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Sedgefield Fair / The Threshing Machine / The Thrashing Machiners

[ Roud 294 ; TYG 15 ; Ballad Index RcOlJoWa ; trad.]

The Watersons sang Sedgefield Fair with Mike Waterson in lead in 1981 on their album Green Fields. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album sleeve notes:

Sedgefield is just north of Stockton-on-Tees, and in the nineteenth century its fair was renowned for draught horses. In this comedy song the sellers had poor luck. “Titty fa lairy, fire up (or flare up) Mary” was quite a favourite chorus for many mid-nineteenth century songs. Some say it refers to the steam threshing machine then coming into favour. David Hillery got the song from Jack Beeforth of Wragby, Yorks, and then passed it on to the Watersons.

The steam threshing machine's theory is supported by Jim Copper's The Threshing Machine which has the line “Flare up Mary” in the chorus. This song was recorded in 1951 by BBC Radio and reissued on the Alan Lomax Collection CD World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Threshing Machiners on his 2011 CD God Speed the Plough.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing Sedgefield Fair Notes by Greer Gilman

Awd Dicky Thompson, he had a grey mare
And he took 'er away ti Sedgefield Fair
But he browt her back, whoa yes he did
Because he hadn't a farthin bid

awd = old; ti = to; browt = brought
Dicky Thompson seems to be Mrs. Willy from Westerdale's cousin; they share the same light touch with livestock.
The dialect is North and East Riding, mostly.

Chorus (after each verse):
(Singin) Titty fa lairy, fire up Mary
Up to the jigs o' Sedgefield Fair

As A.L. Lloyd notes, “fire up Mary” may refer to a threshing engine. (Though at times the Watersons seem to be singing “fire off Mary”--suggested by Dicky's awd gun?)
jigs = pranks

Now he turned her away into Wragby Wood
He thowt his awd mare might deea some good
But she ran her awd head right intiv a tree
Gor dang, says Dick, t'awd mare'll dee


thowt = thought; deea = do;
intiv = into;
t'awd = the old; dee = die

Now he browt her some hay, it were all in a scuttle
And her poor awd belly began for to ruttle
So he browt her some corn, it were all in a sieve
Gor dang, says Dick, t'awd mare'll live


ruttle = rattle (a phlegmy cough is said to ruttle)

Now he took 'er away inti't field to ploo
To see what good 'is awd mare could do
But at every end, she give a great fart--
Gor dang, says Dick, we'll plough until dark

inti't = into the; ploo = plough

Now all of his sheep got intiv his fog
And he sent away home for t' black and white dog
And every end he give a great shout
It were, Get away by 'em and fetch 'em out!

fog = new grass which springs up after mowing
(There goes his second crop of hay.)

Then all of his hens got intiv his corn
And he swore he would shoot 'em, as sure he's born
So he got his awd gun and he squinted and squared
And he missed t'awd hens and he shot his grey mare

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription and the notes.