This is the sixth in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

Over the years, performance has become central to the way I practise my research into songs. You get much more of a feel for what they mean and what they were like when you actually sing them. So it was that on a wet weekend in June, stuck in the house, I found myself singing through John Balshaw’s Jig. I used my phone to make rough recordings of each song, which meant that not only did I get a sense of how they might have sounded, but I also had some idea how long they might have taken to perform. Of course, there are several problems. Firstly, it was just me singing through songs that were intended, in some cases, for 6 people, so it didn’t really give me a feel for the dialogue. Nevertheless, it was quite instructive in its own way. I discovered, for example, that the prologue takes only 3 minutes (a fairly standard pop song length), and three of the four main scenes run to about 10 minutes each. The final scene, however, is a tour de force of some strength. Lasting in the region of 20-25 minutes, it’s sung to a tune with a range of an octave and a 6th. As you might expect from what is, essentially, a finale, the whole cast is involved, which means that all 6 singers have to be pretty competent performers.

All told, I reckon the Jig would take about an hour to sing, but of course it’s not that straightforward, because this is a theatrical performance, not just a song. There are entries and exits for each character and the characters have to interact with one another. To my mind, it is in many ways more like a pantomime than a concert, albeit that it is sung right through.

So the following afternoon, I roped in the rest of the family to give it a read through. It was really only a tentative first go, and they had never seen the script before, so it was by no means perfect, but it became clear that it really is quite funny in places. Even my children thought it was okay (and yes, I know I’m lucky to have children who are prepared to take part in a seventeenth century drama, even if it is only at home). It really invites acting out, and I’m pretty certain that there would be some pretty lewd horseplay from the ‘fool’ character. Whoever Balshaw was, he could certainly tell his tale, and I am now more convinced than ever that this Jig richly deserves a full stage performance, preferably in Brindle!

The Centre of Brindle – (c) Jenni Hyde

This is the fifth in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

John Balshaw’s Jig is, essentially, a seventeenth century musical. It’s sung throughout, but rather than having its own bespoke melodies, it is set to a series of ballad tunes. We can tell this because the tunes are named in the text, and they don’t relate to the words. This was standard practise for broadside ballads – often, they simply named an existing tune, whereas if the tune had been newly created for the song, it became known by the title of that song, its first line or its refrain.

Take ‘Welladay’, for example:

A Ballad Intituled, a Newe well a daye
As playne maister Papist, as Donstable waye.

Well a daye well a daye, well a daye woe is mee
Syr Thomas Plomtrie is hanged on a tree.

AMonge maye newes
As touchinge the Rebelles
their wicked estate,
Yet Syr Thomas Plomtrie,
their preacher they saie,
Hath made the North countrie, to crie well a daye.

Well a daye, well a daye, well a daye, woe is me,
Syr Thomas Plomtrie is hanged on a tree.

This ballad about Thomas Plumtree and the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569-70 is the earliest known ballad to the ‘Welladay’ tune. But it doesn’t SAY that the tune is ‘Welladay’ – it seems to be a new tune that then became known by the first line of the refrain (although I will grant you that the title might suggest that this was a ‘new’ Welladay to compare with a previous ‘old’ Welladay! Anyway, you get the principle).

Sometimes, when a tune was used for a particularly popular song, it took on the name of that ballad. This means that the same tune can sometimes go by several names. One tune called ‘The Twenty-Ninth of May’, which appeared in 1667, went by the names of ‘May Hill, or the Jovial Crew’, ‘The Jovial Beggar’ and ‘The Restoration of King Charles’ over the following fifty years.[1]

So John Balshaw wrote his Jig to existing tunes. In some cases it was easy to find them, as they were included in our two main modern sources for early modern ballad tunes, William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time and Claude Simpson’s The British Broadside Ballad and its Music. But for most of the tunes, such confident identifications were impossible. The survival rates of broadside ballads are low, we have even fewer tunes, and it’s possible that some of the tunes he used were for songs in the oral tradition, or even a local oral tradition. The combination of these problems means that it is impossible to make a positive identification of all the tunes used in John Balshaw’s Jig. Instead, in some cases I have made a ‘conjectural setting’ of the song.  By this, I mean that I have selected, from those melodies which we know to have been in circulation during the mid-seventeenth century, a suitable tune which fits the metre of the lyrics.  I’ve said before that this is the process that I think people would have used in Tudor and Stuart England if they didn’t know the tune to a song – they would have made one up, or found one to fit.

Ultimately, what I wanted was to provide a full set of tunes which could be used for the Jig so that it could be brought back to life and performed in Brindle sometime in the post-lockdown future.


[1] William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols. (London: Cramer, Beale and Chappell, 1855), II, p. 491.

This is the fourth in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University

The Centre of Brindle (C) Jenni Hyde

One of the things I’ve had to do in the last few weeks is to brush up my paleaography. A lot of the sources I use for my ballad research are printed. Not all of them, of course, because one of the things that I make a point of doing is working with ballads in manuscript, but as a rule, much of the ballad material has been printed, one way or another.

I transcribed the Jig itself quite a while ago. It might even be two years now. So what I’ve been doing lately is transcribe some of the documents that I found, mainly on Ancestry, that I think give it some context. There is a really useful will, and there are a couple of petitions to the local quarter sessions.

Most of it has been fairly straightforward, although because these weren’t formats with which I was all that familiar, I had to ask for a bit of help. In a couple of cases, I asked my fiend, but one word stumped him too. It probably didn’t matter all that much, but being a completist, I still wanted to know what it was.

Coming across a thread on Twitter about wills, I posted an image of the word and asked for some help. #twitterstorians to the rescue! Within minutes, I had the answer. So while I had people’s attention, I asked about a bit I couldn’t read on one of the petitions – again, I’d got most of it, but I couldn’t make out a couple of words and this time it really did matterr, as it was the JP’s ruling. Again, within a few minutes, Twitter had solved my problem. So now, finally, I think I have an idea what happened to John Balshaw, even if I can’t be entirely sure I know who he was!

This is the third in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University

The centre of Brindle (c) Jenni Hyde

Reading, reading, reading… what a lot of reading I’ve been doing. I started by reading Steven Bull’s The Civil War in Lancashire, so that I had a decent feel for what was happening where and when. The local history society in Brindle were kind enough to send me a copy of Ralph and Wal McMullen’s Brindle in the Civil War, so I read that too. I’ve also been working my way through several PhD theses on aspects of life in Lancashire during the civil war…

It’s been interesting to put national events in a local perspective. Although I did the Stuarts for A level, a very long time ago now, and I’ve taught the early modern period and the civil war specifically, up to now I’ve never had a particularly good handle on what was going on at a local level (anywhere) and how it related to the course of the wars as a whole. I’ve heard Peter Gaunt talk about Chester in the civil war. I’ve spoken on the radio about the Bolton Massacre. Or at least I think I have, as to be honest I’ve never been able to bring myself to listen to what was broadcast! I’ve even agreed to give a talk about ballads at the National Civil War Centre in Newark. But the reality of what it was like to live through the civil war has rather bypassed me.

On the other hand, I now probably know more than anyone needs to. I certainly know more that I need to for the purposes of writing about John Balshaw. I’ve written more as notes than I have in the entire commentary on the jig! But it’s been a worthwhile experience, and it allows me to place some of the primary evidence that I’ve found in a better context.

This is the second in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University

The Centre of Brindle Village (c) Jenni Hyde

Last week, I wrote about the difficulties of establishing which John Balshaw is which.  In the end, I started giving them letters after their names (A), (B) etc, so that I could differentiate them from each other.  I used letters rather than numbers to avoid suggesting familial relationships where none could be proven, but it also meant that when I did manage to establish that two were father and son, I could call them A1 and A2!

But there are other problems too, brought on by the peculiar circumstances of trying to carry out research during the coronavirus pandemic. It would really help if I could look at the Hearth Tax Returns, but unfortunately, the Lancashire Archives are currently closed (and will be for the foreseeable future), while the Centre for Hearth Tax Research based at Roehampton, which aims to publish all the Hearth Tax Returns online, hasn’t reached Lancashire yet….  There are several other documents in Lancashire Archives that I’d like to be able to view but I can’t.  Some of the probate records, for example, are available online via Ancestry (albeit at a price), but others aren’t, and I haven’t quite worked out why… This presents a bit of a problem, and one that it’s rather difficult to resolve.  I guess I’ve just got to keep my fingers crossed that the archives will reopen soon, or at least that the archivists will be back at work and I can order digital copies of the records I need.

The Centre of Brindle village (c) Jenni Hyde

This is the first in a short series of posts on my research into John Balshaw’s Jig. It’s a short ‘musical comedy’ written by a man in Brindle, Lancashire, in the mid-seventeenth century.  I found the manuscript in the British Library a couple of years ago, and transcribed it, and I’ve already written a blog post about that.  It wasn’t taken up by the journal I sent it to, but in some respects I’m quite glad, as it’s given me the chance to expand the project a little further.  I’m now hoping that it’s going to be published next year by the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University. 

Because I’m pulling out all the stops to have the text with them by July, I’m currently up to my eyeballs in John Balshaws… You wouldn’t believe how many people with the same name there could be in one small place.  Of course, this being the seventeenth century, the records aren’t complete either, so it’s extremely difficult to make sure that baptism, marriage and burial records relate to the same person.  Ancestry has been invaluable, as has the Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project, but my head is still spinning.  There are a few Balshaws in Pleasington, Blackburn; more in Brindle itself; others are in Walton Le Dale (which was part of Blackburn parish); some in Leyland, Preston, Cockerham and Ormskirk.  Moreover, they move between some of these places – one Balshaw, whose children were baptised in Brindle, buried two of them in Walton Le Dale.  Or was it Leyland?  I forget…. 

I’ve been quite interested in family history for a long time.  After I handed in my PhD thesis, while I was waiting for my viva, I did quite a bit of work on my own family tree. But working from a known fact, for which you have a record, is rather more straightforward.  In the case of John Balshaw, all I knew was that he was resident in Brindle at the point the jig was written, and I don’t even know for certain when that was.

As of this morning, I’m fairly confident I’ve managed to pin down my John Balshaw, and I’ve got what I think is a plausible life story, although I have to admit that I haven’t found a marriage record that looks like it could be him.  I’d be happier if I did, so I’ll keep looking this week. The problem is that the records are particularly bad for the civil war years – in some places, apparently, they were destroyed at the end of the Interregnum, and they simply can’t be full for the period 1640 – 1660 because there are children I know exist but don’t ever seem to have been baptised!

It’s turning into a very complicated jigsaw puzzle, and I really need to find a better way of keeping my records on each individual person so that they make more sense and I can see the links (or lack of them) more easily.  It’s left me wondering what genealogists do…

Since I finished my teaching for this year at Lancaster, I’ve been keeping busy in several ways.  For one thing, I’ve taken a more hands on role in home schooling my daughter – so far it’s mainly been English Literature and science, but we’ll start feeding the history and music back in after half term.  I’m quite looking forward to learning about the American West! 

I’ve also compiled a report on the responses to the Lancaster Castle MOOC, on which I was a mentor last autumn.  It was a rather different experience to what I’ve done in the last few years, as I was using the data to create graphs and statistics as well as analysing the responses qualitatively.

The move to online work due to coronavirus has also opened up opportunities to attend lots of seminars that I would normally miss, only I keep forgetting about some of them.  I’ve been to a couple of the Digital Humanities Hangouts hosted at Lancaster and the Tudor Music Coffee Mornings, though.  This week I’m looking forward to an early modern reading group this week too – we’ve been reading Jennifer Richards’ Voices and Books, which I’ve found really interesting and potentially useful for my work on the Pilgrimage of Grace.  It certainly reflects my feelings about the importance of how texts were performed in early modern England.  More on that later, maybe. Things I keep forgetting about include the Historical Association’s Virtual Branch and the online seminar series hosted by St Anne’s College, Oxford… 

Back at the beginning of the year I was asked to write a blog post about Singing the News for the Social History Society website. I decided to take the Cromwell ballads as my starting point to think about what songs can tell us about 16th century England. You can read my post here.

On Tuesday morning, I taught my last seminar of the academic year. Yes, I’ve still got a stack of grading to do and various bits of admin, I’ve got a supervision meeting with my doctoral student and a report to write for the impact project based on the Lancaster Castle MOOC, but I’ve taught my last seminar of the academic year. Having been made redundant by Liverpool Hope last Christmas when my contract came to an end, and with no guarantee that I’ve got any work coming up next academic year, it’s sobering to think that it might not just have been my last seminar of the academic year.

It might have been my last seminar.

Once again, I am staring into the abyss of a summer with no money coming in, and with the current situation with Covid-19, the freelance work that I do has all gone too. And with universities tightening their budgets for the next academic year, my future is more uncertain than ever.

Glenveagh
Doe Castle