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North End Voices

including Ralph Vaughan Williams in King's Lynn

Ralph Vaughan Williams, the quintessential English composer, based many of his compositions such as Lark Ascending and Norfolk Rhapsody on tunes from the English folk tradition. In 1903, aged 31, he started to go out and listen to an older generation of 'traditional' singers - mainly farm workers - and collected hundreds of folk songs by noting them down by hand.

 

Since 2003, the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust has been looking at the songs and singers whom Vaughan Williams met, in particular in Southwold (2003-2004), Kings' Lynn (2005 - 2014) and south Norfolk (Diss area) (2005-2016). Other pages on this website about Vaughan Williams' folk song collecting in the eastern counties can be accessed through the Vaughan Williams in the East page. Anyone wishing to cite this work should credit it to Katie Howson, East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

What follows on this page is the main text from an exhibition curated by EATMT in 2007 plus more recent findings. It includes research about Vaughan Williams and also about more recent folksong collectors' activities in King's Lynn, which we looked into during the 2007 community project North End Voices, including John Seymour's work in the 1950s. The most recent set of findings about this aspect were presented at the Traditional Song Forum meeting in King's Lynn on 11th October 2014 and have now been added to this page as Appendix 3: Notes on further research into 1950s and 60s songs and singers (2014).

Update 17.6.16

You can now click through the songs listed in Appendix 2 to see Vaughan Williams' original notations of the songs collected, which are housed on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website and digitised through the English Folk Dance and Song Society's project 'The Full English' - for further information see the Full English archive.

A booklet containing the 2007 text plus photographs, is available from EATMT, price £4.00 including P&P.

Introduction

 

Ralph Vaughan Williams in King's Lynn, 1905

 

Early twentieth century singers and songs

 

The Captain's Apprentice

 

Music

 

King's Lynn singers 1950s onwards: BBC and private recordings

 

Appendix 1:

Information about the singers from whom

Vaughan Williams collected songs in 1905/6

 

Appendix 2:

Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in King’s Lynn 1905/06

 

Appendix 3:

Notes on further research into 1950s and 60s songs and singers (2014)

 

Appendix 4:

Songs sung in the mid twentieth century (from singers in Appendix 3)

 

Acknowledgments

 

Introduction

For over one hundred years, folk-song collectors have been fascinated by the songs and singers they have found in the coastal communities of Norfolk.

Traditional singers learned their songs from their families and communities. They usually sang solo without any accompaniment but with companions or audience joining in on any choruses. The songs they sang ranged from ancient ballads to songs reflecting the coastal and rural life of the region, with the occasional item relating specifically to local events and characters. More light-hearted lyrics also went down well in the pubs, which frequently provided convivial settings for singing gatherings.

Many of the songs noted down by the early collectors were published in books and journals, and in 1934, commercial recordings - of the great Broads singer Harry Cox - were issued: the first in a steady stream to be released on 78 rpm and later 33rpm records. Unfortunately for us today, the earliest of the collectors, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, was no fan of new-fangled technology, and no recordings were made of the singers he heard in King’s Lynn back in 1905. In the 1960s and 70s, recordings were made privately for local history purposes, but were never intended for public consumption, and these still lie in the various archives in the town’s museums.

Ralph Vaughan Williams in King’s Lynn, 1905

In January 1905, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams set off from his home in Surrey on a folk song collecting trip to west Norfolk, starting in Tilney All Saints, to the west of Kings Lynn. Here he recorded songs from a gardener and church sexton, John Whitby. He then headed in to Kings Lynn, to the tight-knit fishing community of the North End and also to the workhouse, where the poorest and neediest of the community were housed.

Vaughan Williams, unusually for a man of his status in those class-conscious days, was quite happy to visit pubs to hear singers, and is known to have visited a singing pub in the town, probably the Tilden Smith (now The Retreat). He also visited people in their homes, which enabled him to note songs from several women, who, in those days, rarely visited pubs.

Vaughan Williams noted down the tunes he heard with a pencil and music manuscript paper. He was careful to note melodic variations, and the title of the piece and who sang it. If it was a song he had not come across before, he would write down all the words, but if it was a familiar set of lyrics to him, he did not always write them down. It would have been a slow process to transcribe the music as sung to him by these fishermen and labourers, and Vaughan Williams’ interest was always primarily the melody.

During his stay in Norfolk in January 1905, Vaughan Williams got as far east as Sheringham to note down a song from a Mr. Emery in the Crown Inn, but then returned to the more fertile ground he had identified in King’s Lynn, where he revisited some of the singers he had met earlier in the week.

Early twentieth century singers and songs

Vaughan Williams’ usual introduction to singers was through a local clergyman, or someone associated with the church: his visit to St James’ workhouse in King’s Lynn may well have been the Tilney All Saints sexton’s idea, as another man by the same name of John Whitby, possibly a relative was an inhabitant there at the time. Here Vaughan Williams also noted songs from men such as Robert Leatherday and Charles Crisp, both in their sixties, who sang such historic songs such as Creeping Jane and Just as the Tide was Flowing.

Amongst the fishermen, Vaughan Williams found James ‘Duggie’ Carter, who sang The Captain’s Apprentice, (see below) and Joe Anderson, who sang Young Henry the Poacher, which Vaughan Williams used in his English Hymnal in 1906, as the tune for a poem by G.K. Chesterton. The hymn, no. 562, bears the name King’s Lynn. Both Carter and Anderson were known well by the curate of St Nicholas’ Chapel, the Reverend Alfred Huddle, and would have sung in the Chapel regularly, as well as in more secular settings.

Vaughan Williams noted songs from a number of other men in the area, and also from several women, and their songs covered similar subjects of sailors returning home from sea, like this one from Mrs Betty Howard:

 

Our anchor’s weighed, our sails unfurled

We’re bound to cross the watery world

Don’t you see we’re homeward bound?

Don’t you see we’re homeward bound?

The North End women were also economically involved in life at sea through such activities as fish-hawking, net-mending or knitting the distinctive fishermen’s ganseys for husbands, brothers and fathers. This was of course in addition to bringing up large numbers of children, keeping the tiny cottages spotless and feeding their children and menfolk.

Further information about the people who sang to Vaughan Williams is in Appendix 1, page 9.

 

The Captain’s Apprentice

One song which has seized the imagination of many people, is ‘The Captain’s Apprentice’ sung to Vaughan Williams by James Carter and at least one other singer in King’s Lynn. The song tells a horrific story of the death of a young boy on board a sailing ship. Many people have presumed a local connection, as St James’ workhouse is mentioned, but Edgar Samuel, in his 1971 PHD thesis on Vaughan Williams’ felt there was enough evidence to deny this. In 1997 however, serendipity proved him at least partially wrong: a newspaper article from the Lynn Advertiser of 1857 was unearthed, telling the true story of an ex-workhouse inmate, young Robert Eastick of Lynn, who died whilst working for Captain Johnson Doyle on board a ship owned by Mr. John Sugars from King’s Lynn.

Painstaking research by Elizabeth James has proved that the song existed before these events, but the similarities between the song and the real life tragedy clearly made the song extremely meaningful within the North End seafaring community.

Interestingly, Vaughan Williams himself commented, ‘The ballad was probably called forth by a particularly brutal case of ill treatment, similar to that narrated in it, which occurred some twenty or thirty years ago.’

Music

Singing was one way of entertaining friends and family in the little free time working people had, and dancing was another. Vaughan Williams mentioned only a few dance tunes amongst the hundreds of songs he collected, but in January 1905, whilst in Tilney St Lawrence, he noted down some fiddle tunes from a farm worker, Stephen Poll, who also gave an insight into the kind of dancing that was popular in this and many other rural areas at the time.

‘He used to learn them at Lynn Fair, when a new dance was danced he used to learn it by dancing in it – then later he would ask for the same again and then knew the tune and the dance and could start at the top. He used the fiddle for dances – the old country dances used to have more money in them because each couple as they got to the top would give him a penny.’

Other musicians must have been active in the area too, although of course, this relied on having enough spare cash to purchase an instrument. Church bands and military volunteer bands often gave youngsters a musical education, and sometimes supplied an actual instrument through a charitable trust or loan.

One well-known musician in the North End community was Tom Senter, a fisherman born in 1843, who lived to the age of 92. In 1881, Tom was living in North Street (just around the corner from one of the singers recorded by Vaughan Williams, William Harper, who was living at no 1, Trues Yard) but by 1891 he had moved out of the North End, which may be why Vaughan Williams did not visit him. Tom Senter played a piccolo, but Bussle Smith (see below) recalled him singing with a fiddle as well. He also remembered that, ‘old Tom Barker used to play a fiddle, he used to have it down the (river)bank …o’nights, anytime.’

 

King’s Lynn singers 1950s onwards: BBC and private recordings

Soon after the Second World War, the BBC began to broadcast programmes of traditional singing sessions from Norfolk on the radio, recorded in pubs such as the Windmill in Sutton, near Hickling Broad, and in 1955, in the Tilden Smith in the North End of King’s Lynn.

The Lynn News of 8th July 1955 carried a lively report, which in the absence of the actual recordings themselves, still allows the reader to imagine the scene vividly:

‘This was going to be a big night in the history of the Tilden Smith. Those who could not get inside peered in through the windows from outside.

‘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.’

Charlie had in fact been living in one of the yards off Chapel Street in the North End in the early 1900s, but would have been under forty when Vaughan Williams visited the area, and perhaps considered too young to have any songs of interest to the composer!

Oral history recordings made by Mike Herring and the Norwich Tape Recording Society in King’s Lynn in the 1960s reveal that there were still traditional singers amongst the older generation of fishermen, whose way of life in the old North End of the town was already undergoing rapid change. The singers’ names illustrate the Norfolk tradition of nicknames – Bussle Smith and Slinger Woods were still singing, and recalled, amongst the older generation of singers: Trunky Bunn, Turkey Stevens and Tippeny Goodson. Other singers mentioned were Dave Scott and Bill Chase, and George Bone could still remember the words to a rare song about the sinking of the Titanic.

Trunky Bunn used to sing a local version of the song usually known as Dogger Bank:

‘I'm a harin’ scarin’ fisherman and I hail from Kings Lynn town,

And in this old life I've seen many an up and down.

And when we've spent our stocker bait and had a jolly spree

Away we'll crack, on board the smack, and plough the angry sea.’

Elizabeth James, then deputy curator of the Lynn Museum, recorded an interview with descendants of James ‘Duggie’ Carter, one of the 1905 singers, in the mid 1970s and as late as 1987, Pat Midgley, founder of the True’s Yard Fishing Heritage Museum, recorded Jasper Guy, then the oldest surviving sail fisherman in the town, reciting the words to Dogger Bank and Old Johnny Bowker.

Another of the old singers was Sam Southgate (1864 -1945), a man who in his latter days owned two grocery shops in the North End, but who had been a fisherman, a Wash pilot and a deep sea sailor who had been round Cape Horn under sail three times. One of Sam’s favourites, 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.’

Folk music enthusiasts in the area have kept some of these songs going, and the year 2005 marked another huge revival of interest in the folk song heritage of the area, with events celebrating the centenary of Vaughan Williams' visit to the town and the singers and songs ‘discovered’ on that trip. It was also the year Lynn commemorated the 800th anniversary of the signing of the town’s charter, giving plenty of opportunities for further folk song events.

In 2014, was carried out, which has been added to this page as Appendix 3: Notes on further research into 1950s and 60s songs and singers.

 

Appendix 1

 

Information about the singers from whom Vaughan Williams collected songs in 1905/6

 

Name

Place & date

Information from Vaughan Williams

Information from census

Information from other sources

Songs sung to Vaughan Williams

John Whitby

Tilney All Saints

7/8 Jan 1905

 

Sexton

John, aged 63, groom and gardener in 1901

Another John Whitby was in the workhouse in 1904 and died there in 1909, aged 90. May be related to the John Whitby from Tilney.

Lord Bateman, It Was One Morning in the Spring, Bold Carter, Lord Lovell, The Red Barn, Streams of Lovely Nancy, As I Was a Walking, Green Bushes, Lincolnshire Farmer, Young Jockey

Stephen Poll

Tilney St Lawrence

7 Jan 1905

Labourer

Agricultural labourer, aged 65 in 1901, born in Tilney All Saints

 

The Foxhunt, also four fiddle tunes:

Trip to the Cottage, Gypsies in the Wood, Low-backed Cow, Ladies’ Triumph

James Carter

North End, Lynn

9/10/14 Jan 1905, 1 Sept 1906

Fisherman

Aged 54, in 1901, fisherman

James ‘Duggie’ Carter from local memories

Deeds of Napoleon, The Captain’s Apprentice, Ward the Pirate, The Dragon and the Lady, The Blacksmith, The Golden Glove, A Sailor was Riding Along

John Bayley

North End,

Lynn

11 Jan 1905

Fisherman.

He won a prize for singing ‘Ward the Pirate’ at a cheapjack’s singing match

 

 

Ward the Pirate, I Went to Betsy, The Blacksmith

Robert Leatherday

King’s Lynn Union

9/10 Jan 1905,

1 Sept 1906

Sailor

Robert, 62, employed by the manure works

John, 42, labourer in 1901

Robert Leatherday, in the workhouse in July 1901, died in the workhouse in 1918, aged 77

On Board a ’98, Come People All (Spurn Point), Creeping Jane, Robin’s Petition, Three Butchers, Spanish Ladies

Joe Anderson

King’s Lynn Union (workhouse)

9/10/13 Jan 1905

Fisherman

Joseph, 50, St Ann St in 1881, fisherman. Living in Churchman’s Yard off North St in 1901.

 

Joe Anderson from family memories

Yorkshire Farmer, John Reilly, Basket of Eggs, Young Henry the Poacher, Erin’s Lovely Home, Sheffield Apprentice, The Bold Robber, A Bold Young Sailor, The Nobleman & the Thresherman, As I was a-walking, Bold Princess Royal, Young Indian Lass

 

Charles Crisp

King’s Lynn Union

9/11 Jan 1905,

1 Sept 1906

“Mr. Crist”

Sailor

 

Charles Crisp, 60, able-bodied sailor, merchant service in 1901

Charles Crisp was in the workhouse Sept 1904 to Jan 1905 and July 1906 to 13 Sept 1906, b.1837

Dream of Napoleon, Bold Princess Royal, Loss of the Ramillies, Hills of Caledonia, The Cumberland’s Crew, Maid of Australia, Spanish Ladies

 

Christopher  Woods

King’s Lynn Union

9 Jan 1905

Sailor

 

Christopher Woods, in June 1904, died in workhouse in September 1906, aged 80

 

Napoleon’s Farewell

John Chesson

King’s Lynn Union

10 Jan 1905

 

John Thomas, b.1840 on census etc - labouring porter

Churchman John, fisherman b.1843 on census etc

JT Chesson in July 1904, out April 1905

 

Erin’s Lovely Home, Raven’s Feather (Cruel Father)

George Elmer

King’s Lynn Union

10 Jan 1905, 1 Sept 1906

 

 

George, b.1829, in and out 1904, 1905, 1906 with wife Ellen. In October 1904, out April 1905.

It’s of an Old Lord, Lord Bateman, The Fourteenth Day of February (not Bold Princess Royal), Kilkenny, The Bold Robber

 

 

Thomas Donger

King’s Lynn

13 Jan 1905, 1 Sept 1906

Ex sailor and sail-maker

Thomas Donger, 59, born in Hoddesdon, Herts

 

Hills of Caledonia, Pat Reilly, Glencoe, The Convict, Spanish Ladies, Come all you Young Sailors, Come all you Gallant Poachers, The Banks of Claudy, Heave Away, Shenandoah, Erin’s Lovely Home

 

William Harper

King’s Lynn

 

William, b. 1824. In 1881, a fisherman living at 1, True’s Yard.

William Harper died October 1906 in King’s Lynn Union.

 

Fair Flora, Just as the Tide was Flowing, Oxford City, Poor Mary, Captain Markee, Edward Jorgen, My Bonny Boy, Betsy and William, Paul Jones

Betty Howard

King’s Lynn

10/11 Jan 1905

 

Several different Elizabeth Howards

 

Ratcliffe Highway, Our Anchor’s Weighed (Homeward Bound), Sheffield Apprentice

 

Mrs. Larley Benefer

King’s Lynn

11 Jan 1905

 

"Lol" Benefer

 

Barbary Allen, The Farmer’s Daughter

Mr. Smith

King’s Lynn

13 Jan 1905

Sailor

 

 

Bold Princess Royal

Mr. Cooper

King’s Lynn Union

10 Jan 1905

 

 

George?

The Irish Girl

 

 

 

Appendix 2

 

Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in King’s Lynn 1905/06

 

Songs with no publication details listed have not been published. In many cases, only the melody was collected, and not a full word set. Vaughan Williams often did this if the words seemed to be very similar to previously published versions  - often printed on broadsheets by ballad printers.

 

Song

Singer

Publication details

Lord Bateman

John Whitby

 

It was one Morning in the Spring

John Whitby

 

Bold Carter

John Whitby

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Lord Lovell

John Whitby

 

The Red Barn (Maria Marten)

John Whitby

Journal of Folk Song Society (JFS) II, 1906

Streams of Lovely Nancy

John Whitby

 

As I was a walking

John Whitby

 

Green Bushes

John Whitby

 

Lincolnshire Farmer

John Whitby

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908)

Young Jockey

John Whitby

 

 

 

 

The Foxhunt

Stephen Poll

 

Trip to the Cottage

Stephen Poll

(Instrumental) Hawk and Harnser - Alan Helsdon (2004)

Gypsies in the Wood

Stephen Poll

(Instrumental) Hawk and Harnser - Alan Helsdon (2004)

Low-backed Car

Stephen Poll

(Instrumental) Hawk and Harnser - Alan Helsdon (2004)

Ladies’ Triumph

Stephen Poll

(Instrumental) Hawk and Harnser - Alan Helsdon (2004)

 

 

 

Deeds of Napoleon

James Carter

 

The Captain’s Apprentice

James Carter

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908)

English Dance & Song Vol 35 No 3 (1977)

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Ward the Pirate

James Carter

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908)

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

The Dragon & the Lady

James Carter

 

The Blacksmith

James Carter

 

The Golden Glove

James Carter

 

A Sailor was Riding Along

James Carter

 

 

 

 

Ward the Pirate

John Bayley

JFS II, 1906

I went to Betsy

John Bayley

 

The Blacksmith

John Bayley

 

 

 

 

On Board a ‘98

Robert Leatherday

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908)

Come People All (Spurn Point)

Robert Leatherday

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Creeping Jane

Robert Leatherday

 

The Robin’s Petition

Robert Leatherday

 

Three Butchers

Robert. Leatherday

 

Spanish Ladies

Robert Leatherday

JFS II, 1906

 

 

 

The Yorkshire Farmer

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1906

John Reilly

Joe Anderson

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Basket of Eggs

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1905

Young Henry the Poacher

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Erin’s Lovely Home

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1906

Sheffield Apprentice

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908)

The Bold Robber

Joe Anderson

JFS II, 1906

A Bold Young Sailor

Joe Anderson

JFS ii, 1906

The Nobleman & the Thresherman

Joe Anderson

 

As I was a walking

Joe Anderson

 

Bold Princess Royal

Joe  Anderson

JFS II, 1906

Young Indian Lass

Joe Anderson

 

 

 

 

Dream of Napoleon

Charles Crisp

 

Bold Princess Royal

Charles Crisp

 

Loss of the Ramillies

Charles Crisp

 

Hills of Caledonia (John Raeburn)

Charles Crisp

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

The Cumberland’s Crew

Charles Crisp

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

The Maids of Australia

Charles Crisp

 

Spanish Ladies

Charles Crisp

 

 

 

 

Napoleon’s Farewell

Christopher Woods

JFS II, 1906

 

 

 

Erin’s Lovely Home

Mr.Chesson

JFS 11, 1906

Raven’s Feather (Cruel Father)

Mr. Chesson

As ‘Two Affectionate Lovers’, JFS II, 1905

 

 

 

Hills of Caledonia

Thomas Donger

 

Pat Reilly

Thomas Donger

 

Glencoe

Thomas Donger

JFS 11, 1906

The Convict

Thomas Donger

 

Spanish Ladies

Thomas Donger

 

Come all you young sailors

Thomas Donger

JFS II, 1906

Come all you gallant poachers

Thomas Donger

 

The Banks Of Claudy

Thomas Donger

 

Heave Away (shanty)

Thomas Donger

 

Shenandoah (shanty)

Thomas Donger

 

Erin’s Lovely Home

Thomas Donger

 

 

 

 

It’s of an Old Lord

George Elmer

JFS II, 1906

Lord Bateman

George Elmer

 

The 14th Day of February (not Bold Princess Royal)

George Elmer

 

Kilkenny

George Elmer

 

The Bold Robber

George Elmer

 

 

 

 

Fair Flora

William Harper

 

Just as the Tide was Flowing

William Harper

JFS II, 1906

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Oxford City

William Harper

JFS II, 1906

Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (1959). Republished as Classic English Folk Songs, (2003).

Poor Mary

William Harper

Captain Markee (Henry Martin)

William Harper

Edward Jorgen

William Harper

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

My Bonny Boy

William Harper

JFS II, 1905

Betsy & William

William Harper

Paul Jones (The American Frigate)

William Harper

Ratcliffe Highway

Betty Howard

JFS II, 1906

Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (1959) Republished as Classic English Folk Songs, (2003).

Our Anchor’s Weighed (Homeward Bound)

Betty Howard

Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Roy Palmer (1983)

Sheffield Apprentice

Betty Howard

JFS II, 1905

Barbary Allen

Mrs Larley (Lol) Bennefer

The Farmer’s Daughter

Mrs Larley (Lol) Bennefer

Bold Princess Royal

Mr. Smith

The Irish Girl

Mr. Cooper

It’s of a Shopkeeper

Elizabeth ?

The Three Butchers

Elizabeth ?

 

Appendix 3

 

Notes on further research into the songers and songs from the 1950s, carried out in 2014.

 

 

Notes for a talk for the Traditional Song Forum on 11th October 2014 by Katie Howson, director of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

 

Background

Between 2003 and 2009 I spent a lot of time looking at Ralph Vaughan Williams’ song collecting in the east of England. In 2005-7 we had a real focus on north west Norfolk, where Vaughan Williams had started in the villages of Tilney St Lawrence and Tilney All Saints, just west of King’s Lynn, and also collected songs from old fishermen and inmates of the Union (workhouse) in the town.

 

During this research I became aware of two other interesting forays into the singing traditions of the North End – the old fishing community – of Lynn. Both these had produced recordings rather than Vaughan Williams’ preferred method of noting down melodies and - sometimes - lyrics.

 

The two other collectors were:

        (1) John Seymour in 1955

        (2) Mike Herring in the mid 1960s

 

I knew about the John Seymour recordings through an article in the Lynn News, from 8th July 1955. Mike Herring’s recordings had been transcribed (by Liz James) and the transcripts were in the True’s Yard archive. At the time, the whereabouts of these recordings were not known, although I chased around the King’s Lynn and Norfolk Museum Service, the Herring tapes were nowhere to be found, nor was the man himself. A couple of years ago, by sheer chance, I realised that someone I knew had recently come into possession of some recordings made by Mike Herring.

 

So this is the story of those recordings – and the singers who sang in the mid twentieth century, with a few comments and questions at the end.

 

Along the way, I came across a couple of other singers’ names from the early twentieth century, around the time of  Vaughan Williams’ visit to King’s Lynn, which brought up some interesting thoughts … more of which later.

John Seymour - 1950s

John Seymour became a guru of the self-sufficiency movement in the late 1960s & 70s, with books such as “Self Sufficiency” (1973). He lived in Suffolk just outside Orford, where he wrote “The Fat of the Land” (1961), he then moved to Wales in 1964 and Ireland in the 1980s, returning to Pembrokeshire for the last few years of his life.

 

In 1955 he and his wife Sally were sailing 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”. 

 

As yet we have not been able to unearth any recordings of either the programmes, nor of the original tapes (according to the notes on the dust jacket of the book, “all the while he was making recordings for the … programmes”).

 

Although not a singer or musician himself, Seymour enjoyed the occasional singing session in the company of ‘old-timers’ on more than one occasion. The main character to come through from the 1955 article in the Lynn News and “Sailing Through England” is clearly Charlie Fysh, whilst other singers mentioned were Bob Chase, George Smith (see next section) and Tom Benefer.

 

Charlie Fysh 1866-1961

Early life around the North End, father a fisherman and mariner. Early married life in Birchwood Street, next door to his parents. Both Charlie and his father listed as fisherman in 1901, each working “on own account”. 1911 – still at Birchwood Street, fisherman, “employer”. Sons are fishmonger’s assistant and fisherman. One of his great grandsons is Roger Taylor, drummer with the rock band Queen.

 

Bob Chase, b 1894 was one of Charlie’s son-in-laws, married to his daughter Elizabeth Fysh. He sang one song Hanky Twanky on the night of the Seymour recordings.

 

Tom Benefer

Not 100% sure which of several Tom Benefers born around the same time is “our” Tom Benefer. Most likely from my researches is Thomas, born around 1885, probably son of Henry & Harriet, who lived in Whitening Yard, North Place and Half Moon Yard. Henry a fisherman and fish hawker. There’s a hawker’s cart which belonged to a T. Benefer in the yard at the back of True’s Yard Museum.

Mike Herring - 1960s

Mike Herring was a member of the Norwich Tape Recording Society and involved in folk music for many years, including in Peterborough. He lodged some tapes made in the 1960s with the King’s Lynn museums, and these were transcribed by Elizabeth James when she was deputy curator. With the passage of the time, the recordings were mislaid but the transcripts were not!

A couple of years ago, Mike passed his tapes on to Pete Shaw, with a request that they be looked after safely. Pete passed them on to Johnny Adams, who has been working on archiving other recordings made by Paul Graney etc ….

 

The recordings we now have are not the originals, but edits and include some secondary recordings made by Peter Kennedy and Russell Wortley and Sam Steele. None of these are from King’s Lynn and all are previously known about and are or have been commercially available.

 

So here’s a summary of what we know now.

 

Nicknames – as with so many tight-knit communities, many people had the same name (three generations of George Smith in Lynn) and nicknames abounded. This makes searching documentation such as census, birth, marriage & death records, and newspaper articles, much harder – who Slinger Woods was, was only known and remembered orally/aurally, and once that community has forgotten, it’s much much harder to find any evidence to identify him in the official records. An invaluable resource has been the King’s Lynn online local history forum, have been able to identify a couple of the singers for whom we only knew nicknames.

 

Bussle Smith Young Bussle: 1886-1970

Thanks to the online history forum, I have ascertained that “Bussle” Smith on the Herring recordings was George Smith, who must have been the same George Smith who sang in the Tilden Smith at the Seymour/BBC session in 1955. In fact there were at least two generations with the same name and nickname – the singer who sang to Mike Herring being “Young Bussle”, son of George William Smith (Old Bussle), brought up in North End Yard alongside many cousins including three who were drowned  at sea in 1928. He stated his father used to sing and that he learned some songs from his father. In the 1967 interview, Bussle’s daughter Ethel stated “in fact my father is about the only one that gets up there (the Tilden Smith) on a Sunday.” Young Bussle has a grandson – living in the area - who can still sing Golden Slippers when the company and the occasion is right!

 

George Bone 1895-1985

Born 1895 George Charles Bone was the son of another George Charles Bone,  a fisherman living in George Street in 1891, working “on his own account” by 1901 when the family were in North Place and a fish merchant by 1911 (George St again) when George junior was a fisherman, aged 16. George Bone is believed to have done quite well through the cockle business and owned two fishing smacks.

 

Slinger Woods

We have not been able to identify “Slinger” Woods yet. Not the same “Mr Woods” who sang to Vaughan Williams - he was nearly 80 in 1905.

 

The Samphire Man

Henry Jewson (or possibly Dewson) (1920-2010), picked the samphire himself on Terrington Marshes and sold it by the pint from his pony-cart. His call was “Long and green samphire” with some patter inbetween to the “ladies” who bought it from him.

Earlier 20th century singers that Vaughan Williams missed

Tom Senter 1843-1935 (aged 62 when Vaughan Williams visited)

According to oral history, he was a “natural” musician who played a number of instruments. Bussle Smith named him as a singer. Looking through the censuses, I came across an intriguing entry: in 1851, the Senter household included a William Harper (b 1830), listed as son-in-law (to Senter’s father) but unmarried at that point. This is the William Harper who sang to Vaughan Williams in 1905, and in fact he was Tom Senter’s half-brother (his mother’s second marriage was to William Senter and they went on to have four children together, including Tom, who was about 13 years younger than William.

 

Bussle Smith also mentioned Tom Barker. Nothing known about him except that he was related to Tom Senter and William Harper.

 

Tippenny Goodson 1869-   (aged 36 when Vaughan Williams visited)

Tippenny Goodson was Thomas Goodson, son of James and Susan Goodson. On the night of the 1901 census Tippenny was on board his boat, Margaret: he was the master of the vessel with 3 crew members. Bussle Smith named him as a singer.

 

Trunky Bunn

Bussle Smith named him as a singer. Haven’t yet been able to find out what Trunky Bunn’s real name was.

 

Sam Southgate 1864-1945 (aged 41 when Vaughan Williams visited)

Known about from now defunct “Northenders” website run by Arthur Painter. He owned two grocery shops in the North End, but had been a fisherman, a Wash pilot and a deep sea sailor who had been round Cape Horn under sail three times. One of Sam’s favourites, 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.

 

He was renowned for fighting after the pubs tipped out on a Saturday night, according to Frank Castleton.  Contemporaneous with the next singer, Wacker Bunn. Aged 41 when Vaughan Williams visited.

 

Wacker Bunn 1869-1933 (aged 36 when Vaughan Williams visited)

Known about from Frank Castleton’s book “Fisher’s End”.

He entered a competition in the Fisherman’s Arms for singing the longest song: Lord Bacon (sic, from Frank Castleton – the song is actually an ancient ballad called Lord Bateman):

 

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.

 

I've worked out (from Frank’s mention of Wacker’s daughter marrying James Guy, and searching for a marriage between him and female Bunn - Phoebe) that Wacker was Edward Bouch Bunn, fisherman, living in North End Yard in 1911 (aged 41 then). Castleton said he heard Wacker sing in the competition “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 …” I’ve worked out this is likely to have been in August 1905 or December 1907. We could try following this up in local papers – the singing contest might possibly have been reported or publicised. If it was 1905 (seems likely by his careful phrasing of the mother having a child, not a brother or sister being born) that’s contemporaneous with Vaughan Williams’ visits; he was only 35 then, but he knew Lord Bateman!

 

Bussle Smith senior George William Smith b 1854 (aged 51 when Vaughan Williams visited)

“Young Bussle” said he learned some of his songs from his father, in the Mike Herring interview … or could this have been “Mr Smith” from whom Vaughan Williams noted down Bold Princess Royal on 10th Jan? Vaughan Williams described him only as a sailor. Plenty of other Smiths it might have been …

 

 

Comments and tentative conclusions

King’s Lynn offers a unique chance to “compare & contrast” singing repertoires 50-60 years apart, here are some early thoughts …

(i) How (if at all) are the repertoires related?

COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Why are they so different?

  • ·       Different social groups: could Kings Lynn support such diverse social/singing repertoires and contexts at the same time?

  • ·       Different interests / questions asked by collectors, eg “old songs, “folk songs”, “songs about the sea” etc and different relationships established between collector and singer.

  • ·       Changing repertoire? If so, where did later singers get their repertoire? Why didn’t they sing the older songs?

(ii) Where did the singers actually sing?

  • ·     Vaughan Williams spent a fair bit of his time visiting the workhouse, and a couple of days out at Tilney St Lawrence. His time in the town was limited and he seems to have visited people in their houses, perhaps not the pubs.

  • ·     Which pub/s were the singing pub in 1905/6? Some proof that it was the Fisherman’s Arms - Wacker Bunn sang Lord Bateman in there.

  • ·     The 1950s/60s pub to go to was the Tilden Smith (closed in 1974 and re-opened as The Retreat. There is no proof that Vaughan Williams went to this pub, although The Rotary Club erected a plaque in 2005.

  • ·     Bussle Smith mentioned the Duke of Fife on the Saturday Market Place as well, but no idea when he was referring to.

(ii) How are the 1950s/60s singers related (if at all) to the 1905 singers?

REMAINS TO BE RESEARCHED.

(iv) How old were the singing fishermen identified in section 4 when Vaughan Williams visited King’s Lynn?

MOSTLY YOUNGER- IN THEIR 30s & 40s (ALTHOUGH TOM SENTER WAS 62).

 

When looking for songs in a fishing community, who you meet always depends on - as well as the usual things like who your contacts are - the weather, and whether or not they’re away at sea when you visit … this group of fishermen were likely to be working at sea unless there was rough weather (the case in Southwold in 1910 when Vaughan Williams also visited a fishing community) and I think the case in 1905, according to Edgar Samuel’s researches.

 

A tentative conclusion (having identified five fishermen who would have been singing in 1905) is that there was a group of younger singers, all fishermen in the North End, some of whom at least frequented the pubs, at the same time that Vaughan Williams was collecting largely in the workhouse and by invitation. For whatever reason, these singers were not collected in 1905, so we don’t know if they were singing this different repertoire then, or if they learned these songs later. As far as I am aware, all the songs collected in the 1950s and 60s were current in 1905.

 

So, it looks as if King’s Lynn had a ‘living tradition’ in 1905 … it wasn’t just the older people who were singing to entertain themselves, family and community, but the younger men too. But they may well have had different songs …

 

 

Appendix 4

Songs sung in the mid twentieth century (from singers in Appendix 3)

 

 

1955 – from Lynn news re John Seymour recordings

Charlie Fysh

1866-1961

Old Johnny Bowker

Tom Benefer

1885 – 1960?

Harum Scarum Fisherman (Dogger Bank)

Yellow Handkerchief

George Smith

(Bussle)

1886 – 1970

Golden Slippers

Drunken Sailor

Yellow Handkerchief

Bob Chase

1894 -1958

Hanky Twanky

1965/6/7 – from Transcripts in Trues Yard (Mike Herring)

Bussle Smith

(George)

 

1886-1970

Yellow Handkerchief

Rarum Tearin Fisherman (Dogger Bank)

The Drunken Sailor

Golden Slippers

Old Grey Mare and I

Mother Machree

Fill up your Glasses

We’ll Roll the old Chariot Along

Bonnets of Bonny Dundee

Slinger Woods

Unknown

When the Flagship Victoria went down

Sailing over the Bounding Main

Sailor Cut down in his Prime

It was a Four-Wheeled Craft (Lower the Funnel / The Fish & Chip Ship)

George Bone

 

1895 -1985

The Titanic

Miscellaneous others

Sam Southgate

 

1864-1945

Rolling Home to Merrie England

Wacker Bunn

(Edward)

1869-1933

Lord Bateman

Unknown – sung in the pubs

 

Thora Kathleen, Margeurite, Maria The Dustman’s Wife

Tom Senter

1843-1935

Unknown

Tippenny Goodson

1869-

Unknown

Trunky Bunn

Unknown

Unknown

Bussle Smith senior

(George)

1854-

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

All photographs except Vaughan Williams and Anderson, Carter & Huddle, courtesy of True’s Yard Fishing Museum, North Street, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE30 1QW. True’s Yard is an independent museum with an archive collection of documents as well as displays. Images of Vaughan Williams, Anderson, Carter & Huddle, The Captain’s Apprentice and Dream of Napoleon reproduced by kind permission of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Thank are due to the following people, without whose work we would know far less about the songs and singers of the North End: Elizabeth James, Mike Herring, Patricia Midgley, Edgar Samuel, Frank Castleton, Arthur Painter. All research in Appendix 1 and 3 carried out in 2007/14 by Katie Howson for the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

Grateful thanks are due to the English Folk Dance and Song Society for their support. Do take a look at the Full English archive on their website. Thanks are also due to BBC Radio Norfolk for their support as part of the Celebrate Northend! Project run in 2007.

Anyone with information or photographs about any of the singers mentioned here, or others not mentioned, is welcome to get in touch with Katie Howson at the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

 


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