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.

A couple of years ago I was sitting in the British Library calling up various documents that might be ballad-related, when I came across John Balshaw’s Jig. What really captured my interest was the fact that Balshaw apparently wrote the piece in Brindle, Lancashire, in 1660. Now Brindle is a little place near Chorley, and about 13 miles away from me by car – fewer as the crow flies. Balshaw’s Jig was a short dramatic piece in verse, probably danced as it was sung to a series of popular tunes of the day, and I spent some time in the months following the find transcribing the text of the jig. But although I found it really interesting, life got in the way and the file was sidelined on my computer for some time, while I carried on with my teaching.

St James’s Parish Church, Brindle CC BY-SA 2.0

Then in January, I began teaching on the Civil War course at Lancaster, and during the summer, I started thinking about the jig again. I couldn’t really remember the plot, and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly significant about the lyrics, but I decided to dig it out and look at it with fresh eyes. And it turned out to be quite a sight.

I started by reading the script through again, looking at the plot in more detail and writing a synopsis as I went along. The jig involves 6 characters in a prologue and 4 scenes, and is based on a fairly standard ‘thwarted lovers’ plot: the girl and boy swear their eternal love, but the girl’s wicked uncle has taken her lands and property and wants to marry his daughter to the boy instead, until fate intervenes and the girl’s fortunes are restored. But there is a twist: the wicked uncle and his daughter are parliamentarians, while the girl and her lover (and his father) are royalists. Fate, in this particular case, takes the form of King Charles II, whose return to London up-ends the balance of power.

Once I’d written the synopsis, I started looking for the music. Each of the four scenes and the prologue are set to different tunes. A couple of the tunes had already been identified by the British Library cataloguer, but I’ve also suggested tunes which might fit the other scenes and provided scores for all of them.

I then went back to the beginning of the document and wrote some introductory paragraphs about jigs, John Balshaw and the manuscript he left behind. I tried hard to find any reference to the man himself, but I couldn’t. More to the point, I couldn’t work out why the BL catalogue claimed that he died in 1679 – there is nothing on the manuscript to sugest this, nor do the Lancashire parish clerk records contain any indication. I even went so far as to contact the BL archivists to ask if they knew where the information came from, but they don’t. So Balshaw remains something of an enigma. in the next section, I provided some context on the civil war, interregnum and their effects on Lancashire. Finally, I expanded my synopsis to provide a commentary on the drama.

All in all, I’m quite pleased with the piece, and I’ve sent it off for consideration by a folk journal. What I’d really like to do, though, is to direct a performance in Brindle! It seems right to take it back where it was born.