We bid you welcome, brother debtor, to this poor but nary place,
Where no bailiff, bum or satyr dare to show his frightful face.
Now, kind sir, as you’re a stranger down your garnish you must lay,
Or your coat will be in danger, you must either strip or pay.
Ne’er repine at your confinement, from your childer and your wife,
For wisdom lies in true resignment*, through the varied scenes of life.
What was it made great Alexander weep at his unhappy fate?
It was because he could not wander through this wide, strong prison gate.
Every island is a prison strongly guarded by the sea.
Kings and princes for that reason prisoners are as well as we.
* = resignation
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire.
The Debtors’ prison was established in Rothwell, a village south of Leeds, in the seventeenth century and was later converted into a workhouse. When debtors were first taken there the Society of Debtors demanded that each newcomer pay a ‘garnish’ or fine of half-a-crown or forfeit his coat, the latter usually being the case. The words of the song were noted by Captain Armitage in his The Annals of Wakefield House of Correction, and set to music by our very own Wendy Price. Here it is sung by Ruth Price and Sadie Greenwood, daughters of Wendy and the late Bill Price, to whom we are indebted for the inclusion of the song and the provenance.
The song was first recorded by Bill Price on the LP album A Fine Old Yorkshire Gentleman . It is also featured on Ruth and Sadie’s CD Between Debt and Fortune.