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Four-Loom Weaver

[ Roud 937 ; Ballad Index DTfourlo ; Bodleian Roud 937 ; trad.]

This is a ballad about the economic crisis of 1819-20 where many handloom weavers lost their work due to the rise of steam driven weaving machines. Ewan MacColl learned this song from Mrs. Whitehead, near Oldham, in Lancashire. He sang the first three verses of the lyrics below in a 1951 recording by Alan Lomax that can be found on the CD World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England.

Ewan MacColl also sang Four Loom Weaver on the first ever Topic LP, an untitled album from 1954 with the release number TRL1, and on his 1957 Topic album of industrial folk ballad, Shuttle and Cage. The latter track was also included in 1964 on his Topic album Steam Whistle Ballads and in 1993 on his Topic CD The Real MacColl.

A.L. Lloyd sang this song as The Poor Cotton Wayver in 1963 on the album of industrial ballads, The Iron Muse.

The Oldham Tinkers sang The Four Loom Weaver in 1974 on their Topic album Best o' t' Bunch. This track was also included in 2014 on the GFTU/Topic anthology Voice and Vision. Their album's liner notes commented:

The song, originally called The Poor Cotton Wayver, was published on a broadsheet during the depression years that followed the close of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s one of the striking documents of the Industrial Revolution. In a shortened and re-made form, it was popularised by Ewan MacColl some twenty-five years ago, in the earliest days of the folk song revival, and that is the form in which it is sung here.

Maddy Prior and June Tabor sang Four-Loom Weaver a cappella in 1976 on their album Silly Sisters. Tan Yows learned it from this album and recorded it in 2012 for their CD Undipped.

Swan Arcade sang Four Loom Weaver in 1990 on their CD Full Circle.

Roy Bailey sang Four-Loom Weaver on the 1992 Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams commented in the album's liner notes:

Roy is usually associated with songs of political and social comment. It is fitting, therefore, that he should sing one of the classic industrial ballads here. It was collected by Ewan MacColl from one Becket Whitehead of Delph, near Oldham, Lancashire. It dates from around the time of the Battle of Waterloo when handloom weavers' wages fell considerably. Roy is a highly distinctive and compelling performer who sings with great conviction.

Ian King sang Four-Loom Weaver on his 2010 Fledg'ling album Panic Grass & Fever Few; this was also included in the same year on the anthology Folk Against Fascism.

Stick in the Wheel sang Four-Loom Weaver on their 2014 EP Bones.

Edward II sang this song, using the title Jone o' Grinfield, on their 2016 album Manchester's Improving Daily.

A related ballad is A.L. Lloyd's and Steeleye Span's The Weaver and the Factory Maid.

Lyrics

Maddy Prior and June Tabor sing Four-Loom Weaver

I'm a four-loom weaver as many a one knows;
I've nowt to eat and I've worn out me clothes.
My clogs are both broken and stockings I've none;
You'd scarce give me tuppence for owt I've gotten on.

Old Billy o't' Bent he kept telling me long
We might have better times if I'd nobbut hold my tongue.
I've holden me tongue till I've near lost my breath
And I feel in me own heart I'll soon clem to death.

I'm a four-loom weaver as many a one knows;
I've nowt to eat and I've worn out me clothes.
Old Billy's awreet, he never were clemmed
And he never picked o'er in his life.

We held on for six weeks, thought each day were the last;
We've tarried and shifted till now we're quite fast.
We lived upon nettles while nettles were good
And Waterloo porridge was the best of ours food.

I'm a four-loom weaver as many a one knows;
I've nowt to eat and I've worn out me clothes.
Me clogs are both broken, no looms to weave on,
And I've woven meself to far end.