This is the second in a short series of posts about a workshop in Oxford organised by Siv Gøril Brandtzæg to discuss the European news ballad. I was lucky enough to be invited along on a glorious day at the beginning of April for some fascinating insights into people’s work on ballads in various European cultures.

After Una McIlvenna’s fascinating keynote on the similarities and differences between news ballads across Europe, there were some interesting discussions. It was suggested that there was, in fact, some evidence that nineteenth-century Norwegian ballads were not sung, as they contain no indication of their tunes, and another contributor suggested that we cannot assume that every ballad was sung. Una, however, countered this with the point that no tune indication does not necessarily mean an absence of tune, just that there was no particular need to label it. Siv pointed out that there are some skilling ballads with choruses, and it is hard to see why they woud have a chorus if it were not to encourage audience participation. We considered whether it might be safer to talk about a continuum of performance, which would allow for people to learn tunes from each other, to make up tunes where they wanted or needed to, to chant rather than sing melodically, or even to read the verses aloud rather than sing them.

David Atkinson and Steve Roud

David Atkinson and Steve Roud then talked about their forthcoming book on cheap European Street literature.  This material was very wide spread.  The British model does not work right across Europe, so they are hoping to produce a second volume to explore this further. There are themes that emerge: for example, they deliberately called the material cheap print, because the term ‘street literature’ is not applicable everywhere if there isn’t a street!  The book is not about ballads as such, but most contributors chose to include them at least in passing. Likewise, it is not all about news.

In Britain we are lucky to have EBBA and Bodleian Ballads Online, as our material is cataloged and indexed much faster.  This probably accounts for the explosion of interest in ballads in Anglophone scholarship.  However, we can’t look at news ballads across Europe until we have established what we are working with in more general terms. The advent of cheap printing was at different times in different places, while the formats are different across Europe.  Even chapbooks are not the same everywhere.  Steve and David pointed out that we can tell things simply from the layout, such as whether the words or picture are more important: depending on their relative size, printers can choose to accent illustration or text. They questioned whether this might tell us what people want, or whether it says more about what they are being told.  Each country has its own chronology, not least over at what point they developed cheap print in their own language (vernacular).  We  should look at whether vernacular cheap print appeared early on, or later when printing techniques had developed, as the social movements and technology changed over time. If you were part of an empire, your cheap print might not have been printed in your own language, and this has important implications for the control of the medium.

They raised the important point that there are always worries about who was talking to the people, and what was not mediated by the elite.  Across Europe, there were attempts to assert control by licensing the printers or the distributors (publishers) or the pedlars. Although the elites tried to do it everywhere, they had mixed success. In England, their attempts were not terribly successful but some places they really did stop people producing anything other than officially-sanctioned material.

If it was not in the local language because the locality was part of an empire, cheap print was more closely controlled. Some countries seem not to have had their own cheap print, which might help to explain why pictures are more important in some areas than others.

Not all the news in cheap print, however, was true.  Steve commented that as a folklorist, he was annoyed that ‘fake news’ has been stolen by Trump.  It was the stock in trade of folklorists to recognise it in the way that people approached the news.  A lot of what we knew and thought we knew was influenced by myths and legends, and historians hadn’t cottoned on.  Folklorists recognise stories (often known as ‘tall tales’) that are common throughout history, but historians don’t always recognise them for what they are.  We know that tall tales sometimes have an effect just like news. People act on them so presumably they believed them. Some of the 19th century street ballads that David and Steve had studied were spot on and give you the facts of the matter; others don ‘t. But the problem is that you can’t always tell the difference just by looking at them. Their example was taken from the evidence given by a contributor to the EFDSS Broadside Day on ballads about the opening of new railway lines.  Often these songs are absolutely right, but others are a complete fiction, and in some cases the same song is reprinted multiple times, just changing the station name!  Unfortunately, we can’t normally tell what the people believed and what they didn’t. We tend not to know whether the individuals who bought these songs were treating them as news or entertainment.

David gave an account of a ballad in chapbook which is printed with prose account of the same story, but as far as we know this Whittam ballad is entirely fictitious.  He noted that the similarity of some stories is also striking. The balladeers seem to have been using the news ballad as a format for  folk stories and urban myths.  ‘The Berkshire Tragedy’, for example, was reprinted many times but was probably not true.    

Finally, they reiterated the comment that by the 19th century there are plenty of newspapers but ballads seem to be doing something different.


This is the first in a short series of posts about a workshop in Oxford organised by Siv Gøril Brandtzæg to discuss the European news ballad. I was lucky enough to be invited along on a glorious day at the beginning of April for some fascinating insights into people’s work on ballads in various European cultures.

Alexandra Franklin opened the proceedings with a few words of welcome and a quick overview of the cataloguing of the illustrations of the Bodleian broadside ballads.  Next, our host and organiser Siv Gøril Brandtzæg explained that she had attempted to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars for the workshop, with specialists from history, digital humanities, folklore and many more subjects.  Between us, we would be able to share knowledge of 7 different countries’ ballads.  The workshop was funded by Siv’s project: the Norwegian Skilling Ballads 1550-1950. These songs are under-researched, and the project intends to digitise 2000 of them and create an open access database inspired by EBBA and Bodleian Ballads Online.  She described how the terminology had been created, with ‘skilling print’ referring to the print item – an octavo sheet folded twice to make a leaflet of usually 8 pages printed on both sides – while the ‘skilling ballad’ is the song. 

There are many possible elements to study, not least because these songs circulate in the oral and print traditions.  She chose news ballads because they are very prominent in Scandinavia, where the most common subject is shipwrecks.  She noted that the songs seem to be very accurate.  The definition she has used to identify a news ballad is ‘a ballad which reports and comments upon a current event by providing the time and place as well as details of the event in the title page and/or in the text itself’.  The songs have a capacity to stir emotion and entertain, but they might have had a role in offering the first report of things, if only because the first newspaper in Norway wasn’t printed until 1763.  Nevertheless, even after the coming of newspapers, the skilling ballads convey news that is not present in newspapers circulating in the same period or provide a different take on those stories.

Siv then suggested that it may make sense to look at ballads across national boundaries which deal with the same event or the same kinds of event.  Comparing ballads on the same event is most complicated, in part because some countries have not digitised their catalogues or their ballads, and also because of the language barriers.  The ephemerality of these cheap prints is also a significant problem.  She pointed out that recent research has shown that lies spread faster than truth, but it might well be true in the past too.  She raised the issue of the miraculous fish story, which seems to have originated in Italy but can be found across Europe.  Rather than singling out a particular story to track across national boundaries, it might be easier to compare themes which crop up in many countries, such as great fires, monstrous births or the so-called ‘goodnight ballads’ which were supposedly written by condemned criminals the night before their execution. By breaking down the ballads into subject matter, we might see similarities that way.  She suggested that we are more likely to see what unites our songs if we look beyond national borders and embark on a European Grand Tour.

at the workshop dinner

The keynote paper was given by Una McIlvenna on ‘Ballads as news media in Europe’.  Taking as her starting point a list of questions which Siv had circulated a few weeks before the workshop, she offered an exploration of English, French, German, Italian and Dutch ballads, noting that she had found her comparative work really helpful.  She highlighted her execution ballad database, which is both multi-lingual and long durée (and still under construction so still contains some mistakes). The defining characteristics of a ‘ballad’ which allow it to be included are that it is in  verse form and that it purports to be about something that actually happened. She commented that she was not too fussy about what was included, and that she included songs that comment on what’s happening.

More broadly, she mused on what a ‘news ballad’ might be. Often, they are defined in comparison to what they aren’t – for example they are not love songs!  But ‘topicality’ also raises problems, as ballads on newsworthy events are sometimes published long afterwards.  She gave as an example two ballads on Great Fire of London – the first was written soon after, but although the second was very similar to the first, it was written at least 8 years later.  Does the later one count as news or is it nostalgia?

She identified two significant problems with our current study of ballads: the study of single countries, and problems of periodisation.  News ballads begin long before newspapers, and continue after, and although there is variation the continuities are more striking.

Anglophone scholarship dominates the study of balladry because there are more scholars working on English popular song. Una commented, however, on the false dichotomy between traditional ballads and broadsides, especially in English scholarship.  Meanwhile, Italian scholars of song continue to concentrate on elite musical culture (mainly madrigals), while popular culture is studied by people you can count on one hand.  In other countries, there is often only one person in in each country working on the songs.  This results in a lack of overview.   We also lack a common terminology to describe popular songs.  She described how when searching catalogues and databases she looks for the phrase ‘to the tune of’ in each language to get round the differences.

Una’s experience of ballads from different countries suggests to her that there is no separation of news, sensationalism, moralising and entertainment. A contemporary noted that ‘For a penny you may have all the news in England of murders, fires, witches, floods, tempests and what not in one of Martin Parker’s ballads’.   Objective news only existed in the mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth, and for the rest of the time sensationalism is the big seller. Miracles might drop off the agenda, but there’s still Christian moralising.

Una also commented that although the absence of musical notation is often seen as a characteristic of the popular ballad, this was not true of everywhere – there is music on some of the French material. There are songs set to the tune of psalms, and setting execution ballad to psalm tunes in France is making a point because of the radicalism involved in singing psalms in the vernacular in Catholic countries. In France there was much more control over what was sung. Cardinal Mazarin collected all the songs attacking him, and the songs in this style became known as Mazarinades.  Publishing these works was an incredibly brave move on the part of the writers and printers. Meanwhile in England, the seventeenth-century songs are much less conservative. 

Ballads use news lexicon in order to make claims for novelty and truth. This is true at least until the 19th century. Perhaps by then ballads are doing something different because now there are many newspapers [and, I thought, surely there was a more widespread ability to read too].   Una raised the very interesting point that scholars often ask about the truthfulness and accuracy of ballads, and wondered why do we only ask this of songs?  Her evidence suggests that the closer to the locus of the event, the more likely the song is to retain accurate details of what happened.  

She also pointed out that there is endless evidence of news ballads being sung, especially that there is lots of evidence of audience participation.  Italian barzolette have choruses for the audience to join in.  Many other ballads do too.  There was also a commonly-expressed belief that if you aren’t in a song you’ll be forgotten. 

It is not, however, a tale only of similarities.  As my comparative work with Massimo Rospocher for the EDPOP conference in Utrecht showed, the formats of the ballads are different in different countries.  Una described how the English and Germans print broadside ballads, there are later English slip songs, the Germans print ballad chapbooks in quarto size, the Italians quarto pamphlets, the Dutch produce beggar pamphlets, while the French do everything. This raises questions about how ballad singers perform the different media.

Una’s paper was, therefore, wideranging and thought-provoking. We had had an excellent start to a very interesting day.

My contribution to the Historical Association’s Teaching the Tudors Continuing Professional Development day in York last month was to provide A History of the Reformation in 5 Ballads. This talk was newly developed, from my Singing the News work and my Tudor Voices talk, to concentrate on what ballads can tell us about the process of Reformation in England. As it was aimed at teachers and their students, I modernised the spelling and, in a few cases, the language, in order to make the songs accessible. I also edited most of the ballads heavily – as the whole songs sometimes take in excess of 20 minutes to sing, that is impractical in most modern situations! The verses that I chose were ones which highlighted interesting issues that might be useful at A level, GCSE or even Key Stage 3.

Once I had explained what a ballad was, and how to use them as evidence, I started with John Pickering’s Exhortation to the People of the North, to talk about the Pilgrimage of Grace. This ballad has four main themes:

  • the north-south divide
  • heresy (Protestantism)
  • evil counsellors around the king
  • unfair taxation
Thomas Cromwell

This song leads quite naturally into A New Ballad of Thomas Cromwell. This was the song that I taught to the teachers so that they could join in with the chorus (with thanks to Maheema Chanrai at head office for taking a bit of film!). The Cromwell ballads are great for discussing what is heresy and treason.

Next, I looked at Protestantism during the period of Mary I, with the devotional Some Men for Sudden Joy Do Weep and a vitriolic anti-Spanish piece which talks (briefly) about the burning of 13 Protestant martys at Stratford Le Bow in July 1556. The short reference in the song helps us to date the song more precisely, as John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records only one burning which included 13 people at the same time.

Finally, I talked about the way that the Reformation really took root under Elizabeth I, and we looked at some anti-Catholic ballads from the period of the Northern Rebellion (1569-70). This meant that I could finish the session with the rousing A Letter to Rome to Declare to the Pope John, Felton his Friend is Hanged in a Rope.

As a session, it seemed to go down very well indeed – there was an excellent response over lunch and on Twitter. I’m looking forward to giving the paper again for a non-teaching audience at the Historical Association Conference in Chester in May, and even more so, to reworking the paper so that, with the help of the Historical Association‘s Seondary Committee, we can put together a proper set of teaching materials including recordings. The karaoke Reformation in classrooms across the country… Wouldn’t that be something?!

Last Saturday, I gave a lecture to teachers at the Historical Association’s free Continuing Professional Development day in York. The day focused on Teaching the Tudors, with workshops on teaching pedagogy and subject knowledge lectures.

Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to catch Tracy Borman’s lecture on Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, so the first session I managed to get to was Using Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors to refresh the teaching of the early modern world, by Kerry Apps and Joshua Garry. They noted that at community level, history is very popular among black audiences, but their academic involvement often doesn’t continue beyond A-level, as the curriculum is not empowering for people of colour.

Kaufman’s book takes a social history approach based on archival material: there are 360-400 people of colour in the Tudor period for whom we have sources. There is a wide geographical spread but most are in London or close to large ports.

Joshua studied history at university. He was fascinated by the Tudors but wanted to know where he fitted in. He only saw slavery which didn’t give him pride – but then realised there blacks here before the slave trade, and that slavery was illegal in Tudor England. He suggested several ways in which Black Tudors could be taught:

  • Introducing students to the black Tudors.
  • Brainstorm what you already know about black Tudors – often the answer is nothing. Then you can get them to think about why that is the case.
  • How did Tudors view the Africans?
  • Introduce key characters – who were they, why did they arrive, why are their stories significant? Note that they had talent and this makes a difference. This is empowering.
  • You can include some of the characters in more general teaching activities. By teaching the Mary Rose, you can throw in Jacques. Teaching Circumnavigation and Drake, you can throw in Diego.
  • Do you think racism by today’s standards existed in Tudor England? Or was more about religion.
  • Build on their work by a debate on to what extent were Africans free and accepted in Tudor England. Then write a short judgement.

Kerry had also always been interested it the Tudors, and colonisation. Her Year 7 curriculum very traditional, but she wanted to move away from the top down approach to demonstrate that the early modern world was a more connected world than we think. Her Year 8 is more about identity,  so  her students study witchcraft and Tudor exploration leading eventually on to the slave trade, to show that race becomes a ‘thing’ during the period.  She has decided to pepper the Black Tudors into a scheme of work about expansionism. 

She was happy to say that too many of her students now know about John Blanke the Tudor trumpeter to make him a big impact to start the course. Instead she uses the story of the Salcombe Treasure to link to the Moroccan delegation to Elizabethan England.  Her students are still surprised, though, to note that the Reformation hinges on a person of colour – the witness to Catherine of Aragon’s wedding night was her servant Catalina, a woman of North African descent. 

They had several aims with their teaching:

  • to widen the Tudor horizons,  placing English history in the wider world where it had links.
  • to break down myth that diversity only arrives with Windrush
  • to demonstrate that historical blackness doesn’t equate to slavery (slavery doesn’t arrive until codification in 1661 in Barbados)
  • to complicate approaches ahead of teaching slavery and abolition

The next session was my lecture: A History of the Reformation in 5 Ballads, which I will tell you more about next week.

After lunch, I went to Hugh Richards’ Making Sense of Sources at A level.  Hugh is subject leader for history at the fully comprehensive Huntington School in York. It is a research school, and one of the top 2% of country.

He started by asking the teachers to identify good things about sources at A level:

  • • Challenge
  • • Making them think
  • • Skills they have to use

And then the challenges:

  • • Comprehension
  • • Context
  • • Misconceptions
  • • Wrongful assumptions
  • • Accessibility and availability
  • • Creating exam style questions
  • • Turning thinking into something that the exam board actually want.

You will have noticed that the list of challenges was much longer than the list of good things.

Hugh argued that chronology is everything, so pedagogy needs to be intelligently based on a secure grounding in what happened when. They have to know about a topic before they can engage with sources successfully.

He suggested various ways of using sources, all based on the idea of sources as raw material.  He also suggested thinking in terms of lego rather than a jigsaw: a jigsaw puzzle makes a single picture, but primary sources are more like lego – you can arrange them in all sorts of ways depending on what you’ve got and what you are looking for.

Finally, he noted that English and history are the least objectively and reliably marked subjects at A-level.  A scary thought.

The final session was a lecture given by Professor Steven Alford of the University of Leeds on All his Spies: The Secret World of Robert Cecil. The title comes from a Ben Jonson play about spies, intelligencers, informers and tyranny. These were the buzz words of the late Tudor and early Stuart period.

A document from around 1597 called the Names of the Intelligencers is a list of Robert Cecil’s spies. They included lots of merchants and officials. The book for which it was the title page no longer exists, but it would have contained lists of payments and handlers. Another document which sits alongside it  dates from Cecil’s diplomatic mission to France in 1598. He left behind him a list of names of and payments to his key strategic intelligencers across Europe. He intended to make sure that any information coming in from these individual were properly dealt with in his absence.

Robert Cecil was part of a formidable father and son team. He was positioned by his father as a political heir.  Robert Cecil became the queen’s secretary 1595. His espionage network was of about 15 individuals who had a full system of secret communications, cyphers, payments, paid for by a budget of c£13,000 a year. The modern equivalent would be about 1000 times that.

Espionage was central to the 1590s and early 17th century. Information was key and was a kind of political currency.  The 1590s was a difficult decade and Professor Alford suggested that we could seriously a posit a late sixteenth century crisis  There are strains of war, conscription, financial problems, and the succession is fraught. In addition, there are all the social problems ofdearth, famine and plague. People are beginning to think in terms of politics as being necessarily unstable. In this situation, there is a claustrophobic sense to court culture. The court is full of danger, you need wary circumspection to keep an eye on the people around you. Dissimulation becomes key to understanding how court politics works. All of this speaks to anxieties about politics. Informants are dealing with the big problems, such as recusancy and Catholicism.  Cecil knew exactly what his intelligencers were like – he knew they took his money but didn’t always come up with the goods. But they were worth it.

From the end of the sixtenth century, those at court have to look to the future and have to start planning.  The secret correspondence between Cecil and James VI is the most incredible part of his career – its an almost solo effort on Cecil’s part. His first letter to James shows that he believes it necessary and permissible for the queen’s counsellors to do their own thing and keep their actions from the monarch, in the interests of the monarchy. It seems that he believes that it is too dangerous and destabilising not to do this, and that he is keeping her in the dark for her own good.

Wearing one of my other, semi-academic, hats, I’m on the editorial board of the Historical Association‘s members’ magazine, The Historian.  I’m about to start the process of putting together an edition for the first time, not by myself, but with Trevor James. The edition, which will be out in the autumn, is about history and literature, which seemed quite appropriate for me. I’ve commissioned a couple of articles for it already, and I’m looking forward to putting the magazine together over the next couple of months.

One of the articles is being written by a colleague from Lancaster University, Chris Donaldson, on the Lake Poets and travelogues. Another will be based on a lecture that was given to the Bolton branch by Guyda Armstrong last year, when she talked about Renaissance translations of Boccaccio, and how the naughty bits were edited to make them acceptable to an English audience. All I have to do now is find some more people to write!

At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the third in a short series of posts about the day.

After the afternoon tea break there was a final panel of two speakers. The first was Oskar Cox Jensen, who I last saw at Una McIlvenna’s Singing Across the Channel workshop in Canterbury a couple of years ago. It was lovely to be able to catch up with him (and to meet his sister Freya, of course). He was talking about ‘Of Ballads and Broadsides: Mediating the Mainstream’

Oscar Cox Jensen

Oscar talked persuasively about the eclecticism of musical culture, and how commoners used to music that didn’t originate in ‘their’ social spaces. He also explained why he has a problem with the word ‘popular’ in terms of culture – for example, it implies an ‘other’, in the form of the elite.  He argues that this isn’t particularly helpful, as it operated on a basic principle of miscellany. Although the term ‘cheap print’ is good for the material item, it doesn’t suit the songs themselves. Instead, he suggested the word ‘mainstream’, which he suggested helps us understand the circularity of the printed and sung word. The elite and the commons had a repertoire in common.  It was also interesting to hear him suggest something that I have been saying, in other words, for a long time: if you asked people in the past what about their musical tastes, their answer would probably be much the same as ours – ‘I like a bit of everything’. 

Oscar described Peter Burke’s theory of the elite withdrawal from popular culture by 1800.  But he argued that everybody could buy broadsides and all walks of life were still listening to the songs at least sometimes. They might not be buying broadsides but they still experienced them.

According to Oscar’s theory, the restriction for the mainstream was that the tune should stand up as a solo line. Ballad tunes were simple in that they were stripped down to the bare minimum, but they came from all sorts of sources, including the opera house. Bareness doesn’t mean performance is bad, but in fact makes it more important. Sonically their repertoire, though drawn from wide sources, was reduced to a relatively sparse palette.  This was particularly important and helpful before the time of recording of more complex resources as it allows the cultural objects to be reduced to their most portable.  Skill and pragmatic productionism was the part of the ballad singer.  There was hunger for the widening of the mainstream.

The final paper of the day was given by Professor Donald Meek – ‘A nineteenth century Gaelic broadside from Australia’. Professor Meek found the ballad in question when it dropped out of a 19th century copy of the Transactions of the Inverness Gaelic Society in his garage. The title translates as ‘A Song to the Profane Clergy by a Gael in Australia’.  It was published 1859 in Melbourne, and seems to have been sent as a new year gift to someone in the highlands of Scotland in 1863.  The piece is heavily annotated in English to criticise the Gaelic usage in the text. The annotations correct the Gaelic and change new spellings.  A verse is scored out because it says the profane clergy are said to be using the bible to extend their profanity.  On the back he complains at length about Gaelic poets and scholars: ‘Not a word of Gaelic shall be spoken here after this generation is gone’. Professor Meek suggested that possibly the annotator was the author of the printed work.

Professor Donald Meek

The first part of the song is a condemnation of the profane clergy – wolves in sheep’s clothing who cause the flock to scatter.  They should all be damned for wanting worldly goods and self advancement. The context is that in 1859, in Victoria, the hot topic was creation of reunited presbyterian church. The author tells us that those who have joined this union are traitors and foxes. The second half talks about the church in Scotland.  They are described as the descendants of Orthodox Church. Finally, the author names the church at Carlton in Melbourne as the ones who are to maintain the faith.  They were the main Gaelic congregation high number of settlers in the area.  They were literate in Gaelic (and English) making it worthwhile publishing in Gaelic.  The church attracted a significant clergyman from Scotland – the Reverend Doctor Mackintosh Mackie. He’d had a distinguished career as a Gaelic scholar.  Between 1854 and 1856 he had been involved in the creation of an expensive new church building at Carlton, then left leaving them in debt. He moved to Sydney and got involved supporting the new union.  He went back to Scotland in 1863.  The tract seems to have been sent back to Scotland to highlight what the Reverend Doctor Mackintosh Mackie had been involved in while he was in Australia

At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the second in a short series of posts about the day.

The first of the afternoon’s talks was given by Peter Shepheard on ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’. Peter described how he recorded ‘The Bold Keeper’ in January 1966 from the Brazil family, and later discovered that what he had was the first known oral tradition versions of the ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’ from 1690.

Peter Shepheard

Although there are many similar broadsides, and traditional songs, his is the first version based on the original ‘Master-piece of Love Songs’ .  The text is very similar, unlike the Bold Dragoon ‘versions’.  He argued that they are not the same song as too many of the words are different.  Storyline remains the same in the Masterpiece and Bold Keeper, but not the Bold Dragoon.  The metre of the Bold Dragoon is different (2/4) to the Master-piece and Bold Keeper which are both in 3/4.

During questions, Vic Gammon pointed out that it raises an interesting question about where one song ends and another begins – they have similar themes, but not rhyme scheme, storyline, words (ie phraseology) and not the same characters.  Peter suggested that it was born of the original, but was not the same song.

The next paper was given by Professor Margaret Bennett, on ‘Robert Macleod, Fife Miner Poet and Broadside-Maker’. Professor Bennett described how this research into Robert Macleod was sparked when she was offered a shoe box of papers by a hairdresser. They had belonged to his grandfather, who did turns at the local music hall. Some of his songs had been printed on broadsides. In 1911, aged 35 Macleod’s legs were crushed in a mining accident.  He was in hospital for a year and then made a living from his music.

Professor Margaret Bennett

Professor Bennett described how many Scottish miners joined up for the First World War because they thought it would get them into the fresh air.  Macleod translated the days news (and of lives lost) into songs.  Sometimes the words give us idea of the tunes he used – eg The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was set to Dark Lochnager, and Professor Bennett had the assembled crowd singing along with Macleod’s words.

The final paper in this session was given by Martin Graebe, who spoke about ‘Clift of Cirencester’. Cirencester is a quiet market town created on the network of roads when it was second city of Roman Britain.  The most prolific of its 19th century printers was William Clift.  He registered to operate a printing press in 1824, adjoining the Ram Inn, placing an advertisement in the Oxford Journal. In 1840 he advertised himself as being 30% cheaper than other printers in the area.

Martin Graebe

Martin discovered Clift’s tomb in the parish church, buried in the Pierce family tomb – after marrying into the family.  He believes that it is likely that William Clift took over the Pierce printing shop from the widow Mrs Pierce – then married the daughter of the family. The shop was located on the site currently occupied by Fatface.

Many of Clift’s broadside ballads are in the Madden Collection, although one is in the Bodleian Library.  A small collection once belonging to William Stephens is in the Cricklade museum.  Many are in poor condition and there are some particularly bad typographical errors. Among the corpus of songs, there are lots of old favourites but on the whole they are pretty tame – there are no monsters, no local topical ones, little sex and no executions. There are, however, several songs on the minstrelsy theme of Jim Crow, originated by Thomas Rice in 1830 in America. Rice visited England in 1836 and these songs were very popular. Martin has found two songs published by Clift not found elsewhere – The Baking Day; and The Dreadful Bonnet (which was illustrated by a saint with a halo!).

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