> The Watersons > Songs > I’Anson’s Racehorse

The Little Dun Mare / I’Anson’s Racehorse

[ Roud 176 ; Master title: The Little Dun Mare ; Ballad Index RcLiDuDe ; Bodleian Roud 176 ; Wiltshire 369 ; trad.]

The Constant Lovers

The Watersons sang I’Anson’s Racehorse in 1966 on their Topic album A Yorkshire Garland. Like most of the tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

For some generations the I’Anson family owned a celebrated racing stable at Malton, about midway between York and Scarborough. More than a century ago, Charles I’Anson raced a dun filly at Newmarket, a mousy little creature that turned out to have astonishing speed and staying power, to the consternation of the professional punters and the delight of loyal Yorkshiremen. The song spread as far as Somerset and a broadside of it was popular in London in the 1860s. This version was noted by T. C. Smith in Scarborough. The words are filled out from the broadside.

Mary Ann Haynes sang Little Dun Dee to Mike Yates in her home in Brighton, Sussex on 7 July 1974. This recording was included in 1975 on the Topic album of gypsies, travellers and country singers, Songs of the Open Road and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father’s the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Volume 11). Mike Yates commented:

The Little Dun Dee appeared on numerous 19th century broadsides, sometimes with the title l’Anson’s Racehorse after the well known Yorkshire family of horse breeders. Gypsies have long associated themselves with horse racing, and events such as Derby Day would be sadly lacking without the presence of gypsy tipsters and fortune tellers.

Rakoczy sang Little Dun Dee in 2020 on her Talking Cat album Frontrunner, an exploration of the image of the horse in British folklore. She noted:

Mary Ann Haynes was a Traveller. Born in 1905, in a wagon parked behind The Coach & Horses in Portsmouth, Mary Ann was born into a horse trading family and is one of my role models when it comes to singing. In 1975, when the song-collector Mike Yates went searching for “Mrs Haynes—the Gypsy lady”, people slammed their doors in his face. Fortunately, he eventually found her, in his words “Sleeping off a lunchtime session in the pub” and recorded her singing this extraordinary song and several others.

A very similar story is that of Creeping Jane as sung by Joseph Taylor on Unto Brigg Fair and Martin Carthy on But Two Came By. A related story of a Skewbald horse winning against all odds was sung by Martin Carthy on Sweet Wivelsfield and on Skin and Bone. Steeleye Span sang this as Skewball on their third album, Ten Man Mop or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again.


The Watersons sing I’Anson’s Racehorse

On the fourteenth day of July last
An horse fair at Newmarket was
And many bold gentlemen there did resort
And it’s all for to see such lively sport

Chorus (after each verse):
(To me:) lardy-o pardy-o
Foldilol lair rardy-do

And one of them gentlemen of great fame
Charles I’Anson Esquire and that was his name
And he had a kinsman who’d gotten a mare
A little dunny with her close-cropped ears

And the jockeys was weighed and likewise the whips
And then the bold rider began for to strip
And the little dun mare as I’ve heard it say
Carried twelve pounds more than lively bay

And they’ve run that very first mile
The bonny wee dunny was far behind
Which made them gentlemen shout and say
It’s fifty pounds on the lively bay

And when they’ve run the very next mile
Me bonny wee dunny was still behind
Which made her jockey to grin and say
Me bonny wee dunny you’ll win the day

And when they’ve come to the very next post
He’s wrapped his whip round her slender waist
And she’s picked up her lily-white feet
And she’s started along just a rollicking treat

And the very last mile they’ve run that day
Me bonny wee dunny she’s raced away
Which made them gentlemen curse and say
The devil take you and your little dun mare

Well the bonny wee dunny this race has won
She’s hardly sweat for a four-mile run
She could race again round the bloody lot
While the others ain’t able to raise a trot

Now me bonny wee dunny’s she dead and gone
We’ll never see her likes again
Her sweet little body lies under the ground
And it’s all for to keep her from the hound

Mary Ann Haynes sings Little Dun Dee

Oh my uncle died and he left me forty quid,
I’m going to venture this all on Little Dun Dee.
I know that my pony’ll be swift and sure,
’Cause she’s eating no grass for this ten long years.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing wack fol loddy, fol the i diddle i day

Now away they went galloping up the green moor,
A-taking the wager as they passed by.
I’ll bet you this wager’ll be ten to one,
Then me li le dun mare she wins this run.

Now away they come galloping up the green moor,
Now that lively bay she gallops so strong.
That lively bay she gallops so strong,
And left Little Dunny three-quarters a mile.

Oh the rider, the rider he twiddled his whip,
He made Little Dunny to hop and skip.
He made Little Dunny to hop and skip,
And she just nipped in before your…

Oh now that your pony have won this race,
No wonder she stop in this place.
No more do she stop in this place,
’Cause it’s taken Little Dunny to cart it away.


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard, hoping for confirmation/correction. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell!