Posts Tagged ‘Faringdon’

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory

May 28, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week I posted the sheet music for ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’ from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As with very many of the other tunes I’ve posted, I didn’t have the words, but assumed from the song’s title that it was about the hated ‘New Poor Law’, introduced by the Liberals in 1834 that set up the workhouses. That’s indeed exactly what the song’s about, and Jess has kindly sent me the words to the song. It was written by William Lamborn of Uffington. They go

I was forced as a stranger to wander from home
And all through the parishes to Faringdon to come
There to have my head shaved, which filled me with woe
And many a poor creature they have served also.
Home, home, sweet home,
There’s no place like home.

At six in the morning the bell it doth ring,
When every man’s allowance of ocum doth bring,
And if we do not pick it just as the keeper please,
He will be sure to stint you of your small bread and cheese,
Home, home, sweet home etc.

When the corn they do bring, to grinding we must go.
Both pease and both beans, and barley also;
And if we do but grumble, or even seem to gloom,
Full well we know the consequence, the blindhouse is our doom.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

At seven in the evening, the bell it doth ring
When every man up stairs is obliged to swing,
Upon the iron bedsteads there he’s forced to lie,
Some a grieving, some a groaning, until the break of day.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

And many more things, which I know to be true.
Such as parting man and wife, and children also,
O! what heathens and what brutes, are in our civil land,
For breaking the good laws which were made by God and man.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

Beware, you blow’d out farmers, you noblemen beside,
though you may laugh and sneer, and at the poor deride,
How will you bear your sentence, upon the day of doom,
When you will call for water, to cool your parching tongue.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

Perhaps you wont believe me, or care not what I say,
I will be bound that you will all upon a future day;
For I know that some judgment will soon you overtake,
Either in this world, or in the burning lake.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

For those who made the poor laws they are the spawn of hell,
And of those that do uphold them the truth to your I’ll tell,
For the devil is their master, who put it in their heads,
And this they will prove all on their dying beds,
Home, home, sweet home etc.

So now I will conclude, and finish my sad tell,
I’ve given you all warning, before you are in hell;
And if you wont believe me, you will find it is true,
For God has declar’d it to oppressors as is their due.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

The reference to the farmers and noblemen in hell asking for water ‘to cool their parching tongue’ come’s from Christ’s parable of Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus, a poor beggar, lies at the gate of Dives, the rich man, but is given no help by him. They both die, but whereas Lazarus ascends to paradise to be with Abraham, Dives finds himself in hell. He calls to Lazarus for help, but Lazarus cannot. He is not able even to answer Dives request to give him some water to put on his tongue.

This is clearly a very bitter song, which accurately describes conditions in the workhouse. Inmates were forced to pick oakum to provide caulking for ships, but doing this for too long wrecked their hands. As for the chorus of ‘Home, home, sweet home’, it’s very much a bitter comment on the song, ‘Home, Sweet Home’, which was composed at the same time. I can remember listening to a BBC radio programme on British music through the ages broadcast on Christmas, 1999, which remarked that the song, ‘Home, Sweet Home’, must have been viewed extremely bitterly by some because of the immense hardship and deprivation inflicted on the poor through the New Poor Law.

It’s clearly of its time, but, like many of the others I’ve posted here, it’s still relevant because of the way the Tories and Tory Democrats are reintroducing aspects of the workhouse and the legislation that supported. Such as the principle of less eligibility, that conditions on benefit should be made so hard and humiliating as possible in order to deter people from claiming it. And people have died, and are losing their homes and dignity through the Coalition’s welfare reforms, just as they did in Victorian Britain.

I think it’s entirely possible that the song could be revived, if altered a bit to make it rather more relevant to today’s conditions, to make this timeless point about the Tories attitude to the poor. Especially as we are led by farmers – Iain Duncan Smith – and noblemen – Cameron, Clegg and George Osborne.

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