everyman and everywoman

Tag: Pubs

‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: the director’s cut

Sometimes a piece of research just keeps on turning up more nuggets, even when you think you’ve finished it!

I wrote at length about the Thirsty Work radio series earlier in 2022 and have just been crossing all the ‘t’s and dotting all the ‘i’s for another publication (see the end of this page for details), during which a random Google search unexpectedly and miraculously revealed some more of the actual recordings made for these programmes!

What’s more they are publicly accessible, and even downloadable – the links are at the end of the article. (NB in 2023 some of these links were no longer active).

These recordings come from the Ivy Inn in North Littleton in Worcestershire (below, left) and the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Gloucestershire (below, right). The full stories of these two programmes and the singers featured is told in: ‘Thirsty Work’ part 4: the Cotswolds – singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

The source of these recordings is unacknowledged, they are merely listed by the song title and ‘1940 recording’, but the clues were (1) the repertoire (2) the pub atmosphere and (3) the clincher – the words ‘One night we come to the Ebrington Arms …’ in the song The Man Who Invented Beer, confirming my intuition that I had discovered recordings from the Thirsty Work programmes. The fact that they include a song which was not broadcast, and that the singer of Jolly Jarge falters in the middle suggests that these were original unedited recordings, not the final broadcast version and not the library copy known to have been requested by BBC producer Maurice Brown.

The locations and singers are not identified, but by cross-referencing with information from the BBC Written Archives, I have been able to work out the following:


  • The Man Who Invented Beer(unknown, but not Charles Gardiner whom I thought it might have been)
  • I Had in My Pocket Just One Penny (The Penny Wager / The Little Black Horse) (George ‘Shup’ Hawkins)

North Littleton: 

  • I’m A Broken Down Man(George Norledge)
  • Two Little Girls in Blue(Frank Norledge)
  • Buttercup Joe(Charles Gardiner)
  • Never Let Your Braces Dangle (Harry Gisbourne)
  • Jolly George(unknown, song listed as Johnny George in the BBC archive, aka Jolly Jarge)
  • Also, probably: She’d Never Been There Before(Bill Norledge, song not listed in any official documentation, suggesting it was not actually broadcast)

The evening in North Littleton, in particular, sounds like quite a raucous affair, with the landlord having trouble getting order for the singers. Comments from the audience can be heard, allowing me to identify the singers.

The songs are a mixture of traditional, music hall and popular songs, in keeping with the broad criteria for these programmes, which did not specifically focus on folk songs. Many of the songs had been recorded on 78 rpm discs in the 1920s and 1930s.

One song which has particularly captured my attention is The Man Who Invented Beer which I assumed to be of music hall origin. However, there is no trace of the song amongst any of the usual sources, and learned colleagues have not been able to shed any light on it either. Most mentions seem to be from the mid 20th century, and the earliest reference I can find is really quite curious: folksong collector Francis Collinson noted the melody down whilst listening to a radio programme called A Country Serenade on 1st May 1943, where it had been included in a programme about Buckinghamshire.

The singing of this song on the Thirsty Work programme from Ebrington, first broadcast on 28th November 1940 is therefore the earliest reference to it at the moment. It may have been composed locally, possibly by Charles Gardiner, although it was not he who actually sang it – that remains a mystery, but he was introduced by Gardiner, who also had a far deeper singing voice than the singer of this song.

All the singers were local men employed in rural occupations with the exception of Charles Gardiner, who was clerk to Evesham Rural District Council and a part-time writer of dialect sketches for the radio. Details about the all singers can be found in ‘Thirsty Work’ part 4: the Cotswolds – singing from North Littleton and Ebrington

Whilst we might enjoy these recordings made ‘in the raw’, another recent find reminds us that not everyone was pleased with the results. The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail carried this story about the Thirsty Work programme recorded in the King’s Arms, Redmire, in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, on 6 May 1940:

 ‘More than 20 Wensleydale lads who recorded the Redmire programme at the village inn for the programme given on Saturday night on the Forces wavelength, met at the Kings Arms on Saturday and listened in to their own show. Kit Jones, 71 years of age, said: “The BBC have improved my voice so much that I hardly knew it.” That there was too much chatter brought in by the BBC when Kit Jones was telling his humorous story was a general version. “Folk would not chatter in that fashion when I was telling my stories,” said Kit. The title “Thirsty Work” was not popular—for although the party has met every Saturday night for the last three years at the King’s Arms, they are by no means a thirsty party. Singing is the attraction, so much so that they often sing until midnight, always finishing off with hymns …’

Quite what the BBC did to improve Kit Jones’ voice is not known, but the recording of him singing I Like to Hear the Old Cock Crow on this occasion is in both the British Library Sound Archive and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, although unfortunately it is not accessible publicly.

Further details about Kit Jones and the Redmire recording can be found in ‘Thirsty Work’ part 2: the North – singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome

Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2022.

Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

In late 2022, this research was published by The Ballad Partners, in a collection entitled: “Thirsty Work and Other Legacies of Folk Song”, which contains many other interesting essays and is very reasonably priced at only £13. It may be bought from the Ballad Partners website.

The recordings from North Littleton and Ebrington can be found on YouTube by typing ‘Traditional British and Irish Songs Vol.1’ into the search box.

The same search on Amazon brings up a downloadable album which includes the North Littleton and Ebrington songs and also includes some other recordings of traditional music from the 1940s and 1950s: here’s a direct link.  

Francis Collinson’s 1943 manuscript including his transcription of The Man Who Invented Beer may be seen in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library digital archive under the title The Lord Bless Charlie Mott where it is erroneously dated 1945. 

(NB in 2023 some of these links were no longer active).

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

This article was first posted in November 2021, but was significantly updated in the light of important new information in January 2022. 

In late 2022, this research was published by The Ballad Partners, in a collection entitled: “Thirsty Work and Other Legacies of Folk Song”, which contains many other interesting essays and is very reasonably priced at only £13. It may be bought from the Ballad Partners website.

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

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

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

To help you navigate through this long (but totally fascinating!) article, here are some shortcuts, but I do recommend that for your first reading, you ignore these, sit down in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and read the whole lot from beginning to end!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio broadcasting in wartime

The Thirsty Work series was broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme – a channel specifically designed for those British Armed Forces in France – which started transmissions on 18th Feb 1940. The Forces Programme was meant as an alternative to the Home Service, the sole British broadcasting channel at the time. The Home Service had previously been the National Programme, which had been complemented by a Regional Programme, but that was closed down at the start of the War, as was the nascent television service. However, this structure of regional and national sections within the BBC was still in place throughout the period of the Thirsty Work programmes and was at times a thorn in the side of the series producer, Maurice Brown.

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

Radio Times 9th April 1940

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

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

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

See A note concerning recordings below for details about the archiving of the original discs. Part 2 and Part 3 both refer in more detail to the recordings of individual programmes.

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

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

Maurice Penton Brown (1909-1981) the son of a bank manager, came from London and was educated at Stowe and Oxford, before starting at the BBC in the then new gramophone department, whilst in his early twenties. The first mentions of him in the media show him working in what we would now call documentaries, but were then usually referred to as “features”.

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

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

I believe that Saturday Night at the Eel’s Foot – recorded and broadcast in 1939 (see Part 3) was his first foray into broadcasting traditional singing in its natural habitat, shortly followed by the Thirsty Work series. . At the time, it was rare for folksong to be heard in an informal social setting on the radio, although during the 1930s when the BBC Regional Programme was probably at its zenith, there were various programmes which occasionally featured traditional singers and musicians, dialect speakers and calendar customs such as Mumming Plays. Folksong was more likely to be heard on the airwaves in the more genteel form of the voice of a trained singer accompanied by a piano.

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

In October 1947, Brown collaborated with E.J. Moeran to produce East Anglia Sings with recordings made again in the Eel’s Foot and also in the Windmill Inn in Sutton, Norfolk. Two songs from this programme appear on Volume 3 (England) of an ambitious series of records made by Alan Lomax in the early 1950s, the World Library of Folk and Primitive Music. These were issued on Columbia Records, who were pioneers in the development of Long-Playing records, in 1955. Many of the recordings were made by Lomax himself, but others were gleaned from existing archives of folk music including the BBC, which seems to have been enough for Brown to receive a credit on the sleeve notes. He is also credited on Volume 1 (Ireland) with a recording made in Killarney, Co. Kerry in 1947. In August that year a major field-recording trip, guided by Seamus Ennis, was made to Ireland by the BBC at the instigation of Brian George (Head of the BBC’s Central Programme Operations and later founder of the Folk Music & Dialect Recording Scheme), and Brown may well have been part of that, but at the moment I have only this slight circumstantial evidence to suggest that.

In later years his work encompassed a wide range of subjects, from regular airings of Kipling’s Just So Stories on Children’s Hour through a variety of programmes about sailing craft to a good number which involved music from different countries, such as A Serbian Christmas – “A sound picture of traditional celebrations, both religious and secular, recorded at the Yugoslav Volunteer Workers Hostel at Debach, Suffolk, in January 1950” which was made in collaboration with writer, broadcaster and singer John Seymour. Most of Brown’s programmes were broadcast on the Home Service and the Third Programme, with the occasional one on the Light Programme, such as Saturday Night Ashore, which in September 1951 was described thus: “Join the Navy to See the World – Six lighthearted episodes from a dramatised log of the Mediterranean Fleet’s first summer cruise, during June and July, to Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Written and produced by Maurice Brown.”

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

How this series came to be made: contacts, locations and criteria

This series was no mean undertaking; even in peacetime conditions it would be a challenge to produce, at short notice, seven programmes from across England, each one involving a number of amateur performers. Just finding the singers and the pubs in the first place required a lot of what we now call networking. At first I thought I might find folksong collectors and dialect enthusiasts amongst Brown’s contacts, but in the main the initial suggestions seemed to come from colleagues within the BBC.

In February 1940, just as the new Programme for the Forces was being rolled out, Maurice Brown wrote to Laurence Gilliam, the head of BBC Features and Drama, explaining his vision for the series:

“I know that the idea of recorded programmes of pub singing is an old hobby horse of mine, but I feel six or more 15 minute broadcasts could be made of this material for the B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Forces] programme. This would not be in any way confined to folk songs but would consist of songs they sing in given large areas – for instance, in the Lakeland pubs there are fell songs and hunting songs, in Yorkshire their own dialect songs, in Kent hopping songs, et cetera etc., and everywhere you find songs the troops know. It is merely a matter of editing to produce a short programme which although in part localised should still be popular both to the man who comes from that part of the country and the mass who enjoy singing songs.”

In March 1940, shortly after the series was approved, Maurice Brown was investigating a Kentish hopping pub, the New Inn in Mousehole, Cornwall and somewhere in the Cotswolds, where his contact seemed to be Freddie Grisewood a BBC colleague from Daylesford, near Stow-on-the-Wold.

In May 1940 with the first two programmes under his belt, the search for further locations gained further traction. Brown wrote to another BBC colleague, Robin Whitworth: “As I told you on the telephone I am producing a series of twelve programmes on pub singing for the Forces. I want to record at least three in the Midlands.  [ … ] Do you know, or could you find any such places?”

Whitworth (whose father had an intense interest in dialect and had founded the British Drama League which created a sound archive of dialect recordings as a resource for actors) was an experienced broadcaster in the Midlands region, a collaborator with Charles Gardiner (Programmes 5 and 6) and producer of many “vox-pop” programmes, and his correspondence on this matter with Maurice Brown makes for interesting reading.

Whitworth wrote back, mentioning the following Black Country pubs: The Stork, Great Bridge, nr W. Bromwich, kept by Jim Partridge; The Tumbledown Bridge,  Willenhall (pictured here); The Bear, Great (actually West) Brampton, Newcastle under Lyme; The Cleveland, nr Stow Heath, Wolverhampton, and separately, the Portcullis Inn at Hillesley near Stroud in Gloucestershire. Later in the year he was putting out to feelers to a contact in Lancashire for the Thirsty Work series. None of these ideas came to fruition, but it’s interesting to see that they were considering pubs in more urban settings.

Even after identifying suitable pubs, Brown needed good reliable people in the locality to contact the singers and ease the way for the recordings to be made. The landlords of the pubs played a significant part in these arrangements, and other vital people were Ernest Skelton, a music teacher and church organist in Ambleside (Programme 1), Charles Gardiner, a local government official, writer and folksong collector in the Cotswolds (Programmes 5 and 6), and Sidney Jameson, a journalist and amateur folklorist in Harome (Programme 7) – see Part 2 and Part 4 for details of these people.

Brown’s pitch for the series to Gilliam (above) goes a long way to explaining why the word “folk” wasn’t used in any of the Radio Times descriptions and provides us with an insight into the guiding principles behind the series.

Brown also stated his criteria to any potential landlord or host for these programmes. In April 1940, for example, a Mr. J.B. Landan wrote from the Golden Lion in Islington, suggesting that his pub might be suitable. He regularly held singing competitions there, to audiences of 150 or so people, and wrote that he had read about the forthcoming programmes in the Evening News. Brown responded:  

“In the pub broadcasts which I am producing I do not use many singers. What I want is from ten to twenty people singing because they like it. They also must sing songs representing their own district or county. If you could find some completely non-professional singers who will Cockney and London solos and choruses I shall be very pleased to come and hear them when I am next in London. Would you be good enough to let me know if this is possible?”

In his introductory letter to George Miller, the landlord at the Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley (Programme 4) he explained: “These programmes are being broadcast to the Forces, and individual pubs should appeal to regiments enlisted from that district.”

What happened next, and the legacy of the Thirsty Work series

At the end of 1940, plans were being laid for another series of Thirsty Work, to consist of twelve half-hour programmes. However, given the problems with pubs during wartime (See Parts 2 and 4 for more on this), a slightly different perspective was suggested by Brown’s boss in the Features and Drama department, Laurence Gilliam, to whom Brown wrote on 22nd October 1940:

“TROOPS ENTERTAINING THE TROOPS: I have been making enquiries about your suggested series of programmes on “Thirsty Work” lines. It seems likely that we could broadcast these certainly fortnightly, and perhaps weekly. I contemplate including broadcasts from Polish, Czech, Belgian, French and Dutch camps, the American eagle squadron, in addition to Army messes, aerodromes and between decks on board naval ships. Would you like me to go ahead with this as soon as may be, because at the moment I have no actual contacts.”

And on 7th November Gilliam responded:

THIRSTY WORK FOR THE TROOPS: I have discussed the new series for THIRSTY WORK with Mr Langham and he welcomed the idea for 30 minute programmes on the new plan starting in the New Year. Would you please let him know as soon as possible the titles and times.”

It seems that events overtook this proposal and the Radio Times archive shows only occasional programmes produced by Brown from 1941 until the end of the war. As noted above, he was a Sub-Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve and several of the programmes he produced were recorded on board Naval ships.

From 1949 to 1958, the BBC actually employed people as folk song collectors and recordists. The most prominent of these was Peter Kennedy, who visited at least two of the Thirsty Work locations, Redmire and Ebrington, on the trail of Brown’s singers. This appears to be very much the way the collecting scheme worked: “Far from comprising a repository of oral recordings gained through fresh encounters, the Recorded Scheme reconfigured numerous extant archives, each with their own criteria of authenticity, systems of classification, and territorial attachments” (Daniel Gomes, in Archival Airwaves: Recording Ireland for the BBC). Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if Kennedy got to Wakerley or Harome, the least known of the Thirsty Work locations, but if the recordings had already been lost at this stage, that may account for why.

A note concerning recordings

When the BBC was established, there was no remit to keep an archive of recordings, although written documentation was a requirement. Many programmes were broadcast live or used existing recordings of music.

It is largely thanks to Marie Slocombe (1912-1995) that any original recordings remain in existence. At the time of the Thirsty Work series, she was working in the Recorded Programmes Department, and there is correspondence between her and Maurice Brown about the “processing” (i.e preservation) of some of the original recordings for this series. There is a well-told tale that Slocombe, together with colleague Tim Eckersley, both in relatively junior positions, were asked, in 1937, by their boss to dispose of a pile of old records. The two realised that amongst these discs were historically significant recordings of people such as George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and they boldly requested that these be archived. Permission was granted to keep a small selection, and so started what was eventually to become the BBC Sound Archive.

It wasn’t until a few months after the Thirsty Work series, in August 1941, that Slocombe officially became the Librarian for the Recorded Programmes Permanent Library (i.e. sound archivist). Those of us interested in folk music are eternally grateful to her; she was keenly interested in folk and traditional music, song and dance and a committee member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. She and her head of department, Brian George were influential in the creation and management of the Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme mentioned above, which saw folk music collectors such as Séamus Ennis (pictured below in Ireland in 1947, still using a direct-cut disc recorder, photo © UCD) and Peter Kennedy actively collecting folksong under the auspices of the BBC from a pilot in 1949 through to 1957. This was made possible due to technological developments in portable recording equipment and the BBC was uniquely placed to run such a scheme. Slocombe and George also created the legendary radio series As I Roved Out which ran from 1953 to 1958 and included many recordings made under the scheme.

The British Library Sound Archive is now the repository for the BBC Sound Archive and in their catalogue may be found:

BBC 2519             Ambleside (Thirsty Work Programme 1): Joe Bowman (probably Brait Black)

BBC 2520             Ambleside (Thirsty Work Programme 1): John Peel, Sally Gray (Alfred  Creighton)

BBC 2521             Redmire (Thirsty Work Programme 2): Ilkley Moor Baht’at, The White Cockade, (probably Joe Alderson)

BBC 2522             Ambleside (Thirsty Work Programme 1): Talk about Joe Bowman’s funeral, Brait Black, All Jolly Fellows (John Bell)

BBC 2523             Redmire (Thirsty Work Programme 2): I Like to Hear the Old Cock Crow, Kit Jones; Our Old Nan’s a Mazer, Jim Lambert

They are not identified with the Thirsty Work series in the catalogue, but they definitely are. These are not the original discs recorded in situ at the pubs, but library copies taken from the originals. We know this because (a) there is evidence in the BBC written archives about the selection and procedures and (b) these discs do not contain the entire repertoire of songs which were actually broadcast. It is clear from the BBC memos that it was Maurice Brown who was responsible for selecting the most significant items from each broadcast for archiving, and from the items in the British Library Sound Archive (programmes 1 and 2 only) we can see that less than half the songs that were broadcast were selected for preservation: a memo from Brown on 4 June 1940 regarding selecting songs from Programmes 1 and 2 correlates precisely with the tracks on the BLSA discs.

The BBC Permanent Library (fore-runner of the Sound Archive) made metal masters (“matrices”) from which future copies could be pressed, and – at least for the Recording Scheme – also kept two unplayed pressings in separate locations. In correspondence about the Eel’s Foot programme (Programme 3) Brown mentioned the original 1939 recordings as being “on film” which sounds tantalisingly as if there might have been visual evidence, but in fact his comment refers to the use of a Philips-Miller film recorder, developed in the 1920s for purely audio purposes.

On 11 March 1941, Brown sent the records from the final three episodes off for processing, writing: “I am sending you three records to be processed. They are: the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, the Ivy, North Littleton and the Star, Harome. Each set of records is separate, and have with them the titles that I wish to be processed. I have in some cases starred the essentials, but would greatly prefer for the lot to be done.”

At the time of writing I cannot trace the existence of any discs for these programmes (4, 5 and 6) or Wakerley (Programme 7) although there is documentary proof of each of these being sent off to the Recorded Programmes department for processing.

Each of the singing communities recorded for the Thirsty Work programmes is quite different, and has its own story to tell. I hope you enjoy reading them and thank you for reading this far!

I would just remind you here that any re-use of this original research should be credited to me, Katie Howson, with this website as the source. It is due to be published in print form in the near future, and details will be posted here when known. Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

Thirsty Work: pubs and dates

  1. From the Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland, recorded on 15th & 16th March 1940, and broadcast on 9th April 1940.
  2. From the King’s Arms, Redmire, Wensleydale, Yorkshire, recorded on 13th & 14th April 1940 and broadcast on 4th May 1940.
  3. From the Eel’s Foot Inn, Eastbridge, Suffolk, recorded on 13th May 1939 and broadcast on 13th May 1940.
  4. From the Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire, recorded on 8th & 9th May 1940 and broadcast on 14th June 1940.
  5. From the Ivy Inn, North Littleton, Worcestershire, recorded on 6th & 7th June and broadcast on 22nd July 1940 (repeated 17th Sept 1940).
  6. From the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Gloucestershire, recorded on 27th & 28th September 1940 and broadcast on 28th Nov 1940 (repeated 3rd January 1941).
  7. From the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire, recorded on 3rd & 4th February 1941 and broadcast on 7th March 1941.

For these web articles I have grouped the programmes geographically:

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

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

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

‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: Director’s Cut – recordings from Programmes 5 & 6 and other updates.

References and links

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

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Programme Index (previously known as the Genome project), which is very easy to browse and search. Further information on the making of these programmes has been added from the BBC Written Archives Centre, which is by appointment only, in person.

You can hear Marie Slocombe herself telling the story of the foundation of the BBC Sound Archive in a short clip here and her 1964 article The BBC Folk Music Collection, published in Folklore and Folk Music Archivist by Indiana University is available online here.   

Archival Airwaves: Recording Ireland for the BBC by Daniel Gomes is good on the history of the BBC Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme, and in particular the uses to which the archive recordings of folk song and music were put in the 1950s and 60s. It was published in 2019 in Modernism/modernity, the journal of the Modernist Studies Association and is also available online here. 

The BBC website has several good articles on its radio history

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

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

The photo of Séamus Ennis recording in a car may be found here on the University College Dublin website who hold the copyright. Dúchas © National Folklore Collection UCD.

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

Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

My research on the 1940s radio programmes “Thirsty Work”  is now published by The Ballad Partners, in a collection entitled: “Thirsty Work and Other Legacies of Folk Song”. The book contains many other interesting essays and is very reasonably priced at only £13! It may be bought from the Ballad Partners website.

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

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

This article was first posted in November 2021, but has been significantly updated in the light of important new information in January 2022.

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

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

  • Programme 1 was broadcast on 9th April 1940 from recordings made at the Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland on 15th & 16th March 1940
  • Programme 2 was broadcast on 4th May 1940 from recordings made at King’s Arms, Redmire, Wensleydale, Yorkshire on 12th & 13th April 1940
  • Programme 7 was broadcast on 7th March 1941 from recordings made at the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire on 3rd & 4th February 1941

You can use the links just here to skip straight on to a section that particularly interest you:

Programme 1: The Royal Oak, Ambleside, Westmorland

Broadcast on 9th April 1940


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

In fact all these singers were from Ambleside, and the Yorkshire singers were featured in the second programme, a month later.

Material in the BBC archives has revealed quite a bit of background to this programme. The initial contact was with Ernest Skelton (1876-1954), organist at the Parish Church and music teacher in the town. He was from a very musical family who had previously run the local newspaper, the Lakes Herald; his brother William continued to write for the Westmorland Gazette including a series of biographical sketches, one of these resulted in a book Reminiscences of Joe Bowman and the Ullswater Hounds published in 1921,. This included a song called The Ullswater Pack with music written by Ernest Skelton. Ernest Skelton was the man responsible for “collecting together the singers, arranging for rehearsal and other important matters” according to Maurice Brown and Skelton himself said he thought piano accompaniment would be unnecessary. Brown went ahead and organised a trip starting on 13th March 1940, with two days of preparatory visits (including an outing to Keswick) and two recording evenings in the Royal Oak in Ambleside, on 15th and 16th March. As with all these programmes, the singers were paid 10/6d each, the chairmen and faciitators a guinea or more, and drinks for the whole company of singers were paid for by the BBC.

From this first programme, four songs and some speech are preserved in the British Library Sound Archive on acetate discs. They are not identified as being from this programme, and have the wrong recording date of 28th March 1940. Brait (wrongly transcribed as Bert) Black is named, whilst audience members can be heard exclaiming “Well done, Alf” – Alfred Creighton.

Singers and songs

From the British Library Sound Archive catalogue we know that the four of the songs sung on this occasion were:

  • John Peel (unidentified singer)
  • Ploughing Song, aka All Jolly Fellows (unidentified singer – but we now know this to be John Bell)
  • Sally Gray (unidentified singer – but it is definitely Alfred Creighton)
  • Joe Bowman (unidentified singer – likely to be Brait Black)

In the BBC Written Archives Centre, the “Programme as Broadcast” documentation has survived and reveals a further five songs that were included in the programme:

  • We’ll All Go a-Hunting
  • The Old Rustic Bridge
  •  New Year’s Hunt at Kirkstile
  • The Farmer’s Boy
  • Now the Horn of the Hunter is Silent

It seems likely that a couple of these songs were included in another radio programme called Everybody’s Scrapbook in late 1940, and in a letter to the producer of that programme, Leslie Bailey, Maurice Brown wrote about “Joe Bowman’s song” and seems to imply the recording is of Joe Bowman himself singing. However, Brown’s first known recording visit to the Lakes was on 13th March 1940, and Bowman, a legendary huntsman with the Ullswater Hunt for over 40 years had died only a few days before, on 5th March, just fifteen miles north of Ambleside.

I have not yet found any information about Brown making an earlier visit, although it is possible.

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

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

Charlie Rogers (1890-1971) was a postman living on Compston Road in 1939. He was originally from Uckfield in Sussex and moved to Ambleside sometime after 1920.

Johnny Bell (1899-1955) was a farmer born and brought up in Ambleside, also living on Compston Road in 1939 when he was also working for the Lakes Urban District Council, doing haulage work. From information in the BBC archives, we now know that he was the chairman for this singing session.        

Percy Salkeld (1896-1955) was another local man who ran a dairy farm and served in the Royal Navy in World War One. In 1939 he was living on Rydal Rd, Ambleside.

John Kirby was described in the Radio Times as a farmer, and information in the BBC archives identifies his home in 1940 as Skelwith Farm, but I have not been able to find out anything further about him.

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

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

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

Programme 2: The King’s Arms, Redmire, Yorkshire

Broadcast on 4th May 1940


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

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

A couple of articles in the Yorkshire Post have provided much useful information about the songs.

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

The mention of “dialect” songs here is interesting: in 1938 and 1939, Redmire had hosted a Dialect Drama festival which was deemed successful and they had looked forward to greater events in the future. The Yorkshire Post (15.4.1940) in its report about the Thirsty Work singing session, claimed that “The fame of these Wensleydale Saturday nights reached the B.B.C. after one of their officials had found a pile of hymns one day on top of a pub piano.” Perhaps that “official” had just come out of one of the Dialect Festival events held in the Town Hall, which adjoins the King’s Arms. It was a BBC official, “Mr Reid” who had put Maurice Brown in contact with the landlord, according to information in the BBC archives, and Brown wrote that “I gather that Mr Reid may be coming professionally” to the recording weekend, which took place on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th April 1940, after a preliminary visit – referred to by Brown as a ‘see and hear’ visit on 30th and 31st March.

Information in the BBC archives shows that Brown hired a car (for which he had to request petrol coupons from the BBC) to reach this “remote spot” and that sound recordists Neil Hutchinson and AN Other, Mr Reid, and Brown’s secretary, Miss Plummer all stayed at the King’s Arms itself. The correspondence between Brown and the landlord, Joe Alderson, is very warm and friendly and the pub-goers evidently enjoyed a good time during the recordings.


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

  • I Like to Hear the Old Cock Crow (Kit Jones)
  • Our Old Nan’s a Mazer (Jim Lambert)
  • The White Cockade (possibly Joe Alderson)
  • On Ilkley Moor Baht’at (unidentified singer, but largely choral singing)

BBC archive documentation about the programme reveals that these were selected for “processing” by Maurice Brown on 4th June 1940, out of eight songs which were actually broadcast. In addition the above, these were:

  • Wensleydale (sung by “Bill and chorus”)
  • What are You going to do about Selina (Kit Jones)
  •  Maggie (Ernest Heseltine)
  •  I Shall Know Him

The latter song was one of the Sankey and Moodey hymns for which the pub singers were known. Following his initial visit to the pub on 2nd April, Brown wrote to Joe Alderson requesting some songs heard that night for the actual recording, and mentioning two further songs which do not seem to have been broadcast:

  • Rose of Allendale (trio and chorus)
  • Rocking the Baby (Mr Heseltine)

This list of songs comprises folk songs, songs associated with the locality and more modern ones, such as What are You Going to do About Selina, a song made famous in the 1920s and 30s by Music Hall star Lily Morris. A report in the Yorkshire Post mentioned many of these songs and also commented that the men carried on singing after the BBC had finished recording for the night. See References & Links below for the full text of the article.


Amazingly, a photograph has recently come to light of the actual radio recording taking place, courtesy of Dales historians Bob Ellis and Ian Spensley. The central figure with the concertina is Kit Jones, and the man whose faces just show above the concertina has been identified as landlord Joe Alderson, thanks to Ian Spensley’s enquiries on my behalf and 96 year old Albert Calvert, who remembers the recording taking place. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Radio Times also mentions “the one-armed keeper of Bolton Castle”. This would be John Batty (1886-1960) who is listed in 1939 as the caretaker there – a single man in his early fifties, living with his two unmarried sisters, whose father and brothers also worked on the same estate. The Yorkshire Post article refers to a couple of other people who took part in the chorus singing: “the cobbler” – this would be Tom Hunter, listed in 1939 as bootmaker and auxiliary postman; and “the blacksmith” who was James Robinson, aged 58. Local opinion is that it is James (“Tag”) Robinson on the left behind the presenter in the photograph of the BBC recording.

A list of permissions for broadcast found in the BBC archives has confirmed James Robinson (1881-1972) and Tom Hunter (1879-1971) as taking part, as well as four other men:

Jim Ru(e)croft (1889-1975) was a driver, born and brought up in Redmire, but living in Leyburn by 1939.

James Waller (1876-n.d.) was living on Station Road, Redmire. He seems to have had various jobs and was probably related to the licensees of a pub just outside Redmire, the Swan Inn.

Godfrey Rutter (1876-1972), was originally from Gunnerside, and by 1939 was working in the local quarry and living in the nearby village of Castle Bolton.

Bob Lambert (1895-1978) was a railway clerk living in the nearby town of Leyburn.

A series of letters reveals another man who was also involved, but got missed off the list and subsequently did not receive any payment – which he complained about to the BBC. This was Ralph Bell Fawcett (1892-1969), whose headed notepaper indicates he was a journalist at the Wensleydale Newsagency, Middleham. He claimed he was invited to sing and had been treated unfairly; BBC producer Maurice Brown wrote to the landlord of the King’s Arms, Joe Alderson, with whom he was clearly on friendly terms:

“I am a little worried by two letters from Fawcett, who writes that not only does he think that he has been treated shabbily, but others agree with him in thinking that they were not treated fairly. Could you tell me about this as I should hate to think so happy an occasion should end in discontent. Neither I nor the B.B.C. have any desire to be mean.”

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

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

Traditional Culture in Redmire

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

Living in a tiny cottage in the village of Castle Bolton, just a few yards from the entrance to the actual castle, was the artist Fred Lawson. Lawson painted many local scenes and wrote in The Dalesman about local events, including traditional events such as Redmire Feast with its “Cheesecake Gatherers”. 

You can now read my new article about the Cheesecake Gatherers and Clockdressers on this website.

Programme 7: The Star Inn, Harome, Yorkshire

Broadcast on 7th March 1941

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

Initially, this programme presented more questions and mysteries than answers, but my visit to the BBC Written Archives Centre revealed a real treasure trove of information about the songs sung, the people who sang them and much more. This section has been totally revised since I first posted about it in November 2021.

I have found no sign of any discs in the British Library from this programme, but a memo from producer Maurice Brown in March 1941 indicates that the original recordings were “processed” – meaning a selection was made for archiving.

The Star is an attractive medieval thatched building, which until very recently was a famous “gastropub”, but on 26th November 2021 the thatch caught fire and much of the building suffered devastating damage. At the time of the Thirsty Work programmes, the landlord was Tom Oldfield and the pub had been run from at least 1800 by members of his wife’s family. They bought the pub in 1933 and kept it until 1946, being the last members of the family to do so.

It was a man called Sidney Jameson, who suggested the Star Inn to producer Maurice Brown. Jameson (1898-1982), from Butterwick, Barton-le-Street, near Malton, gave his occupation in the 1939 register as news correspondent/journalist. He wrote copious notes to Brown, including biographies of singers. He also made the preliminary visits to the pub (and other possible locations), offered accommodation to the BBC crew and afterwards sent Brown press cuttings from the local newspaper showing some reactions to the programme.

There is no record of Brown making a “see and hear” visit for this broadcast and it seems very probable that he relied on Jameson’s judgement. Jameson had previously explored other pubs in the vicinity in the quest for a suitable location for the radio programme, writing to Brown:

“I also looked in at the Plough Inn at Wombleton, another thatched roof picturesque old place. The people at the inn were very interesting folk. There used to be plenty of singers at the inn formerly, but now they have only an occasional sing song there when the son of the house comes home on leave from the army and brings his accordion. The Helmsley inns too are rather short of local singers. There are a good number of soldiers in the town and district who sing at the inns now. “Mine hostess” and her sister, typical old villagers of the village inn at Nawton near Helmsley said to me on Sunday “They’ve (the military) taken all our men folk away now, but there used to be plenty of singing here formerly.”

Jameson also considered the Buck Inn at Wrelton near Pickering (see below), but when he found the Star Inn, he knew he’d struck gold, and wrote at length to Brown about some of the singers and participants: “George Thomas Oldfield, innkeeper [ … ] is an exceptionally good type. He sings, talks fluently. A jovial personality. [The inn’s] patrons have sung there for generations. There has not been so much singing since the outbreak of war, but there are still plenty of villagers who have sung there and who can give a good musical evening in the old style. “Most of our lads sing at the chapel as well,” says the innkeeper. “And they’re big men at dominoes and darts.”

Jameson’s pivotal role in this programme is shown by Maurice Brown’s memo to his managers on 7th Feb 1941: “Mr Sidney Jameson of Butterwick, Barton-le-Street, near Malton, has gone to immense pains to collect material for me and it is largely through him that this rush programme was successfully recorded. I would be very grateful if he could receive a cheque of not less than 3 guineas, the actual sum I suggest being 5 guineas.”

Brown and his BBC colleague, Mr Chignall, recorded at the Star Inn on 3rd and 4th February 1941. Afterwards, Brown was incapacitated for a while and it was Chignall who compiled the actual programme. Brown wrote to Jameson: “Despite a few points I would have liked changed, I thought the programme went very well, although another five minutes would have made all the difference.”


Unlike the first two programmes, there was no trace of any recordings in the British Library Sound Archive and the Radio Times gave no occupations, making life even more difficult. There were two Robert Fords and two John Flintofts living in Harome and I couldn’t initially identify any of the other singers in the locality either. However, additional information from the BBC archives and a bit of lateral thinking have eventually resulted in a much better idea of who these singers were.

The Radio Times listed: MC: Tom Oldfield (the landlord) as the MC, Robert Ford on melodeon and singers John Flintoft, John Collinson, Jack Cobley, George Dodds and Charles Young. Additionally, from the BBC archive we now know the following people also took part: Frank Flintoft, Albert Ventress, Archie Greenley, Albert Watson, Reg Marsden and Tom Smith. Apart from the last man, I have now identified all these people.

Tom Oldfield (1884-1975) started out in life as a bricklayer in Norton, near Malton. His first wife died and his second wife came from the Bradley family who had been running the Star Inn since at least 1800. They bought the Star Inn for the sum of £395 in December 1933 and put it up for sale again in 1946.

Robert Ford (1864-1951) was a retired woodsman and general labourer, living on the main street in Harome. From Sidney Jameson’s letters to Maurice Brown, we know that he was highly regarded in the community and led local processions at coronations, jubilees and so on, playing the melodeon. He had bought his first melodeon aged 18 and taught himself to play and had a repertoire of dance tunes, playing a polka for the Thirsty Work programme. Jameson also informs us that Ford had played for the old “granary dances” in the locality, and wrote to Maurice Brown: “Mr Ford is not a “regular” or a frequenter of the inn, but has called in occasionally for a glass of beer. I think he would respond to an invitation to play for you.”

John (1875-1950) and his son Frank Flintoft (1917-2011) were sheep farmers at Church Farm in Harome, although John lived much of his life in Ampleforth, about ten miles to the west.

John Collinson (1883-n.d.) was born in West Hartlepool but from an early age had lived in the village of Nunnington, near Harome. He worked as a road man for the North Riding council.

Jack Cobley (1873-1952) lived all his life in the village of Kirbymoorside, but his wife’s family lived very close to the Star Inn, and so he would have known Harome well. In 1939 his occupation was given as a general labourer, but in earlier life he had worked as a groom, hence his penchant for “horsey” songs!

George Dodds (1900-1986) worked on an estate in 1939, by which date he was living in Harome, having been born and brought up in Wombleton.

Charles Young (1894-1965) was born in North Shields where he started working as a hairdresser. His marriage in 1919 took place in Hawnby, northwest of Harome, suggesting he had moved to this area. By 1939 he was living in the nearby of Helmsley and working as a driver for the Post Office.

Albert Ventress (1912-1990) was described as a woodman in the BBC archives, but in the 1939 register he appears as a steam engine driver (threshing), so it sounds as if he was reliant on seasonal jobs. He lived in Harome for the rest of his life.

Archie Greenlay (1918-1986) was also described as a woodman in the BBC archives. In 1939 he was living a couple of doors away from Albert Ventress, in the Council Houses in Harome and was working as a general labourer. He too remained in Harome for the rest of his life.

Albert Watson (1898-1971) lived his whole life in Harome and in 1939 he was living on The Square and listed as a “permanent way labourer” meaning that he worked on the railway lines rather than on the trains.

Reg Marsden (1898-1972) also worked as a permanent way labourer on the railways. In 1939 his address was 1, Railway Cottages and his wife was listed as the railway crossing keeper. It seems likely that he came from the Stockton-on-Tees/Middlesborough area, and he and his wife married in Otley, West Yorkshire, so it looks as if he moved around a bit.


  • The Doctor’s Shop (John Collinson)
  • The Place Where the Old Horse Died (Jack Cobley)
  • The Little Shirt
  • Leeds Fair (Tom Oldfield)
  • The Rover
  • Blaydon Races (Charles Young)
  • Hull Fishermen (John Flintoft)
  • Polka on melodeon (Robert Ford)

In a BBC memo, Maurice Brown wrote to Peter Bax, who wanted to trail the Thirsty Work programme in Programme Parade:

“Songs are for the most part of music-hall foundation with “anon” country twists and variations. Highlights – “The Doctor’s Shop,” a nonsense song sung by John Collinson, a roadman; “The place where the old horse died,” a moving and pathetic ballad sung by a horsey gentleman named Jack Cobley; a polka played by an old man called Robert Ford on a melodeon, which he told me used to be played at dances at dale granaries. He is, I am told, a melodeon “champ”. The local postman, Charles Young, who although he has been at Harome twenty years and won’t go away, still insists on talking in a Shields accent. He will sing “Blaydon Races”. “Hull Fishermen”, which I suspect is broadsheet, sung by a farmer called Flintoft; and “Leeds Fair”, a Yorkshire patter song sung by the landlord, Tom Oldfield.”

This not only gives us information about who sang what, but also demonstrates Brown’s understanding of the repertoire.

After one of his visits to the Star, Sidney Jameson wrote the following to Brown in January 1941, with this affecting vignette of the company:

“There were a few singers including Mr Collinson at the inn. Mr Collinson sang several grand old songs. He is a “star” in his class. John Flintoft famer (father of Frank) sang songs he’d sung at the inn nearly 50 years ago, in Mrs Oldfield’s grandmother’s day. Reg Marsden sang Some people think it’s jolly to lead a single life. Farmer Flintoft and Mr Collinson used to buy penny song books, or sheets, many years ago from “Oad Song Herry” (Old Song Harry) who used to attend the Martinmas hirings and go round the farms buying horse hair, selling laces and songs. Farmer Flintoft said “They’re public house songs ours. We used to buy song sheets off Herry and learn ‘em in t’stables and make up our own tunes to ‘em if we didn’t know t’right ones.”

Sidney Jameson also mentioned that he had heard the following songs sung in the pub:

  • Some people think it’s jolly to lead a single life (aka Buy a Little Table) (Reg Marsden)
  • My Memory has painted a picture for me (Frank Flintoft)
  • It was on a Sunday Morning (Frank Flintoft)
  • Roll Along Covered Wagon, Roll Along (Frank Flintoft)
  • The Agricultural Show (John Flintoft)
  • I’m not the sort of bloke you know that would give a pal away (John Flintoft)
  • Once I Loved with Fond Affection (John Flintoft)
  • Down the street there’s such a bloomin’ riot (John Flintoft)
  • You may ask what makes this darkie weep (Albert Watson)
  • Dear Home Across the Sea (Albert Watson)
  • The little old log cabin (Albert Watson)
  • I Must Go Home Tonight (George Dodds)
  • Danny Boy (Tom Smith)
  • It was only a beautiful picture (Albert Ventress)
  • Two Eyes of Blue (Archie Greenlay)

And, sung by the entire company:

  • Come Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl
  • Cockles and Mussels
  • My Girl’s a Yorkshire girl
  • My bonny
  • It’s a long way to Tipperary etc

A Near Miss

Judging from Sidney Jameson’s correspondence with Maurice Brown, another strong contender for a Thirsty Work programme was the Buck Inn at Wrelton near Pickering, where Lilian Knowles was the innkeeper, and about which Jameson wrote:

“I called at the inn on Monday evening and had an interesting chat with the innkeeper and several personalities who live some distance away, from getting down in the evenings. A good company gets together sometimes and has a good sing song, especially about Christmastide. Dan Turnbull, I gathered, gets a bit annoyed when there are three rooms going at the Christmas season and he can’t be choir master in all of including Dan Turnbull, local character. Singing has long been a popular pastime at the Buck Inn though there is not so much done now owing to the black-out which prevents some of the old hands, them. Among the local singers are, Emanuel Ward (village cobbler and violinist), Len Ringrose (farm hand), John Braithwaite, Jimmy Dale and Herbert Dobson (smallholder). Ernest Farmery of Pickering, brother of the innkeeper, visits the inn from time to time. He is a well-known ‘leg puller’ and joker and would certainly be a useful chap in getting together a company of singers at the Buck Inn.”

If anyone would like to follow up this information, do get in touch.

In November 2021 I gave a presentation to the Traditional Song Forum on the Thirsty Work programmes, and was able to include some sound clips from some of the singers in Programmes 1 and 2. This is now on Youtube if you’d like to give it a listen – it lasts about 30 minutes and is the second presentation. The first one is also really interesting, and is about singing in the Lake District, which neatly leads into the first Thirsty Work pub! Here’s the link to my Thirsty Work presentation.

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

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

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

‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: Director’s Cut recordings from Programmes 5 & 6 and other updates

The Procession of the Clockdressers and Cheesecake Gatherers (Redmire)

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Programme Index (previously known as the Genome project), which is very easy to browse and search. Further information on the making of these programmes has been added from the BBC Written Archives Centre, which is by appointment only, in person.

For information and discussions about Ambleside, I am grateful to Sue Allan, and for Redmire, to Bob Ellis, Ian Spensley, Albert Calvert and Steve Gardham. Many thanks to them all for their generous help and interest.

For Ambleside see also:

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

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

For Redmire:

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

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

Also relevant are Dales Genealogy and the Redmire village website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is due to be published in print form in the near future, and details will be posted here when known. Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

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

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

This article was first posted in November 2021, but has been significantly updated in the light of important new information in January 2022.

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

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

  • Programme 3 was broadcast on 13th May 1940 from recordings made at the Eel’s Foot Inn, Eastbridge, near Leiston in Suffolk on 13th May 1939
  • Programme 4 was broadcast on 14th June 1940 from recordings made at the Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire on 8th & 9th May 1940

You can use these shortcuts to the different sections if you wish:

Programme 3: The Eel’s Foot, Suffolk

Broadcast on 13th May 1940


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

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

The 1939 programme  (illustrated) – and a later one, East Anglia Sings, broadcast in November 1947 – are well known, and the original recordings can be heard on a CD called Good Order, on the Veteran label (see Links section). I could find no reference to any recordings being made in 1940 – local memories are of two visits, and there was nothing in the British Library Sound Archive for this year, although the 1939 and 1947 discs are in their archive. I began to suspect that this edition of Thirsty Work had been edited together from the 1939 recordings, and then I unearthed confirmation of this in some memos in the BBC written archives. In making arrangements for this programme, Maurice Brown wrote to his boss: “This can be followed by “Saturday Night at the Eel’s Foot”, a Suffolk pub, which was broadcast last year and is on film. I should like you to hear this if you could and let me know what you think of it, as it’s rather more folk than popular and contains one song “McCassery” [sic] which might be considered mutinous. Can I have your opinion.” Clearly the song McCaffery was not given clearance for broadcast to the troops! The comment about the Eel’s Foot being “on film” is very tantalising, but in fact refers to an early format for audio recording (See Part 1 for more on this).

We now know that this programme in the Thirsty Work series used six songs from the Saturday Night at the Eel’s Foot, which had been a longer programme:

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

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


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

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

We have evidence from both the 1939 and 1947 broadcasts from the Eel’s Foot of fees paid by the BBC to performers. A newspaper report from 1939 states the fee to be one guinea, and letters from the BBC Talks Booking Manager to Douglas Morling and Fred Ginger in 1947 offer them each a fee of two guineas, with the letters all being sent care of the Eel’s Foot pub. . I doubt any extra fees were involved in this reworking of the original material, although all the other programmes in the series reveal payment of 10/6d (half a guinea) to most of the singers.

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

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

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

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

Singers, songs and participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Programme 4: The Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley, Northamptonshire

Broadcast on 14th June 1940

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

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

Working from the original information in the Radio Times, I was only able to identify four out of the eight singers named, who were all from the small inter-linked villages of Wakerley and Barrowden. Wakerley itself is so small that in the 1939 Register, the houses are simply numbered, with no road names, e.g. “No.3, Wakerley”.

None of the singers mentioned have been “collected”, and no recordings are indicated anywhere in the archives, and to compound the problem, there was even some question over the identity of the pub, as there had been a pub called the Exeter’s Arms in Wakerley, which closed at an unspecified date, and another pub in the contiguous village of Barrowden took on the name Exeter Arms, again at an unspecified date!

To our great good fortune, the documentation held at the BBC Written Archives Centre has provided a lot of information about this hitherto mysterious issue of the series, and I have now been able to find out the songs sung there, and to correctly identify virtually all the singers.

The BBC archive material has also shed some light on how this pub came to be selected as a venue for the Thirsty Work series. I had initially supposed that the chairman George White had been the point of contact (see below) and this could still be the case, but the existing documentation suggests that the first discussions were between a Mr Ladbrook from the BBC (Charles “Laddie” Ladbrook, a sound engineer and studio producer) and the pub’s landlord, George Miller, as shown in this letter from Maurice Brown dated 9th April 1940:

“Dear Mr Miller, I believe Mr Ladbrook of the BBC told you that I am producing a series of programmes recorded in pubs of local singers singing local songs. He has told me that there is a great deal of singing at the Exeter’s Arms. Would it be possible, given enough notice, for you to assemble these singers one Saturday night for me to hear? If they sing a varied enough selection and their songs are sufficiently local, could I then come down with a recording van and make records? These programmes are being broadcast to the Forces, and individual pubs should appeal to regiments enlisted from that district.”

White (described as the proprietor of the Market Hotel, Shirebrook) was mentioned to Brown by BBC Midlands producer Robin Whitworth who was one of Maurice Brown’s great allies (see Part 1) in finding suitable pubs, though he commented that the Market Hotel itself was too big to be a suitable venue for a Thirsty Work programme.






Percy George White (1887-1967) who acted as the chairman seems to have charted an interesting course through life. He appears in public documents variously as Percy White and George White, and in the 1939 register he was living in Wakerley, and his job given as a commercial traveller (travelling salesman I think), but  it seems he had a performing career outside of chairing an evening sing-song in the local pub …

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

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

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

As a young man he left home and in 1911 was lodging in Woking, Surrey. Then it seems that his life took a rather more adventurous turn – although I can’t be 100% certain this is the same man, it seems very likely – in the receiving book for Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, on 12th February 1924, a man with the same full name was committed to gaol for tax evasion, having been tried in Co. Longford. He was at that time a theatre manager of no fixed abode, born in 1887 in Wakerley, and had a wife, Dorothy, who was travelling with the theatre. This appears to be Dorothy Grafton and they were married in Naas, Co. Kildare in 1915. I don’t know whether she was English or Irish, as I can find no further trace of her. In the 1939 Register, back in Wakerley, after his mother’s death, George White is listed as married, but is living on his own. His only other criminal conviction was for not paying for a dog licence in Wakerley in 1941 – so this remains a tantalising mystery at the moment!

Thomas Hendrie (1912-1980) was born in Yorkshire of a Scottish family. The BBC archive documentation gave his address as “Farm Shade” – this is actually the hamlet of Fineshade/ Fineshade Woods, just south of Wakerley. The information from the 1939 register shows him living in Apethorpe, which may be the same location, and he was working in forestry. It looks as if he emigrated to New South Wales in Australia sometime before 1977.

Joseph Pridmore’s address was given in the BBC documentation as “Vine Shade” – so clearly Fineshade again, but I have not found anyone in the 1939 register or other sources to match this person.

The BBC archives (giving his initials, and address in nearby Nassington) did how however enable a correct identification for Bill Prodger – as Gwilym Lloyd Prodger – (1913-1964). He worked in the iron ore industry and was the son of William Prodger, whom I had previously thought to be the Thirsty Work singer. The family were Welsh, via Yorkshire.

The documentation in the BBC archives also enabled a correct identification of Bill Pridmore (1874-1955) as a general labourer and woodman, living in the neighbouring village of Barrowden, who was pianist Jim Hopkins’ uncle.

Jim Hopkins (1911-n.d.) worked in the iron ore industry as a loco driver and lived in the neighbouring village of Barrowden.

“Luke” Webster from the Radio Times turns out to be Ernest Pickard Webster (1905-1974) who was a farm worker born and bred in Wakerley.

It’s not surprising that Frank Smart (1880-1957) was difficult to find – it was only his address given in the BBC archives that identified him as living over 50 miles from Wakerley, in Helmdon, near Brackley. I have not been able to find any family or occupational link with Wakerley, so it’s a mystery how he came to be there that night! He had grown up in Stratford-on-Avon, where his father worked on the railways, and that is the occupation Frank followed too, being the station-master at Helmdon in the 1939 register.

Peter / E. Wilson and Sam White remain unidentified, despite my best attempts.


In the BBC Written Archives Centre, the “Programme as Broadcast” documentation has survived and reveals ten songs that were broadcast in this programme:

  • Aby my Boy – Chorus
  • Farmer Giles – Frank Smart
  • I don’t work for a living – Peter Wilson
  • Farmer’s Boy – Thomas Hendrie
  • One man went a-mowing – Chorus
  • Bank of the Clyde – Bill Pridmore
  • Apple Dumplings – George White
  • Rose of Tralee – Bill Prodger
  • The Ships that Never Returned – Luke Webster
  • Brother Sylveste – Chorus

Maurice Brown wrote to landlord George Miller on 3rd May 1940, asking for the following three songs, which he had evidently heard during his initial “see and hear” visit the night before, but these were not included in the broadcast.

  • Wire in, my Lads – George (Percy) White
  • The Lincolnshire Poacher – Sam White
  • When first I went a Waggoning – Joe Pridmore

In July 1940, Maurice Brown sent off the recordings made at the Exeter’s Arms for “processing”: “Here are the records made at the Exeter’s Arms, Wakerley. One can be resprayed, eight kept and re-vaselined and the remainder, detailed below, processed if possible, with introductions and applause.”

The songs he selected were: The Ship that Never Returned, The Farmer’s Boy (local version): 2nd attempt, I Don’t Work for a Living: 2nd attempt, My Brother Sylveste, Farmer Giles and Apple Dumplings plus some general sound effects. At the moment, it is not known if these recordings are still in existence anywhere.

In the BBC “programme as broadcast” document, all songs are marked “Trad” which is clearly not the case! Maurice Brown’s idea for these programmes was not strictly limited to folk songs (See Part 1 for more discussion of this) and he “knew his onions” about the various genres of song, so this comment seems a bit disingenuous and maybe hurried; but I doubt it would have thrown the BBC copyright hounds off the scent!

So now, thanks to the information discovered in the BBC written archives, we have a bit more idea of what people were singing in this area little covered by folksong collectors.

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

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

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

‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: Director’s Cut – recordings from Programmes 5 & 6 and other updates.

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Programme Index (previously known as the Genome project), which is very easy to browse and search. Further information on the making of these programmes has been added from the BBC Written Archives Centre, which is by appointment only, in person.

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

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

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

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

It is due to be published in print form in the near future, and details will be posted here when known. Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

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

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

This article was first posted in November 2021, but was significantly updated in the light of important new information in January 2022, with an additional biographical note added in July 2023.

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

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

  • Programme 5 was first broadcast on 22nd July 1940 from recordings made at the Ivy Inn, North Littleton, near Evesham, Worcestershire on 6th & 7th June 1940. The first six minutes of this programme were not broadcast due to a technical hitch, and so it was repeated on 17th Sept 1940. 
  • Programme 6 was broadcast on 28th November 1940 from recordings made at the Ebrington Inn, Ebrington, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, on 27th and 28th September 1940, and was repeated on 3rd January 1941.

As with Programme 4, there seemed to be no recordings in existence, so originally we had no information about the songs sung on these programmes (update: see ‘Thirsty Work’ Part 5 –  Director’s Cut,  for new details of recordings). A visit to the BBC Written Archives Centre has now revealed the details of the songs sung as well as the way these two locations only ten miles apart came to be chosen.

In a memo to Thirsty Work producer Maurice Brown written on 8th May 1940, BBC Midlands producer Robin Whitworth advised him: “There are some enthusiastic pub singers at North Littleton, about 5 miles from Evesham. There are two Pubs there, but the “Ivy” is the best.” Brown followed this up quickly, visiting the Ivy in company with Charles Gardiner on 21st and 22nd May and arrangements were made to record over the first weekend in June.

It seemed strange that the next programme was also from the Cotswolds, but again, information in the BBC archives has revealed something of the situation at the time: in a letter dated 1st July 1940, Brown wrote to Gardiner: “Could we visit a Cotswold pub as soon after July 22 as possible to fix a recording for August? Unfortunately all my East, South-east, South and South-west coastal pubs are unapproachable because of the military. What shall I do?!”

Gardiner’s response at the end of that month was: “There doesn’t seem to be a pub in Chipping Campden that is not occupied or “ear-marked” by the military and I have made provisional arrangements for a sing-song at the Ebrington Arms a mile and a half beyond Campden where you can be assured of a quiet truly rural atmosphere. We can easily get one or two good singers from Campden over there and they will be well known to the local company.” Brown agreed to this arrangement and recordings were made in the Ebrington Arms on 27th and 28th September.

Programme 5: The Ivy, North Littleton, Worcestershire

Broadcast on 22nd July 1940 (repeated 17th September)


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t able to identify Dick Emms (also referred to as Harry) confidently until I got a tip off from Paul Burgess, who pointed me in the direction of Richard Henry Emms (1886-1967) – i.e. Dick Harry! This man was living in Monmouthshire at the time of the radio broadcasts, so he hadn’t been an obvious candidate, but he had enough local connections to convince both of us he was the man on the radio programme.

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

Songs from the Littleton villages

The “Programme as broadcast” documentation held in the BBC archives reveals the songs broadcast in the two Littleton programmes – the incomplete first broadcast (just 4 songs, indicated with an asterisk here) and the repeat with the whole of the intended programme. It is not known who sang which songs, although only Harry Gisbourne, Frank Norledge and Jack Brookes were listed in the first programme, so they must have sung the starred items between them.

  • Is Everybody Happy Here?
  • Johnny George
  • I’m a broken-down man
  • Barley Mow *
  • Two Little Girls in Blue *
  • Buttercup Joe
  • Swim, Sam, Swim
  • Never let your braces dangle *
  • Memories
  • Just like the Ivy *

These songs are a mixture of traditional, Music Hall and popular songs, in keeping with Brown’s broad criteria (see Part 1.)

There is also evidence of folk songs that were sung by some other people in the village.

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

Collinson’s singer was Miss M. Osbourne, who sang Lord Nelson: this could have been either of two sisters from a pub-keeping family in the village. Millie May Osbourne was still alive in 1941, and living in North Littleton, where in 1939 she was licensee of the Blacksmith’s Arms: a pub evidently to known to BBC producer Robin Whitworth when he wrote the memo to Maurice Brown quoted previously, but which lost out to the Ivy for the Thirsty Work broadcast.

Whitworth may also have provided an introduction for Maurice Brown to local man Charles Gardiner, but it’s very likely that the two had already met, as Brown had actually lived in Evesham for a short while. In August 1939, the BBC Radio Features and Drama department evacuated to Wood Norton Hall in Evesham, and on the 1939 Register taken a few weeks later, Maurice Brown and his wife Dorothea were listed as living in the Market Place. The department moved on to Manchester in November, but Wood Norton Hall continued to be used by the Monitoring Service for the duration of the war. So Brown probably wasn’t in Evesham for more than a few months, but probably long enough to have come into contact with Charles Gardiner, who apart from his day job in local government, was also an amateur writer of “sketches” for the BBC Midlands Region. Correspondence in the BBC archives reveals much antagonism from the Midlands Regional Executive towards Brown, who worked for the National section of the BBC, accusing him of poaching on their patch and, in a particularly frosty and exasperated memo from October 1940: “I have given up asking Mr Brown to inform us beforehand of their visits,” and “I am responsible for any contracts between Mr Charles Gardiner, a very well known Midland broadcaster, and the corporation.”

Some of those rural vignettes written by Charles Gardiner featured other local singers that we are about to meet in the next pub …

Programme 6: The Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Gloucestershire

Broadcast on 28th November 1940 (repeated 3rd January 1941)

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


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

As noted in the introduction here, it had originally been the hope to broadcast Programme 6 from a pub in Chipping Campden, but these were all too busy with soldiers, so this country pub a couple of miles away was suggested by Charles Gardiner. Several of the singers that Gardiner knew in Campden were taken down to the Ebrington arms, but interestingly Tom Hooke was not among the Campden contingent, despite being a very well-known community singer there; he had been born in London and had worked professionally on the music halls, so would probably not have fitted into Brown’s vision of the amateur country singer singing for singing’s sake.


The “Programme as broadcast” documentation reveals the songs recorded in the Ebrington Arms on 27th and 28th September 1940: there were a couple of drinking songs, and quite a few had been commercially recorded, so the Radio Time claim wasn’t particularly accurate, and unlike the introductory paragraph, was probably not written by Brown himself.

  • Down by the old Abbey Gardens
  • Foolish Boy
  • Jones’ Ale
  • The Fly be on the Turmut
  • The Black Horse
  • Granny’s Old Armchair
  • Robin-a-Thumb
  • The man who invented beer

See ‘Thirsty Work’ Part 5 –  Director’s Cut, for new details of recordings from Programme 6.

Early folksong collecting in Ebrington and Chipping Campden

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

Later on, Francis Collinson also collected at least one song in Chipping Campden – The Foolish Boy – from Garnet Keyte (no date, but quite likely to be 1940s).






The Thirsty Work singers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotswold Dramas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

So there you have it, the roots of The Archers in the “Upper Slocombe” series of sketches, written by Charles Gardiner and featuring several of the singers from Programme 6 in the Thirsty Work series. I have often wondered if the name of Gardiner’s fictitious village was inspired by Marie Slocombe, who worked for the BBC: she was based at Evesham in the War and went on to become an integral part of the team fronted by Peter Kennedy that recorded folk song in many more locations than the seven featured in this radio series (see Part 1).

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

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

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

‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: Director’s Cut – recordings from Programmes 5 & 6 and other updates.

References and Links

I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Programme Index (previously known as the Genome project), which is very easy to browse and search. Further information on the making of these programmes has been added from the BBC Written Archives Centre, which is by appointment only, in person.

Thanks to Gwilym Davies, Judith Ellis, Keith Chandler and Paul Burgess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is due to be published in print form in the near future, and details will be posted here when known. Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.

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

Tales from the Harbour Inn


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

The pub itself

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

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

Early 20th century

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid twentieth century

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid twentieth century singers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. © Katie Howson, 2021.

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.

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 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.


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.

Shorelines: Voices of Southwold Fishermen, by Robert Jellicoe,  published by Black Dog Books in 2021. 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 Southwold and P.H. Emerson related 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 collection of P.H. Emerson’s photos now archived on the Wayback Machine.

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. © 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.


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