Wey, what wi' me mother and father at 'ome I never 'ad any fun;
They kept me gooin' from morn till night so I thought from them I'd roam.
Now Leeds Owd Fair it were comin' on so I thought I'd take a spree,
So I put me Sunday clothes on an' went whistlin' merrily.
With me bumpsy, bumpsy-ay, bumpsy, bumpsy annie,
Bumpsy, bumpsy ay and me bumpsy, bumpsy annie.
Well, first thing I seen was a factory and I'd never seen one before;
There were shuttles o' weave, shuttles o' tape they sell bi many's the score,
And to every Ned there was a wheel and to every wheel a strap.
I said ti t' master man, "By gum, Owd Ned's a reight strong chap!"
Well, then I went to Leeds Owd Church, never been to one in me days;
Well I felt so ashamed o' missen 'cos I didn't know their ways.
There were thirty, forty people in tubs so down wi' them I sat,
When a saucy old bugger come up and said, "Oi, kid, take off thi 'at!"
Then in there come this great lord mayor an' ovver 'is shoulder a club,
Well 'e got into a white sack-poke an' 'e got in the topmost tub;
Then in there came this other owd chap, I think 'is name were Ned;
Well 'e got into the bottommost tub an 'e mocked wor t' other chap's 'ead.
Now then there began this clatterin' row an' I couldn't make out what about,
Then the chap in the topmost tub he began a shoutin' out;
'E was tellin' us rich folks went to heaven while poor folks went to hell.
Well I thought to meself, "Yer silly old bugger, yer don't know t' road yerself."
Then they began to preach an' pray an' they preached for George ahr king,
Then the chap in the topmost tub 'e said, "Good folks, let's sing."
Well some o' them sang very well, the others did grunt an' groan;
Every bugger sang just what they would so I gave 'em Darby and Joan.
Then a chap came round wi' a box o' brass and 'e 'anded it all around;
Me not bein' a greedy sort I only took 'alf a crown.
Well a silly old bugger sat next to me I thought 'e were gonna dee.
I sez, "Shurrup, thi silly old fool, there's plenty left for thee!"
When—the—preachin' an' prayin' was over and the folks were gannin' away,
I went to the chap in the topmost tub, said, "Oi, kid, what's to pay?"
"Why, nowt," says 'e, "Me lad, tha must either be daft or fay!"
So I swung me clubstick over me shoulder, went whistlin' on me way.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
Country bumpkin songs have been a popular genre for centuries: They can be found among the black-letter broadsides of the seventeenth century, they flourished in the nineteenth century, and their popularity continued well into the twentieth century. Most of them involve a male individual visiting the big city, his description of its wonders, and the misadventures that befall him due to his greenness. (In fact his surname is sometimes 'Green'). The audience for these songs was usually the city dwellers, but in some of them the bumpkin gets the better of the city folk and these found a ready market in country areas.'The Wensleydale Lad' covers both angles; written in the first person, it can be taken both ways; yes, the bumpkin is shown to be very naïve, but it also pokes fun at city life in its pompous institutions. This dual appeal could be the reason for its sustained popularity over two centuries in both urban and rural areas.
In its 'Leeds Owd Church/Fair' form it mocks church practices, but in its earlier Lancashire form our hero rambles from infirmary to factory to church to playhouse finishing up in the pub.
As 'The Wensleydale Lad' its earliest printing was in Abraham Holroyd's Collection of Yorkshire Ballads (G Bell and Sons, London, 1892, p93) where it is described as 'An old Yorkshire song in the local dialect.' Unfortunately Holroyd doesn't reveal his source for these six stanzas. A similar set of stanzas appear in F W Moorman's Yorkshire Dialect Poems (Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd., London, 1916, p12) again without the source, but in his introduction (xxv) he states 'The broad humour of this song has made it exceedingly popular; I first heard it on the lips of a Runswick fisherman, and since then have met with it in different parts of the county'. In their The White Rose Garland W J Halliday and Arthur Umpleby (J M Dent and Sons, London, 1949, p19) give an extra stanza from the general stock. In their notes they give a range of titles and state, 'The earliest printed version we know of appeared in the Cornhill Magazine (1864)'. They obviously were not aware of the many printings on broadsides of the Lancashire versions. None of the above printings of 'The Wensleydale Lad' give any indication of tune or chorus.
By a long chalk the earliest printings of the song are of the Lancashire versions on broadsides, usually under the title 'Owd Ned's a rare strong chap'. Set in Manchester it was printed as far afield as London, Birmingham, Hull and Edinburgh. Its earliest printing c1800 appears to have been by Swindells of no. 8, Hanging Ditch, Manchester. This version was reprinted along with a later version in Notes and Queries for October 22nd, 1870 (4th Series, ptVI, p336) sent in by William E A Axon. It has eight stanzas and like many broadside ballads of the period provides a tantalizing fragment of a chorus 'fal lal la &C'. A full chorus might have given us a clue to the intended tune. Unlike later versions which mostly take place in a church, the Swindells version has the bumpkin arriving at Piccadilly then visiting a factory, a church, a play and finishing in The Blackamoor's Head hostelry. Axon conjectures that the church sequences are heavily influenced by a Thomas Wilson of Clitheroe's poem 'The Countryman's Description of the Collegiate Church', and this would seem reasonable.
A much later version edited by Mike Harding in The Mike Harding Collection, Folk Songs of Lancashire (The Whitethorn press, 1980, p66) has 'The Fine Old English Gentleman' tune and chorus popularly used in the Pennine districts between Oldham and Huddersfield. A very influential version was printed by Bebbington of Oldham Road, Manchester, in the mid-nineteenth century and his ballad sheets were sold by Barr of Leeds. Harding conjectures reasonably that this could easily have been the route of the song's migration from Lancashire to Yorkshire.
A Yorkshire version which very likely predates all Yorkshire printed versions was collected in North-East Scotland by Gavin Greig in 1907 (The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection, Vol 3, Shuldham-Shaw, Lyle and Hall, Aberdeen University Press, 1987, p580). The reason I conjecture it predates the others is its inclusion of the song title 'Bob and Joan' found in the Lancashire versions; but by the time it came to be printed as 'The Wensleydale Lad', 'Bob and Joan' had become a later song title 'Darby and Joan' (1878). 'Bob and Joan' (or 'Bobbing Joan') is much earlier. I have a little melodeon tutor c1840 which contains 'Bob and Joan' and 'Bobbing Joan' within three pages of each other varying by no more than a couple of notes.
The Yorkshire version underwent a revival in the first quarter of the twentieth century due to being published by Yorkshire sheet music publishers. Sometime before 1910 Arthur and Co of 20 and 27 Davygate, York, published 'Leeds Old Church' as No. 1 in their 'Old Yorkshire Song Series, rewritten and arranged by J W Arthur, sung by EVERYBODY'. A similar version with the same six stanzas was published as 'Leeds Ow'd Church' by Banks, 25 County Arcade, Leeds, in 1922. Both are in the key of G and the music is almost identical. The choruses are slightly different but both, like Arthur Wood, Mike Waterson and Ken have the 'rumpsy bumpsy bay' chorus and tune. The Banks version is No. 2 in their three-part Yorkshire Dialect Series, the other two being 'On Ilkley Moor Bah't 'At' and 'The Yorkshire Tyke'. The cover displays a fine view of Leeds Old Parish Church, which was demolished in 1838 and replaced by a new church.
Apparently when Arthur and Co stopped trading in 1910 J W Arthur was very friendly with the owner of the Banks Music Publishing Company in York and did some repping for them. Although I haven't yet established the relationship between the Leeds and York Banks music publishing companies, it is very likely that in some way Arthur passed on his version to the Leeds firm at this time and they adapted his version to their needs.*
Arthur Wood's eight-stanza version printed in Nigel Hudleston's Songs of the Ridings 2001, p276, is remarkably full and close to earlier versions such as Bebbington's. (Pearson, Bebbington's successor went on printing well into the twentieth century and re-issued all of Bebbington's earlier stock.) In his stanza 2 the reference to 't' Farmeries' is a corruption of 'th' infirmary' of the Bebbington version. 'Yon Ned' ('Owd Ned') referred to in stanza 3 is the name of the machine that drove the wheels and straps, confused by our hero as a strong man. Both this Littlebeck version and the Leyburn version recorded by Mary and Nigel Hudleston employ the 'rumpsy bumpsy bay' chorus and tune as does the text of the version we give here learnt from the singing of Mike Waterson but set by Ken to a similar tune he heard in Devon called 'The Belle of the Ball'. Considering its long pedigree and its popularity in country districts of Yorkshire it has appeared in remarkably few folk song collections until recently.
Perhaps its appearance on sheet music at a time when the songs were being collected caused collectors to dismiss it as a local dialect piece.
Ken is a relative of Frank and Roger Hinchliffe who also sing several songs in this collection. Ken and Roger have the same great-grandfather.
*I am indebted to Margaret and Chris Poole of York who first gave me a copy of the Arthur and Co sheet music, and also contacted Christine Loncaster, J W Arthur's granddaughter, for the information on her grandfather. Arthur, a songwriter and publisher, was one of the great York celebrities until his death in 1954.