Blackleg Miner


We seem to have hit a little seam of industrial oriented songs of late, but this is another from Jon’s camp days and he recalls, “The Blackleg Miner controversy briefly threatened to split FSC asunder – should you sing it fast or slow?  (Slow obviously)” Blimey! I was a little worried as I started to read that that we were entering choppy political waters, but I guess we are and it can’t be avoided. Without wishing to stir a hornets nest of polemic, however, this Wiki link is informative. Steeleye recorded this on Hark! The Village Wait. The notes on that say,

“It is strange that a song as powerful and as singable as this should be so rare, yet it has only once been collected, from a man in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in 1949. Seghill and Seaton Delaval (presumably the Delaval mentioned in the song) are adjacent mining villages about six miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but it is difficult to date the song due to the innumerable mining strikes which have occurred. It is, however, interesting in as much as it illustrates the violent hatred felt by the “union” men toward the blacklegs.”

Should you wish there’s more at Mudcat and obvious indications of how this song has travelled, but also sadly gained a renewed relevance in recent history.

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23 Responses to “Blackleg Miner”

  1. Carole Garland says:

    You have the voice for this song, Jon, but the pace should be a little more brisk
    – it is after all, a warning to others. Seghill, should rhyme with egg.

  2. John Wigley says:

    I’ve a clear primary school memory of watching a history programme in class with the Steeleye version dramatised…it began my folk music obsession!

  3. Phil says:

    Seeing this title just made me want to listen to Queen Jane again!

    As I think I said on that Mudcat thread, I suspect this song derives from Yahie Miners filtered through Bert Lloyd’s politics; to me it has the ring of vicarious militancy, and I don’t much like it. Interesting hearing it sung at this pace, though – almost like a different song.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eamon Byers, Jon Boden. Jon Boden said: Latest Post: : Blackleg Miner […]

  5. David says:

    I agree that this really calls for a brisker delivery to warn off the blacklegs! Still – this version is most impressive and is growing on me all the time.

  6. Nige Rivers says:

    I think the song works well at this pace, it becomes a hauntin lament for an industry that is long gone.

  7. Simon Dewsbury says:

    there are some interesting/surprising blogs on mudcat (‘The Blackleg Miner and FAF ) – amazing how much invective the song has produced, allegations that it’s false, made up by Bert Lloyd, ‘ a horrible little song’, an incitement to violence, oh and stuff about a face off between Nick Griffin and Billy Bragg about the song. The slow version takes a bit of getting used to but I’m working on it.

  8. Jan says:

    An excellent song, despite all the Bert Lloyd controversy. As for speed, I don’t see anything wrong with the way Steeleye did it – start off slow, speed up in the middle, then slow again for the last verse – it all adds texture to the singing.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    It’s a powerful song and you sang it powerfully, Jon, though I think it would benefit from a bit more variety in the pace to really ‘nail’ it.

    I can see why some people might be very ‘pro’ and others very ‘con’! Having forayed briefly into the strength of feeling displayed about this song, I think that is exactly what the song is about, strength of feeling. Though it unequivocably expresses one clear point of view against strike-breakers, an alternative opinion is obliquely available by dint of how much the song makes one think, especially with the not-so-veiled death threat.

    Why would someone risk so much to be a blackleg? – There must be a reason.

    How far does one accept the person’s right to choose? – How far can one reasonably go to dissuade them from their choice?

    Samuel Cunliffe Lister would have approved of him!

  10. Maurice says:

    I briefly lived in Seaton Delival and I can vouch for the fact that it is indeed a terible place.
    Seaton Delival Hall however is wonderfull. recently semi restored by the national trust. Most 19th centuary strike breakers were young men with young families to feed. I have mixed views on the song.

  11. Iggy says:

    There’s a fine version of this – and many other mining songs – by the High Level Ranters on thier 1975 Topic release “The Bonnie Pit Laddie” ( There’s is a slightly more uptempo but I like both speeds.

  12. Jack says:

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly with the sentiments of the song – I sided with the Nottingham miners – but that doesn’t mean I won’t sing it, loudly and with conviction. If you’ve ever heard it sung in a miners social club, you’ll know why.

  13. Phil says:

    Whereas I loathe the song and feel really uncomfortable joining in, despite having supported the NUM. Nowt so queer as folk[ies].

  14. Jon Boden says:

    I’ve always seen the song as an indictment of mob rule and cruelty to the outsider. I’m a supporter of trade unionism, but this song is about what happens when it goes too far, not a celebration of it (even though that’s probably how it started out). Similarities with Death of Bill Brown in that one doesn’t have to agree with the sentiment expressed / actions taken by the protagonist to enjoy singing it. I think that is why I prefer it sung slow – brings out the malevolence more. jon

  15. Peter Walsh says:

    Consulted my ipod to see what version I have… Maddy Prior (understandably) from her Ballads and Candles album. May be on others by her though! Your voice is mature beyond your years Jon; it comes as quite a shock to see how young you look in comparison! Well sung.

  16. muzza(S.E.England) says:

    An age old problem….whether or not to stick out from the crowd.
    Not a song I would sing ……but Jon does it just right.

  17. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Simon mentioned in his comments on Close the Coalhouse Door earlier in the month, the unhappy history of mining and this song reflects another aspect of that.
    Goodness knows, relationships between unions and management were bad enough when the industry was nationalised but this song comes from a period long before then, when miners were owned body and soul by the mine owners, many of whom were totally unscrupulous and who exploited them ruthlessly. My understanding of this song when I first heard it back in the 60s (Probably from Bob Davenport or Ian Campbell) was that the miners had gone on strike for better pay and conditions, and the owners chose to pay strike breakers over the going rate in an effort to break the strike.
    These were violent times and the song reflects that. Whilst no right thinking person can condone the violence expressed in the song, we should not shy away from singing it, but we should make sure that the context of the song is understood.

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    Spot on, John B!

  19. Diana says:

    A very powerful song about a subject on which so there are so many different points of few.

  20. Diana says:

    Sorry that should be view not few.

  21. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Bless her….we would never have worked that correction out

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    Bless her… & that’s why we miss her. Mind you, after red wine at 2am, I might not have worked that correction out!

    Like this song or not, I stand by the singing of it. No-one has the right to bury or rewrite history simply because they don’t like it. Yes, you can always choose not to sing it yourself, but it does deserve to be sung. If we don’t know a point of view, we don’t know what we are dealing with & can’t address it. Buried unpleasantness has a way of resurfacing or, worse, triumphing.

  23. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    I once worked, in the offices, for a firm where all the warehouse workers ( bar one) went on strike at a crucial time.
    This one fella ignored intimidation and continued to work by sending out vital orders during the eight week strike.
    When normal service was resumed, one condition from the strikers was that the non-striking worker be dismissed.The management complied without even giving him reward or recognition…….
    Six months later…..the parent USA company closed the depot and shifted the business to the German depot as a result of the unreliable, striking Brits!
    Nobody wins……

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