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Radcliffe Otter Hunt

[ Roud - ; trad.]

Harry Boardman sang Radcliffe Otter Hunt in 1973 on his Topic album A Lancashire Mon. He noted:

Whoever made this ballad seems to have something of an identity problem. The story is told in the first person by the hunted otter and might appear to be an early anti-hunting tract in verse. However the whole thing ends up in the usual way with good health to hunters, country and king. The location of the tale is the River lrwell, from Prestwich to Clifton and Radcliffe, near Manchester.

The ballad appears in Harland and Wilkinson’s Ballads and Songs of Lancashire and was originally taken from a M.S. copy supplied by one John Higson of Droylsden.

Tom Thorpe was the keeper to the Earl of Wilton, Bob Hampson presumably a publican and Jack Ogden a locally well known hunter.

Harland and Wilkinson estimated the period of the ballad as mid-eighteenth century.

Brian Dewhurst with Tom Tiddler’s Ground sang The Radcliffe Otter Hunt in 1975 on their Folk Heritage album The Hunter and the Hunted. He noted:

The scene of the ballad is the banks of the River Irwell from Prestwich to Clifton and Radcliffe. It is a long time since an otter was seen in the Irwell. The last recorded date of one being caught was in 1849. This shortened version is taken from John Harland’s Ballads and Songs of Lancashire, pages 207-211. The tune is a version of Bold Reynard the Fox which I got from Tom Walsh and Hugh O’Donnell at Preston Folk Club, they in turn got it from an E.F.D.S.S. publication.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang Radcliffe Otter Hunt in 2014 on their CD Snapenotes. Barbara Snape noted:

A poem in Modern Songs and Ballads of Lancashire and from the collection of John Higson of Droylsden. The story is set on the banks of the Irwell between Prestwich, Clifton and Radcliffe. The hunt probably took place in the 1700s. Peter provides the tune for this sad tale.


Radcliffe Otter Hunt

I am a bold otter, as you shall hear,
I’ve rambled the country all round;
I valued no dogs far or near,
In the water, nor yet on the ground.

I valued no dogs, far or near,
But I roved through the country so wide,
Till I came to a river so clear,
That did Clifton and Prestwich divide.

As through the wild country I rambled,
I lived at extravagant rates;
On eels, chubs, and gudgeons I feasted;
The fishermen all me did hate.

Yet still up the rivers I went,
Where the fishes my stomach did cheer,
Till a challenge from Radcliffe they sent me,
They quickly would stop my career.

Next morning those dogs did assemble;
Jack Allen, he swore I must die;
It made me full sorely to tremble,
To hear those stout hounds in full cry.

It was near Agecroft bridge I oft went,
Where with me they’d had many a round;
So closely they stuck to the scent,
That they forced me to take to fresh ground.

Jack Allen, the darling of hunters,
And Ploughman, the glory of hounds;
You may search all the country over,
Their equals are not to be found.

Although I my country did leave,
It was sorely against my own will;
They pursued me with courage so brave,
That they proved a match for my skill.

Again through the country I rambled;
To the Earl of Wilton’s I came,
Where I made bold his fish-pond to enter,
And there I found plenty of game.

But the Earl being now at his hall,
He swore that my life they must end;
So straight for Tom Thorpeo he did call,
And for Squire Lomas’ hounds they did send.

Then the dogs and the huntsmen arrived,
Thinking my poor life for to end;
But to gain my old ground I contrived,
Where I could myself better defend.

It was near Master Douglas’s mill,
Where they swam me three hours or more;
And yet I did baffle their skill,
Till at length they were forced to give o’er.

At length by misfortune I ventured,
Again up the river to steer,
When into a tunnel I entered,
Not thinking my death was so near.

But those dogs from old Radcliffe they came,
And into my hold did me cry;
The hunters they all did the same,
And they swore they would take me or die.

’Twas on the next morning so early
They forcèd me from my retreat;
Then into the river I divèd,
Thinking all their sharp schemes to defeat.

But those dogs they did soon force me out,
Because that my strength it did fail;
Tom Damport, that tailor so stout,
He quickly laid hold of my tail.

Then into a bag they did put me,
And up on their backs did me fling;
And because that in safety they’d got me,
They made all the valleys to ring.

Then right for old Radcliffe did steer,
And soon at Bob Hampson’s did call;
And hundreds of people were there,
To drink and rejoice at my fall.

The same afternoon they contrivèd
With me more diversion to have;
Put me into a pit, where I divèd,
Just like a stout otter so brave.

And yet I remainèd so stout,
Though they swam me for three hours or more,
The dogs they could not force me out,
Till with stones they did pelt me full sore.

Thus forcing me out of the water,
Because that my strength it did fail;
And then in a few moments after
Jack Ogden laid hold of my tail.

And so now they had got me secure,
They right to the “Anchor” did steer;
But my lot was too hard to endure,
And my death was approaching too near.

Next morning to Whitefield they took me,
To swim as before I had done;
When out of the bag they did put me,
Alas! my poor life it was gone.

And so now this old otter you’ve killed,
You may go to Bob Hampson’s and sing
Drink a health to all true-hearted hunters,
Success to our country and king.