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GUEST,Karen Help: The Unfortunate Rake (116* d) RE: Help: The Unfortunate Rake 26 Jun 18


I have Vic Gammon’s book Desire, Drink and Death in English Folk and Vernacular Song, 1600-1900    (Ashgate, 2008) for a short while on inter-library loan, and very interesting it is.
I wondered whether the sections on death and desire might have anything of relevance to the story of The Unfortunate Lad. I was thinking about actual funeral practices and about ends including funeral requests and how these might be linked.
On venereal disease Mr Gammon quotes the Tarpaulin Jacket, and another song which does not seem linked to the TUL/R.
In a section on songs about abandoned girls, he has a verse (p35/6; source VWML, Broadwood Broadside Collection. Roud 1493) with some resemblance to verses in some TUL-linked songs, from the song Sarah Wilson (AKA Betsy Watson?), which I have seen mentioned before in the context of ‘The Rake Cycle’. A 1959 Goldstein article includes the whole song, citing a USA work by Carrington Cox as saying it is from a broadsheet published in London by P Saul. Cox listed it as a song related to The Cowboy’s Lament/TUR. This song may be interesting to somebody who hasn’t seen it before, so here is an extract from Gammon. The similarity is the request for female pall bearers:

Six pretty maids pray let me have
To bear me to the silent grave;
All cloth’d in white a comely show,
To bear me to the shades below.

Gammon discusses funeral practices and music as part of the context for the funeral hymns that he explores later in the book. Some bits of the C of E funeral service could be sung, but this was mostly psalms. So anything other than that could be regarded as a deviation by a C of E clergyman.

In some places there was a custom of singing over the coffin before its journey to the church began.

Fascinatingly, Gammon (p198) finds evidence that in 1851 observers saw a funeral precession in which maidens wearing white and singing as they went did carry the bier of a deceased girl to her grave, and that it was said the same practice ‘obtains in very many parts of England’. On this basis, the maidens in the lock hospital songs and in Sarah Wilson might possibly reflect actual practice?

Psalms, if anything, were sung during funeral processions. Some specific funeral hymns were written. One such hymn, written in the 1st person, tells people not to mourn as they will be going to heaven eventually. (Reminding me of the Dying Crapshooter’s Blues).


In church, Mozart’s dead march was sometimes played. (Snatches of this appear in some early recorded variants/possible variants of Gambler’s Blues/TUR.) A piece called ‘The Vital Spark’ was popular with some congregations, though clergymen, aware that the words were derived from something pagan, tended to strongly disapprove of this. This song, words originally by Alexander Pope, is mentioned in Bishop and Roud’s book of English folk song.

Gammon finds evidence that some families wanted people to sing over the coffins/graves of their loved ones.

But funerals were expensive and not everybody could afford one.

Poor Law Unions, an early form of local government carried the costs in such cases and provided minimum arrangements. Starting in 1831/2(?), if the family were paupers and could not afford a funeral, the body could legally be seized and used for dissection, with the institution where the person had died collecting a small fee.

Gammon’s main focus is on what he calls the Anglo-Catholicism.
For those of the population who were Dissenters, as were some of my own ancestors, burial and the C of E monopoly of graveyards brought its own problems.

I don’t get the impression that these clergymen would have been very pleased if people turned up with guns and drums and started their own ceremony using these.

Gammon’s book leaves us in no doubt, if we ever were in such doubt, that broadsheets were often used deliberately for propaganda purposes.


On this basis, I believe that the rash (pardon the expression!) of TUL broadsheets in the 2nd half of the 19th century, with their references to ‘lock hospitals’ reflects public policy at the time, which led to the building of many lock hospitals, hospitals which were, it should be remembered, explicitly aimed at women believed to be prostitutes.

I believe that the Victorian audience for TUL would understand that TUL knows he has the disease because his partner is locked up in the lock hospital, not because he has been in there himself. And that partner would have been judged (even if wrongly) by some local official to be a prostitute.

It doesn’t surprise me that the song survived in the armed forces, because that is the group whose infection caused the concern resulting in the Contagious Diseases Acts being passed, and at whom the public policy was aimed. It wouldn't surprise me if it had been handed out with breakfast in an attempt to educate the soldiers.


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