Archive for May, 2012

HULL AND HALIFAX AND HELL

May 22, 2012

The truth of the old saying ‘where there’s muck there’s money’ is a well-demonstrated and ecologically shameful fact. It comes from a time when the ruling class condemned the new working class, recently emerged from rural bondage, to the slavery, squaller, danger, long working hours and low pay of the factory systems of the industrial revolution. This iniquitous blot on our social history was the powerhouse of theBritish Empire, ruled over by the frumpy, humourless Widow of Windsor. It was a time when the rich got richer and lived ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ and the poor lived in hope of ‘the countenance divine’ but died in the grim shadows of ‘the dark satanic mills’ or on the gibbets of Hull and Halifax.

 

The trouble was there was too much muck for the workers and never enough money for the bosses. Then of course, with the passing of time, there were downturns, strikes, lockouts, pit, mill and factory closures, riots and mass unemployment to relieve the tedium of soul-destroying work. Inevitably, several wars intervened to bring the industries back into profit and to solve the unemployment problem, later to soak up the excess population of ‘great unwashed’ so that post war short time and half pay would be easier to manage. 

 

However, the futile belligerence of the underclass always seems to produce a goodly number of pertinent poems and singable songs. This particular melodic manifestation of struggle and protest is a powerful social comment as it captures exploitation, misery and revolt. In addition it is a geography lesson, something of a travelogue, as it names most of the major towns ofYorkshire. The writer of the original poem, Dr Frederick William Moorman [1872-1919], was a devotee ofYorkshiredialect poetry.Bradfordfolk activist, Dave Keddy, composed the tune in 1960.

 

I first heard it in a folk club in an otherwise forgettable pub inBradford, in the early sixties. A couple of verses of it stayed with me for ages. I wanted to sing it but I could only remember the first and third verses. It was an annoyingYorkshirehaunting. Finding the missing verses became a personal crusade. For a short time I was quite manic about it. Then, after a diligent search of musical pubs, folk clubs, guitar circles and song swaps, I got the rest of the words.

 

It’s hard when folks can’t find the work

where they were bred and born,

when I was young I always thought

why I’d bide with roots and corn.

But I’ve been forced to work in towns,

so here’s my litany,

fromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.

 

When I was courting Mary Jane,

th’old Squire he said one day,

I’ve got no room for wedded folk

so choose, wilt tha wed or stay?

But I couldn’t leave the lass that I loved

so to town we had to flee.

FromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.

 

I’ve worked inLeedsandHuddersfield

and I’ve earned honest brass.

InBradford, Keighley,Rotherham

well I’ve kept me bairns and me lass.

I’ve travelled all three Ridings round

and once I went to sea.

From forges mills and coaling boats,

Good Lord deliver me.

 

I’ve walked at night throughSheffieldlanes,

was same as being in hell,

where furnaces thrust out tongues of flame

and they roared like winds on ‘t fell.

I’ve dug up coal in Barnsley Pit

with muck up to me knees.

FromSheffield,Barnsley,Rotherham,

Good Lord deliver me.

 

I’ve seen fog creep across Leeds Brig,

as thick as workhouse soup.

I’ve lived where folk are stowed away

like rabbits in a coup.

I’ve seen snow float down Bradford Beck

as black as ebony.

From Hunslet, Holbeck, Whipsey Slack,

Good Lord deliver me.

                       

But now the children have all fledged,

to country we’ve come back.

And there’s forty miles of heathery moor

twixt us, and coal pits slack.

So as I sit be fire at night

I laugh and shout wi’ glee.

FromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.

 

This tale of hardship and stoic resistance contributes toYorkshire’s reputation as the careful county. The Yorkshire man’s cautious nature is evident in advice to his son, ‘hear all see all say nowt, eat all sup all pay nowt, and if ever tha does owt fa nowt allus do it for thee sen’… As forHullandHalifax, nuf sed…

 

[Optional] Footnote:

 

Since ‘Dalesman’s Litany’ first thrust its way into folk revival consciousness several folk luminaries – including Dave Burland, Roy Bailey, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, and Christie Moore – have recorded it on long playing records. From time to time the avid collector will discover one version or another swimming around in the bottomless pit of Ebay. The ‘Dalesman’ also appears on compact disc, at a price that can be a challenge for self-funded superannuants. However, if the song appeals, by far the best method of capture is to download a sound file from the Internet and learn the song by heart and then, to surprise family and friends, sing it at the Christmas party.

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From 60 Years of Folking Around © Dermott Ryder 2008