> Shirley Collins > Songs > Adieu to Old England
Adieu to Old England
; Master title: Adieu to Old England
; G/D 6:1083
; Ballad Index
; VWML SBG/3/6/32A
Harry Cox sang Adieu to Old Eng-e-land, Here’s Adieu, recorded by Peter Kennedy, on his eponymous EFDSS album of 1965, Harry Cox. Another recording made by Alan Lomax in London in November 1953 was included in 2000 on Cox’s Rounder anthology What Will Become of England?. A third version, recorded by Charles Parker on 25 July 1963 was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud noted on the last album:
Noted several times by Victorian and Edwardian collectors such as Cecil Sharp, Sabine Baring-Gould, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, this song does not seem to have appeared often, if at all, on broadsides. Other versions are not much longer than Harry’s, simple lamenting the loss of other luxuries such as a coach and horses and good bread, and none give any reason for the narrator’s unfortunate run. Some assume he has been transported though this is not mentioned in the words of the song and he may simply have emigrated.
Shirley Collins sang Adieu to Old England as the title track of her 1974 Topic album, Adieu to Old England. It was also included in her anthologies Fountain of Snow and The Classic Collection. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:
Shirley’s husband Ashley [Hutchings] found this prison ballad on a Cecil Sharp manuscript copy. It was collected from Jacob Giblett of Westhay, Somerset, and was one of three versions found in that county by Sharp. One was sung by a Mrs Lock of Muchelney Ham who declared: “I enjoy that song—it’s a cheerful song.” It was first published c. 1820 as The Transport’s Farewell, by T. Bachelor of Little Cheapside, London.
Queen Caroline Hughes sang Adieu to Old England to Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset, on 19 April 1968. This recording was released in 2012 on the Topic anthology I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22).
John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris sang Adieu to Old England in 1976 on their Topic album Among the Many Attractions at the Show Will Be a Really High Class Band. John Kirkpatrick recorded it again in 1998 for his CD One Man & His Box. And he sang Here’s Adieu to Old England on Stick in the Wheel’s 2017 anthology of English folk field recordings, From Here. He noted on the first album:
Harry Cox could only remember two verses of this song when Peter Kennedy recorded him for his English Folk Dance and Song Society LP. We added two more from a version collected by Cecil Sharp from Jacob Gibbett of Westhay.
Yorkshire Relish (Derek, Dorothy and Nadine Elliott) sang Adieu to Old England in 1980 on their Traditional Sound album An Old Family Business.
Folly Bridge sang Adieu to Old England in 1991 on their WildGoose cassette All in the Same Tune. Claire Lloyd noted:
Prison ballads were abundant in 19th century England when you could be incarcerated, transported or even hanged just for catching a rabbit. The protagonist in this version was clearly well-to-do at some point, but we don’t know what his crime was, or whether he was being transported or just emigrating.
A version of the song was published as a broadside in 1820 and many variants were collected from source singers, mainly in the West Country. Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy both recorded it sung by Harry Cox, a farm labourer from Norfolk, in 1953 and 1971 respectively. Perhaps its popularity amongst the working classes stemmed from a certain satisfaction at the idea of a once wealthy man forced to eat crusts and sleep on straw?
The Askew Sisters sang Adieu to Old England in 2007 on their WildGoose CD All in a Garden Green. This track was also included in 2009 on WildGoose’s M.S. charity CD, Generosity. They noted:
We found this song on a manuscript from the George Gardiner Collection. It was originally sung by a guy called George Blake from the New Forest [VWML GG/1/6/306] and concerns British transportation of convicts to Australia. We’ve given it a slightly jaunty swing, taking it that the convict had accepted his lot… and after all, Australia is rather sunny!
Ian King sang Adieu to Old England on his 2010 Fledg’ling CD Panic Grass & Fever Few. This track was also included in 2011 on the anthology CD The Rough Guide to English Folk.
The Albion Band sang Adieu to Old England in 2012 on their CD The Vice of the People.
Andy Turner sang Adieu to Old England as the 4 August 2013 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week. His version comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Folk Songs of the West Country, where it says it was “Taken down from William Friend, 1889”.
Alice Jones sang Adieu to Old England in 2016 on her CD Poor Strange Girl. She commented:
This is a song that I got from Gina Le Faux when I was in a trio with her and superb double bassist Hugh Bradley (who just happens to feature on this album!). I have adapted the words based on various versions. It seems that this story is frighteningly relevant again today in light of recessions and such hardships of recent years.
Harry Cox sings Adieu to Old England, Here’s Adieu
Once I could lay in a bed,
A bed of the very best down,
But now I am glad of a bunch of wheat-straw
To keep my poor bones to the ground.
So adieu to Old England, here’s adieu,
Here’s adieu to five thousand of pounds.
If the world had been banished before I was born,
My troubles I should not have known.
So once I had drink of the beer,
The very best beer of a glass,
But now I am glad of the cold water
To quench my poo lips from the thirst.
Shirley Collins sings Adieu to Old England
Adieu to Old England, adieu,
And adieu to some hundreds of pounds.
If the world had been ended when I had been young,
My sorrows I’d never have known.
Once I could drink of the best,
The very best brandy and rum.
Now I am glad of a cup of spring water
That flows from town to town.
Once I could eat of good bread,
Good bread that was made of good wheat.
Now I am glad with a hard mouldy crust
And glad that I got it to eat.
Once I could lie on a good bed,
A good bed that was made of soft down.
Now I am glad of a clot of clean straw
To keep myself from the cold ground.
Once I could ride in my carriage,
With servants to drive me along.
Now I’m in prison, in prison so strong
Not knowing which way I can turn.
(repeat first verse)
Folly Bridge sing Adieu to Old England
Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Here’s adieu to Old England, here’s adieu,
Here’s adieu to five thousand gold crowns.
If the world had been banished before I was born
My troubles I’d never have known.
Once I could lie on that bed,
The bed of the very best down.
But now I am glad of a bunch of wheat straw
To keep my poor bones from the ground.
Once I could drink of that beer,
The very best beer in the glass.
But now I am glad of cold water
To quench my poor lips from the thirst.
Once I could eat of that bread,
The bread of the very best wheat.
But now I am glad of a half mouldy crust
To give my poor body to eat.
Once I could ride in my carriage
With servants to drive me along.
But now I’m in prison, in prison so strong,
And not knowing which way to turn.