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While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping /
Hares in the Old Plantation / Dogs and Ferrets

[ Roud 363 ; Ballad Index TcWGaLSl , K249 ; VWML GG/1/18/1127 , GG/1/18/1142 ; Wiltshire Roud 363 ; trad.]

Steve Roud sorts three related songs under number 363: While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping, Hares in the Old Plantation, and Dogs and Ferrets.

Bob Copper sang I Keep My Dogs in a BBC recording (BBC 21547) made by Peter Kennedy at the Central Club, Peacehaven, on February 2, 1955. He also sang Dogs and Ferrets on his 1977 solo LP Sweet Rose in June, and the Copper Family with Bob Copper in lead recorded it for their 1995 CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family. The first verse of this song ends with the line “While the gamekeeper lies sleeping”.

Bob Copper also sang Dogs and Ferrets at a concert with Bob Lewis at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on October 17, 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

Jim Baldry sang Hares in the Plantation to Peter Kennedy at his house, Corner Cottage, Melton, Woodbridge, on July 10, 1956. This recording was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology The Barley Mow (The Voice of the People Volume 26).

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in a recording made by Brian Matthews at the Abergavenny Arms in Copthorne in 1960. This was included in 2000 on Maynards's Musical Traditions anthology Down the Cherry Tree.

Tom Willett sang While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in 1962 at the age of 84 on the Willett Family's album The Roving Journeymen. The original album's notes commented:

Poaching used to provide a living for country people. Whilst many songs deal with poachers who are captured and transported, here the hares are caught and sold without detection.

There appears to be one generally published version of this poaching song, given by Kidson in Traditional Tunes as Hares in the Old Plantation. Mr Willett's text is superior. The theme is somewhat unusual in that the poaching operation is completely successful.

A variant of this major tune is sometimes used for the ballad called The Banks of Green Willow, known in Scotland as Bonnie Annie (Child 24).

Jasper Smith of Surrey sang this song as While the Yogger Mush Lays Sleeping in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1972-75. This was published in 1975 on the Topic anthology Songs of the Open Road: Gypsies, Travellers & Country Singers. Mike Yates commented in the album's notes:

While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping is a well loved and often sung country song. The harshness and inhumanity of the 18th and 19th century Game Laws did little to stamp out poaching in rural Britain, a fact attested to by such songs as The Oakham Poachers, William Taylor, Thorneymoor Park and While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping. Here Jasper Smith sings a macaronic form of the song using terms which have proved invaluable to travellers who wish to speak among themselves without fear of being understood by outsiders.

Steeleye Span recorded this poacher's song as Dogs and Ferrets for their 1975 album Commoners Crown. The whole band sang both verses and chorus with a very sparse accompaniment of bodhrán and acoustic guitar.

June Tabor sang While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping with quite different words— as collected by George B. Gardiner from “a resident of Marchwood” in 1907—on her 1976 album Airs and Graces. This recording was later included on her anthologies Aspects (1990) and The Definitive Collection (2003). A different recording, sung live at the Jesse Boot Centre, Nottingham in 1986, can be found on her 4 CD anthology Always (2005). June commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

From the Hammond / Gardiner mss, collected severally in Hampshire. Female hares, one is informed, make better eating. The hare is innocent, OK.

Thus video shows June Tabor singing While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in the 1976 TV programme “Fanfare” (starting at 17:10 min):

Barge skipper Bob Roberts sang While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in 1978 on his Topic LP Songs from the Sailing Barges. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping is a favourite from the time of the poacher-gamekeeper ‘wars’ at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gypsies and other travelling people have their versions, using Romany or ‘tinkers’ cant’ words.

Wiggy Smith sang Hares in the Old Plantation in a recording by Mike Yates in The Cat & Fiddle, Whaddon, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on January 2, 1974. This recording was released in 1979 on the Topic album of songs, stories and tunes from English Gypsies, Travellers. Both Roberts' and Smith's recordings were included in 1998 on the Topic anthology To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight (The Voice of the People Volume 18). Wiggy Smith also sang I’ll Take My Dog and My Airgun Too on June 17, 1995 at the English Country Music Weekend, Postlip Tithe Barn, Gloucestershire. This recording made by Gwilym Davies was included in 2000 on Smith's Musical Traditions anthology Band of Gold. Rod Stradling commented in the album's booklet:

The song Hares on the Old Plantation probably comes from the early 1800s, when the newly introduced game laws and enclosure acts were beginning to deeply affect the lower classes.

Knowing the extent to which poaching was practised, even in recent years, it’s not surprising to find songs on the subject still popular among country singers. In the case of this song, well over half the 24 examples in Roud are sound recordings—a very unusual proportion, but unsurprising in the light of the above. What might surprise us is that there are no broadside versions listed, since other such songs (Van Diemen's Land, for example) are well supported by these publications.

It’s also unusual that the song is only found in England, as is the case with The Oakham Poachers. Somewhat surprised by this, I tried a search on songs with Poacher in the title and found 130 instances in Roud—only three of which could be identified as not being English! Are we the only thieves in these islands—or just the only ones who enjoy singing about it? It could, of course, have something to do with the way in which the English, alone in Europe if not the world, have accorded landowners rights of ownership to the wild animals which happen to be on their domains at any particular time.

Wiggy’s song, in this instance at least, lacks the “While gamekeepers are sleeping“ line which provides the title for so many other versions.

Gwilym Davies sang Wiggy Smith's Gloucestershire version at the Bell Hotel in Odiham, Hampshire, in October 2013:

Shirley and Dolly Collins sang While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping live at the Folk Festival Sidmouth in 1979. This recording was included in 2006 on their Fledg'ling anthology Snapshots.

Mike Waterson sang While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in 1981 on the Watersons' album Green Fields. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Most songs of the poacher-gamekeeper “wars” of the early nineteenth century were pretty violent, sometimes lethal affairs. But this one (based on a real happening?) tells a story that is ultimately full of charm. Bob Roberts, the former sprits'l barge skipper sings this version. It's well known among gypsies and travellers too, who sometimes introduce Romany or “cant” words into the story.

The Watersons sang Hares in the Old Plantation in 1981 on their album Green Fields and Martin Carthy sang it in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy's second album Common Tongue. A.L. Lloyd commented in the first recording's sleeve notes:

The Eastern counties and up to Yorkshire was the main ground for this poaching song. Frank Kidson's tireless correspondent Mr Lolley sent a version of it from Goole, and he considered the words so deficient in rhyme and reason as to be “not to be worth the trouble of transcription”. Too fussy by far. Later, Vaughan Williams recorded a set from a singer named Noah Fisher, and this is the version the Watersons use.

And Martin Carthy commented in the Common Tongue sleeve notes:

Mr Shadrach Haden, sometimes know as “Shepherd“, came from the village of Bampton in the Bush which is of course the home of the still famous and very independent morris team, and from him Cecil Sharp learned many great songs including Hares in the Old Plantation. It's quite unusual I think in the sense that it is a song about hunger for food, and I really can't think of too many others. It's also a favourite among gypsies, who generally sing a much more rambly tune than the one which Mr Haden had.

Chris Wood sang While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping in 1999 on his and Andy Cutting's album Knock John.

Andy Turner learned this song from Tom Willett's record too. He sang it as My Dog and I as the October 9, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He noted in his blog:

Another song from the Willett Family LP The Roving Journeymen. This one was sung by Tom Willett on the album, and given the title While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping, although those words don’t actually appear anywhere in the song. Neither do Hares in the Old Plantation, or Dogs and Ferrets, which are other common titles for the song, so I’ve just used the first few words as the title. It was only when I came to record this that I realised I’d never really given any thought to what I called the song. I’d guess that quite possibly Tom Willett never did either.

The Roud Index currently has 53 entries for this song, nearly all from Southern England, and quite a few—like this version—collected from travelling singers.

Gavin Davenport sang Long Legged Lurcher Dog in 2013 on his CD The Bone Orchard.

Pete Coe and Alice Jones sang Hares in the Old Plantation on their 2014 double CD of songs collected by Frank Kidson, The Search for Five Finger Frank.

Sam Lee learned this song from the Smith family and sang it with the title Airdog on his 2014 EP More for to Rise and on his 2015 CD The Fade in Time.

Lyrics

Tom Willett sings While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping Steeleye Span sing Dogs and Ferrets

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
I keep my dogs and I keep my ferrets,
I have them in my keeping
To catch those hares that run by night
While the gamekeepers lie sleeping.

My dog and me went out last night
For to view this habitation
Up jumps the hare and away she ran
Till she ran into my plantation.

My dogs and I went out on a cold night
For to view the habitation.
Up jumped a hare and away she did run
Straight into a plantation.

She hollered and she squealed and she made a noise
But something stopped her hollering
Lay still, lay still, you pretty little puss
For your uncle's just a-coming

She had not gone a long way in
When something caught her running.
So loudly then I heard her cry
For she knew the dogs were coming.

Now I picked her up and cracked her neck
And put her in my pocket
Saying I do my dog, time we was gone
For the gamekeeper's a-coming

I took my knife all in my hand,
So quickly for to paunch her.
She was one of the female kind
How glad I was I'd caught her.

Now I'll go unto some labourer's house
I'll ask him what we will gave me
One crown a brace I will give to you
Brave boys, if you will bring fifty.

I'll go unto some public house
And there I will get merrilye
I will spend this crown and another one down
Ain't I a hearty good fellow.

Then I'll go down to some alehouse near
And I'll drink that hare quite mellow.
I'll spend a crown and a merry crown too
And say, “I'm a right good fellow.”

Last chorus:
I keep my dogs and I keep my ferrets,
I have them in my keeping.

June Tabor sings While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping Wiggy Smith sings I’ll Take My Dog and My Airgun Too

Oh I've got a dog and a good dog too
And I keeps it in my keeping,
For to catch those hares that run by night
While the gamekeepers lie a-sleeping.

My dog and me went out one night
For to learn some education.
Up jumped a hare and away she runs,
Right into some large plantation.

She had not gone so very far
Before something stopped her running.
Oh Aunt! Oh Aunt! she loudly cried,
Stop a minute, your Uncle's coming!

Oh I took out my little penknife
And quickly I did paunch her.
She turned out one of the female kind.
How glad am I I caught her.

I picks her up and I smooth her down
And I puts her in my keeping.
I says to my dog, it's time to be gone
While the gamekeepers lie a-sleeping.

Away me and my dog did go,
Back into the town.
We took that hare to a labouring man
And we sold it for a crown.

We went into some public house
And there we got quite mellow,
For we spent that crown and another one too
Don't you think I am a good-hearted fellow?

(repeat first verse)

I’ll take my dog and my airgun too
And I will take a ramble
For I will ramble for a mile or two
Just to see what I can find-o.

I had not gone two fields from home
Before up jumped an ’are-o
And up she jumped and away she run
Straight into my plantation.

I had not gone three fields from home
Before up jumped another
For up she jumped and away she run
My dog made her squeal murder.

See how she laughs, see how she cries
When something stopped her running
Though lay you still, my poor pussy cat,
For your uncle now he is coming.

I took that hare oh along the road
And I sold him for a crown-o
And they said they would give me a crown a brace
If I would bring them fifty.

Bob Roberts sings While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping Mike Waterson sings While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping

I had a long-legged lurcher dog,
And I kept her in my keeping.
She'd run out hare, on a moonlit night,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

I had a long-legged lurcher dog,
I kept her in me keeping.
She'd flush out hare, on a moonlit night,
While the gamekeepers lie sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lie sleeping.

One day a policeman collared me,
To have me in his keeping.
Your brindle made a moonlit raid,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

One day the policeman collared me,
To have me in his keeping.
Your brindle made a moonlit raid,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping.

I see her come out of the wood,
Across the fields a-speeding.
A partridge she had in her mouth,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

I seen her come out of the wood,
Across the fields a-speeding.
A partridge she had in her mouth,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping.

But my dog's black and white you see,
So I'm not for your keeping.
He couldn't see, I'd brindled she,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

But my dog's black and white you see,
So I'm not for your keeping.
He couldn't see, I'd brindled she,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping.

One day his wife fell mortal ill,
He had to give up p'licing.
But I dropped one by his door each night,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

One day his wife fell mortal ill,
He had to give up p'licing.
But I dropped one bird on his door each night,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping.

She fared so well on pheasant broth,
Her colour come back creeping.
So long as my bitch roamed abroad,
While gamekeepers were sleeping,
While gamekeepers were sleeping.

Now she fared so well upon pheasant broth,
Her colour come back creeping.
So long as my bitch roamed abroad,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping,
While the gamekeepers lay sleeping.

The bitch she pupped, I gave him one,
To have in his own keeping.
Now he's left the force and roams like me,
While gamekeepers are sleeping,
While gamekeepers are sleeping.

Now the bitch she pupped and I given him one,
To have in his own keeping.
Now he's left the force, and he roams wi' me,
While the gamekeepers lie sleeping,
While gamekeepers lie sleeping.

The Watersons sing Hares in the Old Plantation
on Green Fields
The Watersons sing Hares in the Old Plantation
on Common Tongue

When I was young and in me prime
Don't you think it was provoking?
I had two dogs all of me own
I kept 'em for my sporting

When I had two dogs and an airgun too
I kept them for my keeping
All for to kill some game at night
When the keepers they were sleeping

Oh I've got a dog got a good dog too
And I have it in my keeping
To catch those hares that run by night
While the game-keeper lies sleeping

I and my dog went out one night
To view a habitation
What started one, right away she run
Right away into my plantation

Oh me and my dogs we went out one night
To view a habitation
Up jumped one and away she run
Right away into my plantation

She kicked she squalled she hollered out
I thought that she was running
I said O puss oh do lie still
For your uncle he is a-coming

I picked her up and I cracked her neck
Oh quickly I did paunch her
She proved to be of the female kind
How glad was I that I caught her

Before I could get half a field or more
Or very little further
Up jumped another old hare and away dogs went
Made her shriek murder

And as I was a-going over Hartford field
Scarce half a field or further
Up jumped another one and away she run
And I made her shriek murder

Up she jumped and followed out aunt
When the dogs they stopped her running
Oh pray, poor puss, do you lay still
For your uncle he's a-coming

I picked her up and I broke her neck
And into me pocket put her
Thinks I to meself I'd better be a-going
Before I meets a looker

I picked her up I smoothed her out
Into my pocket put her
I says to my dogs oh we must be going
Before we meet some looker

I went into a neighbour's house
And I asked him what he'd give me
He said he'd give me a crown a brace
If I would bring him fifty

So I went down to my neighbour's house
And I asked him what he'd give me
He said he'd give me a crown a brace
If I would bring him fifty

I went into a public house
And there I gets quite mellow
I spent a crown, another one throwed down
Wasn't I a good-hearted fellow?

So I went down to the public house
And there I got quite mellow
Laid a crown another one laid down
Don't you think that I am a good fellow

Oh I've got a dog got a good dog too
And I have it in my keeping
To catch those hares that run by night
While the gamekeeper lies sleeping

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping and Hares on the Old Plantation on Green Fields. The Common Tongue version was transcribed by Garry Gillard, with assistance from Wolfgang Hell.

Thanks to Patrick Montague for some lyrics corrections.

See also the Mudcat Café threads Lyr Req: While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping and Lyr Add: Whilst the Gamekeepers lie Sleeping.