> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Old Bob Ridley

Old Bob Ridley / Young Bob Ridley

[ Roud 753 ; Ballad Index R499 ; Bodleian Roud 753 ; GlosTrad Roud 753 ; Wiltshire 184 ; Mudcat 2848 ; trad.]

Sam Larner sang Old Bob Ridley-O at home in Winterton, Norfolk to the BBC collector Philip Donnellan in 1958/59. This recording was released in 1974 on his Topic album A Garland for Sam. Another recording made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1958-60 was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stradling noted:

It’s a little surprising that Sam always calls this Old Bob Ridley, yet always sings Young Bob Ridley. What’s not surprising is that it’s an American song, or that, amongst Roud’s 33 entries, Sam’s is almost the only English one. Gavin Greig heard it in Scotland, and Mary Ann Carolan sang it in Ireland [see below]. It appeared in an early-19th century broadside, yet various sources name three different composers.

A.L. Lloyd sang Old Bob Ridley accompanied by Steve Benbow on guitar and John Cole on harmonica, on his and Ewan MacColl’s 1958 Topic LP Bold Sportsmen All. This track was also included on their Riverside LP Champions and Sporting Blades, and in 1998 on their Topic CD Bold Sportsmen All: Gamblers and Sporting Blades. He commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

The folk song collector Alfred Williams heard several versions of this song along the Thames valley, before World War I. Williams believed it to be American, perhaps minstrel show, origin. Be that as it may, English singers have tacked on their own verses, and spliced them to the tune of Turpin Hero, and packed this fine string of sporting lies securely into their own musical baggage.

Mary Ann Carolan sang Young Bob Ridley in 1978 at home in Hill o’ Rath near Drogheda, Co. Louth in a recording by Roly Brown. This may well have been one of the versions Alfred Williams collected which later morphed into the sports song Lloyd sang. It was included in 1982 on her Topic album Songs From the Irish Tradition and in 1998 on the Topic anthology First I’m Going to Sing You a Ditty (The Voice of the People Volume 7).

Rattle on the Stovepipe sang Old Bob Ridley in 2020 on their WildGoose CD Through the Woods. They noted:

Alfred Williams, the ‘Hammer-man’ poet and author of Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames (1923), met with several versions of the song, presumably introduced into Britain by the American black-face minstrel shows that toured widely from the mid-19th century, on his cycling, song-collecting forays into the Cotswolds. Williams did not collect the music, but the lyrics here are essentially those sung to him by John Sutton of Arlington, Bibury, near Cirencester. Dave first heard it sung in the late 1950s by Bert Lloyd, for whom Williams’ collection was an important source, and who fitted tunes to the songs he fancied singing, in this case a version of Turpin Hero.

Originally it was a mid-19th century American minstrel song and dance, and appeared on broadsides and small A5 song sheets. Young Bob Ridley, as performed by Master Tommy, for example, was also published in the 19th century collection Minstrel dialogues, jokes, plays, stump speeches and Brudder Bones’s Nigger Songs and Choruses (no date), a battered copy of which Dave picked up in a bookstore in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1972:

White folks, now I’ll sing you a ditty,
I’m just from home, but dat’s no pity;
To praise myself I am ashamed,
But young Bob Ridley am my name.

Den I’m young Bob Ridey ho,
I’m young Bob Ridley ho.
I’m young Bob Ridey ho I ho,
And I’m young Bob Ridley ho.

White folks, I have crossed de mountain,
How many miles I did not count dem,
I left de folks on de ole plantation,
Come down here for my edication…

By the time Williams found it in the Cotswolds it had undergone a sea-change, shed its terpsichorean breaks and much of its plantation dialogue and become merely an entertaining, boasting, tall-tale song. In 1959 Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger recorded a couple of verses from the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner, who gave a spirited performance of what he described as “The Old Bob Ridley-O, that’s a song and dance, that is.” This was much closer to the minstrel original, with almost identical lyrics to those published on a 19th century song sheet by A.W. Auner, Song Publisher & Printer, Philadelphia. Three years earlier, in 1956, Peter Kennedy also collected basically the same verses from Bill Cameron (Snr.) in Cornwall. By the time these other versions were uncovered Bert Lloyd had already fitted his tune to the lyrics and, as was frequently the case, his version was more catchy, if less ‘authentic’, than the others. We’ve stuck with Bert.


Sam Larner sings Old Bob Ridley-O

Oh white folks all, I’ll sing you a ditty,
I’m just from home, and that’s no pity.
To praise myself it is a shame
For young Bob Ridley is my name.

Chorus (after each verse):
And I’m a young Bob Ridley-o
And a young Bob Ridley-o
And a young Bob Ridley-ei-o
And a young Bob Ridley-o.

Diddles: The Sailors’s Hornpipe

Now I’m just arriving from the mountains,
How many miles I didn’t count them.
I’m just come here, from the old plantation,
I’m just come here, me education.

Spoken: Then they all step.

Now oh the first time that I got a licking,
It was in the fields of cotton picking.
By jove it made me dance
And it made my eyeballs quiver
By golly it made my pockets jingle.

Spoken: I used to sing and dance to that. The first prize I took at Lerwick was singing that. Yes song and dance, Old Bob Ridley.

A.L. Lloyd sings Old Bob Ridley

Here’s old Bob Ridley come again,
Some of his wonders to explain.
Of all the sites that he has seen
And what he’s done and where he’s been.

Chorus (after each verse):
I’m old Bob Ridley-o,
Old Bob Ridley-o.

I’ve come to chalk the challenge out
I don’t care to who or what about.
There are of sportmen very few
Can do the things that I can do.

Talk of swimming, if you wish,
I can lick the fastest fish.
But what’s the use for me to talk,
I swum in the water from Liverpool to New York.

As for the running of a race,
There’s none can touch me in this place.
I’ve run a race with a lightning dart,
I fairly broke that lightning’s heart.

At shooting I am just a blade,
A master of the marksman’s trade.
Throughout the land I can’t be matched,
I can shoot the pheasant before it’s hatched.

I once went on a burglar’s trail,
I loaded my gun with along spiked nail.
I missed that thief, so swift was he,
But I nailed his shadow to a tree.

At boxing there’s no man I fear,
I beat Jack Johnson twice a year.
I’d won the championship in heaven above
But Sampson put a jawbone in his glove.

Mary Ann Carolan sings Young Bob Ridley

Now, first I’m going to sing you a ditty.
I’m seldom at home and it is no pity.
I’m seldom at home and that’s no shame,
For young Bob Ridley is my name.

Chorus (after each verse):
I’m a young Bob Ridley-o,
I’m a young Bob Ridley-o.
I’m a young Bob Ridley, ee-eye-o,
I’m Robert Ridley-o.

I’ve come down here across the mountains,
The miles I’ve came I cannot count them.
I left the darkies in the old plantation,
I came down here for my education.

The girl I love the plays in the gallery,
The music she plays so sweet and so merrily.
The music she plays so sweet and so merrily,
You’d think it was a-played by young Bob Ridley.

Now I know a girl and she’s at me winking,
She would marry me, too, I’m thinking.
For there is a maid in the Swansea river,
To forsake her I will never.