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Horkstow Grange

[ Roud 1760 ; Ballad Index OSGr010 ; VWML PG/5/195 ; trad.]

This is the song from which Steeleye Span got their name. George Gouldthorpe sang it as John Bowlin' to Percy Grainger in July 1906 and in 1908. This latter date's cylinder recording was included in 1972 with the now common title Horkstow Grange on the Leader album Unto Brigg Fair, The album sleeve notes commented:

In his manuscripts, Grainger notes that John Bowling was a foreman on a farm at Horkstow and John ‘Steeleye’ Span a waggoner under his control. Thus “him and his man” in line three should be understood as “… his foreman”. In the first line, “miser” might be just a derogatory epithet though not necessarily so.

No other versions of this song are known and it does not appear to have been issued on broadsides in the district or even in adjacent areas where printers were more active.

And John Ball noted:

As an ardent fan of Grainger and a former North Lincolnshire resident (Keelby, near Brigg), … I once worked near Horkstow and Saxby all Saints, where Joseph Taylor is buried, and did some research. My grandfather's family were from the Horkstow area and neither he nor anyone else knew of either of the characters mentioned in Horkstow Grange nor is there, apparently, any local knowledge of them.

… when I went to Saxby all Saints about 12 years ago, I met a man from the village who told me that a lady who lived near him was a descendent of Joseph Taylor (grand-daughter, I think) and that she lived near the church.

… I've done an electoral register search of North Lincolnshire and there are no records for Bowlin, Bowling or Span. I have looked again at my copy of Unto Brigg Fair, and this confirms that there was no local knowledge of the Horkstow Grange characters.

Shirley Collins sang Horkstow Grange on her 1974 album, Adieu to Old England. She and A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

Collected by Percy Grainger from George Gouldthorpe of Barrow-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, in 1906. The words are jumbled, probably by old Mr Gouldthorpe, so the event isn't clearly described. A miserly farmer of Horkstow Grange had a tyrannical foreman, John Bowling. The waggoner at Horkstow was J.S. Span, called ‘Old Steeleye’. Span resented Bowling's harsh treatment, and the two came to violent blows. Burning with resentment, Span made a song about the circumstance, and set his words to the tune of the lugubrious ballad of naval mistreatment, Andrew Rose, the British Sailor.

Home Service sang Horkstow Grange in 1986 as part of Percy Grainger's A Lincolnshire Posy on their album Alright Jack.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang Horkstow Grange in 1998 on their album of English folksongs collected by Percy Grainger, Heartoutbursts. They noted:

Horkstow Grange (The Miser and His Man–a local tragedy) was sung to Grainger by George Gouldthorpe, and tells a somewhat ambiguous story of a local happening. Grainger wrote in his manuscript: “John Bowlin' was a foreman at a farm at Horkstow, and John Steeleye Span was waggoner under him. They fell out, and J.S. Span made these verses.” Often, these particularly local songs would be written as parodies of other folksongs, in much the way that Woody Guthrie, for example, wrote a great deal of his material. Even if not immortalised by this particular song, the name of Steeleye Span lives on! (Folk Rock historians take note).

Steeleye Span recorded Horkstow Grange in 1998 as the title track of their album Horkstow Grange, with Gay Woods, Tim Harries, Bob Johnson and Peter Knight singing and Tim Harries playing keyboard.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Horkstow Grange in 2005 on their album of songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butter­worth and Percy Grainger, Triple Echo. They noted:

George Gouldthorpe and his brother William learned their songs from their father, “still much remembered as a great songster.” George worked as a lime-burner and was born at Barrow-on-Humber in North Lincolnshire around 1840. He told Percy Grainger that this unique song arose out of a local incident—“John Bowlin’ was a foreman at a farm at Horkstow, and John Steeleye Span was waggoner under him. They fell out, and J.S. Span made these verses.”

Grainger provided a typically vivid portrait of George Gouldthorpe—“His personality, looks, and art are a curious blend of sweetness and grim pathos. Though his face and figure are gaunt and sharp cornered, and his singing voice somewhat grating, he yet contrives to breathe a spirit of almost caressing tenderness into all he does, says, or sings; even if with a hint of tragic undercurrent be ever present also.”

Grainger later revealed the extent of hardship Gouldthorpe experienced. “Towards the end of his life,” he wrote in his notes to the setting of Horkstow Grange, “he was continually being pitch-forked out of the workhouse to work on the roads, and pitch-forked back into the workhouse as it was seen he was too weak to work. … His child-like mind and unworldly nature, seemingly void of all bitterness, singularly fitted him to voice the purity and sweetness of folk-art. He gave out his tunes in all possible gauntness, for the most part in broad, even notes; but they were adorned by a richness of dialect hard to match. In recalling Mr Gouldthorpe I think most of the mild yet lordly grandeur of his nature.”

Jim Moray sang Horkstow Grange in 2012 on his CD Skulk.

Andy Turner learned Horkstow Grange from the Leader album Unto Brigg Fair and sang it as the September 16, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Granny's Attic sang Horkstow Grange in 2016 on their WildGoose CD Off the Land. They commented:

This was collected from G. Gouldthorpe by Percy Grainger in Lincolnshire in 1906. Grainger included it in his famous Lincolnshire Posy arrangement for wind band, which George [Sansome] (in his classical guise) played with the Leeds University Symphonic Wind Orchestra in 2015. We decided not to feature his euphonium playing on the album—we’re sure his parents or any of his neighbours will tell you why. One ‘old miser’ (sorry Dad) got very excited at the mention of ‘Steeleye Span’ and played us All Around My Hat for a whole week after he first heard us sing this.

Lyrics

George Gouldthorpe sings Horkstow Grange Shirley Collins sings Horkstow Grange

In Horkstow Grange there lived an old miser,
You all do know him as I've heard say.
It's him and his man that was named John Bowlin'
They fell out one market day.

In Horkstow Grange there lived an old miser,
You all do know him as I've heard say.
It's him on his man that was named John Bowlin
They fell out one market day.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Pity them who see him suffer,
Pity poor old Steeleye Span;
John Bowlin's deeds they will be remembered;
Bowlin's deeds at Horkstow Grange

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Pity them what see him suffer,
Pity poor old Steeleye Span;
John Bowlin's deeds will be remembered;
Bowlin's deeds at Horkstow Grange

With a blackthorn stick old Steeleye struck him,
Oftens had threatened him before;
John Bowlin' turned round all in a passion,
He knocked old Steeleye into t'floor.

With a blackthorn stick old Steeleye struck him,
Oftens had threatened him before;
John Bowlin turned round all in a passion,
Knocked old Steeleye into the floor.

John Bowlin' struck him qui-et sharply; (i.e. quite)
It happened to be on a market day.
Old Steeleye swore with all his vengeance,
He would swear his life away.

Old Steeleye Span he was filled with John Bowlin,
It happened to be on a market day.
Old Steeleye swore with all his vengeance,
He would swear his life away.

Steeleye Span sing Horkstow Grange

In Horkstow Grange there lived an old miser
You all do know him as I have heard say
It's him on his man that was named John Bowlin
And they fell out one market day

With a blackthorn stick old Steeleye struck him
As of times he had threatened before
John Bowlin turned round all in a passion
And knocked old Steeleye into the floor

Old Steeleye Span he was filled with John Bowlin
It happened to be on a market day
Old Steeleye swore with all his vengeance
He would swear his life away

Pity them who see him suffer
Pity poor old Steeleye Span
John Bowlin's deeds they will be remembered
Pity poor old Steeleye Span
Pity poor old Steeleye Span

Acknowledgements

George Gouldthorpe's verses were copied from the liner notes of Unto Brigg Fair.