> Folk Music > Songs > Off to Epsom Races / The Broken-Down Gentleman

Off to Epsom Races / The Broken-Down Gentleman

[ Roud 383 ; Ballad Index K318 ; Wiltshire 5 , 740 ; trad.]

Bob Copper's book Songs and Southern Breezes (Heinemann, 1973) described, in his own words, “the living essence of old English country life”. He recorded various singers from Hampshire and Sussex for the BBC between 1954 and 1957. Some of these recordings were published by Topic in 1977 on their anthology of country singers from Hampshire and Sussex, Songs and Southern Breezes, to accompany Bob Copper's book. One of these singers was council roadman George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex, and Bob Copper recorded him singing Epsom Races in Stopham, Sussex on November 25/26, 1954. This recording was finally included as The Broken-Down Gentleman in 2012 on the Topic anthology of Southern English traditional singers, You Never Heard So Sweet (The Voice of the People Series Volume 21). Bob Copper commented in the former album's liner notes:

George and I sat down with the wine-jar squatting comfortably between us… After he had topped up our glasses for the fourth time I suggested it was about time we had a song… George stood up and let off a mighty, uninhibited belch. “Whoops,” he said, “paddle-sticks an' umbrella 'andles.” Then launched headlong into Epsom Races.

A variant of this song is The Broken-Down Gentleman as sung by Bill Whiting at his home in Longcot, Berkshire, in 1972. This recording by Mike Yates was published on the 1975 Topic LP of countryside songs from Southern England, When Sheepshearing's Done. It was also included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South.

John Leonard and John Squire sang Broken-Down Gentleman in 1976 as the title track of their Rubber Records album Broken-Down Gentlemen.

Jon Boden sang Epsom Races as the January 12, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented:

Arthur Knevett is a wonderful revival singer who Fay [Hield] introduced me to (on cassette, not in person). He’s got a similar approach to Lou Killen but with his own individual style and, perhaps most importantly, he digs up some great obscure songs, such as this one.

Paul Downes sang The Broken-Down Gentleman in 2013 on his WildGoose album The Boatman's Cure. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Otherwise known as Off to Epsom Races, this mournful song is a cautionary tale of profligacy. Like the better known Limbo, it has has the confessional tone typical of many broadsides but here there is no retribution—only resignation. This version was collected by Bob Copper from council roadworker George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex in 1954, though George Gardiner had found similar songs in nearby Hampshire some fifty years earlier.

Faustus sang Broken-Down Gentleman in 2013 as the title track of their Navigator album Broken Down Gentlemen.

Andy Turner learned Epsom Races from George Attrill's recording and sang it as the February 22, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Bob and Gill Berry sang Broken-Down Gentleman on their 2018 WildGoose CD Echoes of Alfred. They noted:

A version of Epsom Races collected from Timothy Tassel, Wanborough, Wiltshire. A jaunty tale of the downfall of a young gentleman drawn into debt by the racing of horses. The small “bridge” tune in between the songs was written by ichard Rees and called the Highworth Hop.


George Attrill sings Epsom RacesBill Whiting sings The Broken-Down Gentleman

When I was young and in my prime,
Just twenty-four years old,
I spent my time in vanity,
𝄆 Along with the ladies so bold. 𝄇

When I was young, in my youthful days,
About four and twenty years old,
I spent my time in vanity,
Along with the ladies so bold.

With silver buckles all round my wrists
And a cane all in my hand,
It's over the nation I did go,
𝄆 Like a farmer's son so grand. 𝄇

I wore the ravels all around my wrist,
A cane was in my hand;
No farmer’s son would I accept,
Not one in all the land.

I hired a coach and six bay horses
And servants to wait on me,
For I did intend my money to spend
𝄆 And that you can plainly see. 𝄇

I kept a pack of good hounds, my boys,
And a servant to wait upon me,
And I did intend my money to spend,
And that you can plain-ily see.

I kept a coach and six bay horses,
And hangers all around about,
A golden tassel on each horse’s head,
Just ready for me to ride out.

I steered my coach to Epsom races,
And sights they were so gay,
And there I did spend ten thousand pounds
𝄆 All in the delights of one day. 𝄇

I steered my coach to Ipswich town,
Horse racing for to see,
And there I spend a thousand pound
In the light of the very fine day.

I steered my coach back home again
And the crops they did run small,
For I was a broken-down gentleman
𝄆 And that was the worst of it all. 𝄇

I steered my coach back home again,
My traps they did run small;
Now I am a broken-down gentleman,
And that’s the worst of it all.

Then my landlord came all for his rent
And bailiffs he brought three,
And he took away all I had got
𝄆 And swore they would have me. 𝄇

The landlord he came to my house,
And bailiffs he brought three,
He stole away my coach and six,
And swore he would have me.

Now my wife is at home and she does lament
And children round her cry,
For I'm in some prison now does stay
𝄆 Until the day that I die. 𝄇

My wife she did most pitiful look,
My children round me cried,
To think that I in prison should lie,
Until the day I died.


The words for Off to Epsom Races were taken from the Copper Family website and adapted to the actual singing of George Attrill.