The Songs Of Leeds

A chance remark of social media about Dick Turpin, that famous highwayman, led me down a ‘Swift Nick’ Nevison rabbit hole (what do you mean, you’ve never heard of him? He did many of the things credited to Turpin: read about him here).

Eventually – by a twisted process – that landed me at Holroyd’s Collection Of Yorkshire Ballads, published in 1892. Given that there are so few folk songs involving Leeds, I wanted to take a look.

It yielded five. To be fair, most of them could have related to so many places. Some are very dark indeed, others tearful, and one – the only one that really looked like it may have been written about Leeds – was light hearted. And they’re not really ballads as we think of them. They’re mostly poems, not written to be sung.

Still, anything like this involving Leeds is so rare that they’re worth a look. It’s niche, I know, but strangely interesting.

Some (like The Leeds Tragedy) are from broadside ballads, rustled up and published as a quick response to a tragedy and sold on the streets for a penny. The pop songs of the day before the music hall really took off.

Some are very much cautionary tales, wildly dnetimental, like this piece about a factory girl, eivdently copied from the Leeds Times.

The Leeds-based Victorian folk song collector, Frank Kidson, bought broadsides and kept them in an album. Some of those are far more Leeds-centric than the pieces in Holroyd (The Leeds Tragedy occurs in both).

I’ve written about the Kidson broadsides before, in more detail. It’s here if you want to take a look.

And for good measure, let’s finish with a tune – decidedly to do with Leeds, that Kidson mentions in Old English Country Dances being played in Leeds as early as 1820. Presented in two versions.