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Sleeve Notes for Cold Fen by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

Cold FenThis is Mary and Anahata's fourth album, and their second devoted to songs from East Anglia. This one specifically features songs from the Fens. The first album, Fenlandia features East Anglian Songs of many genres.


Cold Fen is an anthology of songs from their researches into songs from the Fens. They live in Cambridgeshire and are actively involved in clubs and sessions in East Anglia. They have a mission to unearth local songs from archives and restore them to the repertoire.
They perform at festivals, concert and folk clubs as a duo. They play in the ceilidh bands Fendragon, English Rebellion and Four Hand Band and also play for Pig Dyke Molly based in Peterborough. They give presentations and talks about their research into songs and run instrumental workshops using tunes they have arranged.

MARY HUMPHREYS : vocals, Wheatstone English concertinas
ANAHATA: Melodeons 2½ row Salterelle; 2 row Oakwood; 1-row Hohners in C & G; 1-row Castagnari in D; Jefferies Anglo concertina; cello; Goodacre Leicestershire smallpipes; chorus
DOUG BAILEY; guitar, chorus

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1892-94. He was an inveterate cyclist, so was probably familiar with the villages that existed around the Fens. He brought his wife to Meldreth for a summer's holiday in 1906, returning again in 1907. During these visits he collected many songs from the locality and they can be found in his manuscripts which are housed in the British Library Rare Books and Music room. There is a microfilm of these in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park, London for those who don't have a BL reader's ticket.
RVW and his wife leased The Warren for their sojourn in 1906. This is a large house situated on the outskirts of the village, within a short cycle ride of the railway station
Most of the places RVW visited on his collecting journeys are situated radially  within a comfortable cycle-ride of Meldreth or had railway stations close by.
RVW was  familiar with Lucy Broadwood's work in performance, publication and collection of folksong. She was the Honorary  Secretary of the Folk Song Society from 1904 and became the editor of the Folk Song Journal at this time. Lucy Broadwood had corresponded with Ella Bull of Cottenham who sent her collection from Charlotte Dann (nee Few) and  others with the intention of publication. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Vaughan Williams' visit to collect songs from Charlotte at her home in Cottenham in August 1907 was precipitated by information passed on by Lucy Broadwood. It is likely that other songs were collected as a result of chance meetings in the public houses of the villages Vaughan Williams.Most of the contributors were farm labourers or in the labouring trades.
Hoppy Flack (from whom RVW collected the May Song recorded on Floating Verses) lived at the Black Horse pub in Fowlmere.
The Mallion brothers probably met at the Harvest Home pub situated next door to Llewellyn's home in Fen Ditton.Unfortunately neither of these pubs is still in business though the buildings are still there.
Most of the songs that are in the manuscripts are without words, though nearly all have titles. If anyone reading this has tried to simultaneously write words and music from someone's  singing s/he will vouch for how nearly impossible it is. As RVW was a musician first and foremost it is unsurprising that he wrote the music in preference to the words. Many of the songs were already known by him in other variants so for publication he would use other texts for reconstructing the songs or re-visit the contributors to write down the words separately.
Fortunately for me, the detective work involved in finding the appropriate lyrics was made much easier by the existence of the Broadside Ballad collection on  Oxford University's Bodleian website. In order to make the songs singable I adapted texts to a greater or lesser degree. There is no guarantee that my conjectural couplings of tunes plus lyrics are correct. Anyone hearing these songs is welcome to take them away and do their own sleuthing should they feel that I have put the wrong words to the tune.
Cecil Sharp (1859-1924)visited Cambridgeshire in September and October 1911.He collected from residents of Littleport, including pupils at the girls' school and residents of the city of Ely and its  Union (the workhouse.)
Ida Huckell (b1891)was born in West Derby, Liverpool to a couple who were originally from Cottenham. She was orphaned before 1901 - possibly as a result of the flu epidemics that swept the country. The three daughters were taken back to Cambridge with their grandmother Ann Few, a farmer's widow and became acquainted with Ella Bull and her interest in folk song collecting. Ida, aged 15 years  submitted a tonic sol-fa rendition of one song on a postcard to Lucy Broadwood in the hope that she might be interested.

Several of the tunes on the CD come from the recently discovered manuscript book of William Clarke of Feltwell, Norfolk now in the possession of Peter and Lyn Law of Chester. They have been kind enough to give us free access to the book and all their research - a big “Thank you” to both Lyn & Peter from both of us!
Lyn & Peter say that it was offered for sale on e-Bay from a vendor in Michigan USA who could find out nothing about the provenance of the book. Even the “expert” on the Antiques Roadshow had the pedestrian suggestion that they get in touch with someone from the EFDSS to see if they could read the notation!  Lynn writes:
There are over 270 tunes - hornpipes, reels, waltzes and quick steps - fitted into the 140 narrow pages of the Feltwell MS book. The lack of polkas may indicate a date before about 1840 and the book resembles those from about 1820. The name and address of William Clarke appear on several pages, together with the date 1858, in writing which looks similar to the musical notation which remains fairly uniform through the book. The true date of the book is therefore uncertain. Who was William Clarke?  We assume he was the compiler.   Someone stamped the name with an official-looking stamp beside the signatures and it would be intriguing if he could be proved to be the Wm Clarke who was Superintendent of the local workhouse.  Unfortunately it is a common name and details of Clarke may remain a mystery.
The tunes never go below middle C  and are written in the keys of C, D G and F in the main. Many of them have enormous numbers of ledger lines (some of the manuscript looks like  a forest of telegraph poles) so we reckon that Mr Clarke was a flautist.

Track Notes

1 Lakes of Cold Fen

The tune was collected by RVW in Bassingbourn from agricultural labourer John Harman (spelt Harmon in the MS) on 30th July 1907. The song is well-known throughout the UK and Ireland and the name of the lake varies with the locality. Our friend Jim Causley has recorded one from his home in Devon. I have put a standard set of words to the tune which is, I believe, unique to Cambridgeshire.

2 Royals Quickstep & Kempshot Hunt

The quickstep is the second tune found on page 1 of the William Clarke book. A similar tune is to be found as number 281 in the Rev Harrison's MS of 1815 originating in Temple Sowerby Cumbria. The Kempshot Hunt was introduced to us by Alex Schyzcowsky of Cheap Jack band.(Thanks Alex!) The tune is Number 9 in the John Clare MS . The poet John Clare (1793-1864) was also a song and tune collector. He was a native of Helpston, a village a few miles from Peterborough.

3 Abroad as I was walking

This was sung to RVW by Llewellyn Mallion (spelt Malyon in the MS) on August 22nd 1906. In the census of 1901 Mr Mallion was a 52 year-old labourer in the cement works at Fen Ditton, a village some 5 miles distant from Cambridge. In spite of the name there seems to be no Welsh connection. The MS just bears the title Abroad as I was walking with no further information, so the number of songs that were candidates for the text were enormous.The one I have selected fitted the words with hardly any need for amendation, so I suspect it is the right one. It is a fine example of folk poetry. There is another variant that has been collected in living memory from Walter Pardon of Knapton, Norfolk by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie.

4 There is an Alehouse

The words for this song were sent to Lucy Broadwood in 1904 by Ella Bull who collected many songs in Cottenham from servants of the family.(See Fenlandia CD for some of them.) This text included as part of the Lucy Broadwood papers in the RVWML came from the singing of Charlotte Dann. Unfortunately the tune for this song was not present in the archives. It was marked as “missing”. Imagine the moment of pure joy when I saw in the RVW MS the title There is an alehouse on the page next to other songs contributed to RVW by Charlotte Dann.

5 Brandon Waltz and Bury Waltz

Two very pretty waltzes with local place-names from the William Clarke MS. We have added the harmony parts to them. The Brandon Waltz is number 70 and the Bury Waltz is number 50 in the the collection.(Bury is Bury St Edmunds - not the Lancashire one!)

6 Georgie

The tune Geordie was collected by RVW from Mr Wiltshire of Royston Union on 31st July 1907. Mr Wiltshire is listed in the 1901 census as a 75 year-old native of Fowlmere who had been a shoemaker. The text is from Mr Pamplin, a coprolite digger of Fen Ditton who sang Georgie to a different tune on 10th August 1907. I liked Mr Wiltshire's tune better so I have done a pick-and-mix of the two variants.

7 The Trees They Do Grow High

Sung to RVW by “Ginger” Clayton of Meldreth on 22nd July 1907. The words are also included (in very faint pencil markings) under the tune. I can find no record of Mr Clayton in the vicinity of Meldreth at this time. He may have not been a resident - Meldreth had a number of breweries and he may have been a carter living elsewhere or an itinerant worker who escaped the census.

8 Northern Lass & Northern Frisk

According to Chappell (Popular Music of The Olden Time) this tune from Apollo's Banquet was composed in 1669 during the reign of Charles II. It was arranged for violin from an older pipe tune and was set as an alternative tune for the song The Maid of Doncaster. We were inspired to learn it having heard the version played by Greg Stephens' band Crookfinger Jack. The second tune is one of the old 3/2 hornpipes in John Walsh' Third Book of the Most Celebrated Jigs, Lancashire Hornpipes, Scotch and highland lilts (etc) c1730. It is reprinted in John Offord's John of the Green The Cheshire Way.

9 The Valiant Sailor

Cecil Sharp visited Ely Union in September 1911 and collected a couple of verses of this song, along with the tune, from Charles Warner, a 71 year-old agricultural labourer who had been in and out of the workhouse many times. It is very doubtful if he ever had been to sea. Perhaps the song was wishful thinking on his part. I completed the text from a version collected by RVW from Robert Whitby, the sexton from the village of Tilney All Saints, King's Lynn.

10 Young and Single Sailor

Ida Huckell wrote this song out in sol-fa notation for Lucy Broadwood and sent it via the Bull family. I can find no record of Ida Huckell after the 1891 census. She was 15 in September 1906 when she sent the song to Miss Broadwood. Ida wrote that the song came from a great-aunt, though she does not name her. I do not believe that the song has ever been published. It has a very pretty tune and compares favourably with other versions.

11 La Poole Quadrill and the Recruiting Officer

The first tune is Number 162 in William Clarke's MS. It was originally written in the key of F - not a happy one for many melodeon players. We have transposed it to D. for ease of playing. We team it up with a tune we first heard from melodeon player Danny Gallagher of Essex.. The version we play comes from the Aird collection.

12 Plains of Waterloo and Down with the French

Another song collected by RVW from Fen Ditton, this time from agricultural labourer Harry Mallion, brother of Llewellyn and collected on August 27th 1906..Again only the tune was collected and the words are added from a broadside. We follow it with a jolly tune we like to play at sessions which probably sums up the feelings of the bereaved girl in the song. It can be found in the Winder family manuscripts dating from 1789. They were a farming family from Dolphinholme, Wyresdale, Lancashire who diversified into playing for dances locally.

13 Rosemary Lane

The final song is another from Fen Ditton's Llewellyn Mallion. RVW collected it on August 22nd 1906. Again it was the tune only which he wrote down. I have used a broadside for the words and have constructed a chorus to give audiences a chance for some vocal participation.