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Rufford Park Poachers

[ Roud 1759 ; Ballad Index OSLi13 ; VWML PG/5/21 , PG/6/7 , COL/2/39B ; trad.]

Joseph Taylor sang Rufford Park Poachers on Unto Brigg Fair, from a cylinder recorded in 1908. The LP sleeve notes said:

This version is unique and must be possibly the finest tune that Joseph Taylor sang. Mr Patrick O'Shaughnessy had the good fortune to find a full account of this affray in the form of a poster and his notes to More Folk Songs from Lincolnshire should be consulted.

John Goodluck sang Rufford Park Poachers in 1976 on his Sweet Folk & Country album of traditional songs of Suffolk, Speed the Plough.

Mick Ryan and Jon Burge sang Rufford Park Poachers (with Dave Burland singing harmony) on their 1978 Leader Tradition album Fair Was the City.

Nic Jones never recorded Rufford Park Poachers for an official album but live recordings from the late 1970s were included in 2001 on Unearthed and in 2006 on Game Set Match.

Martin Carthy sang Rufford Park Poachers on his 1982 album Out of the Cut. A BBC live recording from July 1987 was published on Martin Carthy's Kershaw Sessions and reissued in 2001 on The Carthy Chronicles. He also sang it live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. Martin Carthy commented in his original recording's sleeve notes:

Rufford Park is not far from Mansfield, and in 1850 there was a showdown between local people and gamekeepers in the shape of a vicious and bitter fight, after which ringleaders were selected, tried and transported for up to 14 years. Patrick O'Shaughnessy of the Lincolnshire Society did a reconstruction job on the words, three versions of which were recorded by Percy Grainger from Joseph Taylor, himself a retired gamekeeper, who was a teenager at the time of the events in the song.

Oyster Band sang Rufford Park Poachers on their 1983 album English Rock 'n' Roll: The Early Years 1800-1850.

Home Service sang Rufford Park Poachers as part of Percy Grainger's A Lincolnshire Posy on their 1986 album Alright Jack.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Rufford Park Poachers on their 1996 album Falling Slowly.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Rufford Park Poachers in 1998 on their CD Heartoutbursts: English Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger. They noted:

This is another of the songs Joseph Taylor recorded for the Gramophone Company, though it was not issued. Grainger used it in Lincolnshire Posy as Rufford Park Poachers (Poaching Song). Indeed, it tells a dramatic tale of an event that took place in 1851, when Mr Taylor was a young man. A gang of thirty or forty poachers was attacked by ten gamekeepers, one of whom was mortally wounded during the battle. Four of the poachers were tried for his murder, found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. Mr Taylor remembered only three verses of the ballad, and Patrick O'Shaughnessy, who discovered a broadsheet giving an account of the trial, completed the text.

Chris Foster sang Joseph Taylor's few verses of Rufford Park Poachers in 2004 on his Tradition Bearers album Jewels. He commented in his liner notes:

1n 1972 Bill Leader released the vinyl album Unto Brigg Fair. It was a fantastic selection of songs taken from wax cylinder recordings of traditional singers, made in 1908 by Percy Grainger in Lincolnshire. Rufford Park Poachers is one of several great performances on the album by Joseph Taylor, a bailiff on a big estate at Saxby-All-Saints. He was 75 at the time the recording was made, but his wonderful performance belies his years. Some of the songs that he recorded (but not this one) were released commercially by the ‘Gramophone Company’ on single sided 78rpm phonogram records where he was billed as a ‘Genuine Peasant Folksinger’.

Rufford Park in Nottinghamshire is now a craft centre. Times change.

Jim Moray sang Rufford Park Poachers in 2008 on his CD Low Culture.

James Yorkston sang Rufford Park Poachers on his 2009 CD Folk Songs.

Martin Simpson sang The Rufford Park Poachers in 2017 on his Topic album Trails & Tribulations. He noted:

The Rufford Park Poachers was one of the first traditional songs to be commercially recorded. The Australian song collector and composer, Percy Grainger, recorded the great Joseph Tailor, of Saxby All Saints, singing it in 1908. The story dates to 1950 when the local population of poachers rose up against the gamekeepers of the Dukeries Rufford Park near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Patrick O'Shaughnessy, compiler of the excellent Yellowbelly Ballads collections, published by Lincolnshire and Humber Arts, put together this set of lyrics based on a broadside version of the song.

Friction and indeed violence between gamekeepers and the working poor in the countryside was commonplace after the Enclosure Acts. The Long Affray by Harry Hopkins is an excellent source of material on the subject of what became known as The Poaching Wars. Rufford Park is now a holiday attraction, although the high stone walls which surround it would still deter all but the most determined climber.

Lyrics

Joseph Taylor sings Rufford Park Poachers

They say that forty gallant poachers
They was in a mess;
They'd often been attack-ed
When the number it was less.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
So poacher bold, as I unfold,
Keep up your gallant heart,
And think about those poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park.

A buck or doe, believe it so,
A pheasant or an (h)are
Was sent on earth for everyone
Quite equal for to share

The keepers they begun the fight,
With stones and with the flails,
But when the poachers started, why,
They quickly turned their tails

Martin Carthy sings Rufford Park Poachers Coope Boyes & Simpson sing Rufford Park Poachers

They say that forty gallant poachers
They was in a mess
They had often been attacked
When the number it was less

A buck or doe believe it so
A pheasant or a hare
Were set on earth for everyone
Quite equally to share

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
So poacher bold as I unfold
Keep up your gallant heart
And think about the poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park

So poacher bold, as I unfold
Keep up your gallant heart
And think about those poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park

A buck or doe believe it so
A pheasant or a hare
Was put on earth for everyone
Quite equal for to share

They say that forty gallant poachers
They were in distress
They'd often been attacked when
Their number it was less

All among the gorse to settle scores
These forty gathered stones
To make a fight for poor men's rights
And break those keeper's bones

Among the gorse, to settle scores
Those forty gathered stones
To make a fight for poor men's rights
And break the keepers' bones

The keepers come with flails
Against poachers and their cause
But no man there would dare
To break the rich man's laws

The keepers went with flails against
The poachers and their cause
So no man there again would dare
Defy the rich man's laws

The keepers they began the fight
With stones and with their flails
When the poachers started why
They quickly turned their tails

All on the ground with a mortal wound
Head keeper Roberts lay
He never will rise up again
Till the final judgement day

Upon the ground with mortal wound
Head keeper Roberts lay
He never will rise up until
The final judgement day

Of all the band that made their stand
That set a little snare
Just four were brought before the court
And tried for murder there

Of all that band who made a stand
To set a net or snare
The four men brought before the court
Were tried for murder there

The judge said “For Roberts' death
Transported you must be
To serve a term of fourteen years
In convict slavery”

The Judge he said “For Robert's death
Transported you must be
To serve a term of forty years
In convict slavery”

A buck or doe believe it so
A pheasant or a hare
Was put on earth for everyone
Quite equal for to share

So poacher bold, your tale is told
Keep up your gallant heart
And think about those poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park

Acknowledgements

Joseph Taylor's version was transcribed by Garry Gillard. Transcription of Martin Carthy's version was begun by Wolfgang Hell, and continued by Garry Gillard.