> Louis Killen > Songs > The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife

The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife

[ Roud - ; Ballad Index MacCS16 ; DT COALOWNR ; William Hornsby]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil

Ewan MacColl sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife in 1951 on a Topic shellac record (TRC55). This track was included in 1954 on his, Isla Cameron’s and the Topic Singers untitled album (TRL1). He also song it on his and Peggy Seeger’s 1957 Topic album of industrial folk ballads, Shuttle and Cage, most of which was included in 1964 on Steam Whistle Ballads. The liner notes commented:

This ballad is believed to date from the Durham strike of 1844 and to have been written by William Hornsby, a collier of Shotton Moor, Durham. The ballad was discovered among a collection of papers relating to the strike by a studious Lancashire miner, J.S. Bell. The tune was supplied by J. Dennison, of Walker and, together with the text, can be found in A.L. Lloyd’s Come All Ye Bold Miners.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife in 1975 on the High Level Ranters’ Topic album The Bonny Pit Laddie.

Brian Osborne sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife in 1976 on his Traditional Sound album Ae Fond Kiss. He noted:

According to A.L. Lloyd, this strike ballad was unearthed by a miner at Whiston, Lancashire, in 1951. It was made at the time of the 1844 Durham strike by another collier, William Hornsby of Shotton Moor, and uses the form and tune of a classical ballad—even to the inclusion of a ‘derrydown’ refrain.

Louis Killen sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife in 1980 on his Collector album of songs of the British industrial revolution, Gallant Lads Are We. He noted:

Probably written by a Shotton Moor collier, William Hornsby, during the 1844 Durham Coal Miners’ Strike. This battle was more than an incident or a protest—it reflected the first national organisation of miners. For humour and confidence, it probably has no rival as the sort of song that “wears a smile but shows strong teeth”. (A phrase of A.L. Lloyd, one of the great, great men of British folk songs, particularly, industrial folk songs.)

The Demon Barbers sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife on their 2002 album Uncut.

Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler sang Coal Owner and the Poor Pitman’s Wife in 2013 on their WildGoose CD Wreck off Scilly. Andy Clarke noted:

Written in 1844 during the Durham strike by collier, William Hornsby of Shotton Moor.

Granny’s Attic sang The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife in 2016 on their WildGoose CD Off the Land. They noted:

This is one of the best known songs from the North East of England and was printed in A.L. Lloyd’s Come All Ye Bold Miners. Allegedly Lloyd wrote a few extra lines to bulk out the song which have now passed into the tradition (thanks for that Bert!). Cohen first heard this one sung in the slightly more unusual 6/8 rhythm at a folk club in Birmingham many years ago and has sung it like that ever since. The tune at the end is the well-known jig Morrisons.


Louis Killen sings The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife

A dialogue I’ll tell you as true as m’life
Between a coalowner and a poor pitman’s wife,
As she went a-walking all on the highway
She met a coalowner and this she did say.

Chorus (after each verse):
Derry down, down, down, derry down.

“Good morning, Lord Firedamp,” this woman she cried,
“I’ll do you no harm, sir, so don’t be afraid,
But if you’d been where I’ve been the most of m’life.
Well, you wouldn’t turn pale at a poor pitman’s wife,”

“Then where do you come from?” the owner he cried,
“I come from hell,” the poor woman replied.
“Well, if you come from hell, then come tell me right plain,
Just how you contrived to get out again.”

“The way I got out, sir, the truth I will tell,
They’re turning the poor folk all out of hell,
And this to make way for the rich, wicked race,
For there is a great number of them in that place.

“And the coalowners are the next on command
To arrive in hell as I understand,
For I hear the old Devil say, as I came out,
The coalowners all had received their rout.

“If you be a coalowner, sir, take my advice,
Agree with your men and give them a fair price,
For if and you don’t, then I know very well,
You’ll be in great danger of going to hell.”

“Good woman,” cried the owner, “I must bid you farewell,
You give me a dismal account about hell;
And if this all is true, that you say unto me,
I’ll be off like a whippet, with m’ poor men agreed.”