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Three Score and Ten

[ Roud 16873 ; TYG 5 ; William Delf]

The Watersons sang Three Score and Ten in 1965 on New Voices, and a year later on the Topic sampler Men at Work. Like all Watersons tracks from New Voices, it was reissued in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also included in 2009 as the title track of the Topic 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. Another recording from the soundtrack of the Travelling for a Living BBC TV documentary of 1966 was included in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

The text was written by William [Delf], a Whitby fisherman and song-maker. It commemorates a freak storm in 1889. The song circulated along the Yorkshire coast as a broadside, and the Watersons learnt it from a tape-recording of some Whitby singers.

William Delf's broadside is reproduced in Mary and Nigel Hudleston's book Songs of the Ridings (2001, p. 46).

And Roy Palmer wrote in The Oxford Book of Sea Songs and its expanded edition Boxing the Compass:

“In memoriam of the poor Fishermen who lost their lives in the Dreadful Gale from Grimsby and Hull, Feb. 8&9, 1889” is the title of a broadside produced by a Grimsby [other source: Whitby] fisherman, William Delf to raise funds for the bereaved families. It lists [nine] lost vessels, the last two from Hull: Eton, John Wintringham, Sea Searcher, Sir Fred. Roberts, British Workman, Kitten, Harold, Adventure, and Olive Branch. In addition the names of some of the lost sailors are given, and there is a poem in eight stanzas. This passed into oral tradition, and in so doing lost six verses and acquired a new one (the last, in which an error of date occurs), together with a chorus and a tune. The oral version was noted from a master mariner, Mr J. Pearson of Filey, in 1957, and has subsequently, with some further small variations, become well known in folk-song clubs.

Woodbine Lizzie sang Three Score and Ten in 1979 on their Fellside album Woodbine Lizzie By Numbers.

Isla St Clair sang Three Score and Ten on the 1981 soundtrack album of the BBC television series, The Song and the Story.

Louis Killen sang Three Score and Ten on his 1997 CD A Seaman's Garland and in 2002 on the Revels CD Homeward Bound. He commented in his album's notes:

Three Score and Ten, also from the fishing community, was first published as a poem in a Grimsby newspaper after the great storm in the 1880's. It was found 70 years later being sung by fishermen in Robin Hood's Bay (collectors: Mary and [Nigel] Hudleston [and printed in Songs of the Ridings].)

Elle Osborne sang Three Score and Ten in 2011 on her CD So Slowly Slowly Got She Up.

Brian Dawson sang Three Score and Ten at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2011. This recording was published in the following year on the festival anthology The Little Ball of Yarn (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 8).

The song in memory of the fishermen of Grimsby and Hull who lost their lives in the gale of 8th and 9th of February 1889 was composed as a poem by Grimsby fisherman William Delf who published the text as a broadsheet. After losing a few verses and acquiring a fine chorus and tune, the song was collected in 1957 from master mariner J. Pearson of Filey, a member of the Filey Fishermen’s Choir who had preserved the song in their repertoire. The Watersons recorded the song and it became widely known in the folk revival of the 1960s.

William Delf was born at Wangford, Suffolk in 1851. As well as Three Score and Ten (not his title), he wrote verses about other fishing and lifeboat disasters at Hull, Withensea, Filey and Southport. In the original broadsheet of the song he lists some of the fleet that went down—[Eton], [John Wintringham], Sea Searcher, Sir Fred Roberts, British Workman, Kitten, Harold, Adventure and Olive Branch. In verse 3, like other Grimsby singers of today, Brian has taken some words from the original to add to the collected version.

Lyrics

Mike Waterson sings Three Score and Tenon New Voices

Methinks I see a host of craft spreading their sails a-lee
As down the Humber they do glide all bound for the Northern Sea.
Methinks I see on each small craft a crew with hearts so brave
Going out to earn their daily bread upon the restless wave.

Chorus (after each verse):
And it's three score and ten boys and men were lost from Grimsby town.
From Yarmouth down to Scarborough many hundreds more were drowned.
Our herring craft, our trawlers, our fishing smacks as well,
They long did fight that bitter night and battled with the swell.

Methinks I see them yet again as they leave the land behind
Casting their nets into the sea, the fishing shoals to find.
Methinks I see them yet again and all on board's all right,
With the sails close reefed and the decks cleared up and the sidelights burning bright.

October's night left such a sight, was never seen before:
There was masts and spars and broken yards came floating to the shore.
There was many a heart of sorrow, there was many a heart so brave.
There was many a hearty fisher lad did find a watery grave.

Mike Waterson sings Three Score and Ten on Travelling for a Living / Mighty River of Song

Methinks I see an host of craft spreading their sails a-lee
As down the Humber they do glide all bound for the Northern Sea.
Methinks I see on each small craft a crew with hearts so brave
Going out to earn their daily bread upon the restless wave.

Chorus (after each verse):
And it's three score and ten boys and men were lost from Grimsby town.
From Yarmouth down to Scarborough many hundreds more were drowned.
Our herring craft, our trawlers, our fishing smacks as well,
They long did fight that bitter night and battled with the swell.

Methinks I see them yet again as they leave the land behind
Casting their lead into the deep, the fishing grounds to find.
Methinks I see them yet again and all on board's all right,
With the sails close reefed and the decks cleared up and the sidelights burning bright.

October's night left such a sight, was never seen before:
There was masts and spars and broken yards came floating to the shore.
There was many a heart of sorrow, there was many a heart so brave.
There was many a hearty fisher lad did find a watery grave.

Brian Dawson sings Three Score and Ten

Methinks I see some little craft, spreading their sails a-lee,
As down the Humber they do glide, all bound for the Northern Sea;
Methinks I see on each small craft, a crew with hearts so brave,
Going down to earn their daily bread upon the restless waves.

Chorus:
And it’s three score and ten, boys and men, were lost from Grimsby town,
From Yarmouth down to Scarborough many hundreds more were drowned;
Our herring craft, our trawlers, our fishing smacks as well,
They long defied the bitter night, and battled with the swell.

Methinks I see them yet again as they leave the land behind,
Casting their nets into the deep, the herring shoals to find;
Methinks I see them yet again and all on board’s all right,
With the sails close reefed and the decks cleared up and the side lights burning bright.

Me thinks I’ve heard the skipper say, “My lads, we’ll shorten sail,
The sky to all appearances is like an approaching gale.”
Methinks I see them yet again, and the midnight hour has passed,
And the little craft was battling there all with the icy blast.

October’s night was such a sight, ‘twas never seen before,
There were masts and spars and broken yards came drifting in to shore;
There was many a heart in sorrow, there was many a heart so brave,
There was many a valiant fisher lad did find a watery grave.

Chorus

Acknowledgements and Links

Lyrics transcribed from the singing of The Watersons by Garry Gillard. (“Well, I'd been singing the song for years, having learnt it from Danny Spooner, but to almost the same words as the Watersons sing.”) Thanks to Steve Willis for corrections and to David Boyle for pointing out the differences in the Travelling for a Living recording.

Thanks to Wolfgang Hell for the quotation from The Oxford Book of Sea Songs.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Three Score and Ten.