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Hard Times of Old England

[ Roud 1206 ; Ballad Index K224 ; Full English COL/6/25 ; Bodleian Roud 1206 ; trad.]

Hard Times of Old England is an 18th century song from the repertoire of the Copper Family. A 1955 recording of Ron Copper made by Peter Kennedy was published in 1963 on their EFDSS LP Traditional Songs from Rottingdean and was included in 2001 on Come Write Me Down: Early Recordings of the Copper Family of Rottingdean and in 2006 on Anthems in Eden: An Anthology of British & Irish Folk 1955-1978. Another Copper Family recording from 1998 is on their CD Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues. Billy Bragg and The Young Coppers with Eliza Carthy and Simon Emmerson sang Hard Times of Old England Retold in 2007 on The Imagined Village's eponymous first album, The Imagined Village.

A live recording by the Etchingham Steam Band from the Lenzburg Folk Festival in June 1975 can be found on the CD The Etchingham Steam Band and on the Topic 4CD anthology The Acoustic Folk Box.

Martin Carthy learned Hard Times of Old England from the Copper Family. In 1975, he played guitar on this song on Roy Harris' LP Champions of Folly. He sang it himself at a World Music Institute concert at the Triplex 1 Theater, Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City, on December 4, 1987. At the same concert, he sang Coal Not Dole with the Watersons. Both recordings were included in 2001 on The Carthy Chronicles. The compilation's sleeve notes state:

Child may have written down the songs; Sharp may have recorded them; but the Copper family of Rottingdean kept folk songs alive in the way they should be preserved—by singing them. Much adapted and strangely contemporary, this 18th Century song is from their repertoire.

In 1990, Carthy recorded a parody version called Hard Cheese of Old England on the Mrs Ackroyd Band's album Oranges and Lemmings.

Steeleye Span recorded Hard Times of Old England for their 1975 album All Around My Hat and published it as two singles with the respective B-sides Cadgwith Anthem and Sum Waves (Tunes). This deserved to be another hit single but the lyrics were perhaps too realistically gloomy for the pre-punk area. They recorded it a second time for the CD Present to accompany the December 2002 Steeleye Span reunion tour.

Whippersnapper sang Hard Times of Old England in 1985 on their album Promises.

Roy Bailey sang Hard Times of Old England in 1994 on the Band of Hope's album Rhythm & Reds and in 1995 on his album Freedom Peacefully. The latter track was also included in 2014 on the GTFU and Topic anthology of “songs of resistance, democracy and peace”, Voice and Vision.

Isambarde sang Hard Times of Old England in 2006 on their CD Barnstorming.

Chumbawamba sang Hard Times of Old England live on their 2007 album Get on With It.

This video shows Jon and The Remnant Kings performing Hard Times of Old England at the A Folk Song A Day Midsummer Concert at Cecil Sharp House, London, on June 23, 2011:

Andy Turner sang Hard Times of Old England as the February 7, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Stick in the Wheel sang Hard Times of Old England on their 2015 CD From Here.

Marc Block sang Hard Times of Old England in 2016 on his CD Brisk & Breezy.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Hard Times of Old England

This is from the Copper Family.

Now all of you tradesmen who travel alone
I'm asking you now where the work has all gone
Long time I've been travelling and I cannot find none

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Sing, Oh the hard times of old England
In old England very hard times

Provisions you find in the shops, it is true
But if you've got no money, there's none there for you
So what are poor folk and their families to do

You go to the shop and you ask for a job
They answer you back with a shake and nod
Ain't that enough to make someone turn out and rob

Our soldiers and sailors have just come from war
They're fighting for Queen and for country once more
Home to be starved, better stayed where they were

And you can see our poor tradesmen out walking the street
From morning till night for employment to seek
And scarcely have they any shoes to their feet

And now to conclude and to finish my song
Is hoping these hard times will not be here long
And soon I'll have occasion to alter my song

Final chorus:
Sing, Oh the good times of old England
In old England very good times

The Band of Hope sing Hard Times of Old England

Come all working people who travel alone
And pray come and tell me where the work has all gone
Long time I have travelled and never found none

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And it's oh the hard times of old England
In England very hard times

Provisions you buy from a shop, it is true
But if you've got no money, there's none there for you
So what are poor folk and their families to do

You go to the shop and you ask for a job
They answer you there with a shake and nod
'Tis enough to make poor folk to turn out and rob

You see working people a-walking the street
From morning till night for employment to seek
And scarcely they have any shoes to their feet

Soldiers and sailors have just come from war
Been fighting for Queen and for country sure
Come home to be starved, better have stayed where they were

Steeleye Span sing Hard Times of Old England

Come all brother tradesmen that travel along
O pray come and tell me where the trade is all gone
Long time have I travelled and I cannot find none

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And sing, Oh the hard times of old England
In old England very hard times

Provisions you buy at the shop it is true
But if you've no money there's none there for you
So what's a poor man and his family to do

You must go to the shop and you'll ask for a job
They'll answer you there with a shake and a nod
Well that's enough to make a man turn out and rob.

You will see the poor tradesmen a walking the street
From morning till night for employment to seek
And scarce have they got any shoes on their feet

Our soldiers and sailors have just come from war
Been fighting for Queen and country this year
Come home to be starved better stayed where they were

And now to conclude and to finish my song
Let us hope that these hard times they will not last long
I hope soon to have occasion to alter my song

Final chorus:
And sing, Oh the good times of old England
In old England jolly good times

Acknowledgements and Links

Martin Carthy and the Band of Hope's versions transcribed by Garry Gillard.

See also Jon Wilks' Folk from the Attic blog Hard Times of Old England.