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The Jovial Cutler

[ Roud 1096 ; G/D 6:1132 ; Ballad Index McCST053 ; Bodleian Roud 1096 ; trad.]

Roy Palmer printed The Jovial Cutlers in his book Poverty Knock. He noted:

There is a tradition that this song was written in 1780 or 1790 by an old cutler nick-named ‘Bone-heft’, after the bone-handled knives that he made. It gives a picture of the pre-industrial workshop, with its less hectic pace, its smaller scale, and its greater flexibility with regard to time. Saint Monday was the custom of taking Monday off. This meant, of course, that the workmen had to work much harder for the rest of the week, in order to catch up; but at least they enjoyed the additional leisure beforehand. Saint Monday was vigorously opposed by employers during the nineteenth century. ‘Sours’ are articles paid for in advance but not yet done.

Ian Giles sang Jovial Cutler in 20xx on Magpie Lane's album Six For Gold. He noted:

Not all workers adapted immediately to the new working patterns demanded by the Industrial Revolution. Many still honoured Saint Monday and took an extra day's holiday in the week. The new industrial masters took a dim view of this, needless to say, but in this song, so does the cutler's wife!

The song was apparently written by a Sheffield cutler in 1780 or 1790, and is printed in Roy Palmer's book Poverty Knock. Ian first learned it for a Radio 4 programme called Something for the Weekend, on which occasion he was accompanied on the fiddle by Jon Boden. We conclude our arrangement with an Oxfordshire version of a tune often known as Old Mrs Wilson, but which in Headington Quarry is used to accompany the morris jig Old Mother Oxford.

George Sansome sang Jovial Cutler in 2020 on his eponymous album George Sansome. He noted:

This words to this song come from John Wilson’s The Songs of Joseph Mather (published 1862). I first heard it sung by Ian Giles with Magpie Lane on their sixth album Six For Gold, and around the same time found it in Roy Palmer’s book, Poverty Knock.

In the 18th and 19th centuries when a six-day working week was the norm, many workers would give themselves a second day off in honour of “Saint Monday”. Employers—and in this case, the cutler’s wife—were not usually fond of this day of “idleness”. What had begun as a day to recover from the excesses of a Sunday soon turned into another day of drinking, with a number of unfortunate consequences as described in the song.

Lyrics

The Jovial Cutlers in Poverty Knock

Brother workmen, cease your labour,
Lay your files and hammers by;
Listen while a brother neighbour
Sings a cutler's destiny:
How upon a good Saint Monday,
Sitting by the smithy fire,
Telling what’s been done o’ t' Sunday,
And in cheerful mirth conspire.

Soon I hear the trap-door rise up,
On the ladder stands my wife:
“Damn thee, Jack, I’ll dust thy eyes up
Thou leads a plaguy, drunken life.
Here thou sits instead of working,
Wi’ thy pitcher on thy knee.
Curse thee, thou’d be always lurking,
And I may slave myself for thee.

“Ah, thou great fat, idle devil,
Now I see thy goings on;
Here thou sits all’t day to revel,
Ne’er a stroke o’ work thou’s done.
See thee, look what stays I’ve gotten,
See thee, what a pair of shoes;
Gown and petticoat half rotten,
Ne’er a whole stitch in my hose.

“Pray thee, look here, all the forenoon,
Thou hast wasted with thy idle way;
When does t’a mean to get thy sours done,
Thy mester wants ’em in today?
Thou knows, I hate to broil and quarrel,
But I’ve neither soap nor tea;
’Od burn thee. Jack, forsake thy barrel,
Or never more thou’st lie with me.”

Now once more on joys be thinking,
Since hard scolding’s tired my wife;
The course is clear, let’s have some drink in,
And toast a jovial cutler’s life.
For her foul tongue, fie upon her,
Shall we our pleasures thus give o’er?
No, we’ll good Saint Monday honour,
When brawling wives shall be no more.