Category Archives: 1800’s

(1884) The Foresters’ Egg! A Timely Warning!

This song was found in the Bristol Radical History pamphlet (#6) ‘The Life and Times of Warren James’ about the Forest of Dean enclosures:

Arouse ye, free miners, who delve in old Dean,
and all ye freeholders with rights o’er its green,
‘Tis time to be stirring for danger is nigh;
and if ye bestir not, you’ll find by and by,
that truth, and truth only, is this now I tell,
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!

Say will you surrender, or barter away,
your Father’s old charter – twelve months and a day,
while yours, the bad bargain, to take what they please,
in rents and in taxes, in fines, and in fees.
Remember, free miners, yea, ponder it well,
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!

Anon., The Foresters’ Egg! A Timely Warning!
Dean Forest Mercury, 23 may 1884

You can read more about this here – and buy their excellent pamplets here –

South Derbyshire (Melbourne) protest

compiled by Barry Thomas of the Melbourne Footpaths Group

Thomas Dugmore (1739 – 1820)
Dugmore kept the Bull’s Head public house on Potter Street and attacked the enclosure of Melbourne parish with its effects on public roads and paths in an amazing pamphlet written in 1800. He took Lord Melbourne to court when he closed a local footpath and won.

Melbourne Luddites 1812/13
The town was a centre for framework knitting and was visited by the Luddites on at least two occasions in 1812 and 1813 when frames were smashed.

In 1816 a third of the town’s population was destitute and a letter was written to Lord Sidmouth, Home Secretary by the Overseer of the Poor asking for help.

Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844)
Up until recently Melbourne had a pub named after Burdett whose family owned Foremark Hall nearby. He was a popular local figure and was a Member of Parliament who gained notoriety as a proponent of universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, vote by ballot, and annual parliaments. He financed Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor to run a farm in Ireland.

Pentrich Rebellion 1817
Pentrich village was the source of the last armed rebellion in England in June 1817. Protestors were betrayed by government spies (including Oliver who was active at Peterloo). Eighty-five of the rebels were arrested and twenty-three put on trial. Three men were executed in Derby and 14 men were transported to Australia for varying terms. Pentrich village lies 17 miles north of Melbourne.

Derby Reform Bill Riots 1831
Mass riots raged through the town for several days in October 1831 after the Reform Bill was rejected. Prisoners were released from the Derby jails by a crowd of 1,500 protestors.

Derby Silk Mill strike 1833-34
The Silk Mill was one of the first factories in this country and was the site of one of the first major lockouts in this country (1833-1834). Contemporary with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, hundreds of Derby mill workers were forced out of work for joining a radical new union.

Derby Chartism 1839-48
Derby was an important centre for Chartism in the East Midlands (1839-1848) along with Nottingham and Leicester. Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor was a Nottingham MP and Derby had a prominent Chartist candidate in the 1848 election (who wasn’t, unsurprisingly elected).

(1866) Ballad of Berkhamsted Common

In 1866, Lord Brownlow of Ashridge House tried to enclose a third of Berkhamsted Common by putting in iron fences “without any openings and entirely regardless of public rights of way”.

But the Commons Preservation Society got together a bunch of workmen and labourers to come up on a special midnight train from London and pulled all the fences out.

This is a delightful ballad which tells the story:

Right to Roam saves Epping Forest in 1870s

Epping Forest (just outside London) was in the process of being Enclosed and made private in the 19th century, but a campaign of mass trespass forced the government to place it in common hands. The first image here (from September 1871) was made just months after a demonstration there.

Around the mid-19th century, over half of Epping Forest had been enclosed and the rights commoners had for firewood, grazing or even just a walk in the woods, were (as with most of the English countryside) being stolen away and cut down.

The public weren’t happy. On 11th Nov, they took part in an annual ceremony defending their rights of pollarding in the forest (lopping higher branches for firewood while encouraging new growth). The event was celebrated on Staples Hill with bonfires, beer and joy.

Despite condemnation by the British press, the campaign continued unabated with huge public support. By 1871, a mass demonstration was called for 8th July to ‘Save the Forest’.

Attended by thousands of mainly working class people, the rally saw fences torn down. Storming the event, and making an arrest the police were then allowed to enjoy the forest for themselves and not told off for trespassing!

But eventually the campaigners won. Their “crime” of trespass became a right. Within a month, parliament began to protect the forest and by 1878 passed an act to make it public. An opening by Queen Victoria (see 7th image) was attended by 500,000. She stated: “It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time”.

While the green swathe on the 8th image might look like the Amazon, this is London’s Epping Forest today! It now covers some 6000 acres and over a million trees.

From Lordenshaw to Worth Forest, Right to Roam are continuing the mass trespass tradition to protect and open up the countryside for all.

Credit to Ellie Wilson, The Gentle Author and Russell Tranter for info and images.

(1851*) The Ballad Of Crowfoot by Willie Dunn

Released in 1968 and often referred to as Canada’s first music video, The Ballad of Crowfoot was directed by Willie Dunn, a Mi’kmaq/Scottish folk singer and activist who was part of the historic Indian Film Crew, the first all-Indigenous production unit at the NFB. The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.


Comes the spring and its warm thaw
Around your neck, the eagle claw
Upon your head, the buffalo horn
Today a great new chief is born
So raise him fast towards the sun
A heart now beats, a life’s begun
It’s eighteen hundred twenty-one
Today a Blackfoot soul is, is born

Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

Your years have gone, the years have past
Your heart is set, your soul is cast
You stand before the Council Fire
You have the mind and the desire
Of notions wise you speak so well
And in brave deeds you do excel
And it’s eighteen hundred fifty-three
And you stand the chief of Confederacy
You are the leader, you are the chief
You stand against both liar and thief
They trade braves whiskey and steal your land
And they’re coming in swift like the wind-blown sand
They shoot the buffalo and kill the game
And send their preachers in to shame
And it’s eighteen hundred sixty-four
And you think of peace and you think of war

Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

See the settlers in more numbers
He takes whatever he encounters
You’ve seen the Sioux all battered, beaten
They’re all in rags, they haven’t eaten
The Nez Perce’ were much the same
It seems like such a heartless game
And it’s eighteen hundred seventy-six
And the enemy’s full of those death-dealing tricks
Today the treaty stands on the table
Will you sign it? Are you able?
It offers food and protection too
Do you really think they’ll hold it true?
It offers a reserve, now isn’t that grand?
And in return you cede all of your land
And it’s eighteen hundred seventy-seven
And you know the scales are so uneven

Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

Well, the buffalo are slaughtered, there is nothing to eat
The government’s late again with the meat
And your people are riddled with the white man’s disease
And in the summer they’re sick and in the winter they freeze and
Sometimes you wonder why you signed that day
But they broke the treaties themselves anyway
And it’s eighteen hundred eighty-nine
And your death star explodes and then it falls

Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

The years have gone, the years have flown
A nation since has swiftly grown but
Yet for the Indian, it’s all the same
There’s still the hardship, there’s still the pain
There’s still the hardship, there’s still the strife
It’s bitterness shines like a whetted knife
There’s still the hypocrisy, and the hate
Was that in the treaties? Was that the fate?
We’re all unhappy pawns in the government’s game
And it’s always the Indian who gets the blame
It’s a problem which money can never lessen
And it’s nineteen hundred sixty-seven

Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

Maybe one day you’ll find honesty
Instead of the usual treachery
Perhaps one day the truth shall prevail
And the warmth of love which it does entail
Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears?
You’ve been a brave man for many years
Why the sadness? Why the sorrow?
Maybe there’ll be a better tomorrow

(1987) Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil

An Aboriginal land rights song written by Australia rock band in the 80’s, not my cup of tea to be honest but documented here for completeness sake!

Out where the river broke
The blood-wood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty-five degrees

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
Now to pay our share

Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore East to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty-five degrees

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning
How can we dance
When our earth is turning

How do we sleep
While our beds are burning
The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent now
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
We’re gonna give it back

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

Spiorad a’ Charthannais (The Spirit of Kindliness), by the Lewis poet Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn (John Smith)

Just book marking this all here for future reference



And in his great poem Spiorad a’ Charthannais (The Spirit of Kindliness), the Lewis poet Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn (John Smith) wrote about island soldiers coming back from the Napoleonic wars, only to find their homes burned to the ground in similar Highland Clearances. Their persecutors, not Napoleon, but domestic oppressors, who:

…reckoned as but brittle threads
the tight and loving cords
that bound these freemen’s noble hearts
to the high land of the hills.

The grief they suffered brought them death
although they suffered long,
tormented by the cold world
which had no warmth for them.

From Gaelic poetry and the British military, 1756-1945 by Wilson McLeod

An atypically incisive example of such rhetoric can be found in the Lewis poet Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn’s (John Smith) (1848-81) powerful ‘Spiorad a’ Charthannais’ (‘The Spirit of Kindliness’), composed in 1874, at the beginning of the Land Agitation:

A bheil neach beò san linn seo
leis an cuimhn’ an latha garbh
’s na chuireadh an cath uamhann —
Waterloo nan cluaintean dearg?
Bu tapaidh buaidh nan Gàidheal ann,
nuair dh’èirich iad fo’n airm;
ri aghaidh colg nan treun-fheara
gun ghèill ar nàimhdean garg.

Dè ’n sòlas a fhuair athraichean
nan gaisgeach thug a’ bhuaidh?
Chaidh taighean blàth a’ charthannais
’nam baidealaich mu’n cluais;
bha ’m macaibh anns an àraich
’s iad a’ teàrnadh tìr gun truas;
bu chianail staid am màthraichean,
’s am fàrdaichean ’nan gual. . . .

A Bhreatainn, tha e nàireach dhut,
ma dh’àirmhear ann do sgeul,
Gun bhuin thu cho mì-nàdarrach
ri t’fhìor-shliochd àlainn fhèin;
an tìr bha aig na gaisgich ud
a theasairg thu ’nad fheum,
a thionndadh gu blàr-spòrsa
do na stròdhailich gun bheus.

Is anyone presently alive
who recollects that awful day,
on which was fought the fearful fight —
Waterloo of the bloody plains?
A fine victory was won by Gaels
when they rose in battle-arms;
faced with the blade of bravest men,
our fierce foes yielded fast.

What joy came to the fathers
of those who won the fray?
The warm homes of kindliness
towered round their ears in flames.
Their sons were on the battlefield
to save a heartless land;
their mothers were in the saddest plight,
and their homes reduced to ash. . . .

O Britain, it is a disgrace,
should we recount your tale,
relating how hard you dealt
with your own and truest race.
The land that those heroes had,
who saved you in your straits,
has now become a field of sports
for those wasters without morals.

(Meek 2003: 362-5)

Bàrdachd – Spiorad a’ Charthannais

Tha structar teann agus reusanachadh soilleir san dàn seo. Tha sin, le cainnt gheur agus rannaigheachd shiùbhlach a’ bhàird, a’ fàgail gur e seo ionnsaigh cho làidir is a gheibhear ann am bàrdachd Ghàidhlig air na Fuadaichean.

Sa chiad chòig rannan tha am bàrd a’ beachdachadh air gnè spiorad a’ charthannais agus an diofar a dhèanadh e don t-saoghal nan leanadh daoine an dòigh-beatha seo: airson notaichean air seo cliog air Spiorad.

Anns an ath chòig rannan tha e a’ leudachadh air a’ chron a tha dìth carthannais a’ dèanamh anns an t-saoghal san fharsaingeachd: cliog air Dìth airson seo.

Às dèidh rann far a bheil e a’ cur an cèill amasan an dàin, tha Mac a’ Ghobhainn anns an ath chòig rannan a’ càineadh nan uachdaran agus nam bàillidhean airson a bhith cho cruaidh air an t-sluagh: cliog air Uachdarain airson seo.

Anns na ceithir rannan deireannach, tha e a’ toirt ionnsaigh gu h-àraidh air Dòmhnall Rothach, bàillidh Leòdhais: cliog air Crìoch airson seo.

Lean na comharran airson a’ bhàrdachd a mhìneachadh. Nuair a nì thu sin, theirig air ais agus leugh a’ bhàrdachd air fad a-rithist.

Spiorad a’ Charthannais

O Spioraid shoilleir shàr-mhaisich,
A Spioraid ghràsmhoir chaoin
Tha riaghladh anns an àros sin
Tha uile làn de ghaol,
Nan gabhamaid gu càirdeil riut,
Gad fhàilteachadh gu caomh,
'S e siud a bheireadh àrdachadh
Do nàdar chloinn nan daoin'.

Nam b' eòl dhuinn thu nad mhaisealachd
'S nam b' aithne dhuinn do luach,
'S e siud a bheireadh inntinn dhuinn
Os cionn an t-saoghail thruaigh;
Gur sona iad fhuair eòlas ort,
'S len còmhnaich thu gu buan –
'S ann tromhad tha na sòlasan
Tha 'n Tìr na Glòire shuas.

'S tu phàirticheadh gu h-èifeachdach
Rinn gnè nam flaitheas àrd;
An àite greann na h-eucorach
Bhiodh maise 's sgèimh nan gràs;
'S tu sheargadh gnè na truaillidheachd
'S a nuadhaicheadh ar càil;
'S tu thogadh chum nan nèamhan sinn
Le tarraing threun do ghràidh.

O Spioraid chaoimh nan gràsalachd,
Nam biodh tu tàmh nar còir,
'S tu dh'fhuasgladh oirnn 's a shlànaicheadh
An dream tha cnàmh fo leòn;
'S tu thogadh crìdh' nam bantraichean
Gu seinn le aiteas mòr,
'S nach fàgadh gu neo-choibhneil iad
An gainntir dorch a' bhròin.

'S tu mhùchadh teine 'n nàmhaideis
'S an t-sùil as gràinde colg;
'S tu rèiticheadh 's a chiùinicheadh
A' mhala bhrùideil dhorch;
'S tu thogadh neul na h-aingidheachd
Bharr gnùis nan aintighearn' borb
'S a bheireadh gionach saidhbhreis uap'
'S gach aimhleas tha nan lorg.

Ach 's eagal leam gun d' thrèig thu sinn
'S do nèamh gun d' theich thu suas –
Tha daoin' air fàs cho eucorach
'S do ghnè-sa fada uap';
Tha seiche ghreannach fèinealachd
Gan eudachadh mun cuairt –
Chan eòl dhomh aon nì reubas e
Ach saighead Dhè nan sluagh.

A shaoghail, 's fada tuathal thu
On uair sin anns na thrèig
Do charthannas is d' uaisleachd thu,
'S a ghabh thu Fuath is Breug;
Mar inneal-ciùil neo-cheòlmhor dhut,
Gun teud an òrdugh rèidh,
Cha seinn thu pong le òrdalachd
'S cha deòin leat dol air ghleus.

Gur leatsa neart nan aintighearnan
Is gèimhlichean nan tràill;
Gur leat guth treun nan ainneartach
'S guth fann an fhir tha 'n sàs;
Gur leatsa spìd is uabharrachd
An t-sluaigh tha 'n ionad àrd,
'S a mheasas cho mì-fhiùghail sinn
Ri sgùileach air an tràigh.

Gur leat an creideamh buaireasach
A dhùisgeas gruaim is greann,
An creideamh nach dèan suairce sinn
'S nach dèan ar n-uabhar fann;
An creideamh th' aig na diadhairean
Lem miann a' chòmhstri theann –
Nan làimh-san dh'fhàs a' Chrìosdalachd
Mar bhiast nan iomadh ceann.

An searmonaiche prèisgeil ud,
'S ann dh'èigheas e le sgairt
Gur mallaicht' sinn mur èisdear leinn
Ra chreud-san - an tè cheart;
An àite bhith sìor èigheach rinn
Mur dleasdanas 's gach beart,
A dhèanamh daoine cèillidh dhinn
An làthair Dhè nam feart.

O Charthannais, gur h-àlainn thu,
A ghràis as àirde luach!
Ach 's lìonmhor nach toir àite dhut
Gu bràth nan cridhe cruaidh.
Nan deònaicheadh a' cheòlraidh dhomh
Mo chomas beòil car uair,
Gun innsinn pàirt de ghnìomharan
Nam biast thug dhutsa fuath.

Cha robh do ghnè-s' an Dòmhnall bochd,
Am fear bu rògaich goill,
Bha 'n dùil gum biodh gach Leòdhasach
Air fhògaradh don choill;
Ach phàigh e pàirt de dhò-bheartan
Is gheibh e 'n còrr a thoill –
Gun aithnich e gu dòrainneach
Gur feàrr a' chòir na 'n fhoill.

Cha robh do ghnè-s' a' riaghladh
Ann am broilleach iarainn cruaidh
Nam bàillidhean 's nan tighearnan
Chuir sìos an tìr mu thuath;
Bu charthannach na fàrdaichean
Bha seasgair, blàth innt' uair,
'S tha tìr nan daoine còire 'n-diugh
Na fàsach dòbhaidh truagh.

Gun chuir iad fo na naosgaichean
An tìr a b' aoigheil sluagh;
Gun bhuin iad cho neo-dhaonndachail
Ri daoine bha cho suairc';
A chionn nach faodte 'm bàthadh,
Chaidh an sgànradh thar a' chuain –
Bu mhiosa na bruid Bhàbiloin
An càradh sin a fhuair.

A Bhreatainn, tha e nàrach dhut,
Ma dh'àirmhear ann do sgeul
Gun bhuin thu cho mi-nàdarrach
Rid fhìor-shliochd àlainn fhèin –
An tìr bha aig na gaisgich ud
A theasairg thu nad fheum,
A thionndadh ga blàr-spòrsa
Do na stròidhealaich gun bheus.

Nach dìblidh cliù ar mòr-uaislean,
Na fir as neònaich' mèinn –
Carson a tha iad mòr-chùiseach,
'S iad beò air spòrs gun chèill?
Nan còmhdaicheadh na ruadh-chearcan
Lem buachar uachdar slèibh,
'S e siud a b' fheàrr a chòrdadh riu
Na sràidean òir air nèamh.

O, criothnaich measg do shòlasan.
Fhir fhòirneirt làidir chruaidh!
Dè 'm bàs no 'm pian a dhòirtear ort
Airson do leòn air sluagh?
'S e osnaich bhròin nam bantraichean
Tha sèid do shaidhbhries suas;
Gach cupan fìon a dh'òlas tu,
'S e deòir nan ainnis truagh.

Ged thachradh oighreachd mhòr agad
'S ged ghèill na slòigh fod smachd,
Tha 'm bàs is laghan geur aige,
'S gum feum thu gèill da reachd;
Siud uachdaran a dh'òrdaicheas
Co-ionann còir gach neach,
'S mar oighreachd bheir e lèine dhut,
'S dà cheum de thalamh glas.

'S e siud as deireadh suarach dhut,
Thus', fhir an uabhair mhòir,
Led shumanan 's led bhàirlinnean
A' cumail chàich fo bhròn;
Nuair gheibh thu 'n oighreachd shàmhach ud,
Bidh d' àrdan beag gu leòr;
Cha chluinnear trod a' bhàillidh ann
'S cha chuir maor grànd' air ròig.

'N sin molaidh a'chnuimh shnàigeach thu,
Cho tàirceach 'sa bhios d' fheòil,
Nuair gheibh i air do chàradh thu
Gu sàmhach air a bòrd;
Their i, "'S e fear mèath tha 'n seo
Tha math do bhiast nan còs,
On rinn e caol na ceudan
Gus e fhèin a bhiathadh dhòmhs'."

The Poetry of the Clearances by Sorley Maclean

I was just slipping down an internet wormhole on Scottish land rights poetry and song, and came across this juicy nugget:

…the impact of Sorley MacLean’s paper on ‘The Poetry of the Clearances’ – the most powerful piece of socio-political and literary criticism I have ever read


Sounds great, hey? He was a acclaimed Scottish poet, but this paper is not about his poetry but those who came before him and who wrote in Gaelic. I haven’t had a chance to read it in full yet but did a quick flick through after finding a pdf of it here. If this link goes dead then you can also find it hosted here on our website too.

Just parking this all here so I can find it when time comes to do more research on Scottish shazzle and you never know, someone else might find this useful too!

The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes

I was doing a little updating of this site recently and realised that I hadn’t posted about Nick’s remarkable book yet. Nick is a dear friend and I had the joy of arguing with him on the finer details of an early manuscript as well as accompanying him on one of the book’s trespasses. Well that is not quite true, I was on the train with him and then decided not to go along as his description of the landowner freaked me out too much to want to risk it.

If you are on this website, you’ve probably already read it, but if not, please acquire it at your soonest convenience and pause your life until you’ve had the change to drink it down.

This book is basically the spiritual companion to our show.

Folk Song In England by A.L. Lloyd

The wonderful singer and promoter Sophie Bostock was waxing lyrical about this book to me and I’m so glad that I bought it as soon as she recommended it to me. It is a gem. I learnt so much from this including songs such as The Cutty Wren, The Bitter Withy, and The Death of Bill Brown.

A.L. Lloyd is very thorough and includes lyrics, music and background to all manner of songs from around England and beyond going back as far as he dare go and then some.

(1400s) The Bitter Withy

The Bitter Withy was a popular carol carried in the oral tradition for many generations, believed to date back to the 15th century. In it some haughty young lords are drowned by a young Jesus after they mock him for being poor:

As it fell out on a bright holiday
Small hail from the sky did fall;
Our Saviour asked his mother dear
If he might go and play at ball.

“At ball? At ball? My own dear son?
It’s time that you were gone;
Don’t let me hear of any complaints
At night when you come home.”

So up the hill and down the hill
Our sweet young Saviour ran
Until he met three rich lords’,
“Good morning to each one.”

“Good morn, good morn, good morn,” said they,
“Good morning,” then said he,
“And which of you three rich young lords
Will play at ball with me?”

“We are all lords’ and ladies’ sons
Born in a bower and hall,
And you are nothing but a poor maid’s child
Born in an ox’s stall.”

Sweet Jesus turned him round about,
He did neither laugh nor smile,
But the tears came trickling from his eyes
Like water from the sky.

“If you’re all lords’ and ladies’ sons
Born in your bower and hall,
I’ll make you believe in your latter end
I’m an angel above you all”

So he made him a bridge of the beams of the sun
And over the water ran he;
The rich young lords chased after him
And drowned they were all three.

So up the hill and down the hill
Three rich young mothers ran
Saying, “Mary mild, fetch home your child
For ours he’s drowned each one.”

“Oh I’ve been down in yonder town
Far as the holy well,
I took away three sinful souls
And dipped them deep in hell.”

Then Mary mild, she took her child
And laid him across her knee
And with a handful of withy twigs
She gave him slashes three.

“Oh bitter withy, oh bitter withy
You’ve caused me to smart.
And the withy shall be the very first tree
To perish at the heart.”

(1300s) The Cutty Wren

This song is traditionally thought to date back to the 1300s and have been sung by participants of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Worth noting that wikipedia and academia are both are keen to point out that there is no evidence of this, but people in the trad folk tradition are equally quick to point out in return that academics historically often have little idea about the oral tradition.

In A.L.Lloyd’s excellent Folk Song In England he states:

(The song) is often thought of as an amiable nursery piece yet when it was recorded from an old shepherd of Adderbury West, near Banbury, he banged the floor with his stick on the accented notes and stamped violently at the end of the verses, saying that to stamp was the right way and reminded of old times.

What memories of ancient defiance are preserved in this kind of performance it would be hard to say , but we do know that the wren-hunting song was attached to pagan midwinter ritual of the kind that the Church and authority fulminated vainly against- particularly in the rebellious perdio at the end of the Middle Ages when adherence to the forms of the Old Religion was taken to be evidence of subversion, and its partisans were violently persectuted in consequence.

In the sleeve notes of an Ian Campbell Folk Group record, A.L. Lloyd had this further explanation:

Some of the most ancient, most enduring and at the same time most mysterious English folk songs are those concerned with the attributes and sacrifice of monstrous animals. At the end of the 14th century, when peasant rebellion was in the air, the old magical song of the gigantically powerful bird (presented by a kind of folklore irony as a tiny wren) took on a tinge of new meaning. For here was the story of a great fowl so hard to seize, so difficult to dismember but so apt for sharing among the poor; and what did that suggest but a symbol of seignorial property?


“O where are you going?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’re off to the woods,” said John the Red Nose

“What will you do there?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’ll hunt the Cutty Wren,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you shoot her?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“With bows and with arrows,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big guns and big cannons,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you bring her home?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“On four strong men’s shoulders,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big carts and big waggons,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you cut her up?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“With knives and with forks,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big hatches and cleavers,” said John the Red Nose

“Who’ll get the spare ribs?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’ll give them all to the poor,” said John the Red Nose

The Island by Francis Brett Young

To think what England once had been,
When such poor folk, by right of birth,
Claimed an inalienable share
And tenure of their native earth;
When even the least enjoyed the yield
Of labour in the common field,
And kept his pig, and grazed his cow,
And gathered firewood on the waste
To warm his bones in Winter. Now
The hirelings of a heartless caste,
Owners of factories and mills,
Puffed with undigested pride,
And flushed by the tax-eater’s greed,
Have stolen half the countryside
With their accursed Enclosure Bills;
While humble folk who’ve earned the meed
Of painful husbandry, despoiled
Of their scant share of paradise,
See high park-walls and paling rise
About the land where once they toiled.
Now the mantrap’s iron teeth
Lurk in the woods and on the heath,
And never a rabbit or a hare
Sweetens the labourer’s skimpy fare-
Though men with hunger-hollowed eyes
Hear the grai-fed pheasant’s cries
Taunting their stomachs as they gaze
Disheartened on the dwindling blaze
That lights their cheerless chimney-side,
And shiver.

Francis Brett Young (29 June 1884 – 28 March 1954) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, composer, doctor and soldier – – he wrote The Island in 1944.

An Atlas of Rural Protest in Britain 1548-1900 by Andrew Charlesworth

We get sent, given and recommended a lot of books by people who’ve seen the show. They are nearly always very useful and often even get read. Every so often one comes along that wins. This is such a book. What a title! And full of lovely maps and considered prose too. Copies come up 2nd hand for about the £20 mark fairly often, well worth it.

Needless to say this book is a glorious source of academically thorough research into peasant struggles against the greed and tyranny of the aristocracy.

(1885) other ‘Three Acres And A Cow’ themed ballads

Dr John Baxter has a project exploring intersection of folk and music hall, the songs and social history at

On the below blog he details a number of other songs about the Three Acres And A Cow election campaign of 1885/6 other than the one that we share in the show. It seems that the others were mocking the labourers for hoping for such a thing, or even for being fooled into thinking it would ever be possible!

How Profits From Slavery Changed the Landscape of the Scottish Highlands

Money earned through enslavement played a key role in the eviction of Highlanders in the 18th and 19th centuries, study finds

Between roughly 1750 and 1860, wealthy landowners forcibly evicted thousands of Scottish Highlanders in order to create large-scale sheep farms. Known today as the Highland Clearances, this era of drastic depopulation sparked the collapse of the traditional clan system and the mass migration of Scotland’s northernmost residents to other parts of the world.

As Alison Campsie reports for the Scotsman, new research argues that this pivotal period in Scottish history had close ties to the enslavement of people in British colonies, with a cadre of individuals enriched by slavery evicting at least 5,000 people from their property and buying up more than one million acres of land relinquished during the clearances.

Read full article via

A History of Allotments in Sheffield by Margaret Boulton

This is a really great deep dive into local Sheffield history whilst at the same time providing lots of context which I imagine would make it still of interest to those further afield.

I drank it down and revelled in the geekery, for example, did you know that Mount Pleasant is the name for the part of each town or city where all the night soil (aka human poo) was taken every morning so farmers could transport it to their land for fertiliser?

Natives by Akala

Race and class in the ruins of empire

We are major Akala fans here in the herd and regularly send his various short youtube videos over to folks for homework.

I’m not going to write about this book here because The Guardian’s book review does all really good job of inspiring you to read it.

After you’ve read this, The Many Headed Hydra is a great companion book to dive deeper.

The Same Sky over All by David Smith

An account of farming in the Chelmsford area of Essex

Another book in the same genre as ‘Where Beards Wag All‘ which perfectly and poetically captures the last days of pre mechanised peasant agriculture in Essex and the first steps of the transition into fossil fuel fuelled farming. Simply and beautifully written, a good way to look back to look forward

Where Beards Wag All by George Ewart Evans

A really beautiful insight into the last days of peasant agriculture in England before the post war mechanisation of agriculture and the role of the oral tradition in rural communities.

From his landmark study of rural life in East Anglia, Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay (1956), George Ewart Evans set about, in a series of books, unveiling the sylvan round of myth and merriment, plenty and hardship, that informed the traditions and texture of country living. Core to his chronicles is the oral tradition, echoing through the years, and it is this that he concentrates upon in Where Beards Wag All (1970). Here are the memories, unmediated and raw, of the craftsman, the drover, the marshman – a chorus to the seasons’ constant turn. And it is by no means an idyll they describe: thrift and want, poverty and subjection are often their lyric. The depression of the 1930s is vividly brought to life, and a particularly affecting section details the migration of East Anglian farm-workers to the maltings of Burton-on-Trent. Where Beards Wag All is a touching and faithful portrait of the countryside of fading memory.