Awd Grimy were a queer awd chap,
'E's deed, 'e'll dee no moor:
'E used to wear an awd frock cooat
A-buttoned down afoor.
Awd grimy were a queer awd chap,
'E's deed, 'e'll dee no moor.
Noo can ye sing another verse
Diff'rent ti t' yan afoor?
Awd grimy bowt a load o' bricks
To build 'is chimney higher,
Ti keep 'is neighbours' cats an' dogs
Frae slickin' out the fire.
Awd Grimy 'ad a lahtle pig
An' it were double jointed;
'E aimed to mackin' pork on it
But 'e was disappointed.
Why do these bugs torment me so?
Ah nivver did 'em 'arm:
The' come ti me when Ah'm asleep,
Aye thousands in a swarm.
There was a bug amang this lot,
The' called 'im Great Big Joe;
'E 'ad two rows o' double teeth
Upon 'is bottom jaw.
A squirrel is a funny bod,
'E wears a bushy tail;
Ya day 'e teeuk awd Grimy's coat
An' hung it on a rail.
Awd Grimy's great big bug was stuffed
An' put upon a shelf,
An' if ye want another verse
Ye can mack it up yerself.
Fred preceded his version with the following note; 'It's a song that's been sung in Kilburn for probably a hundred years or more. We don't know when it originated, but it's not an original version because people made a lot of it up as they went on. It's just one of the old nonsense rhymes that was sung at Kilburn Feast in July every year in the pub, and at other times when people felt like it, so this is a version from the early 1900s sung in dialect. Other versions'll be on the go, perhaps quite many of them, but this is my version.'
This is a traditional song
This song falls into the same category as a whole collection of humorous/nonsense songs found in abundance in Yorkshire, songs that describe the exploits of a character and usually in a rural setting, such as 'Old John Hargate', 'The Grey Mare', 'Brian O'Lynn', 'Old Johnny Walker', 'Matthew Gommersal's Mule', etc. To folk song scholars they are often difficult to identify or classify as they easily lend themselves to cross-pollenation and the addition of new stanzas, so that versions collected at opposite ends of the country are often unrecognizable as the same song.
'Old Grimy' is no exception to this, in fact it has become crossed with a whole host of similar songs, mainly in America. At least three separate songs use the title, first stanza and tune, which means that when only access to title and first line is available it is impossible to determine which song is being referred to. The southern English version of Roud 764, 'James Morrell is Dead', of which Cecil Sharp found two versions in Somerset (Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs, Vol 2, ed. Maud Karpeles, OUP, 1974, pp381-2), has only two stanzas in common with 'Old Grimy' and could arguably be classified as a separate song. Of the northern versions the recordings from Kilburn are by far the longest versions, all others consisting of no more than the first stanza and occasionally one other stanza. The character's name in some versions changes to Old Rose or Old Abram Brown. Stanza two of Fred Banks' version turns up in American versions which are titled either 'Old Grimes' or 'Old Father Grimes'.
Typical stanzas from American versions apart from the first, which is usually the same as the Yorkshire first stanza, are:-
Somebody stole my old coon dog,
And I wish they'd bring him back;br /> He ran the big hogs over the fence
And the little ones through the crack.
Somebody stole my banty hen,
And I wish they'd let her be;
For every day she laid two eggs,
And Sunday she laid three.
Our old cat has got so fat
She'll neither sing nor pray;
She chased a mouse all round the house
And broke the Sabbath Day.
The first stanza is of some antiquity. It must have already been well-known when Albert Gorton Greene of Rhode Island, USA, in 1820 used it and the title 'Old Grimes' to write a whole new twelve-stanza song in similar vein but much more sophisticated. This was printed on a broadside by Deming of Boston, Mass., and later it entered oral tradition in America, appearing in several collections.
In the late nineteenth century, again in America, another similar song usually known as 'Bohunkus and Josephus' attracted our first stanza to it; consequently some versions took on the title 'Old Grimes'. The rest of the text is easily distinguished from 'Old Grimy' as it tells of the humorous exploits of two brothers, old Grimes’ sons. It is quite possible that the whole family of songs originated in America before coming to England.
However, one stanza published with the usual first stanza in Notes and Queries in 1868, and heard c1828, refers to Cromwell. This of course could be a later addition.
We bored a hole through Cromwell's nose,
And there we put a string.
We led him to the water's side
And then we pushed him in.
(NQ 4. 1. p235, 1868)
Tunes also tend to vary somewhat: The tune of the previous example was 'Old Hundredth Psalm', but the most widely used tune, used for some versions of all three songs described, is the one used by our Yorkshire version, namely 'Auld Lang Syne'. Most versions of 'Bohunkus', and the version of Greene's song found in Botkin's New England Folklore p576, use it.
Our Yorkshire version was sung at the Kilburn Feast held in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, on old Midsummer's Day, July 6th, where the general merrymaking included girls chasing hens and men chasing the girls up ladders. Fines were also imposed on traffic waiting to pass through the village.
A friend of Mary Hudleston, the collector of one Kilburn version, had the following version of stanza 2.
‘O for one thousand bricks to build the kitchen chimney higher,
To keep the neighbours’ cats and dogs from shitting on the fire.’
Put like this it sounds more like a heartfelt plea than a stanza from a nonsense song!
It is heartening to see that the song continued to evolve during its performance at the annual Kilburn Feast. Mary Hudleston recorded a version from Fred Suffield in 1961 in which the chorus is that of 'Auld Lang Syne'. (Fred was wrongly named 'Frank' in Songs of the Ridings) Fred worked in Mousey Thompson's oak furniture factory. His version had the following stanza after stanza 2:
Old Grimy bought a load o' slabs
To slab his garden round,
To keep the neighbours’ cats and dogs
Frae scratching up the ground.
It lacked Fred Banks' final stanza. An interim version collected in Kilburn for the Millennium Project had the 'Auld Lang Syne' chorus and the squirrel stanza went as follows:
The squirrel is a pretty bird,
It has a bushy tail,
It used to eat Jim Sadler's corn,
While seated on a rail.
The Fred Suffield version can be found in Nigel Hudleston's Songs of the Ridings Pindar, 2001, p179.