I’ve recently been putting the final touches to my next book – my publication of my transcription of John Balshaw’s Jig, with the context around it too. The readers suggested somequite radical structural changes which I worked on before Easter, but I think it is much improved for the process.

Given the trouble that I had trying to lay out the transcipt itself and the annotations, it was really lovely to see what an excellent job the printers had made of the first few test pages. The transcript will be on the right hand side of the page, and the annotations will be on the left. This is great, because it means I’ve been able to expand the annotations to include all sorts of things that in previous drafts I’ve had to leave out.

It should be out before the summer, and as I write this, I’ve just got back from recording a paper about the Jig for the Lancaster University Regional Heritage Centre‘s Songs and Ballads in the History of North West England study day in May.

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.

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…