Kesmus Singin'

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    One fine afternoon, last autumn, as I was walking leisurely along the turnpike road leading out of one of our large manufacturing towns in Lancashire, I was overtaken by an old man, apparently about 70 years of age.  With the freedom usually manifested by country people, he accosted me thus: "It's a foine day, mestur."  I said it was.  "Aw think yo'r a stranger abeawt here, for aw connot recollect seein' yo afore, an' aw've lived i' this naybourhood summat loike fifty or sixty year."  I told him he was right, for I was a stranger in that part of the country, and asked him what trade the people followed in that locality.  "Why some do one thing, an' some another, an' plenty do nowt at o, nobbut shankle abeawt wi' their honds i' their pockets.  Th' biggest part on 'em are owd hondloom wayvers; aw'rn used to be one misel' when aw'rn younger, but aw've ne'er done noan neaw for this last four or five year'.'' "How do you manage to get your living, then?" I asked.  I saw the tears trickling down the old man's cheeks, as he replied—"Well, to tell yo th' truth, mester, aw'm loike mony a one besoide me, at's getten owd, aw have to depend upo' other foalk."  "Is your old woman living?" I inquired.  "Nawe, hoo's been deed just two year' this September.  We'rn livin' wi' a dowter o' mine, at that time, on i'th' cloof, yonder, but sin' hoo deed aw've bin livin' wi' mi owdest son, Jim, just across th' fielt theer.  Will yo co' a bit an' have a poipe o' bacco wi' me?  Eawr Jim's at his wark i'th' loom-heawse, an' th' childer are at th' schoo'; so if yo'n slip across wi' me we can have a comfortable chat together.  Anxious to hear a little more of the old man's history, I thanked him for the invitation, and at once accompanied him to his dwelling.  It was an old stone house, built, if I remember rightly, in the year 1760, and beautifully situated on a slight eminence, about two hundred yards from the turnpike road.  As we approached the cottage, it appears we were observed by the old man's son, for he came to meet us at the garden gate, and holding out his hand to me, said, "Heaw are yo, sir?  Aw dunno know yo, but aw reccon mi feyther does; come in, an' sit yo deawn.  Aw'm expectin' eawr Betty in every minute, an' when hoo comes yo can have a sope o' tay wi' mi' feyther.  Aw never ha' nowt o'th' soart misel', but aw loike to see other foalk have it, if they loiken it.  Win yo have a poipe o' bacco with us?  Yo happen dunno smook?"  I told him I did not, but thanked him all the same.

    "What rent may you pay for a house like this" I inquired.  "We ne'er pay nowt, mestur; we wur used to pay thirty shillin' a year, but th' squire up at th' Ho' said he thowt we'd as mich as we could do, beawt payin' rent; he'd let us live a bit for nowt;—that's abeawt two year sin' an' we'n never paid a haupney fro' that day to this."  "It is very kind of your landlord," I observed, "in allowing you to live rent free.  Are any of your neighbours thus favoured?"  "Nawe, not as aw know on.  Aw reccon it's becose mi feyther's a bit ov a favourite wi' em.  He used to play th' double bass up at th' chapel yonder, yo seen, an' they'n loike made a bit more ado on him on that akeawnt.  Then there's another thing—mi mother wer'n th' cook up at th' Ho', afore mi feyther wed her, an' they'n allis taen to us a bit ever sin."

    Just as Jim was concluding the last sentence, his wife came in, carrying a fine baby of some three months old.  She seemed a little surprised at seeing a stranger in the house; it was some thing rather unusual, no doubt.  She had not advanced many steps before her husband took the child from her arms, and, giving it a kiss, said to its mother, "There's a gentleman here, tha' sees, Betty; tha' mun make 'em a sope o' tay, lass, as soon us t'con; an' when they'n had sum'at t' eat they can sit an' chat together awhile.  Mi feyther can tell yo some rare tales, mestur, iv he's a moind," he said, addressing himself to me.  I told him I was exceedingly fond of tales, and should like to hear some good ones.

    "Aw'll gie yo a bit of a skit or two," said the old man, when aw've getten some o'th' woind off mi stomach; for aw'm nowt at talkin' when aw'm hungry."

    In a few minutes the good woman had the tea-things placed on the table, and, although I had partaken of dinner only about an hour before, I enjoyed their kind hospitality very much.  Tea being over, I, along with my old friend, repaired to a wooden seat in the garden, the old man taking his pipe with him.  We sat a few moments in silence, which was at length broken by my friend saying—"Well aw reccon aw shall ha' to try iv aw can tell yo a tale or two, neaw; an' as eawr Jim's towd yo at aw used to be a bit ov a music chap, aw'll tell yo one or two bits o' skits at aw remember very weel.  Yo'll think they seawnden strange, no deawt, but aw can assure yo, they're quite true, an some o' th' characters mentioned are livin' yet.

    "Well, one Kesmus neet—neaw abeawt fifty year' sin'—ther'n me an' a lot moor ov eawr singers at th' chapel, made it up among eawrsel's to go eawt a-singing th' Kesmus hymn, an' we agreed to meet at th' schoo' at eleven o'clock, an' have a bit ov a practice afore we started eawt.  Aw conno' remember th' names ov o on 'em neaw, but aw con tell yo some on 'em.  There were Simeon Carter, Ike-o'-Abram's, Sammy Hallsworth, Tommy Yetton, Tummy-o'-Sharp's, an' Jabez Barrowclough.

    "Yo ne'er seed sich a seet i' o yo'r loife, as we looked, when we o stood in a reawnd ring i' th' middle o' th' floor!

    "Owd Simeon Carter, a bass singer, had getten his woife's red cloak on, an' a great woollen shawl lapped reawnd his meawth, so that we could only just see his nose-end poppin' eawt.  Ike-o'-Abram's had borrowed a top-coat off someb'dy 'at reached reet deawn to his feet; an he'd a pair o gloves on his honds 'at looked big enough for Daniel Lambert.  Sammy Hallsworth had getten his feyther's breeches on th' top ov his own, an' his legs looked moor loike elephants legs nor owt else.  Aw can assure yo we wur a bonny lot o together.  Well, we tried th' Kesmus hymn, 'Hark, Hark,' an' toathry o' them things o'er, an' just as th' church clock struck twelve, we turned eawt.  But aw'm forgettin' to tell yo abeawt Johnny-o'-Neddys, a chap 'at should ha' bin wi' us.  Johnny aw understond, had a rare do wi' th' woife afore he seet off fro' whoam.  Hoo didn't loike him to go a basoon playin', when he owt to be i' bed, an' wur freetund sum'ut ud happen him iv he went eawt; an' hoo wur no' fur off reet, for on his way t' th' schoo', he had to cross a wood, an' i' doin' so, as there wur nob'dy onywheer abeawt he thowt he met as weel be tryin' a tune or two o'er.  Well, he geet owd ov his basoon, an started a puffin away.  As it happened, theer wur a bull noan fur off 'at yerd this noise 'at Johnny wur makin', an' it began a tryin' to imitate him as weel as it could.

    "'What's that?  What's that?' ax'd Johnny, lookin' sharply abeawt him.  'Iv theawrt a musician let's yer thi seawnd thi keighnote.'  Well, he'd hardly getten th' words eawt of his meawth afoor th' bull laid howd on him wi' it horns an' threw him reet o'er it yead.  His clooas wur ripped o to rags, an' his basoon smashed o to pieces.  Th' owd lad scramblet off whoam as weel as he could, but he wur cured ov his basoon playin' that neet—he ne'er played no moor.

    "Well, neaw then, aw'll go back to mi tale agen.  As aw wur tellin' yo', we started eawt o' singin' at twelve o'clock.  There'n a parcel o' lads gethert reawn th' schoo' dur, an' as soon as ever they seed us they seet up a great sheawt, an' started a makin' remarks abeawt us.  One on 'em said, 'Eh! look theer at that mon wi' th' long top-cooat on; he looks loike a clooas-prop dressed up.'  An' then another young rascal sheawted eawt, 'Wheer hast getten thi red cloak fro', owd mon?  What wilt' tak' for a whelp off it?'  Sammy Hallsworth, when he yeard that, began a poikin' off as noicely as he could, for he knew iv they seed his breeches they'd hardly, ever ha' done makin' remarks abeawt 'em.  Well, we geet o'er this as weel as we could; owd Simeon grumbled at 'em a bit, an' said iv he could only get owd on 'em he'd poo their ears till they'rn as long as pig ears.

    "Th' parson's heawse bein' close to th' schoo', we went theer th' furst, an' started a singin' 'Christians, awake!'  When we geet to th' third loine, wheer it says 'Rise to adore,' somb'dy sheawted eawt, 'Rise, an' let these chaps sup.'  Well, when we yeard that, one o' th' lads 'at wur singin' ceawnter brasted eawt a-laffin', an' seet some o' th' others agate, an' we broke deawn afore we geet to th' end o' th' furst verse.  Aw wur playin' th' double bass at th' toime, an' aw felt so vex'd at aw up wi' th' fiddlestick, an' wur beawn to fot one on 'em a crack o'er th' yead, but aw missed mi aim an' hit one o' th' women singers a welt o'er her bonnet, an' made it as flat as a poncake.  Yo may guess what a row there'd be then.

    "Tummy Yetton, a young fellow at purtended to cooart her a bit neaw an' then, ax'd me what aw'd done that for.  He said he'd punse his foote thro' th' fiddle iv aw didn't keep that clumsy stick to mysel'.  We wur o foin' eawt ov a lump for abeawt five minutes, an' aw wur freetened we should never be able to muster no moor; but owd Simeon coom an' stretched hisel' up among us, an' said it wur a shawm 'at we should be carryin' on i' that'n, an' a lot o' chapel singers as we wur; we should have o th' folk i' th' place talkin' abeawt us.  Inneaw, who should come creepin' back but Sammy Hallsworth; he'd poo'd one o' th' pair o' breeches off, an' had 'em slung o'er his shooder.  Well, we managed to get i' summat loike order agen, an' then we went forrard to owd Pogson's.  (Owd Pogson wur th' clark o' th' chapel.)  We started a singin' th' Kesmus hymn, an' geet thro' very weel to th' eend o' th' fust verse, an, then Skennin' Jonas, as we used to co him, began a thumpin' at th' dur, an' tryin' to wakken 'em up.  When we'd getten to th' eend o' th' next verse, he gan it another bang wi' th' eend o' his knob-stick.  Owd Pogson geet up and stuck his yead eawt o' th' window, an' towd us he wur very sorry, but he couldn't ger a leet—th' matches wur damp, or summat.  Aw wur stondin' at th' side o' Skennin' Jonas at th' toime, an' yeard him mutter summat abeawt him loikin' his ale to weel hissel' to ger up an' give a poor body a sup.  Well, after we'd bin to two or three moor places, we went to owd Daniel Whitley's, at th' Hey Barn.  When we geet theer it wur abeawt two o'clock i' th' mornin', noice an' moonleet, but very cowd, for it wur freezin' keenly.  We o stood reawnd th' dur, an' began a-singin'.  Tummy-o-Sharps, 'at wur playin' th clarinett, cock'd up his yead tort chamber window, to see iv ony on 'em wur gerrin' up—for we'd rapped at th' dur to let 'em know 'at we'd go in iv they'd let us—an' to get a better seet, he walked back a foote or two.  Neaw, reet facin' th' dur, but at th' other side o' th' fowt, wur a well, where they fot water fro' for th' ceaws, an' for weshin'-up wi'; but whether Tummy knew abeawt it or not, aw conno say, but at ony rate in he plopt, reet up to th' chin.  By gum! didn't th' owd lad stare! an' his chin reet wackert agen wi' cowd, for it very nee froze him stiff.  Nancy Greenhalgh—hoo wur his sweetheart, yo noan—when hoo yeard it wur Tummy 'at had backed into th' well, hoo seet up sich a skroike as aw ne' er yeard afore sin aw'rn wick.  'For God's sake, ger him eawt,' hoo said; 'do ger him eawt!  We should be wed o' th' twenty-second o' next month.  Th' ring's bowt neaw, an' th' weddin' dress is very nee made.  Jabez,' hoo said, to a great long chap as wur stondin' laffin', 'thee ger howd on him, theaw great starin' foo'!  What are t' laffin' at?  It's nowt to mak' fun abeawt, this isn't.'

    "While Nancy wur makin' this bother, an' lettin' th' cat eawt o' th' bag, me an' two or three moor on us had managed to get Tummy eawt o' th' well.  Didn't he look rare an' mad at Nancy, for he'd yeard every word hoo'd said.  Th' owd lad shaked hissel' a bit, an' then poiked hissel' off whoam an' to bed as soon as he could.  Well, when Tummy wur gone, owd Simeon coom an' fixed hissel' reet i th' middle on us, an' said, 'Aw think we met as weel drop it neaw, folk.  Th' clarinet player's gone, an' yo knoan we conno do mich beawt him.  But afore we separate aw should loike to say a word or two respectin' th' way 'at we'n bin carryin' on.  It seems very clear to my moind at it's nowt nobbut proide an' a hankerin' after other foalk's stuff 'at's bin th' cause o' th' misfortins we'n had to-neet.  I' th' fust place, iv we'd turned eawt in us own clooas, as we owt to ha' done, i' th' stead o' makin' eawrsel's look loike a lot o' meawntebanks, th' lads would ne'er ha' sheawted us.  I' th' next place, iv we'd gone eawt wi' a proper motive—that is, a-singin' th' Kesmus hymn in a gradely soart of a way, an' then goan abeawt us business—we should noan ha' brocken deawn as we did'n, when we'rn singin' at th' parson's heawse, nor that young woman wouldn't ha' had her bonnet spoiled wi' th' fiddlestick.  Aw feel very ill hurt, for my own part, 'at Tummy-o'-Sharps has met wi' that misfortin.  Its bin sich a lettin' deawn to him; not only i' bein' letten deawn into th' wayter—that wur bad enuff, certainly—but yo see Nancy's letten it eawt abeawt th' weddin', an' there'n a ruck o' lads abeawt 'at yeard it as weel as us, an' no deawt they'll mak' it middlin' weel known.  Let's go whoam, an' keep these things as quiet as we con, an' iv ever we go eawt a singin' ony moor let's do it in a gradely sperrit, as we owt, an' not be hankerin' so mich after mate an' drink.  Heaw con we expect owt good to come eawt o' this mak' o' wark, think'n yo?  There's One up aboon yonder 'at knows heaw we'n bin carryin' on; an' whoa knows but what Tummy-o'-Sharp's tumblet into th' wayter as a sooart ov a judgement on us for bein' so wicked.  Sich things as these han happened afoor neaw, an' it's not at o unloikely at it is so i' this case.'

    "Well, when Simeon had finished his sarmonizin', Ike-o'Abram's said he thowt we'd better go back to th' schoo' an separate in a respectable sooart ov a way.  So we went, an' when we'd o getten sit deawn, aw geet up an' gan eawt a short-metre hymn;—an' aw've forgetten neaw whoa it wur, but som'b'dy struck up wi' a long-metre tune; so, to mak' it come in, we had to lengthen th' last words o' some o' th' lines; an', as it happent, th' last word o' one o' th' loines we'rn 'Jacob,' so we sung it i' this road: Ja-fol-da-diddle-i-do-cob.  "Well, mestur," he said, "what dun yo think abeawt eawr Kesmus singin'?"  I said they had made a bad job of it.  "A bad job on it!  Aw think we did."

    "Aw reccon yo never knew owd Robin Dumplin-yead, as we used t' co him, did yo, mestur?"  I said I did not remember having heard the name before.

    "Iv yo'n a moind aw'll tell yo heaw he once sarved a lot o' singers 'at went to their heawse.  Yo known Robin wur a very eccentric sooart ov a chap.  He wur no' mich of a chapel goer hissel; but, as he used to say, he could't abide to see religion bein' made a trade on; an' these singers wur nowt nobbut a lot o' great awkart lads, an' toathry wenches 'at livt i' th' place, 'at wur goin' reawnd to get howd ov o they could, an' then have a spree with it.  They went an fixed theirsel's under Robin's window, an' began a singin'.  Robin yeard 'em, an' said to the woife, 'Yond's th' singers, Matty; has't owt for 'em?'  'Nawe, indeed I,' said Matty; tha emptied th' last bottle we had i' th' heawse, afore we coom to bed.  Has t' forgetten?'  'Nawe, aw've noan forgetten, not I marry; mi yead warches rather too ill for that.  It's very kind on 'em comin' eawt a singin' ov a cowd frosty neet loike this, an' aw'll give 'em summat 'at ull satisfy 'em for th' next yer an' o, except they're ill to pleos.'  'Robin, tha knows very weel 'at we'n nowt to spare; tha's had thi loom empty a week neaw, an' conno tell when tha'll get another warp.  Tha's moor need to go reawnd wi' em an' try to mak' a hit o' summat nor give 'em owt; that's what aw think, Robin.'  'Well, well, lass, we're noan so weel off, aw know, but th' owd Book says 'at it's better to give nor to receive; and iv tha conno believe me aw'll gie thee a bit o' what they co'n hoccular demonstration, iv tha'll ger eawt o' bed an' come wi' me to th' window.'  So they booath geet up an' went to th' chamber window, an' when Robin oppened it they wur just finishin' th' last verse, an' very nee o on 'em gaupin' an' starin' up at th' window.'  'Neaw then,' said Robin, 'which on yo tak's it?'  So the leader sheawted eawt 'Me.'  'Tak' that, then,' said Robin, emptyin' a two-gallon potful o' water on 'em: 'tak' that, an' divide it among yo; an' iv yo feel dry when it gets tort dayleet, iv yo'n a moind to come this way, ogen, aw'll see iv aw conno foind yo a sope moor.'  Well, mestur, aw think yo'll do for tales; aw'll have a poipe o' bacco, neaw."

    When the old man had finished, I could not help saying, "Thank you, thank you kindly, my old friend; I am sorry to have to leave you so soon, but I have an engagement about two miles from here, which I am obliged to attend to."  I wished him good night, exclaiming to myself—

Tha's noan so fur to tramp, owd friend;
Tha's welly reach'd thi journey's end;
                    Trudge along.
Thi fiddle's mony a toime bin strung,
An' aw've no deawt bo what tha's sung
                    Mony a song.
But neaw, owd mon, thi days are few,
So, iv there's owt tha has to do,
                    Do it soon;
An' th' bit o' toime tha has to stop,
Get ready for another shop
                    Up aboon.

W. E. Clegg, Printer and Publisher, 30, Market Place, Oldham.




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