This ae neet, this ae neet,
Any neet and all.
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet
And Christ receive thy soul.
If thou from here our wake has passed,
To Whinny Moor thou comes at last.
And if ever thou gavest hosen or shoen,
Then sit ye down and put them on.
But if hosen or shoen thou ne’er gav’st nane,
The whinny will prick thee to thy bare bane.
And if ever thou gavest meat or drink,
The fire will never make thee shrink.
But if meat nor drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
The fire will burn thee to thy bare bane.
And if thou from here our wake has passed,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last.
Repeat first stanza
This is a traditional song
The earliest version of this ancient dirge was printed in John Aubrey’s Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme (1686-7), reprinted for the Folk-Lore Society in 1881, from the Lansdowne Manuscripts in the British Library.
Aubrey stated ‘The beliefe in Yorkeshire was amongst the vulgar (perhaps is in part still) that after the person’s death the soule went over Whinny-moore, and till about 1616-24 at the funerale a woman came (like a Praefica) and sang the following song.’ There is in the Cotton Library a corroborating account of the Cleveland area from the reign of Elizabeth I, ‘When any dieth, certaine women sing a song to the dead bodie, reciting the jorney that the partye deceased must goe; and they are of beliefe (such is their fondnesse) that once in their lives, it is good to give a pair of new shoes to a poor man, for as much, as after this life, they are to pass barefoote through a great launde, full of thornes and furzen, except by the meryte of the almes aforesaid they have redeemedthe forfeyte; for, at the edge of the launde, an oulde man shall meet them with the same shoes that were given by the partie when he was lyving; and , after he hath shodde them, dismisseth them to go through thick and thin without scratch or scalle.’—Julius, F. VI. 459.
It appears the custom and song survived at least into the early nineteenth century as Richard Blakeborough in his Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1898, p122 claims to have talked to an old man who remembered it being sung over the corpse of a distant relation of his in Kildale about 1800. Whilst the custom had died out completely by Blakeborough’s time the beliefs enshrined in the song certainly hadn’t. The Cleveland dialect version he published which we give here, may well be a rifacimento based on the earlier versions and the widespread international beliefs about the Brigg o’ Dread. Either way this version has now been adopted during the twentieth century as the anthem of participants in the Lyke Wake Walk across the North Yorks Moors. The version printed by Sir Walter Scott in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border has also reached new heights of popularity since being recorded by folk groups in the 1960s. The tune used by these has a very simple dirge-like quality allowing it to be effectively sung in triad harmony which gives it a very Icelandic flavour.
The beliefs expressed in the dirge, whilst being widespread in many cultures, have been linked to early Catholic beliefs dating back to pre-Reformation times. This accords with the strong survival of Catholicism even up to the present in the Cleveland area of North Yorkshire. The sentiments behind the beliefs are quite obvious in linking charitable leanings during life to benefits in the afterlife, i.e., if you give footwear to the poor you will have no problem crossing the prickly gorse of Whinny Moor, if you give alms to the poor you will have no problem crossing the narrow Bridge of Dread and if you give them food and drink Hell’s flames won’t reach you.
There has been some controversy over the third line of the first stanza, whether we have ‘fleet’ or ‘sleet’. It would appear that some antiquarians, ignorant of the customary expression ‘fire and fleet’ commonly used in early wills to refer to house and home, have assumed the often mistaken ‘f’ and long ‘s’ in pre-1800 script meant that the unusual word in this context ‘fleet’ must mean ‘sleet’. Scott in The Border Minstrelsy, 1839, p299, even suggests that ‘sleet’ is a corruption of ‘selt’, i.e., salt, ‘a quantity of which in compliance with a popular superstition, is frequently placed on the breast of a corpse.’ Very plausible but wrong!
Version 1, sung by Three Score and Ten , presented here is based on the version recorded by The Young Tradition on their 1965 album The Young Tradition. Heather Wood of the Young Tradition tells us the tune was collected from Peggy Richards, an old Scottish lady, by Hans Fried who used to run Collett’s folk record shop in London in the 60s. However she probably learnt it from its source which is Sir Harold Boulton’s Songs of the North, Volume 1, c1885. Boulton actually wrote the tune to an adaptation of Scott’s text. A second version , sung by Ray Black, is presented in TYG 76
Another Lyke Wake tune is extant in Yorkshire. It was used in the Dales as a funeral slow march played on the fiddle in the funeral procession to the churchyard. A version can be seen in English Dance and Song, Volume 33, number 2, Summer 1971, p60, and also in Encyclopedia Blowzabellica. There are no traditional lyrics to this tune however, and there is no reason to believe that it has any connection with the Cleveland Lyke Wake Dirge other than in name. For the Boulton information and the above we are again indebted to the encyclopedic knowledge of Malcolm Douglas.
For further information on the history of the song go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyke-Wake_Dirge