> Folk Music > Songs > The Happy Family

My Father Had a Horse / Father had a Knife / The Happy Family

[ Roud 850 ; Master title: My Father Had a Horse ; Ballad Index K275 ; VWML AW/1/41 , CJS2/9/252 ; Bodleian Roud 850 ; Wiltshire 52 ; Mudcat 168303 ; trad.]

Harold Covill of March, Cambridgeshire, sang The Happy Family in a recording made my Peter Kennedy that was included in abbreviated form on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961, Topic 1970). Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy noted:

Alfred Williams, collector in the Upper Thames area, received a version of this from a singer who called it The Song of the Stock [VWML AW/1/41] . There is another unpublished version among the Cecil Sharp manuscripts called The Irish Family, noted from John Coles at Hambridge, Somerset [VWML CJS2/9/252] . Peter Kennedy also recorded a set from Jim Baldry of Woodbridge, Suffolk. The song has not hitherto appeared in any published collection, though it apparently enjoyed widespread popularity in many parts of England.

The tune of the chorus has been used for some versions of a popular Australian song called The Old Bullock Dray.

The singer, a railway guard, learned his songs from his mother.

Harry Cox of Catfield, Norfolk, sang A Happy Family in the mid-1960s to Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl. This recording was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud noted:

This cheerful semi-nonsense song was collected a number of times in the 20th century by Cecil Sharp, Alfred Williams, and Peter Kennedy, amongst others. Only one or two 19th century broadside printings are known, but it was already in print as My Father Kept a Horse when George Walker Jnr. of Durham issued his catalogue of songs in the late 1830s.

Cyril Tawney sang My Father Had a Horse in 1970 on his Argo album Cyril Tawney Sings Children’s Songs From Devon and Cornwall. He noted tersely:

Collected by Ralph Dunstan from Jim Thomas of Camborne, 21 October 1931. [Dunstan, Cornish Dialect and Folk Songs (1932) p. 3].

Jasper Smith sang Father Had a Knife to Mike Yates near Epsom, Surrey, on 17 May 1974. This recording was included in 1877 of the Topic anthology of songs from the Smith family, The Travelling Songster, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father’s the King of the Gypsies. (The Voice of the People Volume 11).

Versions of Father Had a Knife were issued on broadsides by Such and Fortey in London and Pearson in Manchester, and one such text is included in [William Henderson, Victorian Street Ballads (1937)]. Collectors such as Cecil Sharp, George Gardiner, the Hammond Brothers and Alfred Williams all noted the song but it is only recently that collected sets have been seen in print.

In verse 3 line 3 Jasper’s Anglo-Romani word jub (or joob) stems from the Sanskrit word yuka (= a flea).

Jim & Lynette Eldon sang Father Had a Knife in 1997 on their eponymous album Jim & Lynette Eldon.

Will Duke & Dan Quinn sang Father Had a Knife on their 2001 album Scanned. They noted on their album:

This set of songs and tunes starts and ends with two pieces of nonsense (whatever you may think of the bits in between!). Father Had a Knife is a popular little song among Southern English traditional singers and there are many and varied versions. This one is mainly a mix of words sung by Harold Colvill of Cambridgeshire and Jasper Smith. Here We Are we learned from a recording of Joe Homes and Len Graham—great singers in the unison style and an influence on us.

Lynched (now Lankum) sang Father Had a Knife on their 2014 album Cold Old Fire. This video shows them at The Séamus Ennis Centre, Naul, Co Dublin on 9 July 2016:


Harold Covill sings The Happy Family

[Oh, my father he had a horse and my mother she had a mare,
Sister Susan had a rabbit and Jonah had a hare.
We’d a ride from father’s horse and a ride from mother’s mare,
A pie from Susan’s rabbit and a race with Jonah’s hare.]

Oh, my father he had a bull and my mother she had a cow,
Sister Susan had a pig and Jonah had a sow.
Oh the beef from father’s bull and the milk from mother’s cow,
The pork from Susan’s pig and the pigs from Jonah’s sow.

Oh, the more we have to drink, my boys,
The merrier we shall be,
For we all belong to one happy family.

[Oh, my father he had a buck and my mother she had a doe,
Sister Susan had a tup and Jonah had a ewe.
And the horn on father’s buck and the venison from mother’s doe,
The mutton from Susan’s tup and the lamb from Jonah’s ewe.]

[Oh, my father he had a cock and my mother she had a hen,
Sister Susan had a robin and Jonah had a wren.
And the fight in father’s cock and the eggs from mother’s hen,
The chicks from Susan’s robin and the hunt from Jonah’s wren.]

Oh, my father he had a rat and my mother she had a mouse,
Sister Susan had a flea and Jonah had a louse.
Oh, the rat did eat the corn and the mouse did nibble the bread,
The flea bit poor old Susan’s arm and the louse bit Jonah’s head.


[Oh my father he had a knife and my mother she had a fork,
Sister Susan had a bottle and Jonah had a cork.
We’d a cut from father’s knife and a pick from mother’s fork,
A drink from Susan’s bottle, Jonah bunged it with his cork.]

Harry Cox sings A Happy Family

Father had a hoss and my mother had a mare,
My brother had a rabbit and my sister had a hare.
We’d a ride on the hoss and a pull from the mare,
Hunt for the rabbit and a chase with the hare.

Chorus (after each verse):
So drink, boys, drink, so merry merrily,
We all do belong to a happy family.

Father had a bull and my mother had a cow,
My brother had a pig and my sister had a sow.
We’d beef from the bull, butter from the cow,
Pork from the pig and a litter from the sow.

Father had a rat and my mother had a mouse,
My brother had a flea and my sister had a louse.
A trap for the rat and a cat for the mouse,
A hunt for the flea and a chase for the louse.

Father had a knife and my mother had a fork,
Sister had a bottle and my brother had a cork.
So drink, boys, drink, so merry merrily,
We all do belong to a happy family.

Jasper Smith sings Father Had a Knife

So it’s father had a knife, mother had a fork,
Sister had the bottle and brother had the cork.
We had a cut from the knife a dig from the fork,
A drink from the bottle and she’s gone and lost the cork.

Chorus (after each verse):
So the longer we go on the merrier we will be
We do belong to a boozing family.

Now it’s father had a pig, mother had a cow,
Sister had the rabbit and brother had the owl.
We had some pork from the pig, some milk from the cow,
Some sport from the rabbit and a whistle from Johnny’s owl.

Now it’s brother had a lice and sister had a flea,
Brother had a bottle and uncle had the tea.
We had some scratches from the jub, some bites from the flea,
Some drink from the cup and he’s gone and lost the tea.