Article MT164
A Veritable Dungheap
by Dungbeetle

arrow.gif - 0.1 K Click here for individual articles

Previously published in English Dance and Song, the quarterly magazine of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, from volume 63 part 1 through to volume 67 part 2 (excluding volume 63 part 2); this series of articles set out to show the importance of the broadside ballad in the evolution of folk song by exploring how some songs/themes have featured on the cheap printed sheets called broadsides and other street literature almost since printing began.

Some of what we today call folk songs were printed as street literature as far back as the 16th century and this relationship increased dramatically during the religious and political turmoil of the 17th century.  It can be demonstrated that at least 95% of what we now call folk songs existed on street literature at some point in their evolution, many originating in that medium in the late 18th and early 19th centuries - although the relationship between oral songs and print has always been a two-way thing and the two traditions should not be considered as entirely separate.

The chosen title of the series of articles is extracted from a quotation attributed to Francis James Child who, despite making extensive use of street literature in his great work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, had an abhorrence for them and indeed described them as such.  The exact quote is from a letter sent by Child to Svend Grundtvig in Copenhagen, August 25th 1872.

The immense collections of Broadside ballads, the Roxburghe and Pepys ... doubtless contain some ballads which we should at once declare to possess the popular character, and yet on the whole they are veritable dung-hills, in which, only after a great deal of sickening grubbing, one finds a very moderate jewel.

Extracted from Ballad Books and Ballad Men by Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt, Harvard U P, 1930, p254.

At least a third of the 305 ballads canonised in his great work owe their continuance in oral tradition to having been printed as street literature, and many of those that don't are tainted by the interference of a series of literary hands, some having been totally fabricated by such.  Indeed, this literary interference has been, and is, a lively and thriving tradition all of its own.

Dungbeetle - Steve Gardham

A brief description of each article can be seen below:
No.32 - The Cruel Mother Re-revisited

No.31 - Barton/Martin - The Andrew Barton-Henry Martin Controversies Revisited

No.30 - The Frog and the Mouse - The Keemo-Kimo Format

No.29 - The Seeds of Thyme - A study in the origins and evolution of The Seeds of Love and The Sprig of Thyme. (Roud 3)

No.28 - From Shooter's Hill to Widdecombe Fair - A study of Widdecombe Fair and its connections.

No.27 - The Riddle Song - A study of Roud 330, ODNR 478

No.26 - Robin-a-thrush - A study of a fascinating song and its relationship with The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin, Child 277, Roud 117, and Kempy Kay, Child 33, Roud 32.

No.25 - The Bold Pirate - A study of a relatively scarce, yet widely distributed, broadside ballad.

No.24 - The Maid on the Shore - looking for an archetypal example of this ballad.

No.23 - Rock The Cradle, John - nine songs on this perennial subject.

No.22 - The Cruel Mother Revisisted - a follow-up to Dungheap article 6

No.21 - The Bridgewater Merchant (Bruton Town, The Bramble Briar - Roud 18, Laws M32) - an attempt to reconstruct an 'original' broadside ballad from its oldest sources.

No.20 - The Turtle Dove (Roud 422) - this popular lament is shown to have evolved from seventeenth century broadside ballads. Its evolution is traced across three centuries including Burns' adaptation and a nineteenth century burlesque.

No.19 - The Distressed Maid (Roud 564 and 1414, Laws P18) - a look at the evolution on broadsides and in oral tradition of a 17th century ballad of the Lover's Lament type and how it has given rise to three separate ballads that each retain something of the prototype.  The Distressed Maid (Roud 564), False-hearted William (Roud 1414) and The Lily-white Hand.)

No.18 - Shule Agrah - and some 17th and 18th century forerunners.

No.17 - The Young-man's Lamentation - we reprint and discuss a unique 17th century song in the Bodleian Library which contains quite a lot of material which has survived in oral tradition, much of it in the form of widely used commonplaces.  This article is dedicated to Mike Heaney, recently editor of Folk Music Journal and instigator and guiding spirit of the incomparable Bodleian Ballads website.

No.16 - John of Hazelgreen - (Roud 250, Child 293) looks at the veracity of some of Child's versions and discusses a rare 19th century broadside version printed in Leeds.

No.15 - Bawdy Songs 3 - Oh, you tease!  A selection of teasing songs showing how the theme has eveolved over four centuries.

No.14 - Bawdy Songs 2 - A look at the evolution and development of the 'seduction sequence' theme in a variety of song types, including the song Gently Johnny my Jingalo and the shanties Bound for Baltimore and A-Roving.

No.13 - The Sea Crabb (Roud 149) - how bawdy songs and ballads fit into the folk song genre, including a 17th century version of The Lobster Song.

No.12 - The Valiant Virgin (Roud 2930) - a 17th century ballad which has survived in two independent forms in southern England and North-east Scotland.

No.11 - The Bloody Miller (Roud 263, Laws P35) - and its antecedents: we trace the evolution of a series of ballads interchanging between print and oral tradition in Britain, Ireland and America.

No.10 - Lady Margaret (Roud 109, Child 260) - another rare Child Ballad uncovered; a broadside version of Lord Thomas and Lady Margaret

No.9 - Rare Child Ballad Uncovered - Lord Saltoun and Auchanachie (Roud 102, Child 239) found on 19th century broadside.

No.8 - O Dear O! (Roud 870) - the evolution of the broadside ballad O Dear O! from the 17th century to the present day, seen as the equivalent of modern-day tabloid report.

No.7 - The Maulster's Daughter (Roud 1570, ODNR 128) - a 17th century version of Whistle, Daughter, Whistle and notes on its subsequent evolution.

No.6 - The Cruel Mother - the earliest known version of The Cruel Mother (Roud 9, Child 20) on a 17th century London broadside.

No.5 - False Parts - a brief history of the 'False Parts' theme in songs from 1660 to the present day.

No.4 - The Spanish Snow - evidence of broadside printers as collectors from oral tradition, exemplified by The Spanish Snow, a ballad narrating naval engagements.

No.3 - Stow Brow (Roud 185, Laws K18) - new light on the North Yorkshire ballad of Stow Brow via a southern English broadside version.

No.2 - The Lambkin (Roud 6, Child 93) - a rare example of an English version this ballad, printed by Pitts at his Wholesale Toy and Marble Warehouse, 6 Great St Andrews Street, Seven Dials, some time between 1819 and 1844.

No.1 - The Cruel Nymph - a 'new' version of The Brown Girl (Roud 180, Child 295), found in the Madden Collection of ballads in the Cambridge University Library. (Madden Collection, VWML microfilms 71/418, slip songs A-G).

Article MT164

Top of page Home Page Articles Reviews News Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services  Updated: 26.2.24