Posts Tagged ‘‘The New Poor Law and the Farmers’ Glory’’

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator

May 22, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Over the past few days I’ve been posting the sheet music to various radical folk tunes and songs as examples of the long tradition of working class radical popular music and poetry. On Tuesday I posted the music from Robin Williamson’s collection of British fiddle tunes for ‘The Rights of Man’ hornpipe, celebrating the work of the 18th century American revolutionary, Tom Paine, who was born in Thetford. Yesterday I put up ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England, which I assume attacked the establishment of the workhouses in 1832 by the new Liberal government. Today it’s the turn of ‘The Agitator’, again from Palmer’s book. As with yesterday’s tune, I’m afraid I didn’t note the words at the time. The title suggests it comes from the early 19th century during the period of intense Chartist agitation, when working men campaigned for the extension of the franchise to all men over 21 and the reform of parliament so that working men could enter it. There were two aspects to the campaign. One consisted of peaceful meetings and the compilation of petitions to parliament. Much less peaceful were the ‘physical force’ Chartists, who saw revolution as the only solution to the problem of creating democracy in England. Here’s the tune.

Agitator Tune

As with the ‘New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, this issue is still very relevant today. There is still a problem with the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament. Despite the introduction of equal suffrage and the payment of MPs, parliament is still dominated by the upper and middle classes, who have increasingly turned away from working class and very much legislate in their own interests. The aristocratic background of Cameron and Clegg, and the cabinet they lead is very much an example of this. Parliament needs to be reformed and made more representative of the working class. Now.

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

May 21, 2014

Poor Law Tune

I’ve been blogging over the past week or so about British radical folk song and working class ballads and poetry, partly as a corrective to the ahistorical, ‘merrie England’ folksiness presented by the English Democrats in their abysmal election video. Such sentiments aren’t exclusive to them, however, and are shared widely by the British Right. It’s very much a Conservative vision of England and Britain, composed of contented peasants and benign, paternal landlords. The reality was often very different, and the working class, artisans and poorer tenant farmers and agricultural labourers frequently took to music and verse to express the hardship, discontent and exploitation they experienced at the hands of the upper classes. Roy Palmer collected a number of these in his A Ballad History of England (B.T. Batsford 1979).

This is my handwritten copy of the tune for the Ballad ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’ in Palmer’s book. I’m afraid I didn’t note down the lyrics, being simply interested in the music itself at the time, and the book itself appears to be out of print. The tune’s nevertheless still interesting, and relevant today. The New Poor Law was the Liberal legislation setting up the infamous workhouses – the ‘new bastilles’ for the poor, based on the principle of less eligibility. Conditions in them were supposed to be so horrific, unpleasant and degrading, that the poor and unemployed would be deterred from entering them if they could possibly avoid it. The same principle motivates the Tory and Tory Democrats’ welfare reforms, so that signing on has been made similarly unpleasant and degrading in order to put people off claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance if they can possibly help it. And just as the inmates of the workhouse were given pointless, menial tasks that destroyed them physically and mentally, like picking oakum, so the unemployed placed on workfare through Iain Duncan Smith’s wretched welfare to work reforms are similarly given menial and pointless jobs that lead absolutely nowhere, except to make a profit for the private firms taking part in the scheme. So it’s another 19th century tune that could be re-introduced, just possibly, for the new poor of the 21st century, to whistle and hum on their way to Jobcentre or another protest rally.

I’ll post another radical working and lower class ditty tomorrow.

Radical Balladry: The Poor Man Pays for All

May 13, 2014

I found this piece in Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England 1588 to the Present Day (Batsford: 1979). The book is exactly what it’s title says it is: a collection of ballads dating from the late 16th to the late 20th century, describing contemporary life and events. Many of these are explicitly political, especially those dealing with the reform and working class protest movements for democracy and better conditions from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of them are quite long – the Poor Man Pays for All is 11 verses in length. For all its origins in the 17th century, it’s still very relevant today when the government is cutting taxes for the rich and throwing the tax burden onto the poor, who are also expected to pay their way despite the government’s austerity programme of wage freezes and cuts.

The Poor Man Pays for All

As I lay musing all alone
Upon my resting bed,
Full many a cogitation
Did come into my head:
And, waking from my sleep, I
my dream to mind did call:
Me thought I saw before my eyes
How poor men payes for all.

Me thought I saw how wealthy men
Did grind the poor men’s faces,
And greedily did prey on them,
Not pitying their cases:
They make them toil and labour sore
For wages too-too small;
The rich men in the taverns roar,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw an usurer old
Walk in his fox-fur’d gown,
Whose wealth and eminence controlled
The most men in the town;
His wealth he by extortion got,
And rose by others fall;
He had what his hands earned not,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw a courtier proud
Go swaggering along,
That unto any scarce allowed
The office of his tongue.
Me thought, were’t not for bribery,
His peacock’s plumes would fall,
He ruffles out in bravery,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I was i’th’ country,
Where poor men take great pains,
And labour hard continually,
Only for rich men’s gains:
Like th’ Israelites in Egypt,
The poor are kept in thrall;
The taskmasters are playing kept,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw poor tradesmen,
I’ th’ city and elsewhere,
Whom rich men keep as beads-men,
In bondage, care and fear.
They’ll have them work for what they list –
Thus weakest go to the wall.
The rich men eat and drink the best,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw two lawyers base
One to another say,
“We have had in hand this poor man’s case
A twelve month and a day:
And yet We’ll not be contented be
To let the matter fall;
Bear thou with me, & I’ll bear with thee,
While poor men pay for all”.

Me thought I saw a red nose host,
As fat as he could swallow,
Whose carcase, if it should be roast,
Would drop seven stone of tallow.
He grows rich out of measure
With filling measure small,
he lives in mirth and pleasure,
But poor men pay for all.

And so likewise the brewer stout,
The chandler and the baker,
The malt-man also, without doubt,
And the tobacco-taker.
Though they be proud and stately grown,
And bear themselves so tall,
yet to the world it is well known,
That poor men pay for all.

Even as the mighty fishes still
Do feed upon the less,
So rich men, might they have their will,
Would on the poor men cease.
It is a proverb old and tr4ue –
The Weakest go to the wall;
Rich men can drink till th’ sky look blue,

But now, as I before did say,
this is but a dream indeed,
Though all dreams prove not true, some may
Hap right as I do read.
And if that any care to passé,
I doubt this my dream shall,
For still ’tis found too true a case-
That poor men pay for all.

Other ballads in the collection include ‘A Political Christmas Carol’, ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, The Agitator, and the ‘Man that Waters the Workers’ Beer’. The last song, by Paddy Ryan, is about a man, yes a very fat man, who waters the workers beer, adding meths, strychnine and other ‘orrible stuff in order to prevent there being a strong working class that could challenge the employers.

And needless to say, I can’t see some of this stuff being particularly welcome to Tories or the new parties of the Right.