Songs with a Shrewsbury/Shropshire/West Midlands connection. At the moment:
- Castles and Kings/Liongate: a more personal memoir
- Settings of verses (mostly) from ‘A Shropshire Lad‘
- Thomas Anderson: a story from the Jacobite rebellion.
Words and Music by David Harley, copyright 1974
Update: a version with guitar and mandolin, but no harmonies. The harmonies may be back, but I think I prefer it with instruments. On the other hand, I think I may drop the instrumental that should follow it.
Earlier sketch of a harmony version. Recorded quite quickly – less than an hour – so the four vocal tracks aren’t always perfectly in synch. That’s why it’s a demo. 🙂 Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back to it and add the instrumental that should follow it, in the near future.
And a solo version, to demonstrate the bare tune:
When I was a kid in a country town
and I’d nothing better to do:
I’d detour round by the railway bridge
on my way home from school.
Leaning over the bridge with my chin in my hands,
too young to be wondering why,
I’d wait what seemed hours for the signal to change:
wait for a train to go by
The lure of the footplate, the churn of the rods
straining to places unknown;
fog in November, smoke in the cold air
the faraway steam-whistle moan;
bathing my eyes in the warmth of the lights
as up the track she would fly.
I’d get home late: they’d ask ‘Where have you been?’
I’d say ‘watching the trains go by’…
Saturday lunchtime some days in the spring
with the sky an implacable blue,
collecting the numbers of Castles and Kings:
it’s all we’d want to do.
Perspective of steel cut through frostbitten green,
just went on to a faraway end,
and I always felt sad at the Cambrian’s tail-light
as she’d disappear round the bend.
Now trains mean timetables, luggage and waiting rooms,
leaving the people I love;
the pounding of diesels, the A to B run
– perspective has subtly moved.
Tonight I am free and the rails are still endless
(if I had the fare to ride)
but I stand on a footbridge in the heart of the city
watching the tube trains go by.
Photograph © Copyright David Stowell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. I’ve slightly cropped the photo but made no further alteration, and I’m not sure that really counts as alteration, but if it does, consider it licensed under the same terms.
This is a (probably inaccurate) memory of my early school years, when we lived in Shrewsbury. The railway bridge in question is a composite: there were actually two that were (very loosely) on my way home, and another – my favourite – that meant walking in the wrong direction from Crowmoor school. The Cambrian is the Cambrian Express, which at that time ran from Paddington to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. Castles and Kings are classic Great Western steam locomotives: I changed that line after being reminded of them in a post to Remember When In Shrewsbury’s Facebook page. The title has something to do with the fact that I wrote the song while I was staying with my friend Sally Goddard somewhere near Kew Gardens. Not really ‘the heart of the city’, but there is a footbridge there somewhere that crosses the District line. I know… way, way too much information. Strictly speaking, Liongate was the guitar instrumental I used to play straight after singing the song unaccompanied, but it sort of attached itself to the song. Though since I changed that line, maybe Castles and Kings is a better title.
Sally now lives in Newfoundland, where she sings with a band called Atlantic Union.
With one exception, all the settings here right now are of verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, by A.E. Housman. Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, and died in Cambridge in 1936, and it’s often said that he hadn’t actually visited the Shropshire countryside of which he presented his own vision until after he had published the collection (though that doesn’t seem to be the case, although most of the poems were written while living in Highgate, London.) However, his ashes are buried near St. Lawrence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing. Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of these settings was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.)
These MP3s are all first-take demo versions, not studio quality. I’ll maybe come back to them properly when the size of my back-catalogue looks a little less daunting. Some day, I might even set some more of Housman’s verse. While much of his work has a somewhat depressive nature that’s often been parodied (there are a couple of good examples quoted here), many of his verse cry out to be sung.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from reading or even buying the whole cycle, though. The whole of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is viewable from bartleby.com. There are countless hard-copy volumes of Housman’s verse, of course, but my favourite is the 2009 edition published by Merlin Unwin with local photographs by Gareth B. Thomas (and a handful from the Shropshire Regimental Museum), an introduction by Prof. Christopher Ricks, and a brief biography of Housman by Dr. David Lloyd, a well-known name in Ludlow historical circles.
Here are the links to the MP3s:
Other Housman settings have been composed by real composers like:
Oddly enough, I’m not aware of any other folkies who’ve set any of these, but it’s unlikely that I’m the only one. 🙂
I’ve also set these Yeats poems (there may be more…)
The Wild Swans at Coole [demo] (Yeats-Harley)
And there’s this instrumental version of the well-known tune to a song indelibly associated with Yeats: Down by the Salley Gardens [demo]
I also set a couple of Causley poems to music, but there may be copyright/IP issues with that. The late Alex Atterson did some excellent settings of Causley, which I believe were/are available on CD. You could try Musicstack, if you’re interested in those.
[Article expanded and updated to match the one at Wheal Alice Music, which is where my more recent music is now posted, in July 2016.]
Words & Music by David Harley, copyright 1975, but based on Ron Nurse’s article (transcribed below). All rights are reserved.
This is Harley in folkie mode. Ron’s article was written for the Shrewsbury Folk Club magazine in the 1970s. I believe his source material was in the Shrewsbury Chronicle archives, though there is also other material relating to the death of Thomas Anderson, notably in the Shropshire Gazetteer (also transcribed below). Sadly, Ron recently passed on, but I was at least able to sing the song in his presence, tell the story of how I came to write it, and shake his hand at a Shrewsbury Folk Club reunion a few years ago. I transcribed Ron’s article for my Shropshire Blues blog – which has a lot to do with Shropshire, but not very much to do with blues or even cheese – but I’ve now reproduced it in the article you’re currently reading.
And yes, I know that Thomas A. Anderson is the real name of Neo in The Matrix, but I’ve never been quite sure what I could do with that information. 🙂
This is the latest version, though not yet ready for the CD. 🙂 Perhaps some day the stars will align and I’ll have time to record it properly (especially the vocals), but this at least gives a reasonable idea of how it sounds in my head.
The discarded 1980′s studio version didn’t have first verse, had an alarming pre-echo in places, harshly recorded fiddle, and a so-so flute part. (I have no idea where that came from: I don’t remember working with a flautist on those sessions.) So I’ve abandoned it. However, the current version revisits that instrumentation (courtesy of a very versatile electronic keyboard, since I don’t play fiddle or flute), plus guitar, bouzouki and mountain dulcimer. Yes, Virginia, those are all real instruments added by the miracle of overdubbing. 🙂 Hat tip to Ann Merrill Gray, who lent me her dulcimer while I decided whether to buy one of my own. (I did, but it hasn’t appeared on an MP3 yet.)
The first lines of the song make a little more sense if you know about the Shoemaker’s Arbour. This is a detail from the Arbour, in Shrewsbury Dingle, showing the somewhat dilapidated Crispin and Crispian (the latter more commonly known as Crispinian). The Dingle is part of the park known locally as the Quarry (and to the rest of the world as the Quarry Park. The Dingle it’s the part where stone was actually quarried. It’s now a rather attractive sunken garden, forever associated with the late Percy Thrower. As for what is known locally as ‘a mingle in the Dingle’ we’ll pass swiftly over that.
Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of cobblers, tanners and leatherworkers. One version of their story is that they were executed in the third century AD for preaching Christianity to the Gauls, while earning their crust as shoemakers. An alternative version associates them with Kent (and Faversham in particular).
We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour
High above the river on Kingsland we stood
On the gate to the hall of the shoemakers’ guild
Where the bakers, the tailors, the butchers, the smiths
And the saddlers too their guild arbours built.
Each year in procession the guilds gave a show
And marched through the town to the sound of the drum:
Then it’s back to Kingsland to feast and carouse
And enjoy the great day the guild members come.
We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour
On the 10th of June 1752
In a house called The Crown that stood on Pride Hill
John Richards’ workmen received a week’s pay
And there they stayed and drank their fill.
When a redcoat patrol chanced to pass by
The men mocked and reviled them with Jacobite songs
And who struck the first blow no-one was sure
But a bloody riot soon raged through the town.
The authorities trembled with passion and fear
When news of this Jacobite outburst was known
For the House of Hanover had won few hearts
And the Stuarts still plotted to win back the throne.
And so that same year, one raw day in December,
The rebellious townsfolk of Salop looked on
While below the old arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour
They made an example of Tom Anderson
Who was once spared by death on the field of Culloden
Then joined the dragoons but deserted, they say,
Only to die on the banks of the Severn
By firing squad on a cold Winter’s day.
When the black velvet suit was stripped from his body
The Chevalier’s colours were beneath it, it’s said,
Received from the hands of Bonny Prince Charlie
Whose cause like young Thomas is broken and dead.
For it’s 200 years since Bonny Prince Charlie
Died drunk and embittered, an old man in Rome
While a century ago in the flowers of the Dingle
The old arbour gateway found a new home.
Now who’s to remember the Shoemakers’ Guild
Or the Jacobite rebels who fought for a throne?
And who’s left to grieve for Tom Anderson
But these two hearts of stone?
We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour
An article written by the late Ron Nurse for Issue 10 of the Shrewsbury Folk Club Magazine in 1973.
The two figures are of solid stone, but in spite of that fact, and the pious plea once carved between them (now almost effaced), some vandal has helped the hand of time to give them many a hard knock.
WE ARE BUT IMAGES OF STONE DO US NO HARM WE CAN DO NONNE
These images which represent St. Crispin and St. Crispian, and the arch of which they are part, once graced the entrance to the “Shoemakers’ Arbour”. But that was long, long ago: now they are part of the Dingle, that elegant centre piece of Shrewsbury’s Quarry Park. In its present position it does little to grace the orderly plots and rows of flowers, but the arch does have one thing in common with the flora of the Dingle, for it was transplanted here just as they were.
Years ago the arch stood on Kingsland, high on the other side of the river, and was the gateway to one of the many guild arbours that once stood there. Until well into the middle years of the last century the tailors, smiths, butchers, saddlers, and well as the bakers and shoemakers, had small fenced-off guild halls on the stretch of open ground that was Kingsland. These made a centre for all the drinking and merrymaking which took place after the show day procession of the Shrewsbury guilds. This took place on the second Monday after the Trinity Sunday, each year.
What scenes of revelry these old mutilated effigies must have seen in those far-off days, but then, can stone eyes see? Can stone hearts feel? Mayhap it is a blessing at times if they cannot.
One cold December day in the year 1752, a tall man dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet, was standing just below the shoemakers’ arbour on Kingsland. Despite the cold biting wind he was not alone, many others were braving the elements on this dull winter’s morn. Most were here of their own free will, but not the man in black, nor the row of scarlet-clad soldiers facing him.
Behind the soldiers a motley crowd of townsfolk stood silent, and waiting for the last act of a grim drama. Soon that black velvet suit would be stained a sodden red; clothing a corpse, as cold and lifeless as the two stone figures on the arch of the shoemakers’ arbour, overlooking this grim scene.
Sharp and clear across the river, the towers and spires rose above the huddle of buildings sheltering behind the ancient town walls. Sharp and clear on the frosty air rang out the musket shots, and the towers and spires of Shrewsbury flung back the sound. But Thomas Anderson did not hear the echo; did not feel the wind which now seemed to be blowing a little colder; and there was no warmth in the ray of sunlight that broke through the grey clouds, putting its finger on the grey stone arch and its inscription. “We are but images of stone, Do us no harm we can do nonne”.
Fate has a way; a path which each of us must follow to the end. She gives favours with one hand, then takes them back with the other. The victim of this grim drama had been spared from death on the battlefield of Culloden, but only to die here on the bank of the Severn. Shot down like a mad dog this raw December day. As warning to the people of Shrewsbury town that it was dangerous to think that a Stuart King could ever again sit on the throne of England.
It all started on the 10th of June 1752. The workers of John Ritchards, master builder, had received their pay at a pub called the ‘Crown’, which once stood on Pride Hill near the old ‘Butter Cross’. The day had been very hot, and building being thirsty work, it was no wonder that some of the hard-earned pay had been exchanged for liquid refreshment. Strong ale can lower the inborn sense for caution so that when a patrol of soldiers happened to pass by the pub, they became the butt for a stream of abuse and coarse with from the drinking men.
In 1752 the events of the 45 Rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his army as far South as Derby, in his bid to place his father on the throne, were just that few years past to be looked upon with a romantic nostalgia. Flora MacDonald, who helped to save the life of Charles Stuart, was a heroine in the eyes of the majority of the people of Britain.
[There is a hand-drawn illustration of the archway and the effigies here in the original article, but they haven’t survived the photocopying process very well. One of these days I’ll see if I can scan them in and clean them up in Photoshop, but in the meantime here is a photo of the arbour across the Dingle pond, to take their place. DH]
On the other hand, the Hanoverian Prince, the Duke of Cumberland, had made a dismal failure of the only victory he ever won in the whole of his military career. For the cruelties he ordered, or allowed, against the Highland Scots after the battle of Culloden had brought him the title ‘The Butcher’.
It was a fact that none of the early Hanoverian kings captured the least spark of respect or loyalty from their British subjects. The only thing in their favour was the fact that they were Protestants.
Then in the year 1750, Prince Charles Stuart renounced the Catholic religion and declared himself a member of the Church of England. Then in 1752 he was plotting to kill or capture the Hanoverian family, and place the ill-fated Stuart line back on the throne.
All these facts made the Whig authorities somewhat jittery. Watch was kept for any hint of the Stuart cause being supported by the people, the faintest sign of which must be stamped out quickly, before the fire could spread.
The affair which started at the ‘Crown’ in Shrewsbury would be looked upon as a demonstration in favour of the Stuarts, for some of the pub’s patrons were wearing white roses, and bawling Jacobite songs at the red-coated soldiery. It is on record that one of the songs they sang was this one, once very popular but now seldom heard.
OVER THE WATER TO CHARLIE
Come boat me o’er, come row me o’er
Come boat me o’er to Charlie
I’ll gie John Ross another bawbee T
o row me o’er to Charlie
We’ll o’er the water, we’ll o’er the water
We’ll o’er the water to Charlie
Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go
And live or die wi’ Charlie
It’s weel I lo’e my Charlie’s name
Though some there be abhor him
But oh! To see ‘Auld Nick’ gaun hame
And Charlie’s foes before him
I swear by moon and stars sae bright
And the sun that glances early
If I had twenty thousand lives
I’d gie them a’ for Charlie
I once had sons, I now ha’e nane
I bred them toiling sairly
But I would bear them a’ again
And lose them a’ for Charlie
[There’s a version from Mudcat including the melody. Ron didn’t have the advantage of the Internet when he wrote this article. – DH]
Needless to say, such conduct by the citizens of Shrewsbury could not be overlooked. Something had to be done to bring the common rabble back into line, and to show them to what end their traitorous action could lead them. Therefore the stage was set for the tragic even which took place six months later.
Thomas Anderson, the man in the handsome black velvet suit, was killed on that steep green slope, just downriver from the ‘Boathouse’, for more than one reason. He had deserted from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons. It was alleged that he had taken part in the 1745 rebellion, and that when the black velvet was stripped from his body, a sash was found next to his skin: the colours of the Chevalier, given him for the part he had played in the bid to depose the Hanoverian King George II. But the real reason was to put fear into the hearts of the people of Shrewsbury, especially the ones who had the audacity to sing rebel songs before the red-coated troopers of the Kind.
Although it is almost 200 years since ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ died in Rome, an old embittered drunk, yet we still sing the old songs. Who has never heard ‘The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’, ‘The Skye Boat Song’, or in the smaller circle of folk song clubs ‘Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa’ or ‘Johnnie Cope’? The words and music of these songs are the same as they always were, yet they have a feeling of bitter sadness that one can almost taste. All the flame and passion has gone from them.
Could these songs have once lit the fires of civil war in Britain? In1752, some men thought so.
(Article transcribed and very lightly edited by David Harley, to whom all errors may be attributed…)
Here’s an account of the death of Thomas Anderson from the Shropshire Gazetteer.
One of the last executions that took place in this kingdom on account of the Stuarts, occurred in Shrewsbury … Mr. Thomas Anderson, a Yorkshire gentleman, from the neighbourhood of Richmond, had risen to the rank of lieutenant in Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons, and had deserted from it. This offence so unusual in an officer, must it is probable, have been visited with the extreme severity of military law. It originated in his attachment to the exiled family, for whose service he was also charged with enlisting men. His trial which lasted three days, commenced at Worcester on the 16th of November, 1752, and after the sentence he was removed to the town of Shrewbury, where orders were received for his execution. Several petitions for mercy were laid before the King, from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Worcester, and Shrewsbury, but these are supposed to have been very far from doing him service, as the political principles of the petitioners were more than suspected. On Monday, December 11, about ten in the morning he was conducted from the gaol to Kingsland under a guard, attended by the regiment. The mayor with his usual attendants was also present. Mr. Anderson was in asuit of black velvet, and behaved with great composure. His dying speech consisted chiefly of religious sentiments very properly expressed, but a few passages of it indicate his political sentiments. He prays God “to strengthen the ancient church, to encrease the members of the Royal family, and protect and guard the dearest P——-, (probably Prince Charles Edward,) wherever he goes. As to the late account from London” he says “that he is pre-advised of it, and can justly say that he is guilty only of one of the faults charged upon him.”
In his letter delivered to the sheriff on the morning of his execution, he holds the same language: “Nothing laid to my charge has been proved, except desertion.” He requests the sheriff to cause all that befell him at Shrewsbury, and the friendship shewed him by its worthy citizens during his confinement, to be inserted in the London evening paper. “The whole town, and you, with Lady Kynaston in particular, have an assurance of my since thanks. The rest is to assure you that I’m entirely resigned to die, annexed to an assurance that nothing gives me any material concern, solely an affection that I have offended a GOD who has always treated me so tenderly.” His last words were a request for silence, that he might exculpate Mr. Wilding, the governor of the gaol, from a malicious accusation of having treated him unkindly. “I now declare upon the word of a dying man, that both he and his wife used me with the greatest tenderness and humanity, during my confinement with him.”
Mr. Anderson then composed himself to death. Five soldiers were appointed to shoot him, but only three fired. The balls from two, entered one into each breast; the third shot him through the head. Some signs of animation still remaining, the commanding officer stepped forward with a pistol, and released him from all sensation: an action which was considered by the spectators, who deeply sympathized with the sufferer, to indicate a ferocious resentment against the deceased; but which may perhaps be more candidly ascribed to the humane desire of terminating his agonies. He was buried in St. Mary’s church yard on the same day. A strong feeling of indignation was excited in the regiment by the apostacy of Mr. Anderson. They would not permit the funeral procession to enter the church, that part of that fine service might be suppressed. In return, the curate, Mr. Brooks pronounced it all, without curtailment, at the grave.
I recently looked for that grave in the graveyard of St. Mary’s, but was unable to find it. In fact, the mossy condition of the gravestones made it difficult to identify any of the people interred there at that time.
A thread on the ‘You know you’re from Shrewsbury when…’ Facebook page drew my attention to Pauline Fisk’s fascinating My Tonight From Shrewsbury blog and in particular this article on the abolishing of The Old Shrewsbury Show. This grew out of the show organized by the Shrewsbury trade guilds in the Middle Ages, referenced in Ron’s article and in our song. However, the show was abolished around the time that the Shrewsbury Flower Show began. I have an idea that the end of the old show was mentioned in ‘Fairfield Folk‘ by Frances Brown, but I don’t have a copy of that book to hand.
The Shropshire Guilds page at Shropshire History also includes some interesting information on the show, and photographs of guildhalls that still survive in Shrewsbury and elsewhere in Shropshire, even though (to the best of my knowledge) the only surviving physical trace of the feast halls on Kingsland is the Shoemakers’ Arbour, transplanted to the Dingle by the newly-established Horticultural Cultural society around 1875.
Small Blue-Green World