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Dialogue Between The Coal-Owner And The Poor Pitman's Wife

  • (Trad / William Hornsby)

    Chorus:
    Derry down down down derry down

    A dialogue I'll tell you as true as my life
    Between a coal-owner and a poor pitman's wife
    As she was a-travelling all on the highway
    She met a coal owner and this she did say

    Good morning, Lord Firedamp, the woman she said
    I'll do you no harm, sir, don't be afraid
    If you'd been where I've been for most of my life
    You wouldn't turn pale at a poor pitman's wife

    Then where have you been, the owner he cried
    I've been in hell, the poor woman replied
    If you come from hell then tell me quite plain
    How you contrived to get out again

    Aye, sir, the truth I will tell
    They're turning the poor folk all out of hell
    This it to make room for the rich wicked race
    There are a great number of them in that place

    How does the devil behave in that place?
    Sir, he is cruel to the rich wicked race
    Far more cruel than you can suppose
    Like a mad bull with a ring through his nose

    Good woman, says he, I must bid you farewell
    You give me a dismal account about hell
    If this be all true that you say unto me
    I'll home like a whippet, with my poor men agree

    If you be an owner, sir, take my advice
    Agree with your men and give them full price
    If you do not, I know very well
    You'll be in great danger of going to hell

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • [1967:] This ballad was found among a collection of papers relating to a Lancaster strike in 1844. It seems to be the work of a collier named William Hornsby. (Reprint Sing Out 10, 230)

  • [1967:] A good proportion [of industrial folk songs], including some of the hardest-hitting, are humorously put and go to lively tunes. Such masterpieces as The coal-owner and the pitman's wife wear a smile that shows strong teeth. (Lloyd, England 310)
    Dialogue, an important procedure in old folk balladry, takes on a new and specifically didactic character in the workers' folk songs. Well, not so new, perhaps. The early religious ballads, such as The devil's nine questions [...] had been using dialogue to point a moral for several centuries; but now the teaching was political. [...] In using a classical ballad form, the pitman-songmaker was not inspired by a romantic wish to revive the beauties of past folk song. In fact, no doubt involuntarily, his ballad emerges rather as a witty caricature of the lyric of former times. The tune belongs to the great family of Henry Martin and a score of ballads with 'derrydown' refrain. [The song] has entered on a lively second existence since a miner at Whiston, Lancs, unearthed it in 1951. (Lloyd, England 322f)

  • [1974:] According to Mr J.S. Bell of Whiston, Lancs., who sent most of these words to be published in 'Coal', this song was probably composed by a Shotton Moor collier, William Hornsby by name, during the great Durham strike of 1844. The tune came from Mr. J. Denison of Walker. The 'derry down' chorus indicates its antiquity - a relative of Henry Martin? Most songs with a 'derry down' refrain used to be fairly salacious, and it has been suggested that the words, now nonsense, originally had a sexual connotation. (Dallas,Toil 224)

  • [1975:] This [...] was one of the many songs to emerge from the bitter twenty-week strike of 1844 in the North-East. Many of them were composed by Primitive Methodists and members of other dissenting sects who also belonged to the miners' union. Song sheets, usually sold for a penny each, as well as being a source of much-needed money were also a means whereby the men's case could be put to the general public.
    The pitman's wife mentions in the last verse [not included above] that she has been turned out of her home. This is a reference to the mass evictions made by Lord Londonderry and other coalowners. They threw strikers and their families out of their homes to make way for blacklegs. As a result, numerous roadside encampments sprang up. Putting a few blankets as a roof above their modest pieces of furniture, the evicted families tried in vain to keep out the cold and rain. Songs like this, however, did help to bolster morale. (Notes 'The Bonnie Pit Laddie')

  • [1979:] In earlier, pre-industrial songs the woman or man who outwitted the devil, or went down to hell and managed to come back again, distinguished themselves as the bravest of the brave. By the mid-nineteenth century where this song takes up the theme, it was a toss- up whether the coalowner wasn't at least as formidable an enemy as any devil. [...] Under assault, both in the home as miners' wives and as coalworkers themselves, women not only fought a double battle, but weighed in as songwriters too. Many of the ballad sheets of strike and resistance in the 1830s and 1840s bear the names of women songwriters, sisters of this pitman's wife for sure. (Henderson/Armstrong 165)

  • See also http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=35161#479787

Quelle: England

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