> The Watersons > Songs > Cob-a-Coaling


[ Roud 9234 ; Mudcat 64163 , 124852 ; trad.]

The Watersons recorded Cob-a-Coaling in 1965 for their first LP, Frost and Fire, but this track was left out of the finished album. They re-recorded the song on 30 January 1991 at Robin Hood’s Bay for the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices, and it was reissued in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. This is the earliest recording of Eliza Carthy that I know of. The Voices liner notes commented:

The English tradition abounds with rituals ranging through Mummers Plays, Well Dressing, Rush Cart Bearing, Ball Games and so on (it is worth seeking out a copy of The National Trust Guide to Traditional Customs of Britain by Brian Shuel, published by Webb & Bower). This song, from the Lancashire and Yorkshire border is associated with Bonfire Night. It is believed to have been part of a Mummers Play before transferring to the more recent calendar ritual. It was given to the Watersons in the 1960s by A.L. Lloyd. It was to have been included in their album on ritual songs, Frost and Fire, in the 1960s but space did not permit.

The Watersons in full flight is one of the most glorious sounds to be heard. They do not sing rigid harmony part, but often shift the harmonies around. The blend of voices is such that even when singing in unison there is an aural illusion of harmony. This is the first time this line-up has recorded and the Watersons were Norma, Michael and Ann Waterson, Martin and Eliza Carthy and Jill Pidd.

Harry Boardman sang Cob-a-Coalin’ in 1968 on the Topic album Deep Lancashire: Songs and Ballads of the Industrial North-West. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

This song has connections with earlier mummers’ plays, but in living memory, it has provided a means by which children extract money from unsuspecting grown-ups for fireworks during the weeks leading up to the 5th November.

The chorus, including the tune, is from the Failsworth version (near Oldham) whereas the tune used for the verses is that sung by children in and around the Oldham area itself. The last two verses are still sung by children in the Oldham area but the first three verses were given by Mrs Norah Sykes of Greenfield who, in a letter to the Oldham Chronicle in November 1966, decried the fact that children are singing less and less of the song which she remembers from childhood. In spite of this, the custom shows no sign of dying out completely.

The Oldham Tinkers sang A Cob-Coaling Medley in 1974 on their album Best o’ t’ Bunch: Back Street Songs of Lancashire.

Maggie Sand and Sandragon sang Cob-a-Coaling in 2009 on their WildGoose CD Susie Fair. She noted:

A street-song, originating from the Yorkshire-Lancashire border in the north of England and traditionally sung around the time of Bonfire Night, 5 November. It is normally sung to a different melody, but we thought that this mediaeval jig tune suited it well. The instrumental tune that follows it is a traditional French farandole.

Jon Boden sang Cob-a-Coalin’ as the Bonfire Night (5 November 2010) entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.


Harry Boardman sings Cob-a-Coalin’

Chorus (after each verse):
We come a-cob-a-coalin’, cob-a-coalin’, cob-a-coalin’
We come a-cob-a-coalin’ for Bonfire Night

Now the first to come in is a collier, you see,
With his pick and his shovel already to dig.
He digs it and picks it and then it does fall,
And that is the way that we gather cob coal.

And the next to come in is a sailor, you see,
With a bunch of blue ribbon tied under his knee,
He travelled through England and France and through Spain,
And now he’s returned to owd England again.

And the last to come in is a miser, you see,
He’s a hump on his back, and he’s blind of one ee.
He’s a weary owd feller and he wears a pigtail
And all his delight is in drinking owd ale.

Now down in yon cellar there’s an old umbrella,
There’s nowt in yon corner but an old pepper pot.
Pepper pot, pepper pot, morning till night,
If you give us nowt, we’ll pinch nowt and bid you goodnight.

And down in yon cellar there’s plenty of bugs,
They’ve eaten my stockings and part of my clogs;
We’ll get a sharp knife and we’ll cut their yeds off,
And we’ll have a good supper of bugs yeds and broth.

Up a ladder and down a wall,
Tuppence or thruppence will please us all.

The Watersons sing Cob-a-Coaling

We come a-cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling
We come a-cob-a-coaling for Bonfire Night

We come a-cob-coaling for Bonfire Night
For coal and for money, we hope you’ll set right
Fal the ray, fal the ray
Fal the riddly aye dum day

Now the first house we come to is an old cobbler’s shop
Wi’ nowt in its cornice but an owd pepperbox
Pepperbox, ball of wax, morning till night
If you give us nowt, we’ll tek nowt
Farewell and good night

Now me father is dead, he’s dead and he’s gone
Attention to his grave
Hello boys, hello boys, let the bells ring
Fire boys, fire boys, fire we sing!

The Fifth of November, we hope you’ll remember
For gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

We come a-cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling
We come a-cob-a-coaling for Bonfire Night
We come a-cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling, cob-a-coaling
We come a-cob-a-coaling for Bonfire Night


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Greer Gilman. Thank you!