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The Song of the Lower Classes

[words Ernest Jones, tune arr. Martin Carthy]

Martin Carthy sang The Song of the Lower Classes a cappella with multi-tracked vocals on his 1982 album Out of the Cut. This track was re-released in 1993 on The Collection, and it is also on the miners' benefit compilation album of 1993, Undefeated. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

It was courtesy of Vic [Gammon] that I was able to hang around the library of the Sussex Archaeological Society in Lewes of which he is a member, and look through several of the hand-written hymnals of the 18th and 19th centuries. In one presented by an Uckfield gentleman and inscribed “G. J. Baker 1813“ there was a three-part hymn, Otford, and later on it seemed appropriate to sing to it the words of the 19th-century Chartist Ernest Jones, The Song of the Lower Classes. If it seems extraordinary that words written 130 years ago should sound loud and clear today, then a small investigation of other writings of the period (1840s and 1850s) will show that it is by no means alone in that. Sometimes the comparisons are indeed arresting.

The writer, Ernest Jones, stood unsuccessfully as a Chartist MP in 1847, was arrested in 1848 and sentenced to two years of solitary confinement. From 1851 on, he started publishing a weekly magazine, Notes to the People, in which this song was published in March 1852.

Bob Davenport sang this song with a few verses of his own as Song of the Other Ranks on his 2004 Topic CD The Common Stone.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings The Song of the Lower Classes Bob Davenport sings Song of the Other Ranks

We plough and sow we are so low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain with golden grain
And the vale with the fragrant hay
Our place we know we are so low
Down at the landlord's feet
We're not too low the bread to grow
Too low the bread to eat

We plough and sow we're very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain with golden grain
And the vale with the fragrant hay
Our place we know we are so low
Down at the landlord's feet
We're not too low the bread to grow
Too low the bread to eat

Down down we go we are so low
To the hell of the deep sunk mine
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines
Whenever he lacks upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay
We're far too low to vote the tax
Not too low to pay

We're low we're low we're rabble we know
Yet at our plastic power
The mould at the lordling's feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower
Then prostrate fall in the rich man's hall
Cringe at the rich man's door
We're not too low to build the wall
Too low to tread the floor

We're low we're low we are so low
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride
And what we get and what we give
We know and we know our share
We're not too low the cloth to weave
Too low the cloth to wear

We're low we're low we're very, very low
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride
And what we get and what we give
We know and we know our share
We're not too low the cloth to weave
But too low the cloth to wear

We're low we're low we are so low
Yet when the trumpets ring
The thrust of a poor man's arm will go
Through the heart of the proudest king
We're low we're low our place we know
Only the rank and file
We're not too low to kill the foe
Too low to touch the spoil

We're low we're low as to war we go
To fight some foreign country
That was yesterday our greatest friend
But today's our enemy
God bless our boys the papers scream
Praise them the churchmen cry
When the war is won and home we come
Who care's if we live or die?

We're low we're low 'till that happy day
When we're called to a heaven on high
When the freedom we never had in our lives
Will be there on the day we die
If you see no worth suffering hell on earth
For the promise of a heaven above
Why not join the fight that one day we might
See a heaven down here below

Acknowledgements

Most of the words provided by Wolfgang Hell, whom Garry Gillard thanks. Some corrections are from the participants in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Song of the Lower Classes.