Saturday, 27 February 2010



The Dalesman's Litany, or why I am the Rector of 'ell.


It's hard when folks can't find the work where they've been bred and born
When I was young I always thought I'd bide 'midst roots and corn
But I've been forced to work in town so here's my litany
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me


A version by Dave Keddie of Bradford, of a song either written or collected by a Dr Moorman around 1900, The Dalesman's Litany tells the story of a lament for pre-industrial Yorkshire, its refrain, From Hull and Halifax and Hell, ( or from 'ull, 'alifax and 'ell) taking us as far back as a 16th Century Folk Song, The Beggar's Litany. At the time, both the Halifax area and the sea port of Hull reserved a particular form of justice for Coiners, those who doctored the legal coins of the Realm. In both places they faced execution, by hanging in Hull, and by the Gibbet, a primitive guillotine, in Halifax. (A replica of the Gibbet still sands on Gibbet Street, sadly it seems to have no part in the Town's Civic and Corporate identity...)

It is just possible that and 'ell in the refrain should be Elland, referring either to the settlement in Lower Calderdale, or to a contemporary Lord Savile of Elland, not noted for his compassion towards criminals, the Savile family roots being found in Elland.

Either way, as the Rector of Elland, it may just be I am the Rector of 'ell.

For a lovely version of The Dalesman's Litany sung by the late and much missed Tim Hart click here
It's hard when folks can't find the work where they've been bred and born
When I was young I always thought I'd bide 'midst roots and corn
But I've been forced to work in town so here's my litany
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me

When I was courting Mary Jane, the old squire he says to me
I've got no rooms for wedded folk, choose whether to go or to stay
I could not give up the girl I loved, so to town I was forced to flee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me

I've worked in Leeds and Huddersfied and I've earned some honest brass
In Bradford, Keighley, Rotherham I've kept my bairns and lass
I've travelled all three Ridings round and once I went to sea
From forges, mills and coaling boats, good Lord deliver me

I've walked at night through Sheffield lanes, 'twas just as being in hell
Where furnaces thrust out tongues of fire and roared like the wind on the fell
I've sammed up coals in Barnsley pits with muck up to my knee
From Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, good Lord deliver me

I've seen fog creep across Leeds bridge as thick as the Bastille soup
I've lived where folks were stowed away like rabbits in a coop
I've seen snow float down Bradford Beck as black as ebony
From Hunslet, Holbeck, Wibsey Stack, good Lord deliver me


But now that all our children have gone, to the country we've come back
There's forty mile of heathery moor 'twixt us and the coalpits' stack
And as I sit by the fire at night, I laugh and shout with glee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell the good Lord delivered me