Six jolly miners, we’re not worth a pin,
But when we get a bit o’ coil we’ll make the kettle sing.
We’ll riddle and we’ll fiddle and make the earth go round,
If you don’t mind your troubles you will have a motty down,
If you don’t mind your troubles you will have a motty down.
Two came from Derby and two from Derby town,
The others came from Uttibridge, they all came firing down.
Coil = coal
Motty = pierced metal tally which miners exchanged for their coal allowance.
Uttibridge = Oughtibridge, a couple of miles south-west of Charltonbrook.
‘they all came firing down’ is an interesting mishearing of ‘men of high renown’ which in other local versions has been rationalized to ‘they all came rolling down’.
This is a traditional song
Other versions in the area had a third stanza as follows:
Come on, you jolly colliers, and put your jackets on,
We work for Newton Chambers and he’s a gentleman.
Chambers’ in his chariot, Newton’s in his gig,
Hairs on a donkey’s back and bristles on a pig,
Hairs on a donkey’s back and bristles on a pig.
This well-travelled song has a long pedigree. Originally describing Jack Tar it can be traced back at least to The Faire Maid’s Choice, a seventeenth century song of seventeen stanzas which bears the burden ‘Of all sorts of tradesmen a seaman for me.’ (See Patterson, The Sea’s Anthology, 1913, p143, no source indicated) It is easy to see how the song became adapted to the praise of a miner: Some versions praise the collier, a term used to describe both one who worked in a mine and equally one who transported the coal by sea. Not surprisingly four commonplace stanzas can be found in both songs, Six Jolly Miners and A Sailor for me (Roud 683/1087).
By the mid-nineteenth century very different versions of Six Jolly Miners were being printed on broadsides as far apart as Glasgow, Dublin, Manchester and Cheltenham. The version which appears most complete is the following printed by the Glasgow Poet’s Box in 1858 (Mitchell Library, Glasgow, ref.1321)
The Jolly Miners, Air—Irish Molly, O.
Down by yon crystal fountain I heard a fair maid say—
It’s have you seen my miner lad, or has he been this way?
And wringing of her tender hands so sweetly thus sang she,
Of all the trades in Scotland, a miner lad for me.
We are six jolly miners, and miners you shall hear,
We have been jolly miners this many a long year;
We have travelled England over and Scotland all round,
And we are all jolly miner lads that work under ground.
There’s two of them from Cornwall and two from Derby town,
And other two from Bishopbriggs, they are lads of high renown;
Come fill your glasses to the brim and let a toast go round;
Drink a health to every miner lad that works under ground.
I’ll build my love a castle all on a piece of ground,
No lord, duke, or earl shall pull that castle down;
For the queen can but love the king and I can do the same,
I love my jolly miner lad that walks upon the plain.
The huntsman delights in the sounding of his horn,
The farmer delights in the reaping of his corn,
But the miner delights to split the rock in twa,
To gain all the treasure that lies in the wa’.
The banksman he stands at the foot of yon green tree,
Still minding his business in every degree;
Saying—fill them weel and keep them clean, and keep them free o’ sma’,
Or else for your labour you’ll get nothing at a’.
You may know a jolly miner lad as he walks on the street,
His teeth they are like ivory, his clothing it is neat—
His teeth are like ivory, his eyes as black as sloes,
You may know a jolly miner wherever he goes.
O, a miner like a sailor has hardships to go through,
Though his work is coarse below, yet his heart is good and true;
Let all around give three good cheers along with you and me,
For the brave and hearty miner boys wherever they may be.
The Dublin-printed versions appear to derive from this Scots song although they have acquired new material, and the two very different English broadside versions, both of five stanzas, contain a completely different stanza each. The wide variation between these four mid-nineteenth century versions suggests that by this time the song had already been long in oral tradition in all three countries, although Ireland is not renowned for its mining songs.
The places where the miners hail from, as one would expect, vary greatly from one version to another, but comparing different versions closely the Glasgow version again appears to be the earliest. Bishopbriggs is in Glasgow. The references to miners travelling around to different areas, mentioned in all versions, was particularly true in the nineteenth century before unions became strong when many of them were employed as casual labour and could be laid off at any time. Some even travelled to Pennsylvania and other mining areas of America, and some of these even returned to mine once again in British pits.
In our Yorkshire versions the fact that some ‘came from Derby’ is a survival from earlier versions. Oughtibridge to the north west of Sheffield is still a hotbed of source singers. Another Yorkshire version from Batley has them coming from Skipton, Drayton and Batley. In a Lancashire version they come from Oldham, Chowbent and Bolton.
In Yorkshire the version popular in the area between Sheffield and Barnsley has been utilized by young children as a Christmas house visiting song. The custom, known by some as ‘Jolly Minering’ took place between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Small groups of children wearing old mining clothes such as knee pads, trousers with worn-out backsides and a shirt flapping through, went round performing at local houses and working-men’s clubs. They carried shovels, picks and a riddle containing some coal, and one had a candle in a jamjar to represent the miner’s lamp, and a tin to collect the money. Motties were pierced metal tallies which the colliers exchanged for their coal allowance and the children would carry some of these if they could get them. The reference to ‘have a motty down’ in the song seems to suggest that the children were possibly asking for a motty in return for their performance, though a few coppers would no doubt have been preferable.
A similar version appears in Paul Davenport’s excellent anthology The South Riding Songbook, 1998, p31.