At six o’ clock the bells do ring for ev’ry man to rise,
To wash an’ scrub ’is little cell and the place ’e occupies.
At seven o’ clock skilly comes in, skilly boilin’ not!
It’s sometimes thick an’ it’s sometimes thin and a pint is all you’ve got.
All around old ’Edon Road Gaol where you do no talkin’,
All around old ’Edon Road Gaol when you’re teasin’ tarry oakum,
’Essian mailbags in your cell, teck warnin’ what I’ve said,
It’s a bloody rotten prison for a soldier.
An’ ’Edon Road Prison smells, an’ the bells are made of brass,
An’ now I’ve done my six-months you can stick em right up your….
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
Having collected folk songs in the East Riding area for many years in the sixties and seventies and had very little in the way of traditional songs actually about Hull, it was quite exciting to come across this little gem long after I’d given up hope. As caller in the Green Ginger Ceili Band I had recently acquired a new young accordionist, Andy Watson. He had cut his teeth in a local accordion band and one night had been sorting through some old tapes of the band playing to entertain a party of old folks in Hull. At a lull in the music an elderly lady had just stood up and launched into this song. Luckily the tape had been left running and had picked up this performance.
The song is related to the large family of prison songs spread all over the English-speaking world. It was printed on broadsides in England, usually under the title of ‘County Gaol’ or sometimes even just ‘------- Gaol’ left so that the singer could insert their own prison name. The first 2 stanzas in the Hull version are from this song, the rest being very much a local production, probably from World War I, when a soldier might have been imprisoned for some minor misdemeanor. The tune is a variant of the widely used Irish song The Rising of the Moon.
It is interesting to note that any songs we have that are associated with Hull or Beverley are concerned with prison or crime. Even going back to the 17th century it is the Merchant’s Son of York who gets robbed by the Beggar Wench of Hull (See TYG65), The Dalesman’s Litany (TYG70) which warns beggars to beware of the gibbets at Halifax, Elland and Hull; and The Beverley Maid and the Tinker (TYG21) and Beverley Gaol. In The Effects of Love, a widespread broadside ballad, (TYG74) the slighted pregnant girl from Hull commits suicide by drowning herself in the Humber.