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Six Jolly Miners

[ Roud 877 ; Master title: Six Jolly Miners ; TYG 61 ; Ballad Index K238 ; Mudcat 35232 ; trad.]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil Roy Palmer: Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs Frank Purslow: The Wanton Seed James Reeves: The Everlasting Circle

Victor ‘Turp’ Brown of Cheriton, Hampshire, sang Six Jolly Miners for the BBC recording 26349 made by Bob Copper in November 1857. It was also included in 1977 on the Topic album of country singers from Hampshire and Sussex, Songs and Southern Breezes, and in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English traditional singers, You Never Heard So Sweet (The Voice of the People Volume 21).

Louis Wroe of Wortley, Yorkshire, sang Six Jolly Miners on 20 August 1959 to Peter Kennedy for the BBC recording 26582. This recording was included on the anthology Songs of Christmas/Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), and in 1975 in Kennedy’s book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, together with the following comments from Mr Wroe:

As kiddies we used to get a pick, an old shovel, bit of coal, and if we could get some motties [numbered metal pierced tallies which every collier had to exchange for his coal allowance], knee-pads, and black faces, and back-sides-out trousers and shirt pulled through. We used to go singing from door to door and they would have us singing in the public houses, gathering coppers at Christmas time.

Dave and Toni Arthur sang Six Jolly Miners on their 1969 Topic album The Lark in the Morning. They commented in their liner notes:

At Christmas time in the Sheffield area, children used to go round the pubs dressed as miners, with blackened faces, picks and shovels. They sang a begging song beginning:

Six jolly miners, we’re not worth a pin.
But when we get a bit of coal we’ll make the kettle sing.
And we’ll riddle and we’ll fiddle, and we’ll make the world go round.
If you don’t mind your troubles, you will have a motty down.

When A.L. Lloyd was collecting material for his Come All Ye Bold Miners in 1951, he obtained two Scottish versions of the song, called Six Jolly Wee Miners. Apparently the song has been favoured by Scottish miners since the 1830s. The American collector George Korson found versions in Canada and U.S.A., though one of his sets, from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, had been carried over the Atlantic from Scotland by Lloyd’s informant Mrs. Cosgrove, of Midlothian, who had accompanied her miner husband to Nova Scotia some years previously. The only southern English version we know is the one sung here. George Gardiner first noted it from a singer in Cheriton, Devon, in 1905.

Guests at The Black Bull, Ecclesfield, sang Six Jolly Miners on 6 December 1973. This recording made by Bill Leader and David Bland was included in the following year on the Leader anthology of the Christmas singing tradition recorded in South Yorkshire pubs, A People’s Carol.

Tex Frost sang Six Jolly Miners on the 1981 Folkways anthology An English Folk Music Anthology.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang Six Jolly Miners on their 1981 album The Second Nowell and on their 2008 CD Nowell Nowell Nowell.

John Bowden and Vic Shepherd sang Six Jolly Miners on their 1982 album A Motty Down, which got its title from a phrase in this song. They noted:

A song from the Grenoside area, which Vic has known for years through her dad Dick’s association with the Grenoside Sword Dance team. He put us in touch with Lou Wroe, who sings it on the Topic LP, Songs of Christmas/Ceremony, and we spent many evenings with Lou and his wife talking about the old Grenoside team. Lou described to us how, during the Christmas period, the local children use to dress up in old clothes, smear their faces with coal-dust, and, carrying buckets, shovels and picks, go round from house to house singing this song and bringing good luck in return for a gift of money or food. The middle part was taught to us by Harrington Housely and Dick Shepherd.

The song is known by many of the older Grenoside dancers, although there are many variations of the chorus, including “We will have a knock-a-down” and “We will have to knock you down”! The tune at the end, Broken-Time Hornpipe (the local name for the tune often known as Roxburgh Castle), is used for the second figure of the dance.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Six Jolly Miners in 1998 on their CD Hindsight. They commented in their album notes:

Probably the song which is the most local for us—Jim [Boyes] living in South Yorkshire and Barry [Coope] and Lester [Simpson] near Derby. Essentially it’s to accompany knocking on people’s doors asking for pennies. This is the version sung by Lou Wroe [or is it Rowe?] of Grenoside, near Sheffield.

Sarah Matthews sang Six Jolly Miners on her and Doug Eunson’s 2006 album Proper Swell. She commented:

From the singing of Pete Castle on his The Derby Ram CD. I learnt this song to the tune of Van Diemen’s Land. It describes the life of the robing miners in England, set to a new time signature to let the words flow.


Victor ‘Turp’ Brown sings Six Jolly Miners

It’s of six jolly miners, six miners you shall hear,
For they had been a-mining for many a long years.
They travelled England, Ireland and Scotland all around,
But of all their delight was a-working underground.

There was one came from Cornwall and two from Derby town,
The other three from Williamsbridge, young lads of high renown,
But of all their delight was to split those rocks in twine,
But of all their delight was a-working underground.

Sometimes we got money, boys, sometimes we’ve none at all,
But we can have good credit, my boys, when on it we do call.
We can call for liquors merrily and drink our healths all round,
Here’s a health to all my jolly miners that works all underground.

“Have you seen my miner?” so sweetly sang he,
“For of all the trades in England it’s the mining for me.”

Louis Wroe sings Six Jolly Miners

Here come six jolly miners, we’re not worth a pin
But when we get a bit of coal we’ll make the kettle sing.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
So we’ll riddle and we’ll fiddle and we’ll make the earth go round,
𝄆 If you don’t mind your troubles you will have a motty down. 𝄇

Two came from Derby and two from Derby town
The others came from Oughtibridge and they all came firing down.

We’ve travelled all of England, Scotland and Ireland round,
And all of our delight is in working underground.

All our delight, boys, is to split the rocks in time,
Our pleasure it is more than that in working underground.

We’ll call for liquors plenty and let the drinks go round,
Here’s health to the jolly miner lad that works down underground.

Sometimes we have money but now we’ve none at all,
And since you have good credit it’s upon you we do call.