Chickens in The Garden


A jolly antidote to yesterday’s dark deeds and Jon quips “I’m far too southern to sing this really but who cares,” attributing his source to The Watersons. Particularly Mike Waterson who leads on their recording, which can be found on the For Pence And Spicy Ale album. The sleeve notes for that offer this. Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson heard a man named Joe Udal sing this at a shepherd’s meet in the Lake District in 1974, and took a fancy to it. As well they might. Here’s a Mudcat thread for those seeking more information.

Another quick addition – I should probably have given you this link for Mainly Norfolk two days ago as then you are free to explore Reinhard’s fantastic resource at will. It’s been built over many years and was of huge benefit while researching and writing these notes.


You can buy the digital album now from the following stores:


28 Responses to “Chickens in The Garden”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Wot can I say! I am a Yorkshire lass! Now, not bad at all on the accent, Jon (that’s praise in Yorkshire)…for a Southerner (that’s Yorkshire ‘don’t get too elevated’ humour) because, contrary to what one might think, we don’t always SING in an accent…though we may sing in dialect. If it helps, 2 things you can try for more authenticity. First and foremost flatten yer vowels! Secondly, and this is harder for the non-native, learn to elide your consonants as ‘Side t’jug, love’. We are nothing if not ‘compact’ let alone concise – as per ‘Shint in’ = ‘The lady is not at home’.
    Being a Rams-den from a sheep/woollen industry area, whose grandmother worked in a famous textile mill, I loved this. Sentiments very sound and song well-sung!

  2. Nick Hallam says:

    More about Chickens in the Garden from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 13 records of All the Little Chickens in the Garden in the Library

    When searched on Round No. this rises to 26 including versions called Treat Me Daughter Kindly and I Once Did Know a Farmer.

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are 2 records of the song in the Take Collection both in Anne Gilchrist’s collection where it is known as Whilst I Was Travelling Out in Yorkshire.

    To find these go to enter the name of the song into the first empty field, select ‘Title’ from the drop down menu ‘all fields’ and press ‘submit search.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  3. OxFox says:

    Ah, takes me back! Back to the halcyon days of Oxford’s Half Moon, where Graham Metcalfe – abaht as Yarkshir as tha can get – used to wheel this out occasionally.
    On the back of this, I found John A Lomax Jr singing an interesting American variant: just search for “chickens garden” on Spotify, you’ll find it.
    Thanks yet again Jon! This is growing into an awesome living archive of truly great songs.

  4. OxFox says:

    …but Jon’s rendition does raise that thorny question about singing in an accent that’s not your own. Tho many people have strong objections, I personally don’t mind it, in fact I consider it either (a) a tribute to the song and the community that spawned it, or (b) something that the song itself dictates to you when you sing it.
    Would be interesting to hear other people’s views on this.

  5. Dave Rogers says:

    Ah, the old “Ewan MacColl Controversy”! Here’s a link to Peggy Seeger’s Living Tradition article on the subject, should anyone be tempted to re-stir this particular nest of hornets:

    Like OxFox, I don’t object to it either, so long as it’s well and respectfully done.

  6. admin says:

    That makes very interesting reading and I thank you for posting it. The sentiment expressed is pretty persuasive, but… I don’t imagine a project such as this was considered at the time of the debate as, apart from anything else, there would have been no outlet for it. It’s a marathon undertaking and no one should underestimate the amount of work involved. I’m sure Jon will vary his approach to some of the songs when recording them, for simple variety and thereby the avoidance of drudgery. I’m sure he’ll want to have fun with some of these, get into character or stress some subtle differences as each song also becomes a performance. That latter element is not intended to be definitive as you’ll read elsewhere on this site and if we do start to get any alternate versions submitted, then I’ll certainly honour the commitment to post links, which will be very interesting. I’d also note as an aside that most of the negative comments so far, come from people who want to restrict this undertaking in some way. Let’s just enjoy it for what it is and take the triumphs, flaws and foibles in our stride.

  7. Shelley says:

    “Let’s just enjoy it for what it is and take the triumphs, flaws and foibles in our stride.”

    Hear, hear!

    As for the accent debate, I don’t sing in regional accents, because I can’t, and tend not to attempt anything that needs one – “Bonny at Morn” for instance (much as I love the song).

    Is it just me, or does the tune to “Chickens in the Garden” have a music hall feel to it?

  8. Jon Boden says:

    Yes – interesting stuff. On the whole I tend to agree with Peggy Segger about singing in an accent you grew up with, which can mean sticking to songs that work in that accent (or changing them to sound more natural, although that’s not really the sort of thing the Critics Group were in to.) Personally I think the most important thing is to sound natural whilst also trying to bring out the nicer bits of your voice. If there’s a bit of a Yorkshire twang in this song it’s because I’m basically doing a Mike Waterson karaoke number – certainly not a song I’d sing on stage without working out a way of making it more my own. Mind you I have lived in Yorkshire for 5 years now and in my house I’m outnumbered 3-1 by native Yorkshire types (although one of them can’t talk yet) so it may be a matter of time before me singing this song starts sounding less odd…

  9. Andy says:

    Tha’ll allus be nobbut an incomer, lad! 😉

    Hope you find a way of making it your own, Jon, sounded like it was good fun to do (and yes, Shelley, a definite whiff of the music hall there, I thought that before I read your comment!)

  10. OxFox says:

    Thanks Dave for posting the Peggy Seeger link: it’s put the issue in better perspective for me, at least.
    “Chickens in the Garden” doesn’t actually *need* a Yorkshire accent to make it work, so (unlike many other songs) it could still be sung effectively with one’s natural speaking accent. Lomax’s American variant – not so different from this one – illustrates that point quite well.
    As for the tune, I agree with Shelley: it does feel quite music-hall / Cockney in places.

  11. Stephen Harvey says:

    Great to hear this, Jon. Having also learned this song from the Watersons lp, I used to sing it to my daughters when they were little. Just my tuppence ha’penny on the “dialect” question: I’ve learned almost all the Englsh, Scots, Irish etc. folksongs I know from recordings and so tend to sing them in the accent used on the recording as it has always seeemd to me to be part of the intrinsic melody of the song. Which is, fo course, not to say it can’t be done any way one likes. What did Dave Swarbrick say: “You can do anything you like to music, it doesn’t mind” ? Anyway, thanks for a great and most enjoyable project!

  12. I won’t say anything on the accent/dialect subject, having done so previously on Mudcat, but on the music hall aspect, there were rural, as well as ‘city’ music halls, and this is typical of that sort of song.

  13. Mike Garland says:

    The song appears, with slightly different words, on an early nineteenth century broadside published in Dundee. So presumably it was once sung with a scottish accent.

  14. forex robot says:

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    Still great fun a year on, Jon!

    @ Muzza: I am surprised you haven’t done this yet on YouTube, to go with your Tavistock Goosey Fair, Nottingham Geese and Yorkshire Couple! Tune would suit your squeezy box thing! Is it a melodeon? And where does one learn to play such? I could do with something to support my caterwauling… other than Salmon the cat…

  16. nev perry says:

    hey’up I love chicken in’t garden song it does have a music hall feel to it

  17. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    I listened to the song and, had I not read the comments, it would not have occurred to me that Jon was singing with an “accent/dialect”!
    Looking at my repertoire……I find that I tend to adopt my idea of “country yokel/old fisherman/Irishman” accent to match the song I’m singing…….and I have to be careful as I also do this when talking to people with distinct accents.
    I once asked a Yorkshire friend to look in a biscuit tin for my watch and “Tint tin tin” told me that my watch was NOT within!’s a melodeon………Learn to play? many pointers on site “”

  18. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Aaaaargh…..forgot to say that I nearly fell over backwards when I looked at the Mainly Norfolk link, saw the list of songs and realised the enormity of the project that you fellows successfully completed…..
    And another thing…..folks still don’t add their area/country to their comments so that we can see just how far -reaching the project has been.

  19. Steve Willis says:

    As the narrator has moved to Yorkshire but we don’t know where from, surely this song should be sung in any accent EXCEPT Yorkshire! Not that there is a single Yorkshire accent. My Whitby accent and Mike Waterson’s Hull one are similar but not identical and both are far removed from those of South Yorks, where Jon is based. But who cares? It’s a great song which I first heard on “For Pence and Spicy Ale” and it’s lovely to hear another version.

  20. Gordon says:

    It will be interesting to see if this gets a response given the delay in responding to Steve, but this song has always been a favourite given my family name “Fowell”.

    As for the fact that it should be sung in any accent except Yorkshire I think Steve underestimates the power of the local accent. My son Tom moved to Yorkshire 10 years ago and now we have a “Black Country Lad” that speaks “Yorkshire” on occasion.

    Still it could be worse. It’s not “Brummie”!

    Good to hear John and Jon on Radio 4 tonight.

  21. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    well Gordon , after a remark like that you have shown that no Brummie listens to AFSAD as I would have expected a deluge of protest!
    I clicked on the song and then read the comments as I listened and had formed my reply in my mind…and then I found my comment which was exactly what I’d have said a second time!……..
    I have , unsuccessfully,tried to break the unconcious habit of adopting the accent/dialect of other folk when talking to them. The icy stare usually brings me to my senses and I revert to my bland southern (fits all ) accent.

  22. Diana says:

    Jon did a very good rendition of this song. Jane said he did a good accent and as a Yorkshire lass she should know. He certainly isn’t singing in a Hampshire accent – I can verify that.

    Muzza poor you receiving icy stares – how dare they? Nothing wrong with your voice on the songs I have listened to, so carry on regardless.

  23. Linda says:

    Lovely little ditty…

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Cor blimey Guvnor…… could it all come to this….arguing as to which accent we use to sing a song….Just sing the song…….the audience will let you know how the performance is going.
    We are one step away from a BLM scenario….only Scots can sing Scottish songs…only sailors can sing shantys……Only Yorkshire folk can sing ‘On Ilkley Moor’……..
    A pleb such as I, with bland Southern accent, will be reduced to…
    .’On Ilkley Moor without a hat’

  25. Linda says:

    OOO Muzza you’ll have Jane after you…..

  26. Jane (Maryland, US) says:

    A jolly antidote indeed! I’m enjoying these songs even more the second time around.

    Muzza: Reading yesterday’s comments I was reminded that I inherited a banjo ukulele (90+ years old) that appears to have been trodden on. Can’t help but wonder what your inventive brain would make of that…

  27. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Jane Maryland….AHA…….I presume that it was the banjo that was 90+ rather than you!
    (of course it was)
    Oh how lovely to have an old thing with all that history locked in its strings…
    what a tale it could tell….hey …cheer up …many a good tune can be played on an old banjo/fiddle!!!!!

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