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Steeleye Span: The Name of the Game

The liner notes of the album Hark! The Village Wait include the acknowledgement “We’d like to thank […] Martin Carthy for our name”. Additionally, Maddy Prior tells in the sleeve notes of Spanning the Years:

“[Martin Carthy] had suggested the name Steeleye Span to Tim [Hart] late one evening while staying at Tim’s family home, The Vicarage in St. Albans. The name comes from a Lincolnshire ballad called Horkstow Grange and is a story of an argument between John Bowlin and Jon Span, whose nickname was Steeleye.”

Horkstow Grange recounts a fight between a tyrannical farm foreman named John Bowlin, who came to blows one day with an old waggoner named J.S. “Old Steeleye” Span - and came out the worse for wear. Supposedly, Span himself wrote the lyrics, and set it to the tune of Andrew Rose. It was collected by Percy Grainger from George Gouldthorpe of Goxhill, North Lincolnshire in 1905.

The song can be found on Shirley Collins’ album Adieu to Old England, on the Home Service album Alright Jack, from the singing of George Gouldthorpe, recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger, on Unto Brigg Fair, and on Steeleye Span’s album Horkstow Grange The verses are:

In Horkstow Grange there lived an old miser,
You all do know him as I have heard say.
It’s him on his man that was named John Bowlin
They fell out one market day.

With a blackthorn stick old Steeleye struck him,
As of times he had threatened before;
John Bowlin turned round all in a passion,
He knocked old Steeleye into the floor.

Old Steeleye Span he was filled with John Bowlin,
It happened to be on a market day.
Old Steeleye swore with all his vengeance,
He would swear his life away.

Pity them who see him suffer;
Pity poor old Steeleye Span.
John Bowlin’s deeds they will be remembered,
Pity poor old Steeleye Span,
Pity poor old Steeleye Span.