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Fourpence a Day

[ Roud 2586 ; TYG 107 ; Ballad Index FSWB130A ; trad.]

The Singing Island

Ewan MacColl sang Fourpence a Day on the 1955 Columbia anthology The World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England, and on his 1957 10" Topic album Shuttle and Cage. This track was also included in 1965 on his extended 12" Topic album Steam Whistle Ballads, and on his anthologies The Definite Collection (2003) and An Introduction to Ewan MacColl (2018). It also appeared in 1993 on Topic's CD reissue of The Iron Muse. It was printed in Peggy Seeger's and Ewan MacColl's 1960 book on English and Scottish Folksongs, The Singing Island. The second Topic album's notes said:

Still current in North-East Yorkshire, this song is attributed to Thomas Raine, lead-miner and bard of Teesdale. The washing rakes, where the lead bearing rocks were separated from the clay and gravel, were usually operated by young boys or old disabled miners. The mine owners are said to have become so incensed by the song that they closed the pits and imported lead miners from Germany.

The song was collected by Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl from John Gowland, retired lead miner in Middleton-in-Teesdale, in 1948.

The Packmen sang Fourpence a Day in 1976 on the Fellside album The Best of BBC Radio Carlisle's Folk Workshop.

Jo Freya sang Fourpence a Day in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

Young boys or disabled miners usually worked at the washing-rakes to separate the lead-bearing rocks from clay and gravel. The song is attributed to local Teasdale leadminer, Thomas Raine. Local legend has it that the mine-owners reacted to the song by temporarily closing the pits and importing leadminers from Germany.

Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews sang Fourpence a Day in 2006 on their album Proper Swell.

Megson sang Fourpence a Day on their 2008 album Take Yourself a Wife, and live at Hitchin Folk Club, Hertfordshire, in November 2012 on their 2013 album Live.

Jackie Oates sang Four Pence a Day on her 2011 album Saturnine.

Lyrics

Jo Freya sings Fourpence a Day

The ore’s a-waiting in the tubs, snows upon the fell.
Canny folks are sleeping yet but lead is right to sell;
Come, me little washer lad, come, let’s away,
It’s very hard to work for fourpence a day.

It’s early in the morning, we rise at five o’clock,
And the little slaves come to the door to knock, knock, knock.
Come, me little washer lad, come, let’s away.
It’s very hard to work for fourpence a day.

My daddy was a miner and lived down in the town,
’Twas hard work and poverty that always kept him down.
He aimed for me to go to school but brass he couldn’t pay.
So I had to go to the washing-rake for fourpence a day.

My mother rises out of bed with tears upon her cheeks.
Puts my wallet on my shoulders which has to serve a week.
It often fills her great big heart when she to me does say:
“I never thought thou you’d have to work for fourpence a day.”

Fourpence a day, my lad, and very hard to work.
And never a pleasant look from a gruffy-looking cur.
His conscience it may fail and his heart it may give way,
Then he’ll raise us all our wages to ninepence a day.