> Steeleye Span > Songs > Copshawholme Fair
> Bellowhead > Songs > Copshawholme Fair

Copshawholme Fair

[ Roud 9139 ; Ballad Index RcCpswFr ; David Anderson]

Copshawholme Fair was written by David Anderson who was what English literature academics like to call a ‘labouring class poet’ from Newcastleton—or Copshawholm/Copshawholme, the old name of the lands on which the Duke of Buccleuch built the planned village of Newcastleton or Castleton in 1793. Anderson published Copshawholm Fair in his poetry collection Musings by the Burns and Braes of Liddesdale (C. Thurnam & Sons, Carlisle, 1868), in which he noted that he composed the song some 38 years before, i.e. 1830, and that the hiring fair was an annual event. In fact, according to an 1880s Gazetteer hiring fairs were held here three times a year: second Friday of April, and Fridays before 17 May and 8 November. Another source says the last hiring fair was held in 1912.
[Note by Sue Allen in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Copshawholme Fair; edited]

Willie Scott, who was born 1987 into a shepherding family in the Borders, quite conceivably attended the Copshawholm Fair before it was last held in April 1912. I don't know of a recording of him of Copshawholm Fair—it isn't on his 1968 Topic album The Shepherd's Song—but his words as shown below are from Alison McMorland’s book Herd Laddie o' the Glen (1988).

Robert Forrester sang Copshawholme Fair in a field recording by Jack Little in Low Hesket, Cumberland on August 26, 1953. This recording was published in 1982 on the Reynard Records album Pass the Jug Round. It was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough (The Voice of the People Series Volume 5). Sue Allan commented in the original record's sleeve notes:

This story of a country hiring fair is set in Copshawholme, now called Newcastleton, just over the Scottish border in Liddesdale. The tune is The Wild Hills of Wannie, a border tune well-known from the playing of Northumbrian piper Billy Pigg. Hiring fairs were held twice yearly at Whitsuntide and Martinmas, and were in effect a rural labour exchange as well as being great social occasions. Those servants and farm hands wishing to be hired for a half year term would line the streets of the town, and wait for the ‘maister’ to come along and engage them. After the negotiations were completed, the hired man or woman was given a shilling ‘earnest money’ to seal the bargain. This shilling would then very often be spent at the many stalls and booths of the fair, or on street entertainment, dancing and drinking. The young girl in the song is hired for £5 for the half year, which suggests that this hiring took place in the first half of the 19th century, as by 1900 the wage for women was £13 to £18. Hiring fairs largely died out after the First World War although a few in Cumbria continued into the 1940s.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sang Copshawholme Fair on their second duo album, Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2. The record's sleeve notes comment:

In earlier times fairs were not only places for fun and enjoyment but were long established meeting grounds where trade dominated the proceedings. Hiring, or Mop fairs as they were sometimes called, were usually held once a year and seem to have survived to a much later date in Cumberland fulfilling their function even after the First World War. After the serious bartering of the day was over music, dancing and other merry-making prevailed. Geoff Woods found this song in the archives of the Cumberland County Library in Carlisle. It had been collected on disc from the singing of Norman Alford and the late Robert Forrester.

A year later, both were with Steeleye Span and recorded a much shorter version for their first group album, Hark! The Village Wait, basically verses 1-4 and 10 of the duo version. It features Maddy Prior and Gay Woods step-dancing very audibly. The album's sleeve notes commented:

Geoff Wood, a song collector from Leeds, found this hidden away in the Cumberland County Library in Carlisle a few years ago. It had been recorded directly onto a 78rpm record sometime during the 1930s and then filed away for posterity. The song tells of the annual hiring or “mop” fair that was held at the small village of Copshawholme in Cumberland until quite recently.

Paul and Linda Adams sang Copshawholme Fair in 1978 on their Fellside album Among the Old Familiar Mountains. They commented in their sleeve notes:

A song from the border. Copshawholme is the old name for Newcastleton and this song was collected by Frank Kidson in Dumfriesshire. It is a classic description of one of the old Hiring Fairs once common throughout England, but dying out finally in Cumbria and The Borders about 30 years ago. Agricultural workers would offer themselves for hire for a six month period. We learned the song for a radio programme.

Isla St Clair sang Copshawholme Fair on her 1981 soundtrack to the BBC television series, The Song and the Story.

In 2003, John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded a most entertaining version of Copshawholme Fair for their album Bellow and a year later with their group Bellowhead for their album, E.P.onymous. Jon Boden sang it also as the April 15, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. They commented in the former album's notes:

A wonderful insight into the world of the hiring fair—a mixture of malevolence and youthful exuberance—perhaps not so different from their descendants, the modern-day fun fair.

but he also noted in his AFSAD blog:

Having performed it a couple of times with Maddy Prior I now realise that there are a good few mondegreens in my recorded versions, particularly ballad singer = balancer!! Still it’s a great song that really brings out the excitement and drama of the annual fair.

Similar themed songs

Cathal McConnell and Robin Morton (of The Boys of the Lough) sang The Hiring Fair at Hamiltonsbawn (Roud 2890) in 1970 on their duo album An Irish Jubilee.

The Irish Country Four sang Magherafelt Hiring Fair (Roud 366; G/D 7:1424; Henry H748) in 1971 on their Topic album The Irish Country Four: Songs, Ballads & Instrumental Tunes from Ulster.

Eddie Butcher sang The Daysman or The Hiring Fair (Roud 2942) on his 1976 Leader album Shamrock Rose & Thistle and on his 1976 Free Reed album I Once Was a Daysman.

Paul Brennan sang Strabane Hiring Fair (Roud 2516; G/D 4:883) in 1993 on his Fellside CD Fire in the Soul.

See also Ralph McTell's song The Hiring Fair which was a steeple of Fairport Convention's programme; they recorded it first for their 1985 album Gladys' Leap, but also played it e.g. live at The Mill, Farnham in 1987 on their album In Real Time, at Cropredy '87 on their bootleg cassette The Third Leg, and at Cropredy '98 on their CD Cropredy '98 and video Beyond the Ledge.

Lyrics

David Anderson's poem Copshawholme Fair Willie Scott sings Copshawholm Fair

On a Friday it fell, in the month of April,
Ower the hills cam' the morn, wi her blithesomest smile,
The folks were a' thranging the roads everywhere,
Making haste to be in at the Copshawholm Fair.

On a Friday it fell in the month of April,
Owre the hills cam the morn wi her blithesomest smile;
The folks were aa thranging the roads everywhere
Makin haste tae be in at the Copshawholm Fair.

They are seen coming in frae the mountains and glens,
Baith rosy faced lassies and strappan young men,
A' jumping wi' joy and unburdened wi' care,
When meeting auld frien's at Copshawholm Fair.

They were seen comin in frae the mountains and glens,
Baith rosie faced lassies and strappin young men;
Aa jumpin wi joy and unburdened wi care,
When meeting auld freens at the Copshawholm Fair.

'Tis a day when old courtships are often renewed,
Old dispute set aside or more hotly pursued;
What Barleycorn Johnny sees fit to declare
Is law—for he’s king at the Copshawholm Fair.

Tis a day when auld courtships are often renewed,
Disputes set aside or more hotly pursued;
What Barleycorn Johnny sees fit tae declare
Is law—for he’s king at the Copshawholm Fair.

There are lads for the lassies and toys for the bairns,
And blind ballad-singers and folk wi' no airms;
A fiddler is here, and a thimbler is there,
Wi' nut-men and spice-men at Copshawholm Fair.

There are lads for the lassies and toys for the bairns;
There’s blin ballad singers and folk wi no airms,
A fiddler is here, an a thimbler is there,
Wi nutmen an spicemen at Copshawholm Fair.

There’s pethers an potters, and gingerbread stan's,
Peep-shows, puff-and-darts, and the great caravans;
There’s fruit frae all nations exhibited there,
And kail-plants frae Hawick at Copshawholm Fair.

There’s pethers an potters an gingerbreid stans,
Peepshows, puff an darts an great caravans;
There’s fruit frae aa nations exhibited there
And kail plants frae Hawick at the Copshawholm Fair.

Noo next 'bout the hiring, if you want tae hear tell,
Ye shall ken it as far as I've seen it mysel';
But what wages are gien it is ill to declare,
Sae muckle they vary at Copshawholm Fair.

Noo aboot the hirin if you want tae hear tell
Ye shall ken it as fer as A’ve seen it masel;
That whit wages are gien, it is ill tae declare,
Sae muckle they vary at Copshawholm Fair.

Only and I saw hired, a strapping young queen,
Heard her spier'd what her age was, and where she had been,
What work she’d been doing, how long she’d been there,
What wages she wanted at Copshawholm Fair.

Only yin A saw hirin a strappin young quine,
Heard her speir whit her age wis an whaur she had been;
Whit work she’d been daein an how lang she’d been there,
Whit wages she wanted at Copshawholm Fair.

At first the young lassie a wee while stood dumb,
She blush'd and she scrapie wi' her foot on the grun;
At last she took heart, and did stoutly declare -
I’ll hae five punds and ten at Copshawholm Fair.

At first the young lassie a wee while stood dumb.
She blushed an she scrappit her fit on the grun;
At last she took hairt an did stoutly declare
“A’ll hae five pund an ten at Copshawholm Fair.”

Says he, but my lass, that’s a very big wage,
And turning about as he’d been in a rage,
Says, I'll give thee five pounds, but I'll gie nae mair,
I think thou maun tak' it this Copshawholm Fair.

Says he, “But my lass that’s a verra big wage,”
And turnin about as he’d been in a rage, Says,
“A’ll gie ye five pund, but A’ll gie ye nae mair
A think ye maun tak it this Copshawholm Fair.”

He held out the shilling to arle the bit wench,
In case it should enter her noddle to flinch;
She grap at it, muttering, I should hae had mair,
But yet I will tak' it at Copshawholm Fair.

He held out the shillun tae arle the bit wench
In case it should enter her noddle tae flinch;
She grap at it, mutterin, “I shoulda haen mair
But yet A will tak it at Copshawholm Fair.”

Now the hiring is done, and off they a' spang,
They rin to the ball-room to join wi' the thrang;
“I never will lie wi my mammy nae mair,”
The fiddle plays briskly at Copshawholm Fair.

Noo the hirin wis dune and aff they aa sprang,
They run tae the bar room tae jine in the thrang;
“I never will lie wi my mammy nae mair,”
The fiddler plays briskly at Copshawholm Fair.

There is one in the corner sits drinkin his gill,
Anither beside him sits sippin his yill;
Another is strippit, and swearing right said,
Room, will ye no' gie me at the Copshawholm Fair?

There’s one in the corner sits drinkin his gill,
Anither beside him sits sippin his yill;
Anither is strippit an swearin richt sail,
“Room will ye no gie me at the Copshawholm Fair.”

Noo this is the fashion; they thus pass the day
Till night comes at last and they ellie away;
But some are so sick that they canna do mair
With dancing and fighting at Copshawholm Fair.

Noo this is the fashion they thus passed the day
Till nicht comes at last and they ellie away;
But some are sae sick that they canna dae mair
Wi dancin an fechtin at Copshawholm Fair.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sing Copshawholme Fair Steeleye Span sing Copshawholme Fair

On a Friday, it fell in the month of Avril,
O'er the hill came the morn' with the blithe sunny smile.
And the folks were a-throngin' the roads everywhere,
Makin' haste to be in at Copshawholme Fair.

On a Friday, it fell in the month of April,
O'er the hill came the morn' with the blithe sunny smile,
And the folks they were throngin' the roads everywhere,
Makin' haste to be in at Copshawholme Fair.

I've seen 'em a-comin' in from the mountains and glen,
Both rosy-faced lasses and strappin' young men
With a joy in their heart and unburdened o' care,
A-meetin' old friends at Copshawholme Fair.

I've seen 'em a-comin' in from the mountains and glen,
Both rosy-faced lasses and strappin' young men,
With a joy in their heart and unburdened o' care,
A-meetin' old friends at Copshawholme Fair.

There's lads for the lasses, there's toys for the bairns,
There's jugglers and tumblers and folks with no arms,
There's a ballad-singer here and a fiddler there,
There are nut-men and spice-men at Copshawholme Fair.

There are lads for the lasses, there's toys for the bairns,
There are jugglers and tumblers, folks with no arms,
There's a ballad-singer here and a fiddler there,
There are nut-men and spice-men at Copshawholme Fair.

There are peddlers and there're potters and gingerbread stands,
There are peepshows and puff and darts and the green caravans,
There's fruit from all nations exhibited there
With kale plants from Hawick at Copshawholme Fair.

There are peddlers and potters and gingerbread stands,
There are peepshows and puff and darts and the green caravans,
There's fruit from all nations exhibited there,
With kale plants from Hawick at Copshawholme Fair.

And now about the hiring if you want to hear tell
You should ken it as afar as I've seen it myself.
What wages they addle, it's ill to declare,
The muckle they vary at Copshawholme Fair.

Just the gal I have seen she's a strapping young queen.
He asked what her age was and where she had been,
What work she'd been doin', how long she'd been there,
What wages she wanted at Copshawholme Fair.

Just then the pit lass stood a wee while in gloom
And she blushed and she scraped with her feet on the ground.
Then she plucked up her heart and did stoutly declare,
“I'll have five pound and ten at Copshawholme Fair.”

Says he, “But m'lass, that's a very big wage.“
Then he, turning about like he'd been in a rage,
Says, “I'll give ye five pounds but I'll give ye nae mair,
And I think you maun take it at Copshawholme Fair.”

He took out a shilling for to hold the pit wench
In case it might enter her head for to flinch,
But she grabbed at it, muttering, “I should o' had mair,
But I think I will tak' it at Copshawholme Fair.”

Now the hirin's o'er and off they all sprang
In to the ballroom for to join in the throng,
And “I Never Will Lie With My Mammy Nae Mair”
The fiddles play briskly at Copshawholme Fair.

When the hirin's o'er, off they all sprang
In to the ballroom for to join in the throng,
And “I Never Will Lie With My Mammy Nae Mair”
The fiddles play briskly at Copshawholme Fair.

Now this is the fashion they thus pass the day
Till the night comin' on they all hurry away,
And some are so sick that they'll never go more
With the fighting and dancing at Copshawholme Fair.

Spiers & Boden sing Copshawholme Fair

On a Friday it fell in the month of April,
O'er the hill came the sun with a blithe sunny smile,
And the folks were a-thronging the roads everywhere,
Making haste to be in at Copshawholme Fair.

I've seen them coming in over mountain and glen,
Both rosy faced lasses and strapping young men,
With a joy in their hearts and unburdened of care,
They'll be meeting old friends at Copshawholme Fair.

There's lads for the lasses, there's toys for the bairns,
There are fiddlers and tumblers and folks with no arms,
There's a [ballad singer] here and a fiddler there,
And a nutman and spiceman at Copshawhome Fair.

Oh but now about the hiring if you want to hear tell,
You should ken it as far as I've seen it myself,
What wages they addle it's ill to declare,
The muckle they vary at Copshawholme Fair.

Justielle I have seen, she's a strapping young queen,
And he asked what her age was and where she had been,
What work she'd been doing, how long she'd been there,
What wages she wanted at Copshawholme Fair.

Just then the big lass stood a wee while in gloom,
Then she turned and she scraped with her feet on the ground,
Then she plucked up her heart and did stoutly declare,
“I'll have five pound and ten at Copshawholme Fair.”

He says, “But my lass that's a very big wage”,
Then he turned him about like he'd been in a rage,
Said “I'll give you five pound but I'll give you nae mair,
But I think you will take it at Copshawholme Fair.”

He put his hand in his pocket, took a hold of bit wench
In case it should enter her hand for to flinch,
But she grabbed at it muttering, “I should have had mair
But I think I will take it at Copshawholme Fair.”

Now the hiring is over and off they all gang,
Into the ballroom for to join in the thrang,
And I never shall lie with my mammy nae mair,
For the fiddlers play briskly at Copshawholme Fair.

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Catherine Legg and Sue Allen.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Copshawholme Fair.