A nobleman met with a thresherman one day,
He kindly did accost him and unto him did say,
“Tha’s a wife and seven childeren, I know it to be true,
Yet how does thou maintain them all so well as thou do?
Yet how does thou maintain them all so well as thou do?”
“Sometimes I do reap and sometimes I do mow,
And other times a hedgin’ or a ditchin’ I do go;
There’s nothin’ comes amiss to me to the harrows nor the plough,
But still I get my livin’ by the sweat of my brow,
But still I get my livin’ by the sweat of my brow.”
“When my day’s work is over I go home at night,
My wife and my childeren they are of my delight;
My children are a prattlin’ and playin’ with their toys,
And that is all the pleasure that a poor man enjoys,
And that is all the pleasure that a poor man enjoys.”
“My wife she is willin’ to join in the yoke,
We live just like two turtle doves and seldom do provoke;
Sometimes we are hard up, sometimes we are very poor,
But still we keep those raging wolves away from our door,
But still we keep those raging wolves away from our door.”
“So well has thou spoken of thy wife,
I’ll make thee to live happy all the rest of thy life;
I’ve fifty acres of good land I’ll freely give to thee,
To maintain thy wife and thy loved family,
To maintain thy wife and thy loved family.”
Recording from the LP In Sheffield Park, Traditional Songs from South Yorkshire.
This is a traditional song
This ballad is widely dispersed throughout the English-speaking world largely due to this form having been constantly in the broadside printers’ general stock at least since c1865. Copies of P Brooksby’s seventeen stanza version The Nobleman’s Generous Kindness survive in all the major black-letter collections and this version continued to be printed right upto the middle of the nineteenth century. It was also published by J H Dixon in his Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs, 1846, where he stated that it was very popular at that time and always sung to the tune Derry Down. The tune designated on Brooksby’s broadside is The Two English Travellers which, according to Claude M Simpson, has not survived although it is cited on at least twenty other broadsides.
In the early nineteenth century when printers were trying to maximize profits by printing several songs to a sheet these seventeen stanzas were reduced to eight and six stanzas. It is a very good example of the common practice of printers’ hacks at this time of reducing the longer ballads of earlier centuries to meet contemporary fashions and economics. The title was also altered to Squire and Thrasher but the benevolent gentleman is still referred to as a nobleman in the ballad itself. Most oral versions are directly derived from the six stanza version but some of the southern versions have been influenced by Such’s eight stanza version, and the west Sheffield version here given seems to have been influenced by the identical version printed by Cadman and by Bebbington in Manchester.
Frank Hinchliffe’s five stanza version is textually very close to his cousin George White’s eight stanza version as recorded by Ian Russell (See Folk Music Journal, Vol 5, No 3, 1985, pp337-8). Another version from the other side of Sheffield can be seen in Paul Davenport’s excellent The South Riding Songbook, 1998, p30.