> Folk Music > Songs > The Broken-Down Gentleman

The Broken-Down Gentleman / Off to Epsom Races

[ Roud 383 ; Master title: The Broken-Down Gentleman ; Ballad Index K318 ; VWML RVW2/1/5 ; GlosTrad Roud 383 ; Wiltshire 5 , 740 ; trad.]

Everyman’s Book of British Ballads Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams The Wanton Seed

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 25/26 November 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. They noted:

From the singing of Bill Whiting of Longcot, Oxfordshire. The tune is a variant of The Three Jolly Hunters and the chorus we added ourselves on account of being good time foot-tapping lads.

Tim Radford sang The Brokendown Gentleman on his 2005 CD Home From Home. He noted:

This story of the profligate life of a rural gentleman was collected from George Blake of St. Denys, Southampton, Hampshire by George Gardiner. It is known in other collections as Epsom Races. Blake was a major supplier of songs to Gardiner, who also collected from his brother, Moses, of Emery Down and his son-in-law, Henry Stansbridge, of Lyndhurst. I once thought I would learn all the songs from this family, but it proved to be too great a task—maybe one day!

Jon Boden sang Epsom Races as the 12 January 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. They noted:

Sung by George Attrill to Bob Copper at Fittleworth, Sussex, 25/26 November 1954. On You Never Heard So Sweet in The Voice of the People Series.

The accompanying melody is the Cotswold morris dance tune Bobbing Joan.

Andy Turner learned Epsom Races from George Attrill’s recording and sang it as the 22 February 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 Richard Rees and called the Highworth Hop.

Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne sang Broken-Down Gentleman on his 2021 album Rakes & Misfits. He noted:

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected this song from Mr Warner at the Shoulder of Mutton in Hadleigh, Suffolk in 1907 under the title Eggleston Hall [VWML RVW2/1/5] , and [it] was included by Roy Palmer in his book Bushes and Briars. As with The New Deserter above, Vaughan Williams did not collect the full text, so Palmer has supplemented verses from other sources, and I have also taken the liberty of adding an additional verse. The resulting text contained no reference to the titular Eggleston Hall, so I have reverted it to its more common title Broken-Down Gentleman.


George Attrill sings Epsom Races

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. 𝄇

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 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 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 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. 𝄇

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. 𝄇

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. 𝄇

Bill Whiting sings The Broken-Down Gentleman

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.

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

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.

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.

Tim Radford sings The Brokendown Gentleman

When I was young and in my youth,
’Bout twenty four years old,
I spent my time in vanity,
𝄆 Along with a lady so bold. 𝄇

I wore the ruffles all at my wrist,
A cane all in my hand,
No farmer’s son could with me compare,
𝄆 All over the nation so grand. 𝄇

I kept a pack of hounds, my boys,
And servants to wait on me.
For I did intend my money to spend,
𝄆 And that you may plainly see. 𝄇

I kept a coach and six bay horses
With hangers all round about,
With a golden tassel on each horses head,
𝄆 Just ready for me to ride out. 𝄇

I steered my course to Epsom boys,
Horse racing for to see.
’Twas there I spend 10,000 pounds,
𝄆 All in the light of one day. 𝄇

I steered my course back home again,
My purse it did run small,
And I was a brokendown gentleman,
𝄆 And that was the worst of it all. 𝄇

My landlord he came for the rent,
Of bailiffs there came three.
They took away all that I had
𝄆 And swore that they would have me. 𝄇

The rogues and thieves around me came,
From them I could not run.
They took away my coach and six,
𝄆 And I was quite undone. 𝄇

My wife she sorrowfully pitied my case,
My children round me cried.
To think that now in jail I’ll lie,
𝄆 Until the day that I die. 𝄇


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