Folk songs and Footpaths: Part 5 & 6

Recap of Research Questions:

  • How might folk songs and footpaths be considered as related, and relational?
  • If public bodies move to protect intangible cultural heritage, or living traditions, is such an aim possible? Which songs do they chose? Which version of that song? Which singer? What particular version, as no singer sings the song the same twice?

Listen here ->

‘Singing English folk songs is as crucial to me as walking the Sussex landscape … When I sing, I feel past generations standing behind me – and I hope I’m a conduit for them – those farm labourers and their wives who kept the songs going for us. The songs are social history and their beauty and power undeniable’- Shirley Collins, 2015

‘The paths offered (Edward) Thomas cover from himself: proof of a participation in communal history and the suggestion of continuity, but also the dispersal of egotism … folk songs and footpaths are, to his mind, both major democratic forms: collective in origin but re-inflected by each new walker. Radical, too, in their implicit rebuke to the notion of private property’ – Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways, 2012: pp. 309, 307


St Peter’s Church, Rodmell

Day 5 – Rodmell to Alfriston, 10 miles.

Thank you to my companions Emma, Anna, Moira, Dave, Mike, Jackie, Rachel, Sarah, Sarah Wales, Louise and her partner Andrew, and their daughter Arwen, Mum, and Lily and Bertie dogs, woof!

The recording begins with a stunning song The Sussex Shepherdess written by Charlotte Oliver, which I’ll allow her to introduce. We sang this late in the evening the night before, in Rodmell Churchyard. It’s a beautiful setting and adjoins the Woolf’s home, Monks House

Charlotte and Richard’s website:

The following morning I was at the church with my fellow walkers for the day; this incarnation of Cold Blows The Wind was collected in Rodmell. The person it was collected from is unknown, however it was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams at The Inn (presumably The Abergavenny Arms, also known to feed hungry guests staying with Virginia Woolf) on the 10 Jan 1906 Only the tune was collected, so I looked elsewhere in Sussex for the lyrics and used some collected in Trotton in 1911, these were taken down from a Mrs Brown, helped by her son Jimmy, and Clive Carey notes that George Parrot in Minsted also sang this version

Thirdly, we have the brilliant Bob Lewis back, for a delightful duo of Blackberry Fold and Young Collins. Blackberry Fold is thought to refer to Uppark Park, the grand house near where my route began in South Harting. One of the owners:

‘Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh spent his youthful years in wild carousing. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent and his entourage included Emma Hart (the future Lady Hamilton, best remembered as Lord Nelson’s lover), who allegedly once danced naked on Uppark’s dining table for Harry and his guests. Middle-age saw Sir Harry become something of a recluse, but in 1825 the then seventy-year old scandalized his social circles once again by marrying Mary Ann Bullock, his twenty-year old dairymaid’ (

Here are the references for where they were collected: Young Collins, Blackberry Fold, Mr Baker, Southease, 9 Jan 1906, Ralph Vaughan Williams

The only Mr Baker of Rodmell/Southease that I can find on the 1901 Census is a Mr Robert Baker, who is a noted as a Blacksmith at The Forge in Rodmell. He appeared to be deceased by the 1911 Census. I managed to find out from The National Archives, that he had died in 1907 aged 73. He had carried out repairs on Rodmell church with his business partner

Here is a much longer historical profile of the Bakers of Piddinghoe and Rodmell

After that, by Firle trig point, is The Lark In The Morning, sung by Lily Cook in North Chailey 1954/5 collected by Bob Copper for the BBC:

Sung here by me, with a collective effort of wind shielding and Arwen the baby, and Bertie the dog joining in! I tried to stick as closely as possible to Lily’s rendition, without mimicking it.

Here is an excerpt from Bob Copper’s book Songs and Southern Breezes: ‘When Lily Cook opened her door and ushered me into the front parlour, I stepped back forty years. The chiffonier with lace-edges lined runners, the heavy damask curtains faded into vertical stripes between the folds, the table-cloth to match … loved and tended, since she and her husband had moved in as newly-weds in 1909 … she with a proud tilt of the head, and her dark hair swept up into a large, over powering hat trimmed with ribbon and an ostrich feather … now, in carpet slippers  and a blue and white spotted pinafore, hair streaked with silver … over her shoulder I could look out across the gorse and the heathy expanse of Chailey Common right down to the steep escarpment of the South Downs at Plumpton … We started to swap songs and she was clearly delighted to learn that there were still people about who were aware of and in fact cherished the kind of songs that she had loved ever since she heard her parents and other members of the family singing when she was a tiny girl’ (Copper 1973: pp. 43 -46)

Lily Cook also sang variants of The Merchant and The Servant Man (she calls it The Iron Door) By chance, and happily, she also sang the next song on the recording, Pleasant and Delightful, another choice inspired by the skylarks of the day, sang here by my mother Catherine Bennett. (Lily Cook, Pleasant and Delightful)

Dear Father, Dear Father, Pray Build Me A Boat (a variant of Sweet William) is the next song, again I learnt this from a source singer. The beautiful voice of Sheila Smith, a seven year old gypsy girl was always going to be hard to do justice to. Do get the C.D and have a listen, it feels like you are there with Peter Kennedy in the roadside encampment of barrel top wagons near Laughton in 1952

I’d also like to raise here the vast contribution to our oral and cultural heritage that travellers have made. It’s not possible to cover it here but I would like to link the The Song Collectors Collective who are doing a fab job of keeping the profile and enormous value of the traveller community alive

My mother Catherine Bennett, and a family friend Rachel Cooper, can be heard singing Shepherds Arise, in close harmony. The wind was beginning to be pretty ferocious by then, even though we were in a dip on Firle Beacon, so it’s only a snippet that came out well. The arrangement is that of the Copper Family, but Michael Blann is also know to have sung it!

Copper Family (and Michael Blann)


Catherine Bennett, Rachel Cooper, Sarah Wales, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Miles, Sarah Bennett, Anna Trostnikova, Dave Reeves + Lily the Dog – Firle Beacon (Moira Faulkner, 2015)

After that an interview with Will Duke, so modest and such a super voice. He’s the person you always look around for in a folk club and hope he’s there (he would dispute this, I’m sure). He sings Ground For The Floor. As we can see form the archives, it was collected from George ‘Pop’ Maynard, who Will had learnt it from the singing of. However,  Charles Moseley (who may be the husband of Betty) of Redford, Sussex and a Johnson of Fittleworth, Sussex, appear to sing a related song

Day 6 – Alfriston to Eastbourne, 7 miles (plus a detour to Glynde)

The next morning was a site for sore eyes. Although gail force winds were blowing, Alfriston was looking exceptionally beautiful in dappled sunshine. I decided to break my folk roots/routes and sing the hymn Morning Has Broken. The famous hymn was written in Alfriston (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon after she was inspired by the beauty of the village and the surrounding countryside. There are some folk motif Blackbirds in there, so I felt it had links and branches. I sang it in the early morning piece of St Andrews.

Following this is Suzanne Higgins, singing the song she composed The Shepherd’s Token. An arresting piece about the English practice of burying Shepherd’s with a piece of wool or fleece in their hands or on their chest, so that St Peter would know why they had often been absent from church. The practice was in use in Alfriston up until the 1930s. Suzanne was inspired to write a song about burial rights after the passing of a family member.


Firle Beacon from Windover Hill (Elizabeth Bennett, 2015)

After a spell of sitting in Jevington church and churchyard and enjoying the peace and shelter, I was joined by the charming Nick Cant and we made for the Eight Bells in Jevington. There I sang The Foggy Dew, a version collected from East Dean singers Mark Fuller and Luther Hills by Peter Kennedy in 1952 (Thanks to Vic Smith for introducing me to it) Nick, a singer and bell-ringer, sang a song from a group called The Pig’s Ear, which I’ll allow him to introduce.

The interview with Steve Matcham, and spotless performance of a song associated with the naval career of his uncle, although it has a West Sussex theme, felt appropriate for my final view of the sweeping bay of Sussex blue and chalky white from the hills. Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime was collected not too far away in Portsmouth, 1907, by GB Gardiner and John F Guyer

I stopped off in Glynde on my way home to sing in Glynde Church. The first song is The Week Before Easter, I learnt this from a recording of Harry Burgess who was from Glynde. Harry Burgess also sang The Foggy Dew, The Life Of A Man, and Pleasant and Delightful amongst others.

Here are links to Harry’s speaking, and gorgeous singing, voice

The Glynde History site has more on the Burgess family, as well as being a treasure chest of Glynde, and Sussex, social history

Peggy Angus, with her landlord at Furlongs Farm, the Shepherd Dick Freeman (source unknown)

The second song is The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, learnt from a film made about the life of Peggy Angus. Peggy was by all accounts a woman with gumption, and whilst lots of people know her for her work as an artist, and her friendship with Eric Ravillious, there are aspects of her life that are less well know. She rented a cottage, part of the Furlongs row, in Glynde from the Freeman brothers, who were farmers at Furlongs (who in turn rented it from Glynde estate, thanks to Andrew Lusted for this piece information). She’d been living in Eastbourne and teaching, and she wanted a place of her own in the countryside. The Freemans said no at first, and so she camped outside for a few weeks until Dick gave in. Although born in abroad, and raised in North London, Peggy’s family were Scottish. She was famed to have held wild midsummer parties, where she served her guests homemade Elderflower champagne and sang folk songs around the fire. She was something of a radical too, earning her the nickname Red Angus from Ravillious’ wife’s father, I like to think of a hive of Socialist activity between Rodmell and Charleston. Here are a few links for Peggy Angus and Furlongs. Here is a link to an article on William Freeman, a relative of Dick (Richard) Freeman

Thank you to Paul Holden for playing me the following version on the guitar also, although I didn’t have time to learn it! It’s Mrs Moseley of Treyford again, with some quite unusual words!


St Mary’s Church, Glynde (Elizabeth Bennett, 2015)

My Great-Great Grandmother, Mary Martin Page, was adopted by a couple called Leonard and Susannah Page. Leonard and Susannah lived in Glynde, he was a shoemaker and she was a servant at Glynde Place, they were married in Glynde Church in 1836. Mary was raised there, and met her husband at Lewes Grammar School. Mary is said to have been Russian, and we are still researching her life to see if this the case.  In my Great Uncle Don’s memoirs, I thought I had read that Mary’s favourite hymn to sing around the house was Hark! Hark, What News The Angels Bring, so I decided to sing that to finish my journey. Sadly, I later read it was not Mary’s hymn (it was in fact Hark! Hark, My Soul! Angelic songs are Swelling). However, as luck would have it, it is a Sussex folk hymn (although thought to originate from the South Yorkshire carols tradition), collected from two of the singers on the walk no less, Mr Samuel Willett and Mr Thomas Bulbeck. I can’t remember having known that before, but a seed must have been planted at some point on my research.


 (The gravestones of Leonard and Susannah Page, Glynde, and Raymond and Leah Bennett, Shoreham)

Glynde Church was such a beautiful place to sing, and finish my wayfaring, and it meant I could sit and think about my lovely Grandma and Grandpa, who loved May, Sussex, country lanes, and their family, and would have loved hearing about this walk (minus some of the more saucy songs, being Strict Baptists after all).

I”d like to finish with particular thanks to my Step-Father Tony, who was unwell for this week and couldn’t join me, but has been my companion (and bird spotter, botanist, geologist, and historian) for many other walks.

If you like these songs then please learn them, sing them, and keep them alive. Thank you for listening.

The Ones That Got Away:

Mervin Plunkett appears to have collected from a Mrs Jarrett of Rodmell in 1959 (The White Cockade, Sing Ivy)

Geordie, As I Walked Over London Bridge Mr Deadman,  Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906
Young Edwin (possible the same as The Servant Man and The Iron Door?), The Ship’s Carpenter, Mr Norman, Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906
The Long Whip, Come All You Worthy Christians, Mr Back, Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Pretty Betsy, collected at The Inn Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906, could be same performer as Cold Blows The Wind?
The Baliff’s Daughter, Mr Walter, Southease, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 10 Jan 1906
Come All You Young Ploughmen, Mr Baker, Southease, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 9 Jan 1906
Copper, B (1973). Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Folk and Country Ways. London: William Heinemann Ltd.
MacFarlane, R (2012). The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot. London: Penguin
Frazier, C (2006). Cold Mountain. New York: Grove/Atlantic

One thought on “Folk songs and Footpaths: Part 5 & 6

  1. Pingback: Folk songs and Footpaths: Part 5 & 6 | talkingtothetrees

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