Article MT126

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No 3: Fanny Blair 1. All the texts quoted can be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library copies of the Madden collection. I would like to thank, first, Cambridge University Library, where the original Madden collection resides, for permission to quote form the sheets; and then, as usual, Malcolm Taylor and his staff at VWML for their help in assembling the material and for patiently answering various enquiries that ensued. I am grateful to the EFDSS for permission to quote from various manuscript texts. I am also indebted to John Moulden for allowing me to render brief details of his findings. Incidentally, it has not proved possible to view the printing from Wilkinson (Manchester) which is included in the Bodleian Library Allegro archive.1


Come all you young females wherever you be,
Beware of false swearing and all sad perjury,
For by a young female I am wounded full soon,
You see I am cut down in the heights of my bloom…2. This stanza is from Pitts in Madden Reel 76, No.141. Southern texts and those from Armstrong (Liverpool), Bodleian Allegro archive, numbered as 2806 c.17 [125] and Harding B 25 [612] all have 'Come all you young females…' - see, for more examples, Pitts, Madden Reel 76, No.17, and Hodges, Madden Reel 78, No.112. Hodges, quite unaccountably, entitled the printing, 'Faney Blair'…unless, that is, one can imagine a hack and, possibly, a singer from whom the text was assembled, contriving a certain misalliance which was, nonetheless, in keeping with the way in which traditional song is disseminated. See, further, as examples for contrast from the north of England, the printings from Fordyce (Newcastle, Madden Reel 88, No.323), Harkness (Preston, Madden Reel 85, No. 891) and Walker (Durham, Madden Reel 83, No. 684) which begin with 'Come all you good people wherever you be'…the differences between southern and northern texts are discussed at length in this piece.2

Fanny Blair must be accounted a particularly intriguing song to have emerged in tradition.  The subject-matter, child rape, appears to be unique to this song.  The circumstances of the occurrence upon which the song was ostensibly based can now be verified as being true.  This occurrence was in the north of Ireland but only one reference to the song has been found anywhere in Ireland.  The song, as it appeared in the annals of the English ‘Folk Song Revival’, was subject to quite serious alteration before publication according, it would appear, to the tenets of what has come to be known as Bowdlerisation.  Finally, the routes by which printed versions of the text were disseminated - the eventual focus of this particular piece - offer a striking geographical demarcation which, it is suggested, may counter any assumed orthodoxy that material first appeared, always and inevitably, in London.  Some of what is discussed below, it has to be said, must still be accounted speculative in nature.

Of the first issue we rely on what is extant and, if there were any other songs on the subject of child-rape they have, so far, not been located.

John Moulden (Portrush, NI) has unearthed the full story of the Blair case, tracing the impulse for the song to an incident of 1785 in County Armagh.3. An account of John Moulden's research will form part of his forthcoming thesis, The Printed Ballad in Ireland - 1760-1850 (NUI Galway).3  The protagonist, whose name is variously given in broadside and song as Hegan, Egan or Hagan, Higgins and Hegins, was accused of violating a Fanny Blair, aged eleven, and was brought to trial.  The opening lines in several versions, however, as indicated at the head of this piece, seem to establish suspicious circumstances for this.

At the trial Fanny Blair was handed to a prominent position from where she gave evidence; and every text, sung and printed, subsequently indicates that Fanny’s mother ‘coached’ her - ‘…the Judge cries your mothers tutored you well’.4. Catnach, Madden Reel 77, No. 94.4  In all texts, lines suggest that Hegan received tacit support from numbers of people:

The day that Hegan was doomed to die,
The people rose up with a murmuring cry,
If we catch her, we’ll crop her she has falsely swore,
Young Hegan dies innocent we are all certain sure.5. Paul, Madden Reel 81, No.562.5
Nonetheless, he was, indeed, hung - during the course of the narrative he asks his friends to bury him:
There is one thing more which I beg of my friends
To wake me in Bloomfield one night by themselves
And bury my body in Mary-le-Mould…6. Catnach, Madden Reel 77, No.94.6
Newspapers confirm the execution.7. I have to thank John Moulden for the following references: Belfast Mercury or Freeman's Chronicle Vol. III No.19, Tuesday October 4th 1785, p.3; The Volunteer Evenng Post No.300, Saturday October 8th 1895, p.2.7

The main evidence for the circulation of Fanny Blair during the nineteenth century rests in printed versions, all apparently English in origin, and none emerging until several years after the event - as opposed to, say, electoral squibs or, indeed, in many cases, execution songs, which proclaim a sort of news.  Why this was so is a matter - as usual - difficult to account for.  One could posit oral exchange before printing and one also assumes that when a commercial opportunity arose it was taken by the printer.  

Perhaps the nature of the material was dangerously indelicate particularly as the nineteenth century wore on and the ideas of ‘respectability’ took hold…although in the reaches of society where broadside ballads usually circulated ‘respectability’ may not have been the most prominent objective.  Certainly, when sung versions were noted half a century or more after the emergence of the song in print, their subject-matter was compromised.  At that point, several fragments but only three reasonably full versions were located.  

In order of encounter, Sabine Baring-Gould’s was the first.  He got a tune only and it appears in his manuscripts with the legend, ‘Aggett’, on it and a date of September 1890, plus the subtitle ‘The Perjurer’ which must suggest that Baring-Gould knew of at least one other version; and that a perspective on the protagonists was implicit in the title.8. The Aggett tune can be found (only) in the Baring-Gould Rough Copy manuscripts (fiche 4, volume 4, no.7). The date given, 30th September 1890, makes it certain that the song must have come from Will Aggett who was one of a fourth group of singers that Baring-Gould located, in and around 1890, after his initial impulse led him, between the years 1887 and 1890, to his near neighbours, James Parsons and Matthew Baker (and others, of course).
Baring-Gould referred to one of Will Aggett's songs which was included in his published collections, specifically in Songs and Ballads of the West Country (henceforth, here, SBW), Midsummer Carol, as 'Taken down from Will. Aggett, an old crippled labourer, very illiterate, at Chagford; melody noted by Mr Bussell' (SBW, notes, p. xxxviii). Further, in notes for versions of The trees that grow so high, Baring-Gould referred to one from 'William Aggett, a paralysed labourer of 70 years, at Chagford' (ibid, Fourth Part, First Edition, p. xiv) and, again, in notes for versions of Roving Jack, to 'William Aggett, an old crippled labourer at Chagford' (ibid, p. xv).8 However, there is no record of the song surfacing anywhere else in Baring-Gould’s collections and, as illustration of the way in which he frequently worked, we must assume that he was, in some way, dis-satisfied with the song and that he abandoned it.9. Too big to display here - see Footnote 9 at end of article.9

Ralph Vaughan Williams obtained a version from Mr and Mrs Verrall in Horsham, Sussex, in 1905, although his manuscripts reveal only the tune and the first two lines.10. The version from James Channon was noted at Ellisfield, near Basingstoke, in September 1907. Frank Purslow's subsequent numbering when he edited the manuscripts - to be found in VWML - allotted the designation, H953 - 'H' standing for Hampshire ('Sy' for Surrey, 'Ox for Oxford' and so on). Charles Gamblin, one of Gardiner's aides, took down the tune…Gamblin shared duty with J F Guyer and the two are responsible for most of Gardiner's tune notations from between 1906 and 1910. A third figure was that of H Balfour Gardiner, the composer, who worked alongside George Gardiner in Hampshire in 1905. Gamblin was an organist from Winchester and Guyer, another musician, was from Southampton. In a similar way to George Gardiner, Baring-Gould enjoyed the help of Frederick Bussell and Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard. There are other instances of this kind of procedure amongst collectors.10

George Gardiner got hold of five versions between 1906 and 1909 one of which, from a James Channon, provided a fairly full narrative - by ‘full’ is meant the incorporation of all or most known elements of a text as they can be found in sung and printed versions.11. The details are as follows: Mrs Goodyear, Axford, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, July 1907 (H762) - tune noted by Charles Gamblin; David Marlow, Basingstoke, September 1906 (H562); Mrs Esther Newman, Andover Workhouse (H622) - there is no date on the manuscript where Gardiner wrote that she was 'a neurotic old woman of 94'; George Chatt, Farnham Union, Surrey, April 1909 (Sy1411). When Frank Purslow republished Fanny Blair in The Foggy Dew (details below, footnote 30), he used James Channon's text but augmented it with detail from a Swindells broadside which, Mr Purslow wrote, followed Armstrong and Evans. In view of the argument rehearsed here below where broadside printing history is concerned it has to be said that this represents a big change and has the effect of confusing southern and northern versions of the text (I have not been able to locate the Swindells printing).11

In 1909 the same Mr Verrall visited by Vaughan Williams gave George Butterworth a version but, whilst this is quite extensive, it by no means contains all known elements - the burial stanza is missing, for instance.12. The tune, as one might imagine, is very similar to that of Vaughan Williams' Verrall version but not exactly so, probably a reflection of how singing dynamics work on separate occasions. The date of collecting from Mr Verrall was given on that part of the manuscript containing the tune as July 1909. The title given was Thomas Hegin. In a published version, dating from 1977 (see Michael Dawney, ed.: The Ploughboy's Glory: a selection of hitherto unpublished folk songs collected by George Butterworth, London, EFDSS, p. 43), the title was then given as Thomas Hegins and Sally Blair - an odd series of changes since the name in the title of the manuscript version is, clearly, 'Hegin', the name of the girl is 'Fanny', and, as indicated above, it did not appear at all in the title of the manuscript version. The key signature was also changed from G to E. These changes, like those of Frank Purslow in his treatment of the song and, again, with Sharp's and Maud Karpeles' (below), should all warn us to be on our guard when the provenance of a text is involved in relationship to what a singer actually sang. One does not necessarily imply any deliberate deception. Frank Purslow, for instance, was absolutely explicit about the changes that he made.12

Alfred Williams got a version from an Alfred Howse in 1915 and this has the distinction of being the fullest version available as compared to all those cited above.  There is no tune, of course; nor is the manuscript version extant; but the text was placed in the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard.13. The relevant copy, dated 4th December 1915 was kindly forwarded to me by Andrew Bathe (Cirencester).13

None of these collectors, as far as is known, made special comment on the nature of the song.  Equally, none of the versions noted above appeared in any other form than that of manuscript except, as indicated, in the case of the Williams text and in that of Butterworth’s Verrall version which appeared, as noted below, much later.

Cecil Sharp also got a version - from George Say of Axford, Somerset, in 1908 14. George Say, Axbridge Union, Somerset, Aug. 28th, 1908; to be found in Folk Tunes 1653, VWML.14 - and this was the only one to see the light of published day in collection form during the Revival years.  The piece as it came from Mr Say was, as Sharp put it, ‘very corrupt and almost unintelligible’.   So that Sharp augmented the text from other versions, including those from Gardiner - presumably mostly from the Channon version cited above since none of the others could have provided much complementary material - and from a Such broadside supplied by Frank Kidson.15. See Cecil Sharp: Folk Songs from Somerset, fifth series (London: Simpkin & Co., Ltd. & Schott & Co.; Taunton: Barnicott and Pearce, The Wessex Press, 1909), pp. 43-45 plus notes on p. 86-87 - where Sharp cites the Such broadside from Kidson which, 'with a few but necessary alterations, I have reproduced in the text'.15  The song was amplified in Sharp’s publications to include a ‘new’ age for Fanny Blair - of eighteen - and the crime of theft in collusion with ‘young Hegan’ - although George Say, according to the manuscript version, rendered the name as ‘Dennis Higgins’.16. This is how the lines appeared in Folk Songs from Somerset, the first published version; and, again in Cecil Sharp: English Folk Songs, volume 1: songs and ballads (London, Novello & Co., [1919]), pp. 70-71; notes on p. xxii.16  The versions that Sharp published might be thought of as being as much from Sharp as from Mr Say. 

Much later on, when Maud Karpeles came to re-publish Sharp’s collections, Mr Say’s full text was given (though, again, with some editorial alterations), and Sharp’s conclusion that half of the song was most likely to have come from The Deserter is quite understandable.17. Too big to display here - see Footnote 17 at end of article.17  In the Say case, then, any jury, faced with a ‘corrupt’ and a reconstituted version, may still be out…

We are fortunate to be able to make comparisons.  George Gardiner’s and Alfred Williams’ versions, as noted, suggest the nature of the crime and, in this, reflect actuality (accusation, denial and hanging, that is).  James Channon, singing for Gardiner, had the following lines in a first stanza:

“Come arise, you young Egan, and fly you somewhere,
There is vengeance sworn against you by the young Fanny Blair”…
and in his third stanza, sang
Now young Fanny Blair is but eleven years old,
And if I dies for her the truth I’ll unfold,
I never had any dealings with the girl in my time…
Alfred Howse, in his version collected by Williams, apparently sang ‘I never had dealings with her in my time’.  In both songs it was the complaint that ‘It’s a hard thing to die for another man’s crime’.  Of Gardiner’s other collected versions, David Marlow’s consists of only a few lines but amongst them were these:
I never had no dealing with her in my time,
It’s a hard thing to hang for, another man’s crime.
Mrs Newman’s fragment given to Gardiner had a reference in it to ‘another man’s crime’.  In Mr Verrall’s Butterworth version, the line is: ‘ O I never had any dealings with ‘a girl’ (my italics).  Mrs Goodyear’s text referred only to Fanny as a ‘false-swearing girl’. 

The suggestion in both this evidence and on broadsides too is that Fanny Blair was a perjurer and that Higgins (or whatever name is used) was innocent.  This makes the roles of the mother and of the squire, with just that faint hint of collusion, interesting ones in determining supposed guilt.18. The squire was named variously, often, as in most broadsides, as Vernon but with other names in sung versions: Mr Channon sang 'Bowler'; Mrs Newman used the name, 'Virgin', Mr Verrall sang, 'Goring' and George Say, 'Burgess'. Such changes would indicate oral dissemination.18 Sadly, we can never find out the exact truth.

Yet, according to the individual sung versions quoted here, there is little doubt that the texts available to Sharp had enough clues about the nature of the crime, whoever the perpetrator, for him not to have made a mistake about it.  The changes that Sharp made, then, must have been deliberate and we have to assume that they were motivated by a refusal prevalent at the time to countenance mention of child-rape.

That, however, is as far as speculation on the crime and on the resultant sung versions can go.19. It should go without saying that a good deal more close investigation is still necessary into collectors' motives in publishing where changes and withholding of material is concerned before comprehensive comment can be made. One should also, at this point, mention another version of the song to be found in Gale Huntingdon's Songs the Whalemen Sang (New York, Dover publications, 1974 paperback edn.), p. 229, which follows the northern broadside printing pattern. Recordings do not appear to have been common: there is one made by Peter Bellamy on the old XTRA label, entitled Fair England's Shore (XTRA 1075, 1968) - got from a friend and very much an amalgam.19

What most concerns us here is less the peculiarities of Revival publishing consequent, perhaps, upon a specific moral censorship, though we may regret an apparent change in the nature of the song, than it is to glean an insight into a printing history in broadside form.  Collectors made their alterations, in a sense, from an external point of view; singers may well have made their own alterations; and either way, a ‘new’ song might emerge.  Here, though, comparison of what is laid out before us suggests that singers, generally, were content with what they had themselves encountered, whether in oral or print form, and that, further, the fullest versions in narrative terms, Mr Channon’s from George Gardiner , Mr Howse’s via Alfred Williams, and Mr Verrall’s through George Butterworth (less so), match those found in London printings in all salient respects.  And in these London printings there is a clear consistency.  The protagonist’s name is Thomas Hegan 20. One might hazard a guess that 'Egan' in the Channon version was simply the result of hearing 'Hegan' and making the usual adjustments in speech pattern in the same way that, in his version of The Croppy Boy, Shepherd Hayden sang 'platford eye' where the logical alternative would have been 'platform high' (see Sharp's Folk Tunes 2105-6 and 2310, dated 21st August 1909, for Shepherd Hayden's words and, say, Mrs Munday's version given to Gardiner where she sang 'scaffold high' - H975, Basingstoke, Hampshire, October 1907 - or Mr Stockley's - D665, Wareham, Dorset, November 1906 - again sung for Gardiner, where he used the phrase 'gallows' high. This latter, in turn, can then be matched with a printing from Fordyce, Madden Reel 83, No. 222. Most printers, however, had Shepherd Hayden's alternative: 'platform high').20 and the place where he pleads to be buried is Mary-le-Mould either in Bloomfield or Branfield - though Catnach, in one printing of his two printings, has ‘Margole-Mould’ 21. Madden Reel 77, No. 66221.  The text always ends at this point; and manages to achieve an outline proclaiming archetype and the supremacy of narrative over any other factor.22. Texts were issued by Pitts, Catnach, Hill, Hodges (inheriting Pitts' stock and premises), Birt and Paul. There is one outrider - Williams of Portsea - whose text is the same as that of London printers.22

The issue here is that of a difference between printed versions of Fanny Blair emanating from London and those emerging from elsewhere, mostly in the north of England. In the latter case part of the narrative is much more clearly formed from specifics of geography and the naming of principals.  In these, the protagonist’s name is usually Dennis Higgins - once Hegan and once Dunsagan.23. 'Hegan' is in the Armstrong text which, as has been noted and will be again, has a unique quality. 'Dunsagan' was the name used in a printing in the British Library (11621 a 5 # 12), kindly forwarded by John Moulden. It may be that the name Denis Hagan can be linked. In any event, the copy includes all the details from northern printings although in changed order.23  The crucial stanza as far as localizing is concerned is as follows:

Young Higgins of Stranfield where are you flown,
You left me in Armagh here living alone
John Neal, of Shan’s castle, I wish he was here
In spite of them all he would bring me clear.24. This is from a Harkness printing (printed as No. 355); and can be found on Madden Reel 85, No. 891.24
This stanza from Harkness is matched by those in texts from Bentley (Bradford), Fordyce (Newcastle), Walker (Durham), Wilson (Whitehaven) and Armstrong (Liverpool) save that Armstrong has ‘John O’Neal of Shane’s Castle…’ and so does Boag (Newcastle) - which slight variants would actually seem to reinforce the specificity of naming and which might also imply oral dissemination.  None of the London printings included this stanza.

Most northern printings have ‘Stranfield’ - Armstrong and Evans have ‘Branfield’ and this change is commensurate with others in their texts - and Harkness, Walker, Bentley, Wilson and Fordyce all managed to include both ‘Stranfield’ and, in the next stanza, ‘Stranford’; and all but one have the scene of burial as Machre Mould - a name unmistakeably ‘Irish’ in character if not capable of clear grounding.  Boag, in the north, is the odd one out, with ‘Machine Mould’.  Catnach’s adoption of the name, ‘Margole-Mould’, may offer a possible connection between London and the northern printers but this is really a long (but not inconceivable) shot.

Armstrong, it turns out, is something of a rogue, upsetting any clear north-south distinction, since he included the name, Hegan, instead of favouring the overwhelming northern reference to Dennis Higgins.  R Evans of Chester also had ‘Hegan’.  Then, too, Armstrong had ‘Mary-le-mould’ (Evans rendered it as ‘Mery-le-Mould’) instead of ‘Machre Mould’; and, in the ‘appeal’ stanza, included lines as follows:

…if old John O’Neal of Shane’s Castle were here,
Spite of Dawson or His workmen he’d soon set me clear… 25. It is not clear whether Evans followed Armstrong's example or vice versa - see datings below.25
These lines suggest someone who was involved in the prosecution - it was definitely not the squire, named ‘Vernon’ by Armstrong - and certainly do not appear in southern versions of the text.

The particular localising stanza, quoted above, on the face of it, represents an appeal by the central character to John Neal.  Given its nature it is still, nonetheless, a trifle obscure - who, for instance, is addressing Higgins (‘where are you flown?’)?  - and may well have appeared so to southern English printers who, then, discarded it as intrusive on the narrative sequence.26. There is always the chance, of course, that southern printers found the song first and that their northern counterparts added detail, but it is suggested here that this might not be the case.26  It is worth noting in this respect that, in place of the first line of the appeal stanza as given above, Boag has ‘You Hegans of Stranfield…’ and Armstrong ‘You Hegan’s [sic] of Branfield…’ both of which might help to make more ostensible ‘sense’ of a lament for the position that the protagonist found himself in.27. The British Library text also referred to 'Dawson' but also, in the same line, to 'Workman'. Armstrong, as can be seen, mentioned 'Dawson' and 'His workmen'.27

One other detail occurs in northern printings but not in those from London.  When the trial is under way, all northern texts have the ‘Sessions House’ as being ‘fill’d with a murmuring cry’.28. See Harkness (Madden Reel 88, No. 323), for example.28  Finally, northern texts have stanzas additional to the London ones. Walker, indeed, has three, as follows:

My name is Dennis Higgins I never will deny,
I was decently brought up in my own country,
But I hope that no person so cruel will be,
To cast up at my friends that I died on a tree.

Come all you young men take warning by me,
Quit your night walking and shun bad company,
Never let young women your planet gloom,
For I am cut down in the height of my bloom.

Dear honoured father your pardon I crave,
Likewise my dear mother who did me conceive,
She may rue the day that she o’er rear’d a son,
For it is Fanny Blair that was in the wrong.

Harkness, Boag, Fordyce, Wilson and Bentley all included these three stanzas. Armstrong included only the ‘Dear honoured father’ stanza and that at an early point in the narrative.  Evans of Chester29. This is to distinguish the Chester printer from any Evans in London - where successive members of the same family operated (a brief listing of the London family is given in Leslie Shepard's book, John Pitts: Ballad Printer, London, Private Libraries Association, 1969, p. 37).29 had the same pattern as Armstrong.  Given the multiple possibilities that this throws up and in spite of the fact that, for instance, the appearance of an ‘honoured father’ is a regular one in text - a ‘floater’30. Such floaters can actually be seen as useful tools for building a text in a similar way to that in which eastern European singers used lines and motifs in their epics - as discussed by Albert Lord in The Singer of Tales (1960). Obviously, broadside balladry is a shadow in comparison; but it and texts obtained from singers direct which appear to use such floaters - and motifs - are common enough.30 - as are the lines in Walker’s middle stanza involving the ‘warning’ to ‘Quit your night walking and shun bad company’ - it is still the case that no London printer included any of these stanzas.

The northern form(s) of the text also circulated further south since printings were issued by Ford (Chesterfield), Ward (Ledbury) and Jackson (Birmingham) which follow the northern pattern.  This is to accept small orthographical differences as already described (in the relevant lines, one difference in the Ford printing is that he had ‘Branfield’ in place of Stranfield’, Jackson had ‘Strandford’, not Stranford’ and Ward had ‘Strangfield’ both times)

There is one further printing, to be found in the Lucy Broadwood collection at VWML, which follows, word for word, the printing by Bentley, save for some changes in the setting our of punctuation and one small differences in the spelling of words.31. My copy was forwarded to me by Andrew Bathe (Cirencester). The changed words are 'ne'er will' instead of 'never' in the line, 'My name's Dennis Higgins I ne'er will deny'. Some punctuation changes are also evident in comparison with printings by Fordyce and Harkness. None of this makes any difference at all to the narrative run of the text.31  It would seem that this printing was northern in origin.

In the face of the totality of this evidence, it is interesting to find Frank Purslow, in notes to the song as published in The Foggy Dew, in 1974 32. The Foggy Dew was one of four books put together by Mr Purslow from the manuscripts of the Hammond brothers and George Gardiner and was issued by the EFDSS (London, 1974 - the other titles are Marrowbones, The Wanton Seed and The Constant Lovers). Fanny Blair can be found on p. 33 and the notes on p. 109. Mr Purslow considered 'the rather powerful original' to have been reduced in impact by the time that it arrived in the south of England (see also footnote 11).32, suggesting a peripatetic career for Fanny Blair beginning in Armagh and Belfast and then travelling to Liverpool and Manchester and on down to London and which might seem to be the case; except that dates of printings may affect the case. 

For both Catnach and Pitts, known to be amongst the first and the foremost of printers, issued texts - which appeared on their 1836 and 1832 lists respectively and almost certainly in print before then.  Pitts, it will be remembered, operated approximately between 1802 and 1844; Catnach between 1813 and 1838.  Birt began around 1828.  Hodges, Paul and Such, as late runners 33. As far as is known, Hodges began printing around 1839, Paul and Such around 1845.33, would most probably have copied the text from previous printings.

Amongst the northern printers, Fordyce is likely to have been printing after 1827 and it is known that Walker was operating from 1835 on (an 1839 catalogue is available).  Harkness worked between 1838 and 1875 and it should also be pointed out that Bentley actually printed texts for Harkness and, according to the Bodleian, was operative between 1840 and 1866.  The closeness between the printings of Fanny Blair from Harkness and from Bentley may, then, be explicable yet there are still slight divergencies in presentation, similar to those quoted above in respect of the Lucy Broadwood text and the different locations in midlands printings, of the order of, say, ‘in’ for ‘on’ in the phrase, ‘on my bed’ (Harkness); a comma after ‘Arise’ in the phrase, ‘Arise, Dennis Higgins’ and so on.  It is pertinent to record that the available Bentley text has ‘Sold by Bentley’ on it (my italics).

Ward of Ledbury seems to have begun printing in the mid-1820s and ceased by 1853.  Ford of Chesterfield operated during the 1830s.  Jackson of Birmingham did not operate until after 1839, following on from Russell and, presumably inheriting some of his stock.  Russell did not print Fanny Blair.  The solitary printer south of London, Williams, was certainly printing during the 1820s and up into the 1840s.34.See Roy Palmer: The Folklore of Warwickshire (London, Batsford, 1976), pp. 142-143, where Russell's dates are given as between 'about 1814 until 1839' and a list of his songs is included. I would like to thank Roy Palmer (Malvern) for his help in establishing some of the printing dates given here. Williams of Portsea, incidentally, is the subject of another piece in this series.34

If Mr Purslow’ suggestion is right, then London printers would either have acquired their own versions from oral sources, perhaps, or they seem to have obtained northern versions of the song and to have discarded certain aspects - a process of distillation which finds a parallel in the character of certain other ‘Irish’ songs which appear to have travelled to England and then to have had localising detail such as is described above left out - notably in the cases of The Croppy Boy and The Rambler from Clare.35. On the other hand it seems that in 'Irish' versions of The Kerry Recruit detail was added to an existing English text - again, so as to localise the character of the song.35

Ultimately, where any clear distinction between the dates of operation for northern or southern printers of Fanny Blair is an issue the degree of overlap suggests that it was more likely that the song was disseminated in two significantly different geographical areas at much the same time.  That southern printers consistently left out localising detail may have been the result of a concentration on narrative, as suggested above in connection with the appeal to John Neal, and one printer was simply more likely to have followed another rather than to have decided, independently, to alter the form of text (this might, of course, imply the complicating spectre of an Ur-text in printing).36. Similarly, northern broadside texts of The Bonny Light Horseman differ from their southern counterparts although the total evidence here is limited to but a handful of printings. This phenomenon is of a different order again to that of other songs such as Sally Munroe where there do not seem to be any London-initiated printings at all nor, but for a late example (Such), in the case of Charming Mary Neill. As further contrast, another 'Irish' song, Brennan on the Moor, has a solid grounding in one form of text (there are still small differences, of course) although printings from London and the south of England are sparse. Clearly, the subject is a complex one.36  That sung versions in the ‘Revival’ took the one course says little more than that collecting was concentrated in the south of England - save that they are the only sung versions extant from that period, at the end of the nineteenth century, as far as is known. 

The key printing might appear to be that from Armstrong, known to have been at work between 1820 and 1824, at least, and, therefore, early in the printing stakes and, again, as indicated, sufficiently different in detail to all other printings save that from Evans in Chester and yet offering linking aspects between north and south, to be worth a second glance, even - perhaps - as the provider of a kind of an aforementioned Ur-text for southern printings: the inclusion of ‘Mary-le-Mould’ may be particularly telling.37. One must not, of course, forget Evans of Chester.37 The danger is that this scenario may even offer too neat a solution to the north-south divide and the route of Fanny Blair’s travels but such suppositions together with the printing history of other ‘Irish’ songs as mentioned are, at least, suggestive.

For where, as in the particular case of Fanny Blair, there is a possibility of something less than a total monopoly of printing genesis in London, the idea can be extended somewhat - a fascinating prospect.  Again, with ‘Irish’ material, in the song, The Pretty Maid Milking Her Cow, there is evidence that a specifically ‘northern’ version circulated.  Marshall (Newcastle), Walker (Durham) and Swindells (Manchester) have one particular form of printing.  Catnach, Pitts, Fortey, Batchelar and Edwards, all London printers, have another.38. It is worth noting that Manchester, as another example, had a huge Irish population during the period discussed above; as did Glasgow. In the latter case, however, there seems not to be any evidence of the circulation of Fanny Blair in print.38  Much work would need to be done with other texts, however, in order to make these coincidences into a substantial suggestion.

Perhaps the best that can be said at this point is that two different forms of the Fanny Blair ballad were in circulation but that it may be thought that there was an entry port for the ballad in England, such as Liverpool, well enough known to have seen one of the greatest influxes of Irish immigration especially during the nineteenth century (and maybe with Armstrong as a key element).38. It is worth noting that Manchester, as another example, had a huge Irish population during the period discussed above; as did Glasgow. In the latter case, however, there seems not to be any evidence of the circulation of Fanny Blair in print.38  This is to assume genesis of Fanny Blair in the north of Ireland; always difficult to ‘prove’ but likely in this case…and, in the absence of contrary evidence, to assume - though not with absolute confidence - a degree of oral transmission before printing began and during its progression in England. 

And none of this helps to explain why there is such little trace of Fanny Blair in Ireland.  In this respect one is on all-too-familiar ground of circumstance and probability.  Obviously, the subject-matter was controversial and its elevation into the public domain may have incurred the disapproval of churches and, possibly, of civil authorities and, perhaps, a delicacy on the part of the public.  On the other hand, broadside ballad printers do not seem to have been noted for their observation of social niceties.  At any rate the one reference to an Irish version of the song was made by Samuel Lover who mentioned ‘the far-famed Fanny Blair’ in an essay published in 1830.39. It was John Moulden who kindly furnished me with this reference - Samuel Lover: Ballads and Ballad Singers in Irish Stories and legends (London, Richard Edward King, n. d.), pp.147-168. It seems that Lover's essay dated from 1830. King's volume may have been issued at a later stage.39  As a humorous gesture Lover attempted to reproduce some words in the song-text in a phonetic fashion, which might suggest that he heard the song rather than saw evidence of Fanny Blair in print.  At the same time, the use of the term, ‘ballad’ in Ireland seems always to have meant a printed one.  We cannot be certain quite what Lover encountered.  However, it is thought that, in general, Irish printers tended to imitate English ones and there are no known instances of major Irish printers operating extensively at the time of Lover’s reference with the song amongst their material - as examples, Haly in Cork, say, or any of the Dublin printers such as Birmingham, all of whom began printing life a little later (Birmingham and Brereton in Dublin in the 1840s, Haly possible a little earlier).  This might all reinforce the idea that Lover heard the song.  It is difficult to be any more precise; but we at least know that the song was circulating in Ireland in some form or other as early as 1830. 

So the intrigue remains.  In respect of the focus of this piece, until the printing histories of a large number of individual songs are studied, the orthodox view of genesis for most of them in London stands.  Even so, Fanny Blair is, at least, suggestive of variance in ballad-printing history.

Roly Brown - 12.5.03
Massignac, France

Article MT126

Footnotes:

1.  All the texts quoted can be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library copies of the Madden collection.  I would like to thank, first, Cambridge University Library, where the original Madden collection resides, for permission to quote form the sheets; and then, as usual, Malcolm Taylor and his staff at VWML for their help in assembling the material and for patiently answering various enquiries that ensued.  I am grateful to the EFDSS for permission to quote from various manuscript texts.  I am also indebted to John Moulden for allowing me to render brief details of his findings.  Incidentally, it has not proved possible to view the printing from Wilkinson (Manchester) which is included in the Bodleian Library Allegro archive.

2.  This stanza is from Pitts in Madden Reel 76, No.141.  Southern texts and those from Armstrong (Liverpool), Bodleian Allegro archive, numbered as 2806 c.17 [125] and Harding B 25 [612] all have ‘Come all you young females…’ - see, for more examples, Pitts, Madden Reel 76, No.17, and Hodges, Madden Reel 78, No.112.  Hodges, quite unaccountably, entitled the printing, ‘Faney Blair’…unless, that is, one can imagine a hack and, possibly, a singer from whom the text was assembled, contriving a certain misalliance which was, nonetheless, in keeping with the way in which traditional song is disseminated.  See, further, as examples for contrast from the north of England, the printings from Fordyce (Newcastle, Madden Reel 88, No.323), Harkness (Preston, Madden Reel 85, No.  891) and Walker (Durham, Madden Reel 83, No.  684) which begin with ‘Come all you good people wherever you be’…the differences between southern and northern texts are discussed at length in this piece.

3.  An account of John Moulden’s research will form part of his forthcoming thesis, The Printed Ballad in Ireland - 1760-1850 (NUI Galway).

4.  Catnach, Madden Reel 77, No.  94.

5.  Paul, Madden Reel 81, No.562.

6.  Catnach, Madden Reel 77, No.94.

7.  I have to thank John Moulden for the following references: Belfast Mercury or Freeman’s Chronicle Vol.  III No.19, Tuesday October 4th 1785, p.3; The Volunteer Evenng Post No.300, Saturday October 8th 1895, p.2.

8.  The Aggett tune can be found (only) in the Baring-Gould Rough Copy manuscripts (fiche 4, volume 4, no.7).   The date given, 30th September 1890, makes it certain that the song must have come from Will Aggett who was one of a fourth group of singers that Baring-Gould located, in and around 1890, after his initial impulse led him, between the years 1887 and 1890, to his near neighbours, James Parsons and Matthew Baker (and others, of course).

Baring-Gould referred to one of Will Aggett’s songs which was included in his published collections, specifically in Songs and Ballads of the West Country (henceforth, here, SBW), Midsummer Carol, as ‘Taken down from Will. Aggett, an old crippled labourer, very illiterate, at Chagford; melody noted by Mr Bussell’ (SBW, notes, p.  xxxviii).  Further, in notes for versions of The trees that grow so high, Baring-Gould referred to one from ‘William Aggett, a paralysed labourer of 70 years, at Chagford’ (ibid, Fourth Part, First Edition, p.  xiv) and, again, in notes for versions of Roving Jack, to ‘William Aggett, an old crippled labourer at Chagford’ (ibid, p.  xv).

9.  He may well have baulked at the subject-matter.  It is a matter of record that he enjoined kinds of Bowdlerisation on his material.  See, for instance, his Introduction to SBW where he wrote that many words were ‘coarse’ or contained ‘double entendres’ (p.  x) and so were changed, re-written or omitted.  In his Introduction to A Garland… (1893) he wrote that ‘a good many of the best tunes are linked to undesirable words; such songs have accordingly to be omitted altogether, or given with asterisks for the objectionable parts, or a cento made of the decent verses to sacrifice of sense or point’ (p.  ix).  More particularly, in SBW, where The Hostess’ Daughter was concerned, ‘The frankness and rudeness of the original words demanded modification before the song was fitted for the drawing-room’ (SBW, notes to songs, p.  xxxiii; and we see that an indication is given of the audience at which Baring-Gould was aiming his publication).  Bibberly Town, which Baring-Gould tells us was previously entitled Beverly Town, had to be altered (hence the change in title) because ‘The words, as sung, were vulgar’ (ibid, p.  xiii).  Many an old ballad, he added, had ‘coarse’ words.  These are examples only; and Bowdlerisation can be seen not to have been a straightforward matter - meanings of terms, for a start, vary, as do specific contexts.  Further, with Baring-Gould, omission from published collections, given the need anyway to make selections, was not always a case of Bowdlerisation.  As example, in one instance, he dropped The Siege of St Malo, got from James Peake in Lydford in 1887, from his deliberations without explanation.  It appears only in manuscript versions, firstly in Baring-Gould’s Fair Copy 12/370/150 and then in his Personal Copy 2/8/214/229…The former seems to have acted as a halfway house to publication and the latter as a repository incorporating Fair Copy but adding to the sum of knowledge.  In another song, As Johnny walked out, ‘I have compressed’ the six verses collected from James Parsons ‘for the convenience of modern singers’ (SBW, notes to songs, p.xvi).  Similarly, he ‘condensed’ the text of The Bold Dragoon (ibid, p.  xxxii).  Again in the Introduction to A Garland… (1893) he wrote that ‘In two or three instances we have curtailed otherwise unobjectionable ballads, as 'The Flowers in the Valley' and 'The Three Sisters', because we are quite sure that no modern artiste would sing through a ballad of twenty or five-and-twenty stanzas’ (ibid, p.  x).  A closer look at Baring-Gould’s collecting will feature in a forthcoming piece.

10.  The version from James Channon was noted at Ellisfield, near Basingstoke, in September 1907.  Frank Purslow’s subsequent numbering when he edited the manuscripts - to be found in VWML - allotted the designation, H953 - ‘H’ standing for Hampshire (‘Sy’ for Surrey, ‘Ox for Oxford’ and so on).  Charles Gamblin, one of Gardiner’s aides, took down the tune…Gamblin shared duty with J F Guyer and the two are responsible for most of Gardiner’s tune notations from between 1906 and 1910.  A third figure was that of H Balfour Gardiner, the composer, who worked alongside George Gardiner in Hampshire in 1905.  Gamblin was an organist from Winchester and Guyer, another musician, was from Southampton.  In a similar way to George Gardiner, Baring-Gould enjoyed the help of Frederick Bussell and Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard.  There are other instances of this kind of procedure amongst collectors.

11.  The details are as follows: Mrs Goodyear, Axford, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, July 1907 (H762) - tune noted by Charles Gamblin; David Marlow, Basingstoke, September 1906 (H562); Mrs Esther Newman, Andover Workhouse (H622) - there is no date on the manuscript where Gardiner wrote that she was ‘a neurotic old woman of 94’; George Chatt, Farnham Union, Surrey, April 1909 (Sy1411).  When Frank Purslow republished Fanny Blair in The Foggy Dew (details below, footnote 30), he used James Channon’s text but augmented it with detail from a Swindells broadside which, Mr Purslow wrote, followed Armstrong and Evans.  In view of the argument rehearsed here below where broadside printing history is concerned it has to be said that this represents a big change and has the effect of confusing southern and northern versions of the text (I have not been able to locate the Swindells printing).

12.  The tune, as one might imagine, is very similar to that of Vaughan Williams’ Verrall version but not exactly so, probably a reflection of how singing dynamics work on separate occasions.  The date of collecting from Mr Verrall was given on that part of the manuscript containing the tune as July 1909.  The title given was Thomas Hegin.  In a published version, dating from 1977 (see Michael Dawney, ed.: The Ploughboy’s Glory: a selection of hitherto unpublished folk songs collected by George Butterworth, London, EFDSS, p.  43), the title was then given as Thomas Hegins and Sally Blair - an odd series of changes since the name in the title of the manuscript version is, clearly, ‘Hegin’, the name of the girl is ‘Fanny’, and, as indicated above, it did not appear at all in the title of the manuscript version.  The key signature was also changed from G to E.  These changes, like those of Frank Purslow in his treatment of the song and, again, with Sharp’s and Maud Karpeles’ (below), should all warn us to be on our guard when the provenance of a text is involved in relationship to what a singer actually sang.  One does not necessarily imply any deliberate deception.  Frank Purslow, for instance, was absolutely explicit about the changes that he made.

13.  The relevant copy, dated 4th December 1915 was kindly forwarded to me by Andrew Bathe (Cirencester).

14.  George Say, Axbridge Union, Somerset, Aug.  28th, 1908; to be found in Folk Tunes 1653, VWML.

15.  See Cecil Sharp: Folk Songs from Somerset, fifth series (London: Simpkin & Co., Ltd.  & Schott & Co.; Taunton: Barnicott and Pearce, The Wessex Press, 1909), pp.  43-45 plus notes on p.  86-87 - where Sharp cites the Such broadside from Kidson which, ‘with a few but necessary alterations, I have reproduced in the text’.

16.  This is how the lines appeared in Folk Songs from Somerset, the first published version; and, again in Cecil Sharp: English Folk Songs, volume 1: songs and ballads (London, Novello & Co., [1919]), pp.  70-71; notes on p.  xxii.

17.  The final two lines in the manuscript version of the first Say stanza are:

She was handcuffed and shackledized
Heavy irons on he
The stanza following begins:
Then down came Prince Albert
In his carriage and [chase ?  - Maud Karpeles rendered this as ‘six’]
And shew to me the young man
In his coffin were fenced…

Maud Karpeles reproduced the end of the first stanza accurately enough but changed the final line of the second stanza given above to ’Where his coffin were fixed’ (see her two-volume edition, Cecil Sharps’ Collection of English Folk Songs, volume two, London, OUP, 1974, pp.130-131 with notes on p.  614).  Interestingly, in her notes, Maud Karpeles referred to a Catnach broadside whilst Sharp, as indicated, clearly referred to Such.  Two Catnach broadsides certainly exist (in Madden Reel 77, No.  94 and Reel 77, No.  662).  The Crampton collection contains a Such broadside but it has not been possible to view it.  The Deserter can be found on several broadside printings and in catalogues.  For two relatively modern recordings of the song (if they can be got) see George Ling on The Ling Family: Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family (London, Topic Records, 1977 12TS292) and Wiggy Smith on Songs of the Open Road (London, Topic Records, 1978).  Wiggy Smith’s version has been reissued on his Musical Traditions CD, Band of Gold (MTCD307); and Walter Pardon also sings a version on his Topic CD, A World Without Horses (TSCD514).  Both CDs were released in 2000.  Any of the above versions will enable comparison to be made with Mr Says’ text for Fanny Blair and underline Cecil Sharp’s view of how it was corrupted.

18.  The squire was named variously, often, as in most broadsides, as Vernon but with other names in sung versions: Mr Channon sang ‘Bowler’; Mrs Newman used the name, ‘Virgin’, Mr Verrall sang, ‘Goring’ and George Say, ‘Burgess’.  Such changes would indicate oral dissemination.

19.  It should go without saying that a good deal more close investigation is still necessary into collectors’ motives in publishing where changes and withholding of material is concerned before comprehensive comment can be made.  One should also, at this point, mention another version of the song to be found in Gale Huntingdon’s Songs the Whalemen Sang (New York, Dover publications, 1974 paperback edn.), p.  229, which follows the northern broadside printing pattern.  Recordings do not appear to have been common: there is one made by Peter Bellamy on the old XTRA label, entitled Fair England’s Shore (XTRA 1075, 1968) - got from a friend and very much an amalgam.

20.  One might hazard a guess that ‘Egan’ in the Channon version was simply the result of hearing ‘Hegan’ and making the usual adjustments in speech pattern in the same way that, in his version of The Croppy Boy, Shepherd Hayden sang ‘platford eye’ where the logical alternative would have been ‘platform high’ (see Sharp’s Folk Tunes 2105-6 and 2310, dated 21st August 1909, for Shepherd Hayden’s words and, say, Mrs Munday’s version given to Gardiner where she sang ‘scaffold high’ - H975, Basingstoke, Hampshire, October 1907 - or Mr Stockley’s - D665, Wareham, Dorset, November 1906 - again sung for Gardiner, where he used the phrase ‘gallows’ high.  This latter, in turn, can then be matched with a printing from Fordyce, Madden Reel 83, No.  222.  Most printers, however, had Shepherd Hayden’s alternative: ‘platform high’).

21.  Madden Reel 77, No.  662

22.  Texts were issued by Pitts, Catnach, Hill, Hodges (inheriting Pitts’ stock and premises), Birt and Paul.  There is one outrider - Williams of Portsea - whose text is the same as that of London printers. 

23.  ‘Hegan’ is in the Armstrong text which, as has been noted and will be again, has a unique quality.  'Dunsagan' was the name used in a printing in the British Library (11621 a 5 # 12), kindly forwarded by John Moulden.  It may be that the name Denis Hagan can be linked.  In any event, the copy includes all the details from northern printings although in changed order.

24.  This is from a Harkness printing (printed as No.  355); and can be found on Madden Reel 85, No.  891. 

25.  It is not clear whether Evans followed Armstrong’s example or vice versa - see datings below.

26.  There is always the chance, of course, that southern printers found the song first and that their northern counterparts added detail, but it is suggested here that this might not be the case.

27.  The British Library text also referred to ‘Dawson’ but also, in the same line, to ‘Workman’.  Armstrong, as can be seen, mentioned ‘Dawson’ and ‘His workmen’.

28.  See Harkness (Madden Reel 88, No.  323), for example.

29.  This is to distinguish the Chester printer from any Evans in London - where successive members of the same family operated (a brief listing of the London family is given in Leslie Shepard’s book, John Pitts: Ballad Printer, London, Private Libraries Association, 1969, p.  37).

30.  Such floaters can actually be seen as useful tools for building a text in a similar way to that in which eastern European singers used lines and motifs in their epics - as discussed by Albert Lord in The Singer of Tales (1960).  Obviously, broadside balladry is a shadow in comparison; but it and texts obtained from singers direct which appear to use such floaters - and motifs - are common enough.

31.  My copy was forwarded to me by Andrew Bathe (Cirencester).  The changed words are ‘ne’er will’ instead of ‘never’ in the line, ‘My name’s Dennis Higgins I ne’er will deny’.  Some punctuation changes are also evident in comparison with printings by Fordyce and Harkness.  None of this makes any difference at all to the narrative run of the text. 

32.  The Foggy Dew was one of four books put together by Mr Purslow from the manuscripts of the Hammond brothers and George Gardiner and was issued by the EFDSS (London, 1974 - the other titles are Marrowbones, The Wanton Seed and The Constant Lovers).  Fanny Blair can be found on p.  33 and the notes on p.  109.  Mr Purslow considered ‘the rather powerful original’ to have been reduced in impact by the time that it arrived in the south of England (see also footnote 11).

33.  As far as is known, Hodges began printing around 1839, Paul and Such around 1845.

34.See Roy Palmer: The Folklore of Warwickshire (London, Batsford, 1976), pp.  142-143, where Russell’s dates are given as between ‘about 1814 until 1839’ and a list of his songs is included.  I would like to thank Roy Palmer (Malvern) for his help in establishing some of the printing dates given here.  Williams of Portsea, incidentally, is the subject of another piece in this series.

35.  On the other hand it seems that in ‘Irish’ versions of The Kerry Recruit detail was added to an existing English text - again, so as to localise the character of the song.

36.  Similarly, northern broadside texts of The Bonny Light Horseman differ from their southern counterparts although the total evidence here is limited to but a handful of printings.  This phenomenon is of a different order again to that of other songs such as Sally Munroe where there do not seem to be any London-initiated printings at all nor, but for a late example (Such), in the case of Charming Mary Neill.  As further contrast, another ‘Irish’ song, Brennan on the Moor, has a solid grounding in one form of text (there are still small differences, of course) although printings from London and the south of England are sparse.  Clearly, the subject is a complex one.

37.  One must not, of course, forget Evans of Chester.

38.  It is worth noting that Manchester, as another example, had a huge Irish population during the period discussed above; as did Glasgow.  In the latter case, however, there seems not to be any evidence of the circulation of Fanny Blair in print.

39.  It was John Moulden who kindly furnished me with this reference - Samuel Lover: Ballads and Ballad Singers in Irish Stories and legends (London, Richard Edward King, n. d.), pp.147-168.  It seems that Lover’s essay dated from 1830.  King’s volume may have been issued at a later stage.

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