> Folk Music > Songs > Poverty Knock

Poverty Knock

[ Roud 3491 ; TYG 14 ; Ballad Index JRVI125 ; Tom Daniel / trad.]

Poverty Knock is a song about the working conditions in the cloth mills in about 1900. In the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Poverty Knock, Pete Coe, who sang it on his 1989 album A Right Song and Dance, is cited from a Mike Harding show as:

The probable writer of Poverty Knock was Tom Daniel, a weaver from [Batley]. I met him in about 1970, shortly before he died. He was born around 1890, left school at 11 and worked in various mills around Western Yorkshire and did other jobs too, outside of weaving. The story he apparently told was that he'd remembered bits of the song from his early years. However, the song bears striking resemblance to many of the poems that he did write. The collector of the song, Tony Green, reckons he wrote it too. I'm told there's no surviving relatives to claim royalties so as it's been designated a “traditional” song for so long, that's how it's usually referred to.

Roy Bailey learnt Poverty Knock from Denis Sabey in Yorkshire and recorded it in in 1971 for his eponymous Trailer album, Roy Bailey. He was accompanied by Martin Carthy, dulcimer; John Kirkpatrick, jew's harp; Peter Knight, fiddle; Leon Rosselson, guitar.

Roy Harris sang Poverty Knock in 1972 on his first Topic album, The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

This song has taken on a new lease of life since 1965 when A.E. Green recorded it from an elderly weaver of Batley, who had started work in the mills some sixty years previously, and remembered the song from then. The clatter of the old Dobbie loom sounded as if it was saying: “Poverty knock!” all the time. One verse refers to a woman injured by being struck by a flying shuttle. That no-one went to her aid was not due to hardheartedness but to the economic anxiety of poor weavers on piecework, who lost money if they stopped.

Jon Raven sang Poverty Knock in 1973 on the Trailer LP Songs of a Changing World. He also included the song in bis book Victoria's Inferno: Songs of the Old Mills, Mines, Manufacturies, Canals and Railways (Broadside, 1978) where he noted:

From the singing of Tom Daniel, a Batley, Yorkshire weaver (collected by A.E. Green in 1965). Tom Daniel died in 1970, aged 76.

Vulcan's Hammer sang Poverty Knock in 1973 on their LP True Hearts and Sound Bottoms.

Chumbawamba sang Poverty Knock in 1988 on their LP English Rebel Songs 1381-1914 and re-recorded it in 2003 for the extended CD “reissue” English Rebel Songs 1381-1984. They commented in the sleeve notes:

Poverty Knock is a factory-workers' song, written to be sung over the rhythm of the flying shuttles and clankings of mill machinery. Conditions of the cloth mills of the 1890's, when this song was written, were hot, noisy, and dangerous. Injury and even death from the awkward and unsafe weaving machines was commonplace. And yet the continual knocking of the shuttle was at least a surety that you'd be able to eat—“guttle”—in a time when unemployment still meant virtual starvation and misery.

Far from bringing safer, more leisurely work, the advances of automation meant only that the bosses could screw more production out of fewer people for less money. From the Luddites to the cotton-machinists to the print workers of today, the master/boss relationship is unchanged. Threat of unemployment keeps wages low, keeps workers in fear of a willing workforce waiting to take any available job, keeps the boss's profits high. For how long will these songs be sung? When will we sing only of pleasure, leisure, and victory?

Pete Coe sang Poverty Knock on his 1989 album A Right Song and Dance. He also sang it live at Cheltenham Folk Festival 2006:

Jim Moray sang Poverty Knock in 2001 on his first EP I Am Jim Moray; this track was also included in 2010 on his anthology A Beginner's Guide.

Jon Boden sang Poverty Knock as the June 8, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

My favourite version of this is Pete Coe’s, although I do like Jim Moray’s piano version too. It has a beautiful melody and I like the underlying stoicism—similar to ‘Arris Mill. Good natured complaining basically.

Lyrics

Roy Harris sings Poverty KnockChumbawamba sing Poverty Knock

Chorus (after each verse):
Poverty, poverty knock,
My loom it is saying all day.
Poverty poverty knock,
Gaffer's too skinny to pay.
Poverty, poverty knock,
Keeping one eye on the clock.
    I know I can guttle
    When I hear my shuttle
Go poverty, poverty knock

Up ev'ry morning at five,
A wonder that we keep alive.
    Tired and yawning
    In the cold morning
And back to the dreary old drive.

Up ev'ry morning at five,
I wonder that we keep alive.
    Tired and yawning,
    Another cold morning
It's back to the dreary old drive.

Oh dear, we're going to be late,
Gaffer is stood at the gate;
    We're out of pocket
    Our wages he'll dock it,
We'll have to buy grub on the slate.

Oh dear, we're going to be late,
Gaffer is stood at the gate;
    We're out of pocket
    Our wages he'll dock it,
We'll have to buy grub on the slate.

Chorus (after each verse):
Poverty, poverty knock,
My loom it is saying all day.
Poverty poverty knock,
Gaffer's too skinny to pay.
Poverty, poverty knock,
Keeping one eye on the clock.
    And I know I can guttle
    When I hear my shuttle
Go poverty, poverty knock

Oh dear, my poor head it sings,
I should have woven three strings.
    The threads they keep breaking,
    My poor heart is aching,
Oh God, how I wish I had wings.

And when all our wages they'll bring,
We're often short of a string.
    While we are fratching
    With Gaffer for snatching
We know to his purse he will cling.

Sometimes a shuttle flies out
It gives some poor woman a clout.
    And there she lies bleeding
    Nobody's heading,
Who's going to carry her out?

Sometimes a shuttle flies out
And gives some poor woman a clout.
    There she lies bleeding
    But nobody's heading,
Oh who's going to carry her out?

The tuner should tackle my loom,
He'd rather sit on his bum,
    For he's far too busy
    A-courting our Lizzie
I just can't up get him to come.

Oh dear, my poor head it sings,
I should have woven three strings.
    But threads are breaking,
    And my back is aching,
Oh dear how I wish I had wings.

Lizzie, she's so easily led,
I reckon he takes her to bed.
    She always was skinny,
    Now look at her pinny,
It's just about time they was wed.

Links and Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Poverty Knock.