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!
We seldom sing this in the show, opting to go for the Leon Rosselson song as it is a bit more of a romp. Lady Maisery’s version is a favourite. Roy Palmer has the full and original lyrics in A Ballad History Of England, which I’ve also included a photo of below as I’m feeling a little too lazy to type them up, sorry.
You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now, You noble Diggers all, stand up now, The waste land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name Your digging do disdain and your persons all defame Stand up now, Diggers all.
Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now, Your houses they pull down, stand up now. Your houses they pull down to fright poor men in town, But the gentry must come down and the poor shall wear the crown. Stand up now, Diggers all.
With spades and hoes and ploughs, stand up now, stand up now, With spades and hoes and ploughs, stand up now. Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold To kill you if they could and rights from you withhold. Stand up now, Diggers all.
Their self-will is their law, stand up now, stand up now, Their self-will is their law, stand up now. Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin To make a gaol a gin and to serve poor men therein. Stand up now, Diggers all.
The gentry are all round, stand up now, stand up now, The gentry are all round, stand up now. The gentry are all round, on each side they are found, Their wisdom’s so profound to cheat us of the ground. Stand up now, Diggers all.
The lawyers they conjoin, stand up now, stand up now, The lawyers they conjoin, stand up now, To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise, But the devil in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes. Stand up now, Diggers all.
The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now, The clergy they come in, stand up now. The clergy they come in and say it is a sin That we should now begin our freedom for to win. Stand up now, Diggers all.
‘Gainst lawyers and ‘gainst priests, stand up now, stand up now, ‘Gainst lawyers and ‘gainst Priests, stand up now. For tyrants are they both even flat against their oath, To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth. Stand up now, Diggers all.
The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now, The club is all their law, stand up now. The club is all their law to keep poor folk in awe, That they no vision saw to maintain such a law. Glory now, Diggers all.
In 1830, on November the 23rd, there was a riot in Owslebury. This was part of the wave of discontent among agricultural workers which had spread across southern England and expressed itself as the Swing Riots. A large mob formed and moved from farm to farm demanding money and threatening to destroy agricultural machinery. At Rosehill they assaulted Lord Northesk’s steward, Moses Stanbrook, wrecked a winnowing machine, and extorted £5. John Boyes, a local farmer, accompanied the mob demanding that farmers and landlords sign an undertaking which read “We, the undersigned, are willing to give 2s. per day to our married labourers, and 9s. per week to single men, in consideration of having our rent and tithes abated in proportion”. At Marwell Hall the lady of the house, Mrs. Alice Long, gave the mob £5 and signed John’s document. Eventually the mob retreated to Owslebury Down. Nine people had signed John Boyes’ document.
The rioters were tried in Winchester at the end of the year and several were executed. There was a good deal of sympathy for John Boyes and he was twice acquitted before eventually being found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land for seven years. The trials were reported in The Times in December 1830 and January 1831. John Boyes did not complete his sentence. In 1835 the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, pardoned him and he returned home to his wife, Faith, and their children, in June of that year to continue farming in Owslebury. He died in Hensting in 1856.
**Please note I have changed some of the lyrics and a bit of the melody – this is fine and you are welcome to change them too – that is how music works #notsacred**
You’ve heard a lot of talk about three acres and a cow
And if they mean to give us why don’t they give it now?
For if I do not get it I may go out of my mind
There’s nothing but the land and cow will keep me satisfied
Don’t you wish you had it now, three acres and a cow!
Oh you can make good cheese and butter when you get the cow.
There’s a certain class in England that is holding fortune great
Yet they give a man a starving wage to work on their estate
The land’s been stolen from the poor and those that hold it now
They do not want to give a man three acres and a cow
D’y’ think they’ll ever want to give three acres and a cow
When they can get a man to take low wage to drive the plough
To live a man he has to work from daylight until dark
So the lord can have both bulls and cattle grazing in his park
But now there is a pretty go in all the country though
The workers they all want to know what the government will do
And what we have been looking for, I wish they’d give us now
We’re sure to live if they only give three acres and a cow
If all the land in England was divided up quite fair
There would be some for everyone to earn an honest share
Well some have thousand acre farms which they have got somehow
But I’ll be satisfied to get three acres and a cow
Lyrics in the public domain
Scan taken from ‘The Painful Plough‘ by Roy Palmer and reprinted with permission.
The Fowlers’ Complaint (The Powtes Complaint) 1611
Come, Brethren of the water and let us all assemble
To treat upon this matter, which makes us quake and tremble;
For we shall rue, if it be true, that the Fens be undertaken,
And where we feed in Fen and Reed, they’ll feed both Beef and Bacon.
They’ll sow both beans and oats where never man yet thought it,
Where men did row in boat, ere the undertakers bought it:
But, Ceres, thou behold us now, let wild oats be their venture,
Oh let the frogs and miry bogs destroy where they do enter.
Behold the great design, which they do now determine,
Will make our bodies pine, a prey to crows and vermine:
For they do mean all Fens to drain, and waters overmaster,
All will be dry, and we must die, ’cause Essex calves want pasture.
Away with boats and rudder, farewell both boots and skatches,
No need of one nor th’other, men now make better matches;
Stilt-makers all and tanners shall complain of this distaster;
For they will make each muddy lake for Essex calves a pasture.
The feather’d fowls have wings, to fly to other nations;
But we have no such things, to aid our transportations;
We must give place (oh grievous case) to horned beasts and cattle,
Except that we can all agree to drive them out by battle.
Wherefore let us intreat our ancient water nurses,
To shew their power so great as t’ help to drain their purses;
And send us good old Captain Flood to lead us out to battle,
Then two-penny Jack, with skales on’s back, will drive out all the cattle.
This noble Captain yet was never know to fail us,
But did the conquest get of all that did assail us;
His furious rage none could assuage; but, to the world’s great wonder,
He bears down banks, and breaks their cranks and whirlygigs asunder.
God Eolus, we do pray, that thou wilt not be wanting,
Thou never said’st us nay, now listen to our canting:
Do thou deride their hope and pride, that purpose our confusion;
And send a blast, that they in haste may work no good conclusion.
Great Neptune (God of seas), this work must needs provoke thee;
They mean thee to disease, and with Fen water choke thee:
But, with thy mace, do thou deface, and quite confound this matter;
And send thy sands, to make dry lands, when they shall want fresh water.
And eke we pray thee Moon, that thou wilt be propitious,
To see that nought be done to prosper the malicious;
Though summer’s heat hath wrought a feat, whereby themselves they flatter,
Yet be so good as send a flood, lest Essex calves want water.
Song about enclosure of land in the Fens from 1611. Lyrics in the public domain – taken from ‘A Ballad History Of England’ by Roy Palmer.
Roy Palmer has spent much of the last thirty years hunting for ballads and using them to weave together a people’s history of England. He has mastered the art of this in a number of excellent books of which this is a great starting point.
This book is utterly superb and should be bought without hesitation. Each song has a melody and words, along with a page or two giving its historical context.