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Bonny Moorhen


Martin Carthy sang Bonny Moorhen in 2014 on his and Eliza Carthy’s duo album, The Moral of the Elephant. He noted:

Mike Bettison, having for many years been a mainstay of Flowers and Frolics and of The Fabulous Salami Brothers, is these days a Community Arts organiser in Hawes and he phoned a while back having run to earth the grandson of the man who sang Scarborough Fair to Ewan MacColl in the late 1940s. He is Floyd Anderson and his grandfather Mike Anderson, a retired lead miner. Mike was kind enough to attach a recording by Alan Lomax of Mark singing The Bonny Moorhen, a song about a fight between starving lead miners and, representing the landowners, a large gang sent to put them firmly in their place. The year is 1818, the Bonny Moorhen is, of course, the black grouse and the thrashing dealt out by those miners to the gang of thugs that turned up—replete with attack dogs—meant that the miners were, for a while at least, left to their own devices, or so it seems, attempts by those in authority to arrest those they regarded as culprits having been frustrated at just about every turn. I have taken the liberty of putting it to a different tune.

Note: The Jacobite Rebellions song Bonny Moorhen is quite another song with just the same title.


Martin Carthy sings Bonny Moorhen

You brave lads of Weardale, I pray lend an ear
The account of a battle you quickly shall hear,
Fought by the miners so well you may ken,
Claiming a right to their bonny moorhen.

Now this bonny moorhen, as she plainly appeared,
Belonged to the miners some hundreds of years.
The miners of Weardale they’re all gallant men,
They’ll fight till they die for their bonny moorhen.

Now the miners in Weardale, they’re bred to the game,
Level their piece and make sure of their aim;
When the bonny moorhen she mounts up in the air
They will bring her down neatly, I vow and declare.

Now, times being hard, provisions being dear,
The miners were starving almost we do hear;
They’d nought to depend on, so well you may ken,
But to make what they could of their bonny moorhen.

But the fat man of Auckland and Durham the same
Laid claim to the moors and likewise to the game.
Sent word to the miners they’d have them to ken
They would stop them from shooting the bonny moorhen.

Now these word was carried to Weardale with speed,
It made those poor miners to hang down their heads.
Sent them an answer they’d have them to ken
They would fight till they died for their bonny moorhen.

When this word it reached to the gentlemen’s ears,
An army was risen, it quickly appears;
Land stewards, bum bailiffs, and gamekeepers too,
Were all ordered to Weardale to fight their way through.

Now a captain was wanted at the head of the clan;
H. Wye, of great Oakland, was choosed for their man.
His legs were too short and not fit for the stocks
And his head not so hard for to suffer the knocks.

This captain he had an attack dog of his own,
Taught by her master ’twas very well known.
Either beggars or tinkers, she’ll pull off their bags,
And if that would not do she would rive them to rags.

Now this army set out straight away as we hear,
H. Wye in the front, attack dog in the rear.
They marched on to Wolsingham, then they made a halt,
Concerning the battle began to consult.

For they heard that the miners’ grand army was strong
And the captain that led them was full six foot long.
That put H. Wye in a bodily fear,
And back to great Oakland he wished for to steer.

Up spoke the gamekeepers: “Cheer up, never fear,
Through Stanhope, through Weardale the way we will clear.
In Durham or Oakland we’ll never have said
That by a few miners our army was beat.”

Now this battle was fought, fought in Stanhope town,
Where the chimneys did reek and the soot it fell down
Such a battle was never fought in Stanhope before
And I hope such a battle will never be fought more.

For they unhorsed the riders straightway on the plain,
H. Wye and his attack dog in the battle was slain.
Them that ran fastest got pushed out of town
And away they went home with their tails hanging down.

Now the bonny moorhen, she’s got feathers anew,
Many fine colours, and none of them blue.
The miners of Weardale, they’re all gallant men,
They’ll fight till they die for their bonny moorhen.