Origins: Widecombe Fair
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Origins: Widecombe Fair


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BB 11 Sep 07 - 02:56 PM
Irene M 11 Sep 07 - 03:04 PM
The Doctor 11 Sep 07 - 06:24 PM
Leadfingers 11 Sep 07 - 07:04 PM
Hawker 11 Sep 07 - 07:07 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 12 Sep 07 - 03:45 AM
KeithofChester 12 Sep 07 - 04:01 AM
GUEST,The black belt caterpillar wrestler 12 Sep 07 - 07:40 AM
Irene M 12 Sep 07 - 03:06 PM
BB 12 Sep 07 - 05:13 PM
Tradsinger 12 Sep 07 - 06:05 PM
Hawker 13 Sep 07 - 05:09 AM
GUEST,Cats at work 13 Sep 07 - 11:18 AM
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Subject: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: BB
Date: 11 Sep 07 - 02:56 PM

Having seen mention of the song Widecombe Fair in another thread, prompts me to ask this:
Widecombe Fair has been in full swing today, and so was mentioned on our local news, when I found out, to my surprise, that it has only been in existence since 1850. The question therefore is how and when the song came to be written - and for that matter, by whom?

Anyone know?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Irene M
Date: 11 Sep 07 - 03:04 PM

It was collected and (according to my grandmother who knew him), somewhat cleaned up by the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould. Check in with Martin Graebe, who seems to have done a lot of Baring-Gould research.

Irene in Derby, who had the Cornish grandmother, born 1886.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: The Doctor
Date: 11 Sep 07 - 06:24 PM

Someone recently gave me a copy of The Folk Song Fake Book, containing that well-known Scottish song 'Tam Pierce', the one that starts 'Tam Pierce, Tam Pierce, lend me your gray mare.' The same book also has the Irish song 'Byker Hill', and the English song 'David of the White Rock', and that's just what I've found so far. Seems collecting isn't what it was in Baring-Gould's day, or even Martin Graebe's. A more reliable book in my possession says 'Widdicombe Fair' was collected from W.F.Collier in Woodtown in 1888.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Leadfingers
Date: 11 Sep 07 - 07:04 PM

I have a version - 'Stow Fair' from Bob Arnold (Tom Forrest in the Archers) with a variant on the tune and a totally different set of lads ! - Uncle Tom Goblin and all !
Whenever this originated , it obviously got around a bit .

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Hawker
Date: 11 Sep 07 - 07:07 PM

Hi Barbara,
The website I found Here!
it has this to say:
This Dartmoor song is one of the best known folksongs in England and can be found all over the world. It is thought to have been first heard in the early 1800's and the song first published either in 1880 by Mr W. Davies or in 1888 by Mr. W. F. Collier. However it was Sabine Baring Gould's book - Songs of the West that brought it to fame when it was published in 1890. Some people will say the tune originated in Somerset but we don't talk about them. The 5th Devon Volunteers used a more up tempo version as their theme tune and even after they were merged into the Devonshire Regiment the tune was heard as the men went into battle during the Boer Wars. Exeter City football club used to play the song before every match, that is until they hit a losing streak and thought the song may have something to do with their losses.What does the story line refer to? Clearly it is about a group of men who ask Tom Pearce if they can borrow his grey mare to get to Widdecombe Fair. The men agree that the horse will be returned by midday on Saturday by the latest. The designated time comes but the men and his horse don't appear. Tom Pearce then sets out in search of them. When he reaches the top of Widdecombe Hill he sees his horse making its 'will' after which it falls sick and dies. Poor old Tom then sits down and sheds a tear or two for his departed horse. Finally the song suggests that "when the wind blows cold on the moor of a night," the ghost of Tom Pearce's grey mare appears to the accompaniment of "skirling and groans," and the "rattle of bones." Strangely enough there has never been a single sighting of the ghostly grey mare. In the unmentionable Wessex version events are similar except the mare is a bay coloured and Tom Pearce goes to the top of Bunthill (which is thought to be Bonehill) and is told that there had been a "terrible spill," and that he found the "racketty crew.. " "strewed all over the shop." On the eve of Widecombe Fair the ghost of the horse appears in a cloud of blue light. In all possibility the men borrowed the mare to pull a gig as clearly it is impossible for eight men to ride a horse. Having had a busy time at the fair they got cydered up and overturned the gig on their way home which resulted in the death of the mare which roughly equates to the unmentionable Wessex version.
But is there any truth in the song? There was both a Bill Brewer and a Tom Pearce living in the northern moorland village of Sticklepath. The Pearce family owned a large mill in the village, outside which was said to have been the stable where the grey mare was kept. There is also a grave in the nearby village of Spreyton where a Thomas Cobley or Cobleigh was buried in 1844. This however is not the Tom Cobley, this person is said to be his great nephew. Thomas Cobleigh was 82 when he died reputedly having inherited his Great Uncle Tom's estate and who lived at Butsford. Tradition has it that the original Tom Cobley died in 1794 at Spreyton, nobody knows where his grave is. All the surnames are of true Devonshire stock, there are still plenty of Brewers, Stewers, Davys' Pearces, Whiddons, Hawks and Gurneys to be found today.
On Saturday, October the 19th 1850 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette announced that on the following Friday (25th) a Free Fair would be held on the Green which adjoined the churchyard at Widecombe-in-the-Moor. It was expected that a large show of cattle and moorland sheep would be offered for sale. The following Saturday the same paper reported that "A cattle fair was held at Widecombe-in-the-Moor for the first time on Tuesday last." It was said to have been a busy affair with a large attendance of yeomen and gentlemen of the district where 736 sheep, 1,507 cattle, and 50 ponies were put under the hammer. The paper noted that due to its success the fair should be "permanently established," and so it came to pass. To this day the fair is probably one of the most famous events of the moor with visitors flocking to see the sheep, ponies, cattle, stalls, and events. The date has altered to the second Tuesday of September which just misses the busy holiday season. Some would say that the fair is congested enough without the additional numbers that holiday makers would bring but most will say that it does not clash with any other annual event.

I dont know how accurate this information is, but hope it helps answer your question!
Cheers, Lucy

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 03:45 AM

Here is note to Cademon series version:
This song is well known through the Devonshire version, Widdecombe Fair, the one which Baring-Gould published in 1895, but in fact many other variants exist. According to Baring-Gould the original Uncle Tom Cobleigh lived at Spreyton in a house near Yeoford Junction at the end of the eighteenth century. He also thought that the names in the chorus all belonged to Sticklepath. These two places on the edge of Dartmoor are within a few miles of where Bill Westaway recorded his version. In fact Bill told us how Baring-Gould took down his father's words and then put a tune to it.

"Mr. Baring-Gould was a parson down Lew Trenchard on the borders of Cornwall and he got Widdecombe Fair from my father in Mr. J. D. Prickman's, the Solicitor at Okehampton. He and my father were wonderful great friends and Mr. Prickman send up his coachman to father that he was to come in to Okehampton as he wanted to see him very particular . . . The day after, father went in. He had a good time, they fed him well and paid him very well he was given a drop or two, you know, and got a bit merry and on to get father singing. Well that's what Baring Gould wanted, you see, for father to sing Widdecombe Fair while he took it in, in shorthand writing or in notes, you know - And all he done was put a new tune to it."
Bill Westaway (a) was 87 when he made this recording outside his house in Belstone. He said of himself that" he had been "blacksmith, stonebreaker, hedge-cutter, everything bar a parson I".
George Maynard (b), born at Smallfield, Surrey in 1872 lived, most of his life, around Copthorne until his death in 1962. 'Pop' learned most of his songs from members of his own family who were all well-known and locally respected singers.
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: KeithofChester
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 04:01 AM

There are at least two songs called Widecombe Fair. There is a Steve Knightley one which has a very dark alternative take on the events. You will sometimes find that particular one spelled Widdecombe Fair, which isn't how Mr Knightley intended it to be spelled at all, but he missed the mistake at the proof-reading stage of the CD sleeve.

The Knightley song takes the trad song as its inspiration and was NOT intended to look like it might be be an ode to the looks of the Member of Parliament for Maidstone West...

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: GUEST,The black belt caterpillar wrestler
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 07:40 AM

On the radio progarm Folk on Two Jim Lloyd played a recording on 8th May 1984 of Bill Westaway singing the song. As I remember it the phrasing was different to the way it is normally printed, "lend me your grey mare" is sung on equal length notes, also some of the names were different from what I learnt at primary school.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Irene M
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 03:06 PM

Also, check out the Yetties version of it.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: BB
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 05:13 PM

Unfortunately, none of this answers my question, although it has produced a few new bits of information.

I know too that it was in the repertoire of Charles Tree (1868 - 1940) along with a number of other West Country songs.

It seems unlikely that it was "first heard in the early 1800s" if Widecombe Fair started in 1850. I can certainly believe that it may have first been published in 1880. From the rest of the information from Hawker, it would appear that the death of Tom Cobley or Cobleigh predates the start of the Fair.

And if Baring-Gould collected the song from Bill Westaway's father and published it in 1890 or '95, it must have been a relatively new song at that time, assuming it postdates the start of the Fair. Interesting that Baring-Gould seems to have 'collected' a song which can hardly be called 'traditional' at the time, by the yardsticks we use these days to define 'traditional' - we don't generally consider a song written within the last forty years as 'traditional', do we? (Discuss...)

Thanks, Hawker and Jim, for taking the time to at least try to answer the query.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Tradsinger
Date: 12 Sep 07 - 06:05 PM

In the Cotswolds it was sung as 'Stow Fair' and in Sussex as 'Lansdown Fair', but I am prepared to believe that its origins are in Devon as explained above


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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: Hawker
Date: 13 Sep 07 - 05:09 AM

It may also be worth talking to Bob & Jackie Patten, from Morchard Bishop, who are a mine of useful information on things such as this.
Cheers, Lucy

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Subject: RE: Origins: Widecombe Fair
From: GUEST,Cats at work
Date: 13 Sep 07 - 11:18 AM

You could also try contacting Paul Wilson and Marilyn Tucker at Wren music [google it] as they worked alongside Martin Graebe on the Baring Gould collection and have a vast knowledge of Devon songs complete with history and family connections etc.

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