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The Workhouse Boy

[ Roud 29495 ; DT WORKHBOY ; Mudcat 17054 ; trad.]

The Halliard sang the grim song The Workhouse Boy on their album The Halliard : Jon Raven. It was originally published in 1968 and reissued on CD in 1997. Later, this recording was also included in the Halliard’s CD Broadside Songs.

Dave Moran commented:

Nic [Jones] and I and mandolin/guitar player Nigel Paterson made up the Halliard. We were looking to develop some new music and we took the advice of song-writer Leslie Shepard. We decided to add tunes to Broadsides that we discovered, uncovered or collected—we checked out the Harkness Collection at Preston and the collections in Manchester etc.

Nic and I wrote all the tunes together, usually sitting in the front of the Mini and singing and working out tunes as we drove—as the mandolin was the smallest instrument and Nigel was in the back, he always played the tunes. ‘Jones and Moran’ wrote a heap of songs like this including Lancashire Lads, Going for a Soldier, Jenny, Miles Weatherhill, Calico Printer’s Clerk etc. We wrote the tunes to fit the words and sometimes added or altered words, as in The Workhouse Boy.


The Halliard sing The Workhouse Boy

The cloth was laid in the workhouse halls,
The greatcoats hung on the whitewashed walls;
The paupers all were blythe and gay,
Keeping their Christmas holiday.

Chorus (repeated after each verse, twice at the end):
And we all of us say it and we say it with sneers:
That Jamie’s been murdered by the overseers.

When the master he said with a murderous leer:
“You’ll all get fat on your Christmas cheer.”
And each by his looks he seemed to say:
“I’ll have more soup on this Christmas day.”

At length all of us to bed were sent;
A boy was missing and in search we went.
We sought him high and we sought him low,
We sought him with faces of grief and woe.

We sought him that hour and we sought him that night,
We sought him in fear and we sought him in fright.
When I heard a young pauper who then did cry:
“We’ll all have to starve till we find that boy.”

At length the soup copper repairs did need;
The coppersmith came and there he seed:
A pile of bones lay a-sizzling there
And the leg of the breeches the boy did wear.