> Anne Briggs > Songs > The Doffing Mistress
> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > The Doffing Mistress
> Silly Sisters > Songs > Doffing Mistress
> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Doffing Mistress

The Doffing Mistress

[ Roud 2133 ; Ballad Index K220 ; trad.]

Anne Briggs sang his weaving mill song with Ray Fisher joining in on chorus on the 1963 theme album The Iron Muse: A Panorama of Industrial Folk Music. This recording was also included in her two compilations Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A.L. Lloyd wrote in the original album's sleeve notes:

Perhaps because the words are at once good-natured to fellow-workers and cheeky to the master, The Doffing Mistress has a firm hold on the imagination of young mill girls. It seems to have originated in the linen-mills of Northern Ireland but has since spread to textile workers elsewhere. The form easily allows for improvised words and many local verses are attached to the tune. A “doffer” is a worker who takes the full bobbins off the spinning machines.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Doffing Mistress in 1968 on the Critics Group's album The Female Frolic, and in 1980 on her own album And the Music Plays So Grand.

The Irish Country Four sang The Doffing Mistress in 1971 on their eponymous Topic album of songs, ballads and instrumental tunes from Ulster, The Irish Country Four. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

The national anthem of the Belfast textile mills. It’s said that the line “she hangs her coat on the highest pin” is wishful thinking—most doffers were crook-backed from carrying heavy full bobbins from the spinning machines, and couldn’t reach the highest coat-peg.

Maddy Prior and June Tabor recorded Doffin' Mistress in 1976 for their album Silly Sisters; Martin Carthy played guitar on this track, Nic Jones fiddle, Andy Irvine mandolin and Danny Thompson bass. Another Maddy Prior and June Tabor recording—live from their 1999 Christmas tour—is on the CD and DVD Ballads and Candles. The latter album's notes said:

The Doffing Mistress oversaw the young factory girls in the spinning sheds as the changed (doffed) the bobbins, ready to be sent to the weavers. The revolution in technology brought with it new songs that reflected a different world from the pastoral songs of an earlier time and have a vibrant energy and positive outlook in this case, that we do not usually associate with factories.

Swan Arcade sang The Doffing Mistress in 1990 on their CD Full Circle.

Martin Carthy sang The Doffing Mistress in 2001 on Brass Monkey's fourth album Going & Staying, and recorded it live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. He commented in the Brass Monkey's album sleeve notes:

Both Heather Down the Moor and The Doffing Mistress are Ulster songs. The former is a courting song from the lovely County Derry singer, Eddie Butcher, and the latter a song from the weaving mills which Anne Briggs used to sing in the 1960. She said that “doffers” were the women who took the finished cloth from off the machines for the next stage in its production. It was work that was largely done bent double, which explains the line “she hangs her coat on the highest pin.” The Doffing Mistress was the supervisor, and, in consequence, never did the job itself. The upshot of this was that she could stand up straight, something which doffers, bent double as they were all their working lives, found difficult to do.

Barry Lister sang The Doffing Mistress in 2006 on his CD Ghosts & Greasepaint as part of his Factory Set, together with The Handloom Weaver and the Factory Maid, The Factory Girl, and On a Monday Morning.

Jon Boden sang Doffing Mistress as the October 26, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Maddy Prior, Hannah James and Giles Lewin sang Doffing Mistress in 2012 on their CD 3 for Joy. Maddy Prior commented in the liner notes:

I will have first heard this from either Frankie Armstrong or Anne Briggs back in the 1960s. I had always assumed it was from Lancashire, but it seems it is from Ulster. The job itself is part of the spinning process. One definition is “removing fibres from a cotton carding machine by means of a toothed bar or cylinder.”

Jackie Oates sang Doffing Mistress on her 2015 album The Spyglass & the Herringbone.

Andy Turner learned Doffing Mistress from the Silly Sisters' album and sang it as the July 9, 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Moirai sang Doffing Mistress in 2017 on their WildGoose album Here & Now. They commented:

Sarah [Matthews] learnt this from the singing of Corinne Male. The song is based around the Doffers of the linen milling industry, their hard life and the Doffin Mistress who led them in their work.

Lyrics

Anne Briggs sings The Doffing MistressDanny Spooner sings The Doffing Mistress

Oh do you know her or do you not
This new doffing mistress we have got?
Elsie Thompson it is her name
And she helps her doffers at every frame.

Oh do you know her or do you not
This new doffin' mistress we have got?
Elsie Thompson it is her name
And she helps her doffers at every frame.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Fol de ri fol ra
Fol de ri fol ray

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Fol de ri fol ra
Fol de ri fol ray

And Monday morning when she comes in
She hangs her coat on the highest pin.
Turns around just to greet her friends,
Crying, “Hi, doffers, tie up your ends!”

Now every morning when she comes in
She do hang her coat on the highest pin.
Turns around just to greet her friends,
Crying, “Ay up, doffers, tie up your ends!”

Some times the boss he looks in the door,
“Tie your ends up, doffers,” he will roar.
Tie our ends up we surely do,
For Elsie Thompson but not for you.

And then the boss he looks in the door,
“Tie your ends up, doffers,” he do roar.
Tie our ends we surely do,
But for Elsie Thompson and not for you.

(Repeat first verse)

(Repeat first verse)

The Silly Sisters sing Doffing MistressMartin Carthy sings The Doffing Mistress

O do you know her, or do you not
This new doffin' mistress we have got?
Elsie Thompson it is her name
And she helps her doffers at every frame.

Oh do you know her or do you not
This new doffing mistress we have got.
Elsie Thompson it is her name
And she helps us doffers at every frame.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Ladli-right fol dol,
Ladli-right fol dol.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Ra de ri fol ra
Ra de ri fol ray

On Monday morning when she comes in
She hangs her coat on the highest pin
Turns around for to view her frames
Shouting, “Damn you, doffers, tie up your ends.”

And every morning when she comes in
She hangs her coat on the highest pin.
Turns around for to view her friends,
Saying, “Damn you, doffers, tie up your ends!”

And when the boss he looks round the door,
“Tie your ends up, doffers,” he will roar.
Tie our ends up we surely do
For Elsie Thompson but not for you.

And then our boss he come in at last,
His legs are bowed like an old jackass.
Sticks his head all around the door,
“Tie your ends up, doffers,” he loudly roar.

Yes, tie our ends up we surely do
For Elsie Thompson but not for you.
We'll tie our ends and we'll leave our frames
And wait for Elsie to return again.

Tie our ends up we surely do,
For Elsie Thompson but not for you.
We'll tie up our ends and we'll leave our frames,
Wait for Elsie Thompson to return again.

(Repeat first verse)

Digital Tradition version of The Doffing Mistress

Oh do you know her or do you not
This new doffin' mistress we have got
Oh, Bertha Wallace it is her name
And she helps her doffers at every frame

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Fol de ri fol ra
Fol de ri fol ray

On Monday morning when she comes in
She hangs up her coat on the highest pin
Turns around just to greet her friends
Crying, "Hi there, doffers, tie up your ends"

Sometimes the boss he look in the door
"Tie up your ends, doffers," he will roar
"Tie our ends we surely do,
But for Bertha Wallace and not for you"

Oh, Bertha Wallace are you going away?
Will it be tomorrow, will it be today
Are you going for to break our hearts
For there's no one here for to take our parts

Oh do you know her or do you not
This new doffin' mistress we have got
Bertha Wallace it is her name
And she helps her doffers at every frame

Acknowledgements

Transcription from Martin Carthy's singing by Garry Gillard, who learnt the song in the oral tradition from Danny Spooner.