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Sleeve Notes for Fenlandia by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

FenlandiaSince coming to live in East Anglia I have been looking for songs collected in the area where I now live.  The newly issued Classic English Folk Songs revised by Malcolm Douglas, published by EFDSS in association with South Riding Folk Network in 2003 had much expanded notes on the song Lucy Wan which I have known for many years and the book included some biographical details of the source singer, Mrs Charlotte Dann ( nee Few) of Cottenham.


Spurred on by an informative email exchange with Malcolm Douglas I proceeded to extricate songs that had been archived together with Lucy Wan as part of the Lucy Broadwood collection in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in Cecil Sharp House. Unfortunately all the songs had texts that were fragmentary. The tunes were too good just to leave for scholars to admire in an archive, so I took the liberty of completing the texts from broadsides or song variants collected in the South of England. Since doing this work I discovered that Roy Palmer also had investigated the same archive and has published reconstructions of some of the songs which, not surprisingly, are  similar to the versions you will hear on this CD.  

The collector of the songs , Ella Bull ( 1871 - 1922)  was blind from birth - as were two of her four sisters. The Bull family were prosperous top-fruit growers, related to the Chivers family. Ella remembered songs that the servants sang while working at the family home, 'Bernards', 27 High Street Cottenham, a village 6 miles from Cambridge.

Ella ( probably through an amanuensis ) noted the tunes and what she could remember of the texts and sent them to Percy Merrick in 1904. What prompted this correspondence is unclear but, according to a letter of Ella to Lucy Broadwood in 1911,  Percy Merrick  visited the Bull family in July 1905 and while there collected a version of Down Came Weeping Mary from gypsies singing at the Bull's own front door. The connection with the Bull family must have been formed prior to 1904 possibly as a result of a mutual interest in Braille development - Arthur Bull, Ella's father, was understandably very involved in this work, and Percy Merrick was himself going blind. I have concentrated on the songs Ella collected from Charlotte Few who was a domestic servant working for the Bull family in 1876-7 before her marriage to James Graves Dann.  Ella Bull noted that Charlotte got her songs from her mother, Ann Few ,a native of Over, a fenland village 6 miles away. Many of the songs might have been considered rather unsuitable for young ears, dealing as they did with incest, extra-marital sex and slaughter. Nevertheless Ella faithfully reproduced all the words she could remember in her correspondence with Percy Merrick, and later Lucy Broadwood to whom she was referred by Merrick. It  is quite likely that she revisited Charlotte in 1904 to get as many words as she could for the songs.  Broadwood intended to publish some of them, but  nothing ever came of this project. Certainly she remarked that some of the words were unedifying.

Charlotte Dann had eight children.The only surviving member of the family whom I could trace who remembered Charlotte was E. Mary Taylor ( nee Dann) a grand-daughter, who is now over 80 and living in a residential home in Cottenham. She remembered her paternal grandmother well, and was amazed to hear that Vaughan Williams himself had visited her in Cottenham in August 1907 and had collected a song from her. ( This was Lucy Wan, which had already been noted by Ella in 1904.) Charlotte married in 1879. Her marriage certificate bears her mark, rather than a signature, indicating that she was illiterate. All her songs must have been learned orally.

This very indistinct photo from Charlotte's eldest daughter's album may be of  her mother.  Mary was unable to confirm it, but the picture would have been taken long before Mary herself was born. Interestingly Mary did confirm that she remembered the door outside of which the lady is sitting as being just like her grandmother's. Having met both Mary and her nephew Barry Dann ( Charlotte's great-grandson)  I consider the family resemblance  striking.

Track Notes

1 Nutting Song ( Roud 509)

A very fragmentary version of this song was collected by Ella Bull, so I have augmented it from several of the more complete versions of the Nutting Girl found in England.

2 The Cuckoo and the Nightingale

This is a version of Catch me if you can ( Roud 1028) , though the tune is quite different in style from that collected by Pete Coe from Sophie Legg of Cornwall, and the version collected by D Hammond from Mrs Russell, Upwey Dorset in 1907 printed in The Wanton Seed ( ed Purslow). I have used the William Farnham, South Perrot, Dorset text as collected by Hammond in 1906 to augment Charlotte's fragmentary text. I like the last verse - this is one that didn't get away!

3 Sheringham Breakdown / Yarmouth Breakdown

As far as we know these come from the Norfolk towns after which they are named. Breakdowns are great tunes for stepdancing. Any further information as to their origins will be gratefully received.Thanks to Chris Sullivan for introducing us to the first tune!

4 Elwina of Waterloo (Roud 1566)

When Maud Karpeles edited Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Song in 1974 she classified the one-verse song from Joseph Alcock of Oxfordshire as a version of Mantle So Green/Famed Waterloo. It seeemed to me that the song bore no resemblance to the other versions so I searched for broadsides that had similar first verses and discovered that Elwina of Waterloo as printed by J Pitts of Seven Dials fitted the bill exactly. The tune specified on the broadsheet was Jesse the Flower of Dumblain and that is very close to Joseph Alcock's. I decided to use the complete song to augment the one verse collected by Sharp. This song is the 'Mills & Boon' version of the Battle of Waterloo, where very little blood is spilt, Boney is mentioned only in passing, but the love interest is dwelt upon in great detail and everyone lives happily ever after.

5 Lowlands of Germany ( Child 92)

Collected by H E D Hammond from Wm Bartlett of Wimborne Dorset in 1905 and published in Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. It is a press-gang song that has fused with Lowlands of Holland and is remarkably similar to that found in Herd's Scottish Songs 1776.

6 The Hungry Army ( Roud 1746)

The song was published as a broadside after the Eureka Stockade uprising in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The British Army was sent in on 3rd December 1854 to bring order to an insurrection within the mining community but a massacre ensued and consequently it became a public relations disaster for the British government. Walter Pardon of Knapton Norfolk was recorded in 1979 by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie singing the same text to a different tune, but there seem to be no other versions collected in England. It is odd that only two versions seem to have survived - both in East Anglia, only one of which was still being sung within living memory. Charlotte's version was very fragmentary so I went back to the broadside collection in the Bodleian library to complete it. I have changed the words very slightly for scansion purposes. I also have substituted a more up-to-date theatre of action for Ballarat - I hope that the folk-police do not come after me.....

7 Lucy Wan ( Child 51)

A.L. Lloyd in the Penguin book changed the order of the last three verses 'for coherence'. In my view the song makes perfect sense in the original order, bearing in mind that most farming families were patriarchal and therefore the climax of the questioning is 'what will you do when your father comes to know?' There seems no good reason to omit the repeated third and fourth lines so I have kept to the version as collected from Charlotte. The song becomes much more of a country song in this format. One wonders if this sort of misfortune was not unusual in Fenland families. I sing every word that Charlotte gave to Ella, but, like the Penguin book, I have added the first two verses Anglicised from Child and have written a line to allow the story to flow from Charlotte's first collected line - “ And what did he do..” Interestingly Charlotte sang 'gang to some far country', which is not a turn of phrase normally found in Cambridgeshire. Ella surmised that some of Cromwell's Scots mercenaries in the English civil war who had encamped at Huntingdon on Cromwell's estates may have brought the song with them.

8 Dennington Bell and March of the Men of Devon

The first tune is named after a pub - the Bell at Owl Green, Dennington,Suffolk. It was a haven for musicians last century and the landlady , Dolly Curtis, was a melodeon player. She may have heard the tune on the radio but it is popularly believed to have been composed by her. The second tune we first heard played by MickTems from South Wales ( thanks Mick!) and he tells us that it is a Welsh tune in spite of its title. Apparently there was a thriving trade in limestone between Devon and the Gower in South Wales in centuries past. The tune is named after the hordes of Devonians that came over the border to make their fortune in this trade. Nowadays we charge them a toll to go back again!

9 Lord Thomas & Fair Eleanor(Child 73)

I first found this Somerset song collected by C J Sharp from Mrs Anna Pond of Shepton Beauchamp in the Penguin book, but as I have been singing it for well over 30 years some of the words have inevitably changed. I used to sing it to my two sons. Children love songs about blood and guts .Just think of all those horrific Grimms fairy tales.

10 Sun Assembly

This tune , from about 1750 is used for a stately country dance of the same name.

11 Hey down derry

This is a version of An old man came courting me ( Roud 210). The tune of the song is a variant of the Black Joke, a Playford dance tune. The words are pretty much as Charlotte sang them to Ella, but I have added a last verse from Mrs Powell's version collected in the Isle of Sheppey by George Butterworth and noted by Francis Jekyll in 1910 just to finish the tale. The intervening tune is Cuckolds all in a row from Playford's Dancing Master of 1651 - rather appropriate in the circumstances, we think.

12 Polly Vaughan

Cecil Sharp collected the tune from Martha Badley of North Petherton Somerset in 1907 but she sang only one verse that was uninformative about the story. I sought out other Sharp versions ( including one from Louie Hooper and Lucy White ) from which I collated a text that covered the whole story.

13 Tafarn y Wheatsheaf/ Rasus Doncaster

Thomas David Llewelyn “Llewelyn Alaw” (1828-1879)from Aberdâr was a Welsh triple harper who collected classical and popular tunes. Robin Huw Bowen published a selection of these tunes in Llyfr Alawon Poced Llewelyn Alaw in 1990. These two jigs are great session tunes and just as good to dance to.

14 We'll be all smiles tonight ( Roud 83)

The sisters Lucy White and Louie Hooper of Westport, Hambridge, Somerset sang this to Cecil Sharp in 1903. It is an early version of a fusion song – the verses are good old English traditional words but the chorus is imported from an American popular song written by T.B Ransom in 1879. The song was most recently published in the magnificent Still Growing compiled and edited by Steve Roud, Eddie Upton and Malcolm Taylor and published by EFDSS in 2003.