Noo awd Dicky Thompson 'e 'ad a grey mare,
'E teeak 'er away ti Sedgefield Fair, (teeak=took)
'E browt 'er back, Oh, yis 'e did
Becoss 'e 'adn't a farthin' bid.
With a titty-fa-lairy, Fire up, Mary,
Upti t' rigs o' Sedgefield Fair.
'E tonned 'er away inti Wragby Wood
Ti see if 'is awd mare 'ud deea some good;
She ran 'er 'eead intiv a tree,
"Gor dang," ses Dick, " th' awd mare'll dee!"
Now 'e teeak 'er some 'ay all iv a scuttle,
'Er poor awd belly began ti ruttle; (rattle)
'E teeak 'er some corn all iv a sieve,
"Gor dang," ses Dick, "th' awd mare'll live!"
Now 'e teeak 'is awd mare inti t' field ti ploo,
Ti see what good 'is awd mare 'ud do;
At ivry end she give a gret fart,
"Gor dang," ses Dick, "We'll ploo till dark!"
Noo all 'is sheep got intiv 'is fog, (Field of second growth grass after hay removed)
'E sent away yam fer t' black an' white dog;
At ivry end 'e give a gret shout,
Was, "Git away by an' fetch 'em out!"
Now all 'is 'ens got intiv 'is corn,
'E swore as 'e'd shut 'em as sure as 'e's born;
Sae 'e got t' awd gun an' 'e squinted an' squared,
But 'e missed awd 'ens an' 'e shot 'is grey mare.
This is a traditional song
This is a widespread song in Yorkshire, very seldom recorded, possibly due to its stark simplicity. According to the ODNR where it is called 'John Cook's Grey Mare' it 'appears to have been already old when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne.' The Opies based this assertion on the final verse which appeared in the comedy 'The longer thou livest, the more fool thou art' c1559
I lay'd my bridle upon the shelfe
If you will any more sing it your selfe.'
which is merely a commonplace appended ad nauseam to any catalogue song of this type that lends itself to improvised stanzas. However, certainly the song is at least five centuries old. J O Halliwell at page 4 of his 'The Nursery Rhymes of England' prints the following ms fragment of the time of Henry VIII, found in The Old Royal Library at the BM.
'We make no spare of John Hunke's mare
And now I think she will die;
He thought it good to put her in the wood,
To seek where she might ly dry;
If the mare should chance to fale,
Then the crownes would for her sale.'
Whilst this shows little relationship to 'Sedgefield Fair' there are other versions which are intermediate between this early version and those collected in the twentieth century.
In Yorkshire it usually goes to that much used and widespread tune of 'Dicky of Taunton Dean', although other tunes are used, such as the similar Yorkshire song 'Mutton Pie' with which it shares the commonplace stanza
'Our old maister went to the fair,
Bowt fower 'osses and yan was a mare,
Yan was blinnd and t'other couldn't see,
And yan 'ad 'is 'eead where 'is arse ought to be.'
One version from the early nineteenth century uses the 'Old Hundredth' hymn tune.
It has become crossed at an early stage with 'Brian O'Lynn' (Roud 294), a similar catalogue song that also lends itself readily to improvised stanzas. The description of the old mare as bony and thin is common to both songs. It occurs in approximately half of the broadside versions of 'Brian O'Lynn', but as both songs have a long pedigree it is now impossible to say in which of them it originated. It is interesting to note that the two songs have become further crossed in East Riding and North Lincolnshire versions and that further stanzas of 'Brian O'Lynn' have crossed over into 'The Old Grey Mare'.
Except where they have become crossed with songs like 'Brian O'Lynn, no two versions share the same title, most of the titles being derived from either the name of the mare's owner, or as given here the name of a local fair. The central event is usually the mare running her head into a tree, although earlier versions also have the mare making a will.
The song has been found as far south as Norfolk, and on the Yorkshire borders of Cheshire and Cumbria, but seems to be most common in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.
Sedgefield is of course in County Durham about five miles from the Yorkshire border, but Wragby Wood is on Wragby Farm on the A171 south of Robin Hood's Bay. John's farm, Hill Top, is about five miles north of Wragby and in fact he learnt the song from the owner of Wragby Farm, Frances Beeforth.
I have a three stanza version from the singing of Bill Hart of Wilton just to the north of Guisborough, kindly communicated and sung by Dave Verrill of Guisborough. Its title is 'Will Charlton's Mare' and it mentions 'Guisborough Fair' and 'High Cliff Wood'. In the Hudleston Collection (See 'Songs of the Ridings' p119) is a three stanza version from Wyke, Bradford called 'Wibsey Fair'.