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The Jolly Grinder

[ Roud 24792 ; Ballad Index DTjollgr ; Bodleian Roud 24792 ; DT JOLLGRND ; trad.]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil

Louis Killen sang The Jolly Grinder in 1980 on his album Gallant Lads Are We. He noted:

The use of the word ‘teetotaller’ dates this ballad of a Sheffield iron worker as being after 1830. Drink was a controversial subject in the 19th century Labour movement. Some saw it as a disease and destroyer, an attitude lampooned with the slogan “Work is the enemy of the drinking classes.”

Ian Robb sang The Jolly Grinder in 1985 on his Folk-Legacy album Rose & Crown. He noted:

Learned from my good friend Louis Killen, who has always been an inspiration. Louis says this parody of The Miller of Dee [Roud 503], set in the iron and steel industry of the English 1830’s, was part of a general reaction to the advocates of temperance, who seemed to be determined to remove every small pleasure from a worker’s existence. Paraphrase of the period: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.” May the Moral Majority take note.

Harp and a Monkey sang Jolly Grinder on their 2019 album The Victorians. They noted:

Some listeners will be more familiar with this tune in a different guise; that of the ‘folk’ staple The Miller of Dee. In truth, this was never a ‘folk’ song but a tune from a popular 18th century play about a happy-go-lucky young miller. This rather dark and cynical Yorkshire rewrite is thought to have appeared after the 1830s in response to the kind of ‘do-gooding’, paternalistic interferences so symptomatic of the period. Indeed, the term ‘teetotaller’ (like the movement of Salvationists) is a Victorian construct. The ‘hero’ of the song is having nothing to do with it.


Louis Killen sings The Jolly Grinder

There was a jolly grinder once lived by the River Don,
He worked and sang from morn til night, and sometimes he worked none.

Chorus (after each verse):
But still the burden of his song for ever used to be:
’Tis never worthwhile to work too long if it doesn’t agree with me!

He seldom on a Monday worked except near Christmas Day.
It wasn’t the labour that he’d shun for ’twas easier far than play.

A pale teetotaller chanced to meet our grinder one fine day
As he sat at the door with his pipe and his glass and thus to our friend did say:
“You destroy your health and senses too.” Says the grinder, “You’re much too free.
Attend to your work, if you’ve ought to do, and don’t interfere with me.”

There’s many like you go sneaking around persuading beer drinkers to turn.
’Tis easier far on our failings to spout than by labour your living to earn.
I work when I like and play when I can and I envy no man I see,
Such chaps as you won’t alter my plan for I know what agrees with me.