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The Poacher

[ Roud 2646 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang The Poacher on his and Dave Swarbrick’s 1992 album Skin and Bone. He noted:

Sing a song of sixpence was never like this, and in another sense, neither, as a rule, are songs on this subject. There are two songs called The Sheep Stealer, a great angry show of defiance with a nasty streak a mile wide, and this one, which is a fragment from a woman called Mrs Woodberry in Somerset, to which I have added a verse to give it an ending, and its atmosphere of rumbustious idiocy marks it out among songs on the subject, which generally share the bleaker more sombre tones of The Poacher, written down by Vaughan Williams from a Mrs Joiner just outside St Albans. Apparently the majority of people transported for poaching were first offenders, caught while hunting in order to feed hungry possibly starving families. Certainly that is the impression left by this song—indeed the stink of entrapment hangs heavy in the air as do the presently celebrated (in some quarters) Victorian values, which insist that the victim’s “very large family” survive, in modern terms, on roughly half a dozen bread loaves, after which, nothing.

This video shows Martin Carthy and Sam Sweeney rehearsing The Poacher at Sidmouth FolkWeek 2017:


Martin Carthy sings The Poacher

I’d work it for a gentleman, I’d work it by the day,
Down in a little garden close by the highway.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Foll di roll ri foll di roll loll loll di day

I saw something dancing, I thought it was a hare,
Says I why don’t I go and try to catch it in a snare.

It was early in the morning before the break of day
But the keeper sat in an arbour bush close by the highway.

They upped me off to prison, I suffered more and more,
For six long weeks and better my bed was made of straw.

I have a very large family at home, I heard my neighbour say
That they only had one half penn’ ’orth loaf for eight one summer day.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.