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We Poor Labouring Men

[ Roud 1394 ; Ballad Index McCST103 ; trad.]

This song was collected from Queen Caroline Hughes and published by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in Traveller's Songs from England and Scotland (1977). Ewan MacColl also recorded the song for his 1966 Topic album The Manchester Angel.

The Singing Tradition (Julie West, Martyn Briggs, Bob Lapworth, Mick Nash) sang We Poor Labouring Men in 1972 on the Topic/Impact album The Painful Plough.

Waterson:Carthy sang We Poor Labouring Men with Norma Waterson leading in 1999 on their third album Broken Ground. Martin Carthy commented in the album notes:

It was Ewan MacColl who, while searching out gipsy people to record and talk to when he was writing one of his monumental and landmark radio ballads, The Travelling People, ran across Queen Caroline Hughes (the “Queen” was not a nickname) in a layby on the A5. She was sat in her caravan surrounded by kids and paperback books and she sang him songs he could not have dreamed of in his wildest… and like Walter Pardon, or any other old singer for that matter, she knew the worth of what she had. Apocryphal tales have it that she charged him five pounds an hour (1963 prices) and spun the session out. In which case we are indebted to the man in more way than are usual with collectors.

Steeleye Span performed We Poor Labouring Men at their 25th anniversary on December 6, 1994 at St. David's Hall, Cardiff. This concert was published as the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert. And in 2000, they recorded this song for their CD Bedlam Born.

Roy Bailey sang Labouring Men accompanied by Martin Simpson on guitar and John Kirkpatrick on button accordion on his 2005 CD Sit Down and Sing.

Lyrics

Waterson:Carthy sing We Poor Labouring Men

Now some do say the weaver's best but I would not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those weavers do?
We buys up all their old odds and ends and so the gain comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

And some do say the blacksmith's best but I do not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those blacksmiths do?
We wears out all their old cutters and shares and so their gain comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

And some do say the tailor's best but I would not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those tailors do?
They'd wear out all their old breeches and so their gain comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

And now some do say the shoemaker's best but I would not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those shoemakers do?
They'd wear out all their old boots and shoes and so the trade comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

And now some do say the baker's best but I would not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those bakers do?
We'd buy up all of their old stale bread until the trade comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

And some will say the brewer's best but I will not say so
If it weren't for us poor labouring men what would those brewers do?
We buys up all the old fourpenny beer and so their gain comes in
And there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

… and so their gain comes in
For there's never a trade in all England like we poor labouring men

Steeleye Span sing We Poor Labouring Men on 25 Live

Oh, some do say the farmer's best, but I do need say no;
If it weren't for we poor labouring men, what would the farmers do?
They would beat up all their old odd stuff until some new come in
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Oh, some do say the baker's best, but I've got need say no;
If it weren't for we poor hard-working men, what would the bakers do?
They would beat up all their old hard stuff until some new come in
There's never a trade in old England like we dear labouring men.

Oh, some do say that the butcher's best but I've got needs say no.
If it weren't for we poor hard-working men, what would the butchers do?
They would beat up all their old hard stuff until some new come in,
There's never a trade in old England like we dear labouring men.

Let every true-born Englishman lift up a flowing glass,
And drink a toast to the labouring man, likewise his bonnie lass,
And when these cruel times are gone, good days will come again,
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Steeleye Span sing We Poor Labouring Men on Bedlam Born

Oh, some do say the farmer's best, but I must needs say no;
If it weren't for we poor labouring men, what would the farmers do?
They'd beat out all of their old stuff until some new come in
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Oh, some do say the baker's best, but I must needs say no;
If it weren't for we poor labouring men, what would the bakers do?
They'd beat out all their old stuff until some new come in
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Oh, some do say the butcher's best, but I must needs say no;
If it weren't for we poor labouring men, what would the butchers do?
They'd beat out all their old stuff until some new come in
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Let every true-born Englishman lift up his flowing glass,
And toast each honest working man, likewise his bonny lass,
And when these cruel days are gone, good days will come again,
There's never a trade in old England like we poor labouring men.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Waterson:Carthy by Garry Gillard. Many thanks, once again, to Steve Willis!