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The Jolly Waggoner

[ Roud 1088 ; Master title: The Jolly Waggoner ; Ballad Index K230 ; VWML SBG/1/2/175 ; Bodleian Roud 1088 ; GlosTrad Roud 1088 ; Wiltshire 866 , 1168 ; Mudcat 23085 ; trad.]

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected The Jolly Waggoner from Mr Rose, landlord of Bridge Inn, Acle Norfolk on 14 April 1908 (MS I 32(2)). This version was printed in Roy Palmer, Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs, and is also shown on folkinfo.org.

Fred Jordan sang The Jolly Waggoners in a 1952 BBC recording that was included in 2003 on his Veteran Records compilation A Shropshire Lad.

The Watersons sang The Jolly Waggoners in 1966 on their second album The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also published on the Topic Sampler No. 6, A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides, and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4 CD+DVD anthology Mighty River of Song. Note that the latter’s sleeve notes claim the track is from the soundtrack of the Travelling for a Living BBC TV documentary of 1966, which does not have Mike playing guitar on it. However, as Travelling for a Living is included in this box set on a bonus DVD, there is no harm done. Thanks to Bob Hudson for pointing this out.

A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

In the old days, a man might die in the house he had been born in without ever having travelled above five miles away from it. The main means of communication in static, rural communities were potholed and treacherous roads and the waggoners who travelled them bearing goods, mail and gossip were important people. The dangers and hardship of their open-air life added a romantic flourish to the attraction of their roving trade and the charm of their freedom of movement.

This is a very well-known song. Kidson found it in Yorkshire, Alfred Williams called it “a great favourite” in the Upper Thames area, grandfathers and great uncles all over Britain will probably recognise the tune even if they don’t remember the words. It was sung wherever waggoners went.

Walter Pardon sang The Jolly Waggoner on 2 August 1978 to Mike Yates. This track is on Walter Pardon’s 2000 Topic anthology A World Without Horses.

Woodbine Lizzie sang The Jolly Waggoners in 1979 on their Fellside album By Numbers.

Mike Bosworth sang The Jolly Waggoners in 1994 on his CD By Chance It Was.

Will Noble and John Cocking sang The Jolly Waggoner live at the Huntsman, Holmfirth, Yorkshire, on 13 November 2004. This recording was published a year later on their Veteran CD Yon Green Banks. They and John Howson noted:

This country song could date back to the time when waggons replaced pack horses. It was widely collected in most rural areas of the country and Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp (in the West Country) and Frank Kidson (in Yorkshire) all noted down versions in the early part of the twentieth century.

Ian Russell recorded John Taylor at Lodge Moor, Sheffield singing it and many well known traditional singers had the song, including Walter Pardon from Norfolk (A World Without Horses) and Fred Jordan (A Shropshire Lad) who learned it from his mother.

This video shows the Young’uns singing A Jolly Waggoner at Sedgefield Cricket Club in 2009:

Steve Roud included Jolly Waggoner in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. James Findlay sang it a year later on the accompanying Fellside CD The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs From The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Andy Turner learned The Jolly Waggoner from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney, and sang it as the 27 October 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. Charlie Bridger (born 1913) had learned the song at school, almost certainly from English Folk-Songs For Schools, collected and arranged by S. Baring-Gould and Cecil J. Sharp, published by Curwen in 1907.

Sam Kelly sang Jolly Waggoners in 2015 on his CD The Lost Boys.

Brian Peters sang The Jolly Waggoner in 2015 on his CD Squeezebox, Voicebox. He noted:

Although Cecil Sharp’s work in England is best known for his huge haul of songs from Somerset, he did make one or two forays up North—usually in search of traditional dances—and would note down the occasional song while he was about it. The Jolly Waggoner was sung to him by John Thornber in Burnley in 1914.

See also the song’s Wikipedia entry.


The Watersons sing The Jolly Waggoner

When first I went a-waggoning, a-waggoning did go
Well, it filled my poor old parents’ hearts with sorrow, grief, and woe
And many are the hardships that since I’ve undergone.

Chorus (after each verse):
Sing whoa my lads, sing whoa, drive on my lads, drive on
Who wouldn’t be for all the world a jolly waggoner.

When it’s pelting down with rain, my lads, I get wetted to the skin
But I bear it with contented heart until I reach the inn
And I sit down a-drinking with the landlord and his kin.

Well, things is greatly altered now and waggons few are seen
The world’s turned topsy-turvy, lads, and things is run by steam
And the whole world passes before me just like a morning dream.

Aye, things is greatly altered now but then what can us do
The folks in power all take no heed to the likes of me and you
It’s hardship for us workmen, lads, and a fortune for the few.

Well, Martinmas is coming, lads, what pleasures we shall see
Like chaff before the wind, my lads, we’ll make our money flee
And every lad shall take his lass and he’ll have her on his knee.

Walter Pardon sings The Jolly Waggoner

When first I went a-waggoning, a-wagging did go
I filled my parents hearts with grief, with sorrow, care and woe
And many are the hardships that I have since gone through

Chorus (after each verse):
Sing woah, sing woah, drive on, my lads, hi ho
Who wouldn’t lead a life like we jolly waggoners do?

Now winter is a-coming on, much hardship it will bring
We’ll jog along our weary way until we reach the inn
We’ll sit down by the old inn fire with landlord and his kin

Now springtime is a-coming on, how pleasant it will be
The songbirds sing so loud and clear from every greenwood tree
And every lad will take a lass and jog her on his knee

Now summer is a coming on, we’ll pleasure also find
We’ll make the gold to fly, my boys, like chaff before the wind
And then return back home again to wife and children kind


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Corrections following discussion in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: The Jolly Waggoners.