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> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Honest Labourer

The Honest Labourer / The Jolly Thresher / The Nobleman and the Thresherman

[ Roud 19 ; G/D 3:437 ; Henry H622 , H117 ; TYG 37 ; Ballad Index R127 ; VWML CJS2/9/1774 , CJS2/10/1921 ; Bodleian Roud 19 ; Wiltshire Roud 19 ; trad.]

Sarah Makem sang The Jolly Thresher at home in Keady, Co Armagh, in 1955 to Diane Hamilton. This recording was included in 2011 on her Musical Traditions anthology As I Roved Out. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

This is very much an English song—more than half of Roud's 141 versions are English—and only 4 Irish singers are noted: John Millan, Nicholas Hughes, Catherine Devlin, and Sarah all from the North, and ‘Pops’ Johnny Connors, from Co Wexford. It is sung here to a variant of The Enniskillen Dragoon. In the conjunction of words and tune, it illustrates one salient fact about Sarah Makem's repertoire and, indeed, about the folk singing of North-East Ulster. In this part of Ireland, the tradition is inextricably mixed. Three streams of traditional music and verse converge—the native Irish, the English and the Scots, and this convergence is most marked in small market towns like Keady, whose rural character was gradually modified during the nineteenth century by the introduction of manufacturing industry.

Another Sarah Makem recording made by Bill Leader at her home in 1967 was released a year later on her Topic album Ulster Ballad Singer, and a third version recorded by Paul Carter and Sean O'Boyle in 1967 too was included in 2012 on her Topic CD The Heart Is True (The Voice of the People Series Volume 24).

Ron Copper sang Honest Labourer in a 1963 recording by Peter Kennedy on the EFDSS LP Traditional Songs from Rottingdean, which was reissued in 2001 on the Topic CD Come Write Me Down: Early Recordings of the Copper Family of Rottingdean; and Bob Copper recorded it in May 1995 for the CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family.

Bob Copper also sang The Honest Labourer at a concert he did with Bob Lewis at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on October 17, 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

Harry Holman sang The Nobleman and the Thresherman on May 18, 1960 at The Cherry Tree, Copthorne, Sussex. This recording made by Frank Purslow and Ken Stubbs was printed in 1970 in Stubb's E.F.D.S book The Life of a Man: English Folk Songs from the Home Counties. It was included as There Was a Poor Thresherman with the first line and the second and fifth verse missing—and thus not mentioning the nobleman— in 1998 on the Topic anthology There Is a Man Upon the Farm (The Voice of the People Series Volume 20). This very performance was recorded by Brian Matthews too, but in better sound quality and with the first line intact; it was released with the title The Nobleman and the Thresher on the 2001 Musical Traditions anthology of songs from country pubs, Just Another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960. Rod Stradling commented in the booklet notes:

Mawkish sentimentality and forelock-tugging always seem to be popular, so it's unsurprising that there are 101 Roud entries for this song, or that 13 of these are sound recordings—and thus quite recent. It has been found all over these islands, and seems very popular in the USA as well. Although there are 13 entries for Sussex, there are actually only three traditional sources—the others being Henry Hills (Lodsworth), and the Copper family. CD recordings from the latter, Harry, Eleazar Tillett (N Carolina) and Frank Hinchliffe (MTCD311-2) are still available.

Frank Hinchliffe sang this song as The Nobleman and the Thresherman in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1976 that was released on his 1977 Topic album In Sheffield Park: Traditional Songs from South Yorkshire. It was also included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Mike Yates recordings, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the latter's booklet:

Robert Burns contributed a version of this song to The Scots Musical Museum, and it was an old song then in 1792, earlier blackletter broadside versions being in the Roxburghe and Euing collections. It has been noted in many parts of the country and has been frequently published. Frank's tune is a particularly good one; he told me that it was a local favourite, once known to most of the older people in the area.

However, despite its popularity, I do not feel that the song presents an accurate account of rural life during the 17th–19th centuries (for this, see E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class). Rather, the song seeks to present an idealised picture, one where the labourer knows his place, and where honest toil gains its reward. In other words, the song seeks to preserve the status quo and, like the church, offers solace to those who are prepared to accept things just as they are.

Peter Bellamy sang The Honest Labourer in 1985 on his EFDSS album Second Wind. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

The folksongs of the genuinely disadvantaged tell us a great deal about their aspirations; Big Bill Broonzy song of the Big Black Cadillac he probably never got to own; how many Gypsy-girl fortune-tellers snared their rich young lords? Anyway, I doubt it it was an everyday occurrence for an Honest Labourer to luck into “fifty acres of good land” simply by being honest, working hard and for saying nice things about his wife. But who could blame them for putting their wishful fantasies into song? My version is an amalgam of two, one from the beloved Copper Family of Sussex, the other from Yorkshire's splendid Frank Hinchliffe.

(Dr) Faustus sang Thresherman in 2003 on their Fellside CD The First Cut. A live version recorded at The Lights, Andover, Hampshire, in March 2015 was included in 2017 on their EP Slaves.

Matt Quinn sang The Nobleman and the Thresherman on his 2012 CD Broom Abundance. He commented:

The Nobleman and the Thresherman has been found in broadsides since about 1865 and this version comes from the singing of Yorkshire farmer Frank Hinchliffe.

Andy Turner sang Nobleman and Thresherman as the July 7, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. His version is based on the four verses Clarke Lonkhurst sang to Cecil Sharp at Hamstreet in Kent, in September 1908, augmented by verses from the Copper family version.

Lyrics

Harry Holman sings The Nobleman and the Thresher

A nobleman there lived in the village of late.
There was a poor thresherman, his family was great.
He had got seven children, the most of them were small,
He'd nothing but hard labour for to maintain them all.

(The nobleman he met with this poor man one day
And to this poor old thresherman these very words did say
“You are a poor thresherman, I know it to be true
How do you get your living as well as you do?”)

“Sometimes I do reap and sometimes I mow
The other times to hedging and a-ditching I do go.
There's nothing goes amiss with me, the harrow or the plough,
That's how I get my living by the sweat of my brow.”

“And when my day's work's over I go home late at night,
For in my wife and family I take a great delight.
My children they come round me [with] their pretty flattery toys
And that's all the pleasure that a poor man enjoys.”

“My wife she is willing to join me in this yoke,
We're just like two young turtle-doves, there's ne'er a one provoked.
Although the times are very bad and we are very poor
But we still kept the wolves and the ravens from our door.

(“You are an honest fellow, you speak well of your wife
And you shall both live happy all the last part of your life
Here's forty-five acres of good land I'll freely give to thee
To maintain your wife and your sweet family.”)

God bless all you farmers that take to us poor men.
I wish of them with all my heart, their souls in Heaven may spend.
And those that's left behind us had better pattern take,
That they may follow after as quick as they can.

The Copper Family sings Honest Labourer

It was of an honest labourer as I've heard people say,
He goes out in the morning and he works hard all the day.
And he's got seven children and most of them are small,
He has nothing but hard labour to maintain them all.

A gentleman one morning walking out to take the air,
He met with this poor labouring man and solemnly declared,
“I think you are that thresher-man.” Said he, “Yes, sir, that's true.”
“How do you get your living as well as you do?”

“Sometimes I do reap and sometimes I do mow,
At other times to hedging and to ditching I do go.
There is nothing comes amiss to me from the harrow to the plough,
That's how I get my living by the sweat of my brow.

“When I go home at night just as tired as I be
I take my youngest child and I dance him on my knee.
They others they come around me with their prittle-prattling toys
And that's the only comfort a working man enjoys.

“My wife and I are willing and we join both in one yoke,
We live like two turtle doves and not one word provoke.
Although the times are very hard and we are very poor
We can scarcely keep the raving wolf away from the door.”

“Well done, you honest labourer, you speak well of your wife,
I hope you will live happy all the days of your life.
Here is forty acres of good land which I will give to thee
Which will help to maintain your sweet wife and family.”

Frank Hinchliffe sings The Nobleman and the Thresherman

A nobleman met with a thresherman one day,
He kindly did accost him, and unto him did say,
“Tha's a wife and seven children, I know it to be true,
Yet how does thou maintain them all so well as thou do?” 𝄇

“Sometimes I do reap and sometimes I do mow,
And other times a-hedging or a-ditching I do go.
There's nothing comes amiss to me, to the harrows nor the plough,
But still I get my living by the sweat of my brow.” 𝄇

“When my day's work is over, I go home at night,
My wife and my chil-der-en, they are of my delight.
My children are a-pratt-el-ing and playing with their toys,
And that is all the pleasure that a poor man enjoys.” 𝄇

“My wife she is willing to join in the yoke.
We live just like two turtle doves and seldom do provoke,
Sometimes we are hard up, sometimes we're very poor,
But still we keep those raging wolves away from our door.” 𝄇

“So well has thou spoken of thy wife.
I'll make thee to live happy, all the rest of their life.
I've fifty acres of good land, I'll freely give to thee,
To maintain thy wife and thy loved family.” 𝄇

Peter Bellamy sings The Honest Labourer

It is of an honest labourer as I've heard people say,
He goes out in the morning and he works hard all the day.
And he's got seven children, most of them are small,
𝄆 He has nothing but hard labour to maintain them all. 𝄇

It is of a noble gentleman walked out to take the air,
He met this honest labouring man and solemnly declared,
“I think you are that thresher-man.” “Yes, sir,” said he, “that's true.”
𝄆 “How do you get your living just as well as thou do?” 𝄇

“Well, sometimes I do reap, sometimes I do mow,
At other times to hedging and to ditching I do go.
There is nothing come amiss to me from the harrow to the plough,
𝄆 That is how I get my living by the sweat of my brow. 𝄇

“When I come home at evening just as weary as can be
I take my youngest child and I dance him on my knee.
My children gather round me with their prittle-prattling toys
And 𝄆 that is all the pleasure a poor man enjoys. 𝄇

“And my wife she is willing, we both join in one yoke,
We live just like two turtle doves and not one word provoke.
Although the times are very hard and we are very poor
𝄆 Yet still we keep the raving wolf away from the door.” 𝄇

“Well done, thou honest labourer, you speak well of your wife,
I'll make you to live happy all the days of your life.
Here is fifty acres of good land I'll give to thee
𝄆 To maintain your wife and your love family.” 𝄇