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The Threshing Song / The ’Chiner’s Song

[ Roud 874 ; Ballad Index CoSB274 , K231 ; VWML GG/1/9/493 ; trad.]

Jim Copper recorded The Threshing Song on 1 March 1951 for the BBC recording BBC 16067. This track was included in 1955 on the anthology The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music - Volume III: England. Bob and Ron Copper sang it in a 1955 Peter Kennedy recording that was published on their 1963 EFDSS album Traditional Songs From Rottingdean. This recording was also included in 2001 on their Topic anthology Come Write Me Down.

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

Shirley Collins sang The ’Chiner’s Song on her 1974 Topic album, Adieu to Old England. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

Collected by Bob Copper from Frank Bond of North Waltham, Hampshire. Franks said that he wrote this song about his mates who worked the threshing machine in the early part of this century. Shirley Collins first heard this on a BBC Archive disc, but since then Bob Copper has included the song in his book Songs and Southern Breezes, although the words there differ slightly from the version on this record.

Some of Bob Copper’s BBC recordings from the 1950, including Frank Bond’s The ’Chiner’s Song, were published by Topic in 1977 on their LP Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Singers From Hampshire and Sussex to accompany the book. Bob Copper wrote in the album’s liner notes:

Frank wrote the words of The Chiner’s Song in about 1906 and it is based on a traditional tune. God Bless the Master used to be sung by way of introduction or, as Frank said, “to open out” when The Mummers went round to perform their play at the big houses at Christmas.

Isla St Clair sang The Machiner’s Song on the 1981 soundtrack of the BBC television series The Song and the Story.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Thrashing Machiners on his 2011 CD God Speed the Plough. He noted:

Thrashing or threshing—the process of separating the heads of corn from the stalk—had been performed for centuries by teams of blokes thwacking away with flails. So they were not best pleased when machines were introduced which threatened to do them out of a job, and the destruction of thrashing machines became a primary target for the agricultural labourers who staged a massive uprising during the 1830s. The authorities responded with a harshness that beggars belief, and the disturbances were ruthlessly suppressed with jail, transportation, and hanging.

All the more surprising, therefore, to find this jolly ditty in celebration of the very thing which had, not so long before, been the focus of so much bitterness and hatred. Even if they made the work easier, thrashing machines were big complicated affairs which still needed quite a gang to operate them—“machiners”, as they were known, shortened, by missing out the first syllable, to “sheeners”.

The Copper Family of Sussex have a few of these verses in their treasure chest of wonderful country songs, and Bob Copper himself noted down a few more from Frank Bond of North Waltham in Hampshire, who displayed a ready wit at improvising new lines. The collector George Gardiner found a few more snippets in Hampshire a hundred years ago, and like many of the songs on this recording, what you hear now is a jumble of all of these mixed up together.


The Copper Family sings The Threshing Song

It’s all very well to have a machine
To thresh your wheat and barley clean,
To thresh it and wim it all fit for sale,
And take it to market brisk and well.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing rumble-dum-dairy flare up Mary
And make her old table shine.

The man who made her he made her so well,
He made each cog and wheel to tell.
While the big wheel runs the little one hums,
And the feeder he sits above the drum.

There’s old Father Howard the sheaves to put,
While old Mother Howard she does make up.
And Mary she sits and feeds all day,
And Johnny he carries the straw away.

At seven o’clock we do begin
And we usually stop about nine or ten
To have our beer and oil her up,
Then up we go till one o’clock.

Then after a bite and a drink all round
The driver climbs to his box again
And with his long whip ad a shout of, All right,
He drives ’em round till five at night.

Shirley Collins sings The Chiner’s Song

Six o’clock come, we now begin,
We usually stops ’twixt nine and ten,
To oil her up and see all things right,
And she’ll dress two ricks on a hapy night.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Sing fal-the-ro lai-rum,
Fal-the-ri laddie-i-day.

There’s Jimmy Bailey, he runs the concern,
He’s got plenty of wood and coal to burn,
He pulls the lever and makes her grunt,
And the wheels we’ll keep on going for a month.

There’s Brewer Allen the sheaves to put,
A lively gait he must keep up,
Old Chin keeps snipping the bonds all day,
And Butler he hucks the caven away.

There’s big old Long’un and Plummer Hide,
On the corn rick working side by side,
They takes it easy, ’tis just like they,
Supplying old Brewer with sheaves all day.

There’s Wiggy and Mush a-building the rick,
To see ’em at work, it is a freak,
They builds ’em round and square and flat,
And tops ’em up the shape of your hat.

There’s Sammy Elmer and old Tom too,
Hauling the corn, they got plenty to do,
They’ve got a sack-lifter of great renown,
It squeezes a handle to steady her down.

The ’chine got blocked the other day,
I heard old Jimmy Bailey say,
It comes an end, she shan’t be long,
Up and along, the skaven prong.

Ernie Annetts is baggin’ the hoiles,
He is always handy when Jimmy calls,
He don’t belong to the sheening crew,
He just comes to oblige for a day or two.

Now ’chiners thrived in the days of yore,
When work was hard and money was poor,
And if you were grafting for Hilary’s delight,
Just in two in the morning till ten at night.

(’chine = machine)


I copied the lyrics from the then Copper Family’s website and adapted them to the singing of Bob and Ron Copper and Shirley Collins, respectively.