Research Information

Gloucestershire traditions - resource list


Gloucester has always been a ripe ground for folksong. To the west is the relatively isolated Forest of Dean, with its background of mining, and formerly a strong carolling tradition. To the north and east lie the Cotswolds, with its series of villages built in the distinctive local limestone. This was, and still is, morris dancing country, and songs have always been part of the general ambiance of morris dancing. traditionally the economy of the Cotswolds was built on the wool trade, and in fact the whole the county has a strong link with the land. Further south, and down into Wiltshire, was the area for the local custom of wassailing, pronounced "waysail" by the locals. Down towards Bristol, the scene changes and docks and waterways dominate the area. Mention must be made of the contribution made to the county's folklore by the gypsy community, with its distinctive songs and customs. The county has been relatively off the tourist track, and although modern media has made serious inroads into the local traditions, nevertheless, true English folksong is not far below the surface in the psyches of most Gloucestershire folk.

Over the years, many collectors have visited the county to note its songs, with a variety of tools ranging from pencil and paper to the modern DAT tape recorder. Collectors that have noted songs in the county include Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger, James Carpenter, and in more recent times Peter Kennedy, Mike Yates and Gwilym Davies.

What songs did they find? Well, as expected there are a number of songs celebrating farming life, and such songs are found all over southern England, such as "We Shepherds are the best of Men", "All Jolly Fellows that follow the plough" and "The Jolly Waggoner".; Of course there are a number of songs celebrating drink, and versions of "The Barley Mow" are thick on the ground. Versions of a number of old ballads have been noted in the county, for example "The Outlandish Knight", "The Broomfield Hill", "Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor" and the rare "Lady Maisry".

Any and all of the above songs can be found in most of the counties of Southern England, and so cannot be cannot be claimed as unique to Gloucestershire. However, there are a number of features of Gloucestershire song that do distinguish the county folklore.

Firstly, a number of fine carols have been collected in the county, including "The Holly and the Ivy", to a tune that was then unknown and now is the only one that the majority of the population know exists. The wassailing tradition, or waysailing as it is pronounced locally, was strong until recent times, and many versions exist - in fact in the south of the county, each village had its own version. The custom consisted of small groups of people travelling from farm to farm showing off their waysailing bowl that they had made and decorated, singing their song and collecting money. This is distinctive from other forms of wassailing in which homage is paid to the cider-producing apple orchards. Although the wassailing custom is known the length and breadth of England, the fine song (or rather group of songs) known as "The Gloucestershire Wassail" is particular to the county. Many other carols have been noted here, such as "A Virgin Unspotted", "The Joys of Mary" and "The Bitter Withy".

Another feature of the county is the number of songs that have been noted from travellers, i.e. the gypsy community, notably from 2 families, the Smiths and the Brazils. It is possible that the present twice a year in the county of Stow Fair when the travellers meet to trade horses has in the past contributed to this process, although in recent years bureaucracy and intolerance have helped erode the stature of this fair.

There are other one-off songs associated with Gloucestershire and which have had only local currency. One is the song known as "George Ridler's Oven", identified in most minds as a Gloucestershire songs and thought by the fanciful Victorian minds to contain some hidden code dating back to the civil war. However, it is simply a rollicking good song of drink and good company. Apart from the rather precious "Jovial Foresters", there are no songs celebrating the centuries-old coal mining industry of the Forest of Dean. Similarly, very few ballads seem to have survived depicting local events. It is true that sometimes a local murders was put onto a broadsheet, but none of these seemed to have passed into oral tradition. One broken token ballad "Abroad for Pleasure" mentions the old Gloucester Regiment, known as the "Old Braggs" or "The Slashers", and Alfred Williams noted a few songs celebrating the Regiment. The industries of the Stroud valley seem to have come and gone without leaving a mark on the county's folksong.

List of Collections and other resources

Folksongs have been collected in Gloucestershire by various collectors over the last century or so, and before. These collections have been made by pencil and paper, phonograph and tape recorder. Most of the collections reside in private hands, but some are accessible to some extent, either through the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML) or through the National Sound Archive (NSA). Over the years, a number of songs have been published in various books and magazines and recordings have been made by various artists. Additionally, recordings of some of the source singers have been issued as vinyl, cassette or CD by the specialist folk music labels. Very little of the material is currently purchasable, but that which is so is denoted by bold type.



Research Information




Harry Albino Small collection of songs collected in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire in the 1930s. Some of the arranged for piano and published by Curwen. Copy of MSS now in VWML.

Janet Blunt
The Blunt MSS, copies at VWML, contain words and music of 2 songs from Gloucestershire.

James Carpenter
American collector who noted a number of songs in Gloucestershire in 1930s. Copies of MSS on microfilm, and of the cylinder recordings at VWML. There are some important recordings in this collection, including several versions of the Gloucestershire Wassail and some ballads such as "The Broomfield Hill" and "Lady Maisry". It is well worth tracking down this collection, and although it has not been fully indexed and the dubs of the recordings are of not high quality, there are some real gems to be found.

Gwilym Davies
Large collection of recordings 1974 onwards, including wassails and travellers. There are several previously unnoted version of the Gloucestershire Wassail. The recordings include a large number of songs and music from the Brazil family of travellers and many recordings of Wiggie Smith, another traveller. Many of the recordings were made on cassette tape and the quality is variable. The later recordings made on DAT tape are of much higher quality. Copies of all the recordings at NSA. Some have been published in magazines and others as field recordings or recordings by artists such as Green Willow or PuzzleJug.

Peter Dudridge
Collection of reel-to-reel recordings made in the 1960s for Radio for the Blind. The recordings include a number of folksongs and chat about customs, plus good recordings of Gloucestershire dialect. The collection is in the Gloucester Records Office and has not been indexed. However, all the recordings of songs have been issued on the Saydisc series.

Percy Grainger
About 60 songs noted mainly in Gloucestershire, 1907-08. Dubs of the cylinder recordings exist at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and at the National Sound Archive. transcriptions of some of the songs exist and some of the transcriptions are of songs where no recording has survived. Although the recordings are of poor quality, nevertheless they are will worth listening to as they are a unique snapshot of a time and place in the county's folklore. Elaborate transcriptions of some of the songs are also available from the VWML.

Henry & Robert Hammond
The Hammond MSS contains the words of 6 songs collected in Gloucestershire. Copy in VWML.

Peter Kennedy
Some Gloucestershire singers recorded in 1950s - copies of recordings available on Folktracks. These include a splendid version of "The Outlandish Knight", recorded in Lower Swell, and an important set of carols and ballads from Emily Bishop of Bromsberrow Heath, which was in Gloucestershire until 1930 and is now in Worcestershire.

Roy Palmer
Private collection of recordings including several Gloucestershire singers, made mainly in the 1990s.

Cecil Sharp
Large collection of songs, mainly unpublished and in MSS form, collected from 1908-1921. Copies of MSS at VWML. Some have been published in various magazines or other publications. Sharp concentrated his efforts in the north and east of the country, where he was collecting morris dances, but he visited a large number of places in the county.

Peter Sheppeard
Sheppeard made a large number of good quality recordings of songs in the 1960s from Gloucestershire travellers. Two of the songs have been published in the Bronson collection (see below). The recordings are in Sheppeard's private collection.

Alfred Williams
Williams collected the words of over 800 songs collected in Upper Thames Valley area around 1920, about a third of which are from Gloucestershire, but without tunes. 250 texts were published in "Folk Songs of the Upper Thames", including 57 from Gloucestershire. Entire collection in Swindon Reference Library.

Russell Wortley
Wortley made some recordings of singers in Forest of Dean area in the 1950s. He also noted songs from Emily Bishop of Bromsberrow Heath. The collection is now in NSA.

Mike Yates
Good quality recordings of various traditional singers, including travellers. Most of Yates' recording in Gloucestershire were made in cooperation with Gwilym Davies. Several tracks have been released on Topic and Veteran. Entire collection now in National Sound Archive.

In addition, various printers of broadsides published extensively in Gloucestershire. Details of these may be obtained from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

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  • Books containing songs collected in Gloucestershire

    Booklet - "Grainger in Gloucestershire" - 10 songs and 2 tunes from Grainger collection, obtainable from Gwilym Davies.

    "Let us be Merry" - 30 carols and Christmas songs. Book compiled by Gwilym Davies and Roy Palmer.

    Memoirs of a Social Atom (1903) - autobiography of a Cheltonian who was a morris man and who mentions several songs.

    BARRETT, William Alexander
    English Folk-Songs (London: Novello, 1891) - 2 songs.

    English County Songs (London: J.B. Cramer, 1893) - 2 songs.

    BRONSON, Bertrand Harris
    traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, The (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1959/1962/1966/ ; 4 vols) - 4 songs, including some rare rare ballads noted from Gloucestershire travellers by Peter Sheppeard.

    DIXON, James Henry / Robert BELL (Ed. by)
    Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (London: John W. Parker, 1857) - 2 songs.

    KARPELES, Maud
    Crystal Spring: English Folk Songs Collected by Cecil Sharp, The (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr., 1987) - 6 songs.

    KENNEDY, Peter
    Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (London: Cassell, 1975) - 1 song.

    PALMER, Roy
    A Book of British Ballads (Llanerch, 1998) - 1 song.

    PALMER, Roy
    Room for Company (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1971) - 1 song.

    PALMER, Roy
    Songs of the Midlands (E. Ardsley: EP, 1972) - 5 songs.

    PALMER, Roy
    What a Lovely War: British Soldiers' Songs from the Boer War to the Present Day (London: Michael Joseph, 1990) - 4 songs (words only).

    PALMER, Roy
    The Folklore of Gloucestershire (Hillman, From 1994) - words of 25 songs, tunes for 9, plus many snippets.

    PRICE, Michael David Kean
    Songs, Stories and a Mummers’ Play from Gloucestershire (own publication 1972) - 5 songs (but the musical notation may be incorrect).

    REEVES, James
    Idiom of the People: English traditional Verse from the MSS of Cecil Sharp, The (London: Heinemann, 1958) - 5 songs (words only).

    SHARP, Cecil J.
    English County Folk Songs (London: Novello, 1961) - 1 song.

    SHARP, Cecil J.
    English Folk Carols (London: Novello, 1911) - 8 songs.

    SHARP, Cecil J.
    Folk Songs from Various Counties (Folk Songs of England, Vol.4) (London: Novello, 1912) [Also included in Sharp ECFS] - 1 song.

    SHARP, Cecil J.
    A Selection of Some Less-Known Folk-Songs (Vol 2) (England Novello nd) - 1 song.

    WILLIAMS, Alfred
    Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames (London: Duckworth, 1923) - 57 songs (words only).

    The books of Fred Archer of Ashton-under-Hill, which was part of Gloucestershire until 1931, contain many references to folksongs, especially the Ashton carols.

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    Journal of the Folk Song Society (1913, 1914, 1927) - 13 songs.

    Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (1934, 1962) - total of 6 songs.

    Folk Music Journal (1969, 1975 and 1992) - total of 11 songs

    English Dance and Songs - songs in magazines in 1981, 1988 and 1996 - total of 6 songs.

    The Gloucestershire Countryside Vol 2, No 4, July 1935 - article by David Tod on The Mummers’ Play - some notes about the wassail.

    The Gloucestershire Countryside Vol 8, No 11, Apr-June 1955 article on Seven was the Keys of Heaven with words of song.

    The Cheltenham Looker-On, 21st December 1912 - article on Some Gloucestershire Songs, and Old Time and Present Day Christmas Customs - words of 2 songs plus fragments of mummers’ play.

    Somers Journal April1989 - words and music of "The Jovial Foresters".

    Sheet Music - The Jovial Foresters - published by the Three Forest Newspapers (no date).

    Cotswold Life - May 1984 - letter and photo about May Day at Paxford.

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    Recordings of Source Singers

    BBC Recordings - copies in VWML - 4 songs.

    Field trip: England Folkways FW 8871 (1968) - 1 song.

    Folktracks 30-105
    Cassette of the play and song (1943 and 1957).

    Folktracks 45-415
    Cassette of 1957 recordings of Gloucestershire singers - 8 songs and background talk; includes "The Outlandish Knight".

    Folktracks 60-416
    Cassette of Gloucestershire singers 1974-1987 - 25 songs, including several wassail songs and other carols.

    Folktracks 60-504
    Cassette of folk carols including 2 from Gloucestershire.

    Saydisc CD-SDL 407
    Songs of the travelling People Saydisc CD-SDL 407 (1994) - 1 song.

    Saydisc SDL 222
    Cotswold Characters: Stories and Reminiscences of Country Life Saydisc SDL 267 (1972).

    Saydisc SDL 267
    Cotswold Voices Saydisc SDL 267 (1975).

    Saydisc SDL 300
    While I Work I Whistle: Songs and Humour of the Cotswolds Saydisc SDL 300 - 9 songs.

    Topic 12T 253
    Songs of the Open Road: Gypsies, travellers and Country Singers Topic 12T 253 (1975) - 2 songs.

    Topic 12T 254
    When Sheepshearing's Done: Countryside Songs from Southern England Topic 12T 254 (1975) - 1 song.

    Topic 12TS 395
    travellers: Songs, Stories and Tunes from English Gypsies Topic 12TS 395 (1985) - 11 songs.

    Topic TSCD661
    Music of English & Welsh travellers & gypsies - 4 songs.

    Topic TSCD663
    The joys and curse of drink - 1 song.

    Topic TSCD666
    Songs & dance tunes of seasonal events - 1 song.

    Songs of hunting & poaching - 3 songs.

    Veteran VT 108
    Horkey Load: English traditional Singers, Vol.1, The Veteran VT 108 (1988) - 2 songs.

    Veteran VT 109
    Horkey Load: English traditional Singers, Vol.2, The Veteran VT 109 (1988) - 8 songs.

    Veteran VT 121
    What a Lovely War: British Soldiers' Songs from the Boer War to the Present Day Veteran Tapes VT 121 (1990) - 2 songs.

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    Recordings of non Source Singers

    LET US BE MERRY (PJ003 - 1997) - PuzzleJug. 20 carols and Christmas songs - companion CD to the book (qv).

    COTSWOLD MUSIC (LP SFA115 - 1980) - The Green Willow Band - 6 songs.

    SONGWAINERS - Vinyl LP [Recordings of Johnny Coppin, Paul Burgess, Bob & Gill Berry].

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    Published arrangements of songs collected in Gloucestershire

    own in the Land of Greeno - coll H H Albino (Curwen 1932) (for single voice & piano).

    Jim the Carter Lad - coll H H Albino (Curwen 1934) (for single voice & piano).

    The Shepherd and his Fife - coll Sharp, Cecil J., published in "A Selection of Some Less-Known Folk-Songs (Vol 2) (England Novello nd)" (for single voice & piano).

    Feast Song/Shepherd’s Song - in BROADWOOD, Lucy E. / J.A. FULLER MAITLAND English County Songs (London: J.B. Cramer, 1893) (for single voice & piano)

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    Unpublished arrangements of songs collected in Gloucestershire


    Old Dobbin - coll H H Albino (for single voice & piano).

     Oh Soldier will you marry me? - coll H H Albino (unaccompanied, for Soprano, contralto, tenor, bass - piano part also).

    Key to abbreviations:

    FSJ - Folk Song Journal

    NSA - National Sound Archive

    VWML - Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

    This page was compiled by Gwilym Davies - email and last updated on 14 October 2000. Any corrections, amendments and additions to this list would be welcomed

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    There are various mummers plays from Gloucestershire on the Internet. For texts, check out the following:

    South Cerney.


    Texts from Weston-sub-Edge (1864), Kempsford (1868 ), Longborough (1905-1906), Cinderford (1913-1916 ), Sapperton (1914 ), Icomb (1913-1916) and South Cerney (1930s).


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