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The Miller and His Sons / The Miller's Three Sons / The Derby Miller

[ Roud 138 ; Master title: The Miller and His Sons ; Laws Q21 ; G/D 3:703 ; Ballad Index LQ21 ; Old Songs MillerWill ; Bodleian Roud 138 ; Wiltshire 889 ; Mudcat 127317 ; trad.]

Walter Pardon sang The Miller and His Sons at home in Knapton, Norfolk in 1974 in a Bill Leader recording that was published in 1975 on his Leader album A Proper Sort.

Jumbo Brightwell sang The Derby Miller (The Three Rogues) in 1975 on this Topic LP of traditional songs and ballads from Suffolk, Songs from the Eel's Foot; this recording was later included on the anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Series Volume 14; Topic 1998).

Sarah Ogan Gunning sang The Miller's Will on her 1976 Rounder album The Silver Dagger. Mark Wilson noted:

Although the theme of the dishonest miller is probably as old as the institution of milling itself, the earliest text of this ballad seems to be a broadside in the Roxburghe collection from about 1730. An excellent version was recorded on an early hillbilly record by the Carson Brothers and Springle. Sarah's brother. Bad John Garland, used to have a saying: “Buddy, this world is a goose; pluck or get plucked!”

John Kirkpatrick sang this song as The Miller's Three Sons on Brass Monkey's 1983 eponymous debut album Brass Monkey. This LP was re-released in 1993 as the first half of the CD The Complete Brass Monkey. They also sang it as The Derbyshire Miller on the 1988 Radio Derby charity cassette The Derby Tup Presents. The first album's sleeve notes commented:

As sung by Jumbo Brightwell, the singer from central Suffolk. Jumbo's original version of the song can be heard on his Topic LP Songs from the Eel's Foot.

Cross o' the Hands sang The Derby Miller on their 2003 CD Saint Monday, and their singer Sarah Matthews returned to it in 2006 on Gill Redmond's and her album Personally Speaking. She noted:

An old miller on his death bed tries to find a suitable replacement among his sons, a process that reveals a lot about their personal character! The original words for this were taken from Topic's Voice of the People collection, our version is re-written and set to a new tune. Included in the arrangement is another Playford tune aptly named The Dusty Miller—the coincidence was just too rich to pass up.

The Claque sang this song as The Miller and His Three Sons in 2008 on their WildGoose album Sounding Now.

Dave Robbins sang at The Jolly Porter Folk Club in Exeter in the sixties and early seventies and it's from him that we take The Miller and His Three Sons It reinforces the well trodden theme of Jack, the youngest and least valued son, turning up trumps, surprisingly, in an intellectually illuminated way. The song is from Devon, we believe.

Jackie Oates learnt The Miller and His Three Sons from the singing of Barry Lister and The Claque and recorded it in 2009 for her CD Hyperboreans.

Bella Hardy sang The Derbyshire Miller in 2012 on her CD The Dark Peak and the White.

Lyrics

Walter Pardon sings The Miller and His Sons

It's of a crafty miller and he
Had able sons one two and three.
He called them all to make his will
To see which one should take the mill.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
With me wack fol the riddle ol
The riddle ol the dee

The miller called for his eldest son,
Said he, “My days are almost done.
And if the will to you I make
What toll dost thou intend to take?”

“Father,” he said, “My name is Jack,
From every bushel I'll take a peck,
And every bushel that I grind
The profits they'll be large I'll find.”

“Thou art a fool,” the old man said,
“Thou hast not learned well thy trade.
To take such toll no man could live,
To thee the mill I ne'er will give.”

The miller called for his second son,
Said he, “My days are almost done.
And if the will to you I make
What toll dost thou intend to take?”

“Father,” he said, “My name is Ralph,
From every bushel I'll take a half,
And every bushel that I grind
The profits they'll be large I'll find.”

“Thou art a fool,” the old man said,
“Thou hast not learned well thy trade.
To take such toll no man could live,
To thee the mill I ne'er will give.”

The miller called for his youngest son,
Said he, “My days are almost done.
And if the will to you I make
What toll dost thou intend to take?”

“Father,” he said, “I am your boy,
To take the toll will be my joy.
Before I shall good living lack
I'll take it all, I'll forswear the sack.”

“Thou art my boy”, the old man said,
“And thou hast learned well thy trade.
I give the mill to thee,” he cried,
Then he turned on his side and died.

Sarah Ogan Gunning sang The Miller's Will

There was an old man and he had a little mill
And when he died, he made a will.
He called up his oldest son,
Saying, “Son, oh son, I'm almost gone.
I'll will you my mill and the money to make
If you tell me the toll you intend for to take.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Sing Rack-fol-diddle-a-day.

“Father, you know my name is Jack,
And out of a bushel, I'll take a peck
If your will to me you make;
This is the toll I intend for to take.”

“Son, oh son, my foolish son,
I'm sorry that you ain't learned my ways.
My mill to you I will not give
For by such toll, no miller can live.”

Then he called up his second son,
Saying, “Son, oh son, I'm almost gone.
I'll will my mill and the money to make
If you tell me the toll you intend for to take.”

“Father, you know my name is Jess,
And out of a bushel. I'll take half
If your will to me you make
This is the toll I intend for to take.”

“Son, oh son, my foolish son,
I'm sorry that you ain't learned my ways.
My mill to you I will not give
For by such toll, no miller can live.”

Then he called up his youngest son,
Saying, “Son, oh son, I'm almost gone.
I'll will you my mill and the money to make
If you'll tell me the toll you intend for to take.”

“Father, you know I'm your darling boy
And taking toll is all my joy.
And if a fortune I should lack
I'll take the whole turn, swear I never saw the sack.”

“Son, oh son, my good wise son,
I'm glad that you have learned my ways.”
So, “Hallelujah,” the old woman cried
And the old man laid back his ears and died.

John Kirkpatrick sings The Miller's Three Sons

There was an old miller in Derbyshire,
In Derbyshire did dwell.
Now this old miller he had three sons,
The miller, the miller did well.

Now he called up his eldest son,
“Oh son, oh son, my race is run.
And if to you my mill I'd leave
Pray tell me the toll that you'd receive.”

“Oh father, oh father, my name it is Dick,
I'd grind the corn and I'd swear a peck.
And every grit that I do grind
A very good living I should find.”

“No, you are a foolish knave,
You have not learnt your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
I know you will fool my mill away.”

So a rogue he lived and a rogue he died,
He opened his mouth and he gapped away.

Now he called up his second son,
“Oh son, oh son, my race is run.
And if to you my mill I'd leave
Pray tell me the toll that you'd receive.”

“Oh father, oh father, my name it is Ralph,
I'd grind the corn and I'd swear a half.
And every grit that I do grind
A very good living I should find.”

“No, you are a foolish knave,
You have not learnt your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
I know you will fool my mill away.”

So a rogue he lived and a rogue he died,
He opened his mouth and he gapped away.

Now he called up his youngest son,
“Oh son, oh son, my race is run.
And if to you my mill I'd leave
Pray tell me the toll that you'd receive.”

“Oh father, oh father, my name it is Jack,
I'd grind the corn and I'd swear the sack.
And every grit that I do grind
A very good living I should find.”

“Yes, you are a stout young blade,
You truly learned your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
I know you won't fool my mill away.”

So a rogue he lived and a rogue he died,
He opened his mouth, and his prayers, dropped his toes … and died.

Cross o' the Hands sing The Derby Miller

There was a miller in Derbyshire,
Well, he in Derbyshire did dwell.
He had three sons of which you'll hear,
Oh that old miller, he lived well.
So he called up his eldest son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If unto you I leave my mill
Tell me how you'd do my will?”

“Father, Father, my name is Nick,
I'll grind a comb and I'll say a peck.
And every grit that I do grind
A right good living I shall find.”
“No,” he said, “you foolish blade,
You have not learnt your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
I know you'll fall my mill away.”

Well that old miller from Derbyshire,
A rogue he lived, or so they say.
Of his hard life he now did tire,
He rolled his eyes and he turned away
As he called up his second son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If unto you I leave my mill
Tell me how you'd do my will?”

“Father, Father, my name is Craft,
I'll grind a comb and I'll swear it half.
And every grit that I do grind
A right good living I shall find.”
“No,” he said, “you foolish blade,
You have not learnt your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
I know you'll fall my mill away.”

So that old miller of Derbyshire,
His time had come to make his way,
A rogue he'd lived and a rogue he'd die.
He closed his eyes and he slipped away
As he called up his youngest son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If unto you I leave my mill
Tell me how you'd do my will?”

“Father, Father, my name is Jack,
I'll grind a comb and I'll swear the sack.
And every grit that I do grind
A right good living I shall find.”
“Yes,” he said, “you're my true blade,
You have well learnt your father's trade.
And when I'm dead and in decay
You won't fall my mill away.”

Jackie Oates sings The Miller and His Three Sons

There once was a miller and he lived all alone,
He had three sons all fully grown.
When he went for to make his will
All he had left was a little old mill.

The sun comes up and the sun comes down
To mark a brand new day.

And so he called to him his eldest son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If I a miller of you make
Pray tell me what toll will you take?”

“Oh father, father, my name is Bill,
Out of each sack I'd take a gill.”
“You fool, you fool,” the old man cried,
“Out of such a little you can never make a ride!”

And the sun comes up and the sun comes down
To mark a brand new day.

So he called to him his second son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If I a miller of you make
Pray tell me what toll will you take?”

“Oh father, father, my name is Ralph,
Out of each sack, I'd take the half.”
“You fool, you fool,” the old man cried,
“Out of such a little you can never make a ride!”

And the sun comes up and the sun comes down
To mark a brand new day.

So he called to him his youngest son:
“Son, oh son, my race is run.
If I a miller of you make
Pray tell me what toll will you take?”

“Oh father, father, my name is Jack,
I'd take the lot, forswear the sack.”
“Hallelujah!” the old man cried,
And the old woman turned up her toes and she died.

And the sun comes up and the sun comes down
To mark a brand new day.

So they wrapped him up in a neat cow's hide
And some do say his soul it died.
Where he went no-one could say
But I rather fear that he went the other way.

And the sun comes up and the sun comes down
To mark a brand new day.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from John Kirkpatrick's singing by Garry Gillard.