Our Secret History in Song
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
I’m very happy that this Creative Writing workshop at Wiltshire and Swindon History centre has been rescheduled to 16th March. I spent time exploring the Alfred Williams folk song collection – specific to Wiltshire – for material. So many songs to choose from! Poaching, as ever, a strong theme but I had trouble finding a good female character… ‘The Gamekeeper’ came close but I couldn’t stomach another murdered girlfriend song. Instead I will be working with ‘Georgie Barnell’, alongside tales of successful and unsuccessful poachers. The ‘naughty woman’ with her ‘vigorous eye’ caught my attention – but what is exactly going on? Why does she want his Uncle Triles [sometimes Tripes] murdered?
This is in fact a shortened version of a much older and longer ballad where all is, sort of, explained. But I like William’s version that leaves us wondering who these people are and leaves us with a vivid image of cawing rooks amongst a lonely spinney.
Near Cheapside there lived a merchant
And he was a man of very great fame
A youth was bound apprentice to him
And Georgie Barnell was his name.
Now Georgie was a very good servant
And a dutiful, beyond all doubt
He always kept within the door, sir,
Because his master would not let him go out
A naughty woman of the town, sir,
Upon him cast a vigorous eye,
She came into the shop one morning
A flannel petticoat to buy.
When that she paid down the money
She gave his hand a very hard squeeze
So that pleased poor Georgie Barnell,
And together he knocked his knees.
And soon this woman did persuade him
With her enervating wiles
To go down into the country
And there let loose his Uncle Triles
He saw his uncle in the grove, sir,
Studying over his good books,
And Georgie Barnell went and shot him
All among the crows and rooks.