Modern Street Ballads

It is the privilege of the aged to carp at modern doings, and to contrast them with things as they were in their youth. Farming, as it used to be carried out, could never pay now. In war time the farmers did well; in January, 1801, wheat was 137s. per quarter, and rose higher. But according to the Earl of Warwick, in a speach in Parliament (November 14, 1800), they did not benefit much by it—it was light come, light go, with them. “He wondered not at the extravagant style of living of some of the farmers, who could afford to play guinea whist, and were not contented with drinking wine, but even mixed brandy with it.” The small farms, with their little fields, cut even smaller by the huge hedges and ditches, soil undrained, no machinery, the earth merely scratched by the plough, could never grow wheat to sell at 32s. or 24s. per quarter, or to rear beef and mutton, to compete against imported meat.


Come all you jolly husbandmen, and listen to my song,
I’ll relate the life of a ploughman, and not detain you long,
My father was a farmer, who banished grief and woe,
My mother was a dairy maid—that’s 90 years ago.

My father had a little farm, a harrow and a plough,
My mother had some pigs and fowls, a pony and a cow,
They didn’t hire a servant, but they both their work did do,
As I have heard my parents say, just 90 years ago.

The rent that time was not so high by far, as I will pen,
For now one family’s nearly twice as big as then were ten,
When I was born, my father used to harrow, plough and sow,
I think I’ve heard my mother say, ’twas 90 years ago.

To drive the plough my father did a boy engage,
Until that I had just arrived to seven years of age,
So then he did no servant want, my mother milk’d the cow,
And with the lark, I rose each morn, to go and drive the plough.

The farmer’s wives in every way themselves the cows did milk,
They did not wear the dandy veils, and gowns made out of silk,
They did not ride blood horses, like the farmer’s wives do now,
The daughters went a milking and the sons went to the plough.

When I was fifteen years of age, I used to thrash and sow,
Harrowed, ploughed, and in harvest time I used to reap and mow,
When I was 20 years of age, I could manage well the farm,
Could hedge and ditch, or plough, and sow, or thrash within the barn.

At length I was 25, I took myself a wife,
Compelled to leaeve my father’s house as I had changed my life,
The younger children, in my place, my father’s work would do,
Then daily, as an husbandman, to labour I did go.

My wife and me, though very poor, could keep a pig and cow,
She could sit and spin and knit, and I the land could plough.
There nothing was upon a farm, at all, but I could do,
I find things very different now,—that’s many years ago.

We lived along contented, and banished pain and grief,
We had not occasion then to ask for parish relief,
But now my hairs are grown quite grey, I cannot well engage,
To work as I had used to do, I’m 90 years of age.

But now that I am feeble grown, and poverty do feel,
If, for relief I go, they shove me into a Whig Bastile,*
Where I may hang my hoary head, and pine in grief and woe,
My father did not see the like, just 90 years ago.

When a man has laboured all his life to do his country good,
He’s respected just as much when old, as a donkey in a wood,
His days are gone and past, and he may weep in grief and woe,
The times are very different now to 90 years ago.

Now I am 90 years of age, if for relief I do apply,
I must go into a Whig Bastile to end my days and die,
I can no longer labour, as I no longer have,
Then, at the last, just like a dog, they lay me in my grave.

* A Workhouse, so called because of the loss of personal liberty when once in “the House.” The House of Correction, Coldbath Fields, now done away with, was called “the Bastille,” and to its dying day was known to the criminal classes as “the Steel.”

<< Humphrey Duggins   The New Fashioned Farmer >>

The End As I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety, by proprietor Kevin Shay, is now available in paperback.

Please visit for more information.