio recording very vividly. Unfortunately the copy I have is of very poor quality and would be nearly illegible here, so I’ve provided a transcript too.

Lynn News image

Lynn News transcription

The Tilden Smith was a pub frequented by fishermen who often had a sing-song in there. You can read more about it the history of the pub and the myth of Vaughan Williams visit to it here.

The main character to come through from the article is Charlie Fysh, whilst other singers mentioned were Tom Benefer, George Smith and Bob Chase.

In Sailing through England, John Seymour wrote of Charlie Fysh:

“Charlie Fysh will be ninety by the time this book is published. He is the Grand Old Man of the Lynn Fisher Fleet. (The Fisher Fleet is the creek up which the Lynn fishermen keep their smacks: the creek a part of which became a railway siding, and which was allegedly stolen from the fishermen.) Charlie gave up fishing a year or two ago, but still spends a lot of his time down at the Fleet, watching the smacks dome in, and he seldom missed an evening at the Tilden Smyth. If I can sing like he can when I am ninety I shall be a happy man.

“Charlie came on board Jenny, and in fact we came to see quite a lot of him. To know such a man is no longer to dread old age. He was very fond of Jane. I got him to record the story of how the Fleet was cut in half, and half of it stolen from the fishermen.”

Charlie Fysh (1866-1961) was a fisherman all his life and was brought up in the old North End in a fishing family. Early married life saw him move a little further out, into Birchwood Street, in a Victorian development of terraced housing which was definitely more sanitary than the old North End yards. He sang Old Johnnie Bowker for the radio programme, and a musical gene evidently kept going through the generations, as one of his great grandsons is Roger Taylor, drummer with the rock band Queen! There is more about Charlie on The fishermen that got away post.

Bob Chase (1894-1958) was a son-in-law of Charlie Fysh, married to Charlie’s daughter Elizabeth. He sang one song, Hanky Twanky, on the night of the Seymour recordings. He was born in North End Yard into a fishing family, who moved out to the same area of Victorian streets where Charlie Fysh lived. By 1939 Bob and his family had moved still further out, into the comparative luxury of a council house on Smith Avenue and at that time he was working as a dustman.

Tom “Boots” Benefer (1884-1960) was the son of Harriet “Lol” Benefer, who sang for Vaughan Williams way back in 1905. Tom sang I’m a harum scarum fisherman hailin’ from King’s Lynn town and also Yellow Handkerchief together with George Smith. The first of these is a well-known song usually called Dogger Bank and the second is sometimes called Flash Company and is particularly well known in Suffolk. Tom was born into a fishing family in the North End and also sold fish. He took on a grocer’s shop in Pilot Street (still in the North End) from where he also delivered samphire, a local seaweed delicacy, on a small handcart.

George “Young Bussle” Smith (1885-1970) was also the son of another singer, and his father, known as “Old Bussle” might well have been the “Mr Smith” who sang Bold Princess Royal for Vaughan Williams in the North End in 1905. He followed his father into fishing, and married Harriet Benefer, Tom’s sister in 1911. She died a decade later, and at the date of his second marriage in 1923, he was still fishing, but by 1939 he and his second wife Agnes had moved out to Smith Avenue and he was working in the sugar beet factory at the time the 1939 register was carried out. “Young Bussle” sang Golden Slippers and Drunken Sailor for the 1955 radio programme, and also Yellow Handkerchief with his brother-in-law Tom Benefer, and there are actually recordings of him singing from the 1960s, including these songs plus Rarum Tearin Fisherman, Rattling Old Grey Mare, Mother Machree, Fill up Your Glasses (Be Easy and Free), Bonnets of Bonny Dundee and The Land of the Shamrock Shore, although unfortunately his voice was rather weak by then. Younger members of his family still know the words to Golden Slippers, but I’m not sure any of them are active singers.

There is more about “Bussle” Smith on The Herring Singers post.

You can hear the appreciation for these men’s singing in John Seymour’s words, again from Sailing through England:

“But at least the young men who still use the Tilden Smith who are no longer fishermen were brought up to be fishermen, and they still have some of the dignity, and independence of bearing, of inshore fishermen. The Tilden is still a fisherman’s pub. You hear some good songs there: so good that we went back later on with Francis Dillon and a recording car, and recorded an evening’s session for the wireless.”

More about Vaughan Williams’ visit to King’s Lynn in 1905 is on my other website: and The Other Mrs Benefer on this blog is about Tom Benefer’s mother, Lol, who sang to Vaughan Williams.

The Seymour family website has a potted biography of John Seymour.

Thanks to Trues Yard Fisherfolk Museum, from whose archive the original newspaper cutting was supplied.

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.


The Other Mrs Benefer

Ask people interested in local history in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, if they’ve heard of Lol Benefer and they might quite likely answer “Oh yes!” and raise their eyebrows knowingly. Ask people interested in folk songs if they’ve heard of her, and they will probably shake their heads and raise their eyebrows quizzically.

I came across her through investigating the people who sang songs to the folksong collector and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He visited the area for a week or so in January 1905 and collected over seventy songs, some of which were highly influential on him as a composer.


In Kings Lynn Vaughan Williams headed for the area around St Nicholas Chapel, just north of the large Tuesday Market Place, known as the North End, home to the fishing community based around the old Fisher Fleet. He visited people living in some of the yards, such as Whitening Yard (left, in the 1930s), off North Street. This area has since changed beyond recognition; most of the houses, shops and pubs that formed a poor but vibrant, self-contained, even isolated, community having been demolished in the slum clearances of the mid twentieth century.

In Whitening Yard lived ‘Mrs Benefer’. Vaughan Williams rarely gave any more information than just the singer’s name, and in this case he had pencilled something else uncertainly next to the surname, which, for many years, I took to be ‘Lesley’. I then realised it was ‘Larley’ and underneath it was ‘Lolly?’ which enabled me to finally identify this woman and find out more about her.

This photograph at the top of this page of Mrs Lol Benefer comes from the collection held by the wonderful True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, which is housed in some of the few remaining old buildings in the North End. Lol (born Harriet Ann Bailey in 1864) looks an impressive character, her figure giving testament to a life of hard physical work and regular child-bearing.

I’ve taken the liberty of colourising this photo, which perhaps helps to bring out the warmth of her character – here Mrs Benefer looks more kindly, with a slight smile playing around her eyes and mouth. Someone who would offer a polite welcome to the rather upper-class gentleman who came to her door on Wednesday 11th January asking if she knew any old folksongs. If it had been a Monday, she might have been in the middle of a lot of washing, but whatever day of the week, she would certainly have her hands full. At that date she was thirty-nine and had three children under four –Nelly aged three, Lottie aged two, and David, scarcely one year old. Six year old Penelope (bizarrely noted as ‘Pelmofer’ in the 1901 census!) would be the only child likely to be in school; twelve year old Henry was probably working by then, whilst older sons Tom and Burke were definitely working -as a carter and fisherman respectively, the latter probably with her husband Henry. Fourteen year old Harriet was probably around at home helping with the younger children and household tasks whilst sixteen year old Jessie may have been out at work. It must have been quite a challenge to find a quiet few minutes for Vaughan Williams to write down the melody she sang!

Vaughan Williams noted down just two songs from her, the first of which is probably the best known folk song across the English speaking world, and one which is particularly popular with women singers – Barbary Allen – and the second he noted as  The Farmer’s Daughter, without writing down any of the words. This was very probably The Banks of the Sweet Dundee, again an extremely well-known song, in which a young woman Mary, is in love with a ploughboy and from her farming parents, inherits a lot of money, but all does not go according to plan. Her uncle and the “wealthy squire” are not happy with her potential marriage partner and put an end to the young man, but the woman in turn shoots the uncle and squire. The squire, for reasons unacknowledged in the song, leaves Mary a further fortune and all ends happily as she appears to be untroubled by accusations of murder and “lives so happy on the banks of Sweet Dundee.” This song may have had particular resonance for Lol Benefer, as we shall see.

Life in the enclosed yards of old cottages in the North End was rough and ready at times, as testified by the numerous newspaper reports from the petty sessions of neighbourly disputes over use of the communal water pump, cleaning out the yards etc. Before her marriage, Lol had herself been involved in a more than usually serious case.

Lol (Harriet Ann) Bailey, then aged eighteen, and her parents William and Mary Ann Bailey, and two sisters, Elizabeth Maule and Naomi Bailey were accused of manslaughter of a young neighbour, James Stannard in May 1882. They had beaten him about the head with their fists in an initially trivial dispute over the younger children playing together in the yard, and a fortnight later Stannard had died. The Baileys were found guilty by a jury, but Naomi, being only thirteen, was not indicted. One of their other neighbours had warned Stannard: “Don’t fight with such a lot, Jimmy,” suggesting that the Baileys had a bit of a reputation for pugnacious behaviour. Their defence lawyer stated: “Whether any of the jury were acquainted with Lynn he did not know, but if they were, they knew what the North end of the town was. Everything was not done with rose-water there. Its inhabitants were a sea-faring population; who were rough in their manners and habits. They must not expect to find the Baileys or Stannards behaving with all the gentleness that they would find in a gentleman’s drawing-room.”

The judge, in summing up, stated: “The Baileys, of course, did not intend to cause his death. They only intended to give him a severe beating, why I cannot tell; but if you think these blows caused death, you have only to say they were guilty of manslaughter, for although they did not intend to kill him, they were doing an unlawful act which has resulted in his death.”

The reports in the newspapers of the time do not give us Lol’s point-of-view: the only time we really hear from the Baileys is when they return to court for sentencing: “On Wednesday the prisoners were brought up to receive sentence, and they said that they were sorry for what they had done. The man asked for the mercy of the Court, for the sake of his wife and family.” William was sentenced to a year hard labour and imprisonment in Norwich Gaol (then in the Castle), and all three women were sentenced to eight months imprisonment, during which time Lol gave birth to her first son. It must have been a devastating scenario for all the families concerned.

This chapter in Lol Bennefer’s life sounds like one of the stories told in the songs published on broadsides –  the kind of song Vaughan Williams was interested in finding. Whether he ever realised that he met a woman whose life experience closely paralleled those stories, we shall never know, and whether Lol Benefer’s choice of songs was influenced by her early life we shall never know either.

Her contributions to the canon of folk song were not significant, but in Vaughan Williams’ folk song collecting in King’s Lynn, women were far outweighed by men, so it’s good to remember those women who were known singers at the time, and also perhaps to counteract some of the more sensational and negative memories of this particular woman by remembering a different aspect of her character.

Lol was not the only one in her family to sing. Her eldest daughter Jessie’s son, Eric, is said to know some of the old songs.  Her second daughter, another Harriet, married George Smith, who was known as ‘Bussle’, as was his father and subsequently his son, and Harriet’s husband and father-in-law were both singers, the latter recorded by folk song collector Mike Herring in the 1960s. Meanwhile, Lol’s younger sister Naomi had a daughter called Lottie who was adopted at an early age by fisherman James ‘Duggie’ Carter, one of Vaughan Williams’ main informants in 1905. Her second son, Tom ‘Boots’ Benefer, another of the North End’s well-known inhabitants, also sang. He was one of the men who sang on a radio programme made by writer John Seymour, recorded in the Tilden Smith pub in the North End on 4th July 1955 and broadcast in a series about a journey Seymour and his young family made around England in a Dutch sailing barge: The Voyages of Jenny III.

But that, as they say, is another story!

Newspaper quotes above are from various reports in the Bury & Norwich Post, Lynn News and Ipswich Journal in August 1882.

The wonderful independent True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum is housed in some of the very few remaining buildings of the old North End. You can get a sense of Lol Benefer’s day to day life by standing in one of the cottages there. https://truesyard.co.uk/


The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society) has digitised all of Vaughan Williams’ song collecting manuscripts. Amongst many other fascinating items, you can find his notation of Lol Benefer’s rendition of Barbary Allen here:  https://www.vwml.org/record/RVW2/3/108

Please note: Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.

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. © Katie Howson, 2021.

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.

© Katie Howson 2021


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