Posts Tagged ‘Rowley’

Tunes for Toilers: The Jolly Machine, edited by Michael Raven

May 25, 2014

Jolly Machine

I found this in the sheet music section of Hobgoblin Music, a music shop specialising in folk songs, music and instruments in Bristol’s Park Street. Subtitled Songs of Industrial Protest and Social Discontent From the West Midlands, the songs in this collection describe and protest about the hardships of nineteenth century industrial urban life, covering low and unpaid wages, hard, exploitative factory masters, prison and transportation, unemployment, and the threat of mechanisation, the soul destroying drudgery of the workhouse, emigration, and Chartism and the promise of political reform from the Liberals.

The songs include:

Bilston Town,
Charlie’s Song,
Chartist Anthem,
Colliers’ Rant,
Convict’s Complaint
Dudley Boys,
Dudley Canal Tunnel
Freedom and Reform,
John Whitehouse
Jolly Machine,
Landlord Don’t You Cry,
Monster Science,
Nailmaker’s Lament
Oh! Cruel,
Pioneers’ Song
Poor of Rowley,
Potters’ Chant,
Sarah Collins,
Thirteen Pence A Day,
Tommy Note,
Waiting for Wages.

There’s also an explanatory note about the songs at the back.

‘Waiting for Wages’ and ‘The Tommy Shop’ deal with ‘tommy notes’. Until the passage of the Truck Acts, many employers didn’t pay money wages to their workers, but only tokens or notes that were only valid at the company shops, thus exploiting their workers further and massively increasing their profits. ‘Waiting for Wages’ is written from the women’s point of view, and describes them waiting for their menfolk to hand over their wages, half of which they’ve already spent in the pub.

The ‘Convicts’ Complaint’ is about the harsh conditions in Ciderville Jail, while ‘Sarah Collins’ is about a woman transported to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania – for some unstated crime. ‘Dudley Boys’, ‘Nailmaker’s Strike’, ‘Nailmakers’ Lament’, and ‘Colliers’ Rant’ are about strikes, some of which exploded into violent confrontation between the strikers and the army. ‘Jolly Machine’, ‘Monster Science’ and Charlie’s Song – the last about a notorious factory master and the scab workers prepared to work for him – are about the poverty and unemployment caused by mass industrial production to the traditional artisan craftsmen, such as potters. The ‘Needlemakers’ Lamentation’, ‘Dudley Canal’ and ‘Oh, Cruel!’ were all written to raise money for those suffering from or threatened with unemployment. ‘Oh, Cruel’ was written for a benefit performance by a Mr Rayner on behalf of a serviceman, Tommy Strill, who had lost a leg and eye in combat. The ‘Dudley Canal Tunnel’ song was a fundraiser, which aimed at raising £5,000 to keep the tunnel open and the boatmen, who navigated through it, in work. The ‘Potters’ Chant’, ‘Bilston Town’, and ‘Poor of Rowley’ are about poverty. The last is specifically about the mindless, soulless labour in the town’s workhouse. ‘Landlord, Don’t You Cry’, and ‘Pioneers’ Song’ are about emigrants leaving Britain for a more prosperous, optimistic future abroad, including America. ‘Thirteen Pence A Day’ is a song bitterly criticising conditions in the army, and urging men not to join up to lose life and limb fighting people they don’t know and who have never done them any harm. It’s a fascinating demonstration that anti-War songs didn’t begin with Vietnam. John Whitehouse is about a man, who hangs himself after failing to find a buyer for his wife. It was the custom in many parts of England for a man to sell a wife, with whom he could no longer live at an auction in the market. It’s a shocking example of how low women’s status was. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ and ‘Freedom and Reform’ are ballads about the demands for the franchise. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ describes the immense hardship in the struggle to get the vote. Its last two verses run

We men of bone, of shrunken shank
Our only treasure dearth,
Women who carry at the breast
Heirs to the hungry earth,
Heirs to the hungry earth.

Speak with one voice, we march we rest
And march again upon the years,
Sons of our sons are listening,
To hear the Chartist cheers,
To hear the Chartist cheers.

At a time when many working and lower middle class people feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political class, this is a song that could well be revived for today’s struggle to get politicians to wake up and take notice of the poverty and alienation now at large in Britain.

‘The Great Battle for Freedom and Reform’ also demands the extension of the franchise for the workers, and urges them to support the Liberals. The first three verses read

You working men of England,
Who live by daily toil,
Speak for your rights, bold Englishmen,
Althro’ Britan’s Isle.
The titled Tories keep you down,
Which you cannot endure,
The pass the poor man with a frown,
And the Tories keep you poor.

cameron-toff

Cameron: A titled Tory keeping you down, if ever there was one!

With Beale & Gladstone, Mills & Bright,
We shall weather thro’ the storm,
To give the working man his rights,
And gain the bill – REFORM!

We want no Tory Government, The poor man to oppress,
They never try to do you good,
The truth you will confess.
The Liberals are the poor man’s friend,
To forward all they try,
They’ll beat their foes you may depend,
And never will say die.

The description of the Tories still remains exactly correct. Unfortunately, the present government has the song’s claim that the Liberals are the poor men’s friend to be a hollow joke, although it was certainly true at the time.

The songs are an interesting document about the hardship and social injustice working people experienced in the nineteenth century. It’s the other side of the coin to the image of ‘merrie England’ presented in some traditional songs and the Tory view of history promoted by Michael Gove. And with exploitative employers now eager to use the cheap labour supplied by unemployed ‘volunteers’, ‘interns’ and those on workfare, assisted by a Tory government of aristocrats enforcing a policy of low wages and harsh, anti-union legislation, these songs are all too relevant.