everyman and everywoman

Tag: Pubs

MacKenzie’s Lambs and the Leg of Mutton

After investigating the singing Hurr Brothers (see The Real Ben Hurr) I also found evidence of other singing fishermen from Southwold around the turn of the twentieth century.

And one interesting story shows that in the late nineteenth century there were enough singing fishermen for a fair-sized singing contest to be held outside The Southwold Arms on the High Street.

The Southwold Arms stood at 58, High Street, the next building seawards to the present day Sutherland House, and is no longer a pub. It was known as the Green Man until 1803, then the Joiners Arms, until 1839 when it was renamed The Southwold Arms. From 1869 to 1897, it was run by Robert and Sophia MacKenzie and hosted many congenial events for locals and visitors alike.

It had several letting rooms, as indicated in this auction notice from the Ipswich Journal of 24th February 1866, shortly before MacKenzie bought it.

A.B. Jenkins wrote a colourful description of MacKenzie in his book A Photographic Collection of Bygones & Local Characters:

“Generally known as “Mac”, was for 28 years the landlord of the Southwold Arms during which time the house and himself earned a very considerable reputation.

“Mac always wore a tam-o-shanter thus providing the unmistakable hallmark of Scotland. Mackenzie served for 18 months in the Crimea in the Scots Guards later becoming Colour Sergeant; he also served in Canada with the same Regiment when the Fenian Raids were expected from the United States. He was married in St. Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square to a Dunwich lady who was as popular as he at the Southwold Arms. Mackenzie gathered together a number of well-to-do visitors who stayed at his house during the holidays, and who became known as Mackenzie’s “lambs” and sometimes as the “madcap visitors”.

“Before leaving for home at the end of the holiday the “lambs” used to arrange a sing-song outside the Southwold Arms at which residents in the town were invited to sing for a leg of mutton. The house was illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and the leg of mutton dangled from the sign above the head of the singer, who stood on a table underneath it. Many of the fishermen would compete for the prize, and some of their songs were very long and the concert usually proved a very lengthy affair. A large crowd would assemble so any traffic would have to go along Victoria Street.

“Notwithstanding this gaiety the house was very strictly conducted and Mackenzie would not serve meals until grace had first been said. He did not take female lodgers as he said if he took married couples it might turn out that they were not properly married, and he did not wish his house to be disgraced. He also strongly objected to any lady dancing with any other than her own husband. Mackenzie died in Southwold in 1915 aged 87 years and was given a military funeral by the soldiers who were then stationed in the town.”

A careful investigation of the official records reveals that MacKenzie was born in Caithness, northern Scotland, in 1828. At the time of the 1851 census he was a patient in the Scots Fusiliers Guards hospital, Lillington St, Westminster and in 1861 – after his service in the Crimea – he was in Aberdeen, a sergeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards.

His future wife, Sophia Watling was born in Westleton, a few miles inland from Southwold, and went to work as a cook in well-to-do households in London. In 1865 the pair married, as Barrett wrote, in St Martin-in-the-Fields and by 1868, when MacKenzie received his army pension, they were resident in Southwold.

With Mac’s military reputation and Sophia’s culinary one, they evidently made a good team.  Newspaper reports throughout the 1870s and 1880s show that they hosted the Suffolk Rifle Volunteers and other such groups on their annual band outings, providing a base for the day, generous meals and convivial musical evenings at the pub. Here is a typical report from the Ipswich Journal from 24th August, 1872.

After retiring from the pub in 1897, Mac and Sophia lived out their last couple of decades just a little bit further out of town from the pub they had run so successfully for nearly thirty years.

 


This pub continued to be a place for singing into the mid twentieth century, when social occasions such as darts matches (see foot of the page for info about the photo below, taken c. 1950) provided a convivial atmosphere for a sing song afterwards.

Some years ago I interviewed Hilda Palmer and Dale Peck about their memories and they told me that in the 1970s after a darts match on a Friday or Saturday evening, Frank Palmer (bottom left in this photo) and others including Graham Lewis and Henry, Jockey and Hettie Hurr (cousins of Frank’s) would sing old favourites such as The Faithful Sailor Boy, The Mermaid, The Miner’s Dream of Home and The Rugged Cross, alongside more recent songs such as The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, The Happy Wanderer or Red Sails in the Sunset. Comic songs such as Albert & Sadie (a parody of Frankie and Johnny – an old American folksong popularised in 1966 by Elvis Presley) or What a Wonderful Fish the Sole Is were always popular too, with the audience joining in lustily.

The latter song is a curiosity, one of those short pieces that starts out as something innocuous and then turns into an innuendo. Virtually all of the few online references to this song are to do with it being performed in pubs, none before the 1950s:

What a wonderful fish the sole is,
What wonderful fish are soles.
Though I’m glad to relate,
I’m partial to skate,
When served on a plate with rissoles.

What a wonderful fish the sole is,
They swim around in shoals.
But the finest of fish, ever served in a dish
Are soles, are soles, are soles.

This set of words is given on the fascinating website Sound and History together with this little story:

“Just a few days after the BBC visited the Cock and Monkey, the folk song recordist Peter Kennedy turned up to make his own recordings of Burnham and French’s songs. These eventually found their way onto the Folktrax compilation The Londoners.”

Given that Kennedy was working for the BBC in 1954, making recordings of old songs and music, it was probably he who made the first recording of Bill Burnham and Bill French, on 3rd February. The notes to The Londoners gives a recording date of 13th February, and Kennedy commented that The Two Bills were actually barred from singing the Sole song in their regular pub. Kennedy’s collecting notes whilst working from the BBC have been digitised but there are no entries for early to mid February 1954.


Several of the other pubs in the centre of Southwold are known to have hosted singing on a Saturday or Sunday night, but arguably the most significant was the Harbour Inn, which is about a mile out of town, on the Southwold bank of the River Blyth. – See Tales from the Harbour Inn (forthcoming).


The photo of the Southwold Arms darts team c.1950 is from Hilda Palmer’s family collection – Back row: Kimmer Lurkins; Speedy Chapman; Giovanni Lees. Middle row: Sammy Chapman; Pimple Thompson; Don Palmer; Ticker Watson; Jack Jerman; ? Smith; Frank Goodwin. Front row: Frank Palmer; Jerry Nicholls; Lesley Smith; Billy Blowers; Johnny Neller.

The portrait of Robert Mac MacKenzie comes from A.B. Jenkins’ book A Photographic Collection of Bygones & Local Characters.


Other Southwold stories are told elsewhere on this blog- see: Up from the Sea, The Real Ben Hurr and The Battle of Sole Bay: an unsung song.

For information about the folksong collecting trip in 1910 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, as well as full details of all the songs sung by the Hurrs, and other singers found on that trip, see my other website https://katiehowson.co.uk/southwold-singers-1910 , where there is also more information about other 20th century singers 

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

Up from the Sea: Joseph Goodall, J.W. Georges and P.H. Emerson in Southwold

In April 2021 I presented one aspect of my work on the singing traditions from Southwold, in Suffolk for an online talk entitled Up from the Sea: Sea Songs from Southwold on the Suffolk Coast.

In that talk I focused on songs about the sea, and also touched on the role of visiting artists, musicians and writers, who were often inspired by the town’s fishing community, to see if they could reveal further information about vernacular singing.

I chose as my cover image this wonderful painting by Joseph Southall from 1920 – one of two similar studies. I particularly liked this one with the young boy looking on rather wistfully as the fishermen haul their boat up the beach.

In this present article I will elaborate a bit further on some of these little known visiting artists. The singers and songs are the subject of other posts mentioned at the foot of this page, where there is also a link to the afore-mentioned talk.


Joseph Southall (1861-1944)

I first became aware of Southall’s work through Ian Collins’ wonderful book Making Waves, published in 2005. This book is a marvellous survey, beautifully produced, of many artists who have been inspired by Southwold and its inhabitants.

Joseph Southall was brought up by radical Quakers in Edgbaston, Birmingham where he trained as an architect and attended art classes in the evening. He went on to be recognised as “one of the foremost tempera painters in the country and led to his participation in the exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the exhibition of Modern Tempera at Leighton House, which immediately preceded the foundation of the Tempera Society, of which he became one of the leading members” according to Peyton Skipwith writing on The Victorian Web in 2005. Egg-based tempera is very durable, with a satin sheen finish and generally gives a strong opaque colour.

He fell in love with a first cousin, Anna Elizabeth Baker (known as Bessie), and because of their close kinship they delayed their marriage until they were both in their early 40s. Joe and Bessie  first came to Southwold on their honeymoon in 1903 and spent weeks in the town every summer for most of the ensuing 34 years. He evidently found much inspiration in both the fishing fraternity and the fashionable holiday-makers, but Bessie was also involved, sewing the fabric paintings on to frames and applying numerous coats of gesso and size to finish the work. The Southalls also made their own egg-based paint and carved and gilded picture frames. Colour was of the utmost importance and no varnishing was allowed, although Goodall aimed to suffuse his images with a “golden hue”.

Ian Collins writes about this self-portrait of the Southalls: “This 1911 double portrait of the finely-dressed Southalls searching on Southwold beach for semi-precious stones is called ‘The Agate’. Now on long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery, it formerly lodged in the ladies’ lavatory of a Birmingham department store – latterly hidden behind a mirror after complaints from customers.”

It is interesting to compare Up from the Sea with a later version of the same scene, entitled Fishermen and Boat (1923). In this later reworking, the little boy has gone, replaced with a basket and wooden barrow. The man in the brown smock has gained a clay pipe and an extra man, sporting a fine moustache and sou’wester has joined in to lend a hand, whilst a couple of fishermen have appeared in the background. Most striking of the additions, perhaps, is the young man on the left of the picture really putting his back into the effort and sporting, like the man in the middle, a fine pair of the long fisherman’s boots that were to prove fatal for some of those engaged in this dangerous industry.

My last two examples of Southall’s Southwold would seem to be the same elderly fisherman: The Old Fisherman leaning on his boat was painted during the Southalls’ honeymoon in 1903 and Fisherman Carrying a Sail dates from 1907. It isn’t known whether these were actual people, or composite creations from a variety of old “characters”, but they very much feel to be based on direct observations.

Southall’s images of holiday makers in Southwold show the changing fashions and habits in sea-bathing, and it is well worth browsing the internet where many more can be viewed.


John Walter Georges (1879-1958)

This singular work by J.W. Georges really captured my attention, as it features someone known to be a singer – Billy Rogers – apparently in full flow, in the Harbour Inn in 1911. It was also published in Making Waves and when the book was published in 2005, very little was known about the artist except that in 1930, when he executed this drawing, he was at St Martin’s School of Art in London, and living in Battersea Rise. Ian Collins noted that “The remembered figures, left to right, are landlord Charles James Prior, fisherman John Cannell of 3 Town Farm Cottages, North Road in Southwold (83 in 1930), ex-basketmaker W.M. Rogers (the blind son of ‘Old Dog’ Rogers), the late fisherman Henry Ladd and the artist himself.”

Billy Rogers was known as a singer around the Southwold pubs and his story is told in Tales from the Harbour Inn (forthcoming).

But what of the artist?

Internet searches revealed no other works by John Walter Georges, so all I know is what I’ve found in a painstaking hunt through the genealogical sources. He was born in Brighton in 1879, the son of Julius Georges, a drawing master. Julius’ parents were born in France and his father was also a drawing master. John Walter moved to Lambeth to take up an apprenticeship in electrical engraving. At the age of 21 he married his boss’s daughter and in 1901 he and his wife Kathleen were living with her parents. After a couple of short-term residences, they settled into a home in Altenburg Gardens in Battersea, and by the 1911 census Georges gave his occupation as artist and art teacher. He retired from teaching in 1934, when the couple moved out to Epsom in Surrey, and he died in Weymouth, Dorset in 1958. This drawing came up for sale in 2004 and is the only known piece by Georges and his only known connection to Southwold. However there are indications of an ongoing family connection in Suffolk. His brother Julius had married a Norfolk woman and in retirement they lived in Clare, in south Suffolk. And, quite tantalisingly, a 16 year-old Dora Georges was living in Walberswick in the summer of 1930 – she is mentioned in Orwell in Southwold: His Life and Writings in a Suffolk Town, by Ronald Binns published in 2018, but I cannot find out any more about her apart from a possible marriage locally in 1937.

It rather looks as if Georges’ 1911 description of himself as “artist and art teacher” was a bit optimistic on the “artist” side. I am grateful for the survival of this one small work of art and it would be nice to think there were some more of his drawings lurking somewhere, unrecognised!


Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936)

The photographer P.H. Emerson is probably better known than the painters featured above, although he is generally associated with the Norfolk Broads, but his Southwold work from the mid 1880s is also superb.

Emerson published his ground-breaking work in the 1880s in a series of limited edition books and destroyed the plates afterwards. The books, of course, now fetch thousands of pounds, but the photographs have been digitised – details of online holdings are at the foot of the page. His writing is also very interesting, but some of it is hard to access, although a couple of relevant books are available as reproductions or digital books.

Emerson had been born in Cuba, and lived in America until the age of 9. He trained as a surgeon, married and started family whilst still at Cambridge University. He and his wife and baby son first came to Southwold in the summer of 1883, when the Halesworth Times, which listed eminent visitors to the town, tells us they stayed at Mrs Scarll’s on the High Street. They were back as holidaymakers in 1884 and shortly afterwards moved into Wellesley House, from which address he applied for copyright on a photograph called The Hoer on 1st September 1885. The following year he abandoned medicine to pursue a career as an artist-photographer, and it is in this year, 1886, that most of his Southwold photographs were taken. Emerson led a bit of a peripatetic life thereafter, moving his family back to London in late 1886 and living for extended periods on houseboats on the Norfolk Broads, but nearly ten years later he did return to the area – to Oulton Broad – for a few more years, but by that time he was more interested in wildlife writing than photography.

A future article will cover Emerson in more depth, so I shall just include here some of his Southwold photos to which I can add some insights. 

The two photographs above both show fishermen’s huts on the beach at Southwold, and both have names over the doorways. Geoffrey Munn in Southwold: An Earthly Paradise assumed that Rosebud was the name of the men’s boat, but I doubted that, as it looks like a name board off a boat itself. It turns out that no boat called the Rosebud was registered locally, but five years before Emerson took the photo in 1886, the following report appeared in the Diss Express on 25th November 1881, on the wreck of a brig registered in Hartlepool:

So after the crew had been rescued, the Southwold fishermen would have salvaged various remains – including this name board! Evidently this was not an uncommon practice as the following picture and information published in A Photographic Collection of Bygones by Barrett Jenkins indicate.

It is as well that Jenkins wrote the caption “The name board is from the wreck of the Nyl Ghau,” as it is not legible from the photo itself, but is clearly visible in Emerson’s photograph above.

 

 

 

I’ve left the most interesting (for me anyway!) until last – a series of three interiors showing just how staged these never-the-less photos actually were. I loved the one with the fiddle and the boy dancing a Sailor’s Hornpipe or stepdance, and was quite amazed to find these other variations on the same theme.

All of these photographs are held in the Eastman Museum and are numbered 192 (fiddle), 107 (all seated) and 1 (spinning wheel) in their online archive (see below). While these are titled A Cottage Interior and thought to have been taken in Southwold, I have my suspicions that they may have been staged in a room in Emerson’s somewhat larger abode,  where there would have been more room to fit in his large camera apparatus as well.  Whether or not the fisherman on the left did actually play the fiddle, is not known, as we don’t know who he is. Emerson’s daughter Gladys was just a toddler when these photographs were taken, but in later life she became a professional violinist, so it seems likely Emerson’s household could have been musical enough to muster a violin amongst their possessions in 1886 when this photograph was taken.

There is evidence in Emerson’s writing of an interest in folksong, which will be covered in a future post.


Other soon-to-be-published articles about Southwold include Tales from the Harbour Inn, where there is more about Billy Rogers; and The Real Ben Hurr and MacKenzie’s Lambs and the Leg of Mutton which contain more about other singers.


Books

The book Making Waves: Artists in Southwold, by Ian Collins published by Black Dog Books in 2005, cannot be too highly recommended and is what sparked my researches into this particular aspect of traditional life in Southwold.

Southwold: An Earthly Paradise, by Geoffrey C. Munn, published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, 2006 contains beautiful reproductions of fifteen of P.H.Emerson’s Southwold photographs.

I am eagerly anticipating Shorelines: Voices of Southwold Fishermen, by Robert Jellicoe, due to be published in October 2021 by Black Dog Books. Bob is the curator of the Southwold Museum and the archivist for the Sailors’ Reading Room and has been very supportive and helpful with my recent researches.  

Orwell in Southwold: His Life and Writings in a Suffolk Town, by Ronald Binns published by Zoilus Press, 2018

Most of P. H. Emerson’s Southwold photographs were published in ‘Pictures From Life In Field And Fen’ (1887).

Online resources

The Victorian Web website has many gems including this biography of Joseph Southall.

The Suffolk Artists website is also good on Joseph Southall

The Eastman Museum has a wonderful online archive of P.H. Emerson’s photos.

The British Library online archive also has a good selection – this link takes you to a search for “Peter Henry Emerson Southwold

And lastly, here’s that link to my talk about singing traditions in Southwold.

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

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.

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.

 

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