Copshawholme Fair


You’ll probably recognise this as Jon says, “I’ve recorded this with S&B and with Bellowhead,” but he also confesses, “Having performed it a couple of times with Maddy Prior I now realise that there are a good few mondegreens in my recorded versions, particularly ballad singer = balancer !! Still it’s a great song that really brings out the excitement and drama of the annual fair.”

You might be intrigued by this Mudcat thread that seems to nail the location to the Scottish Borders and Castleton, now Newcastleton a town that grew out of the original village in response to the burgeoning flax industry on the late C18th. In many ways I’m indebted to this gentleman for pointing me in the direction and for some interesting notes about the Border Reivers. But that leads to Mainly Norfolk and the notes to Tim and Maddy’s notes that suggest the hiring or ‘mop’ fairs continued in the area until after WW1. If anyone from that way knows more please share it below.



39 Responses to “Copshawholme Fair”

  1. Shelley says:

    Wonderful stuff! Jon – I would love to hear you sing it with Maddy

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

    A lovely bit of descriptive writing that captures all the fun of the fair.
    I’d choose “balancer”…(I can even see him/her performing in my mind’s eye).
    A ballad singer would never be heard in all that hustle and bustle.

  3. Dave Eyre says:

    I spent some time living in the area in the late sixties/early seventies. I was at the very first Newcastleton Festival 1970 and went for a few years afterwards. Still referred to as “Copsher” by locals.

    Lovely friendly village by the way.

  4. Dave Ismay says:

    Copshie / Copsher / Coshawholm A.K.A. Newcasteton Traditional music festival takes place again this year [2011] on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd July.
    See you there!

  5. Susie Kelly says:

    This song was one of the favourites of Willie Scott, the Border shepherd. Below are the words from Alison McMorland’s book “Herd Laddie O The Glen” – a comprehensive resource of Willie’s songs. This version has an extra half verse more than the one that Jon sings.
    Copshawholm Fair took place either the second Friday in April or the Friday before the 17th May. The last Copshie Fair was held in 1912, but the Festival goes on! In its 42nd year this year’s event is on 1,2,3 July. email for info or look for us on Facebook!

    Copshawholm Fair.

    On a Friday it fell in the month of April,
    Owre the hills cam the morn wi her blithesomest smile;
    The folks were aa thranging the roads everywhere
    Makin haste tae be in at the Copshawholm Fair.
    They were seen comin in frae the mountains and glens,
    Baith rosie faced lassies and strappin young men;
    Aa jumpin wi joy and unburdened wi care,
    When meeting auld freens at the Copshawholm Fair.

    Tis a day when auld courtships are often renewed, Disputes set aside or more hotly pursued;
    What Barleycorn Johnny sees fit tae declare
    Is law for he’s king at the Copshawholm Fair
    There are lads for the lassies and toys for the bairns; There’s blin ballad singers and folk wi no airms,
    A fiddler is here, an a thimbler is there,
    Wi nutmen an spicemen at Copshawholm Fair.
    There’s pethers an potters an gingerbreid stans,
    Peepshows, puff an darts an great caravans;
    There’s fruit frae aa nations exhibited there
    And kail plants frae Hawick at the Copshawholm Fair.
    Noo aboot the hirin if you want tae hear tell
    Ye shall ken it as fer as A’ve seen it masel;
    That whit wages are gien, it is ill tae declare,
    Sae muckle they vary at Copshawholm Fair.

    Only yin A saw hirin a strappin young quine,
    Heard her speir whit her age wis an whaur she had been;
    Whit work she’d been daein an how lang she’d been there,
    Whit wages she wanted at Copshawholm Fair.
    At first the young lassie a wee while stood dumb.
    She blushed an she scrappit her fit on the grun;
    At last she took hairt an did stoutly declare
    “A’ll hae five pund an ten at Copshawholm Fair.”

    Says he, “But my lass that’s a verra big wage,”
    And turnin about as he’d been in a rage, Says,
    “A’ll gie ye five pund, but A’ll gie ye nae mair
    A think ye maun tak it this Copshawholm Fair.”
    He held out the shillun tae arle the bit wench
    In case it should enter her noddle tae flinch;
    She grap at it mutterin “I shoulda haen mair
    But yet A will tak it at Copshawholm Fair.”

    Noo the hirin wis dune and aff they aa sprang,
    They run tae the bar room tae jine in the thrang;
    “I never will lie wi my mammy nae mair,”
    The fiddler plays briskly at Copshawholm Fair.
    There’s one in the corner sits drinkin his gill,
    Anither beside him sits sippin his yill;
    Anither is strippit an swearin richt sail
    “Room will ye no gie me at the Copshawholm Fair.”

    Noo this is the fashion they thus passed the day
    Till nicht comes at last and they ellie away;
    But some are sae sick that they canna dae mair
    Wi dancin an fechtin at Copshawholm Fair.

  6. StephenH says:

    One of my very favourite songs. Such evocative lyrics, I always had an immediate vision of the Fair. My Dad got his first job through a hiring fair at Beverley Market in probably the 1920s, though it doesn’t seem to have been as wonderful a fair as this – more likely just a bunch of farmers standing round the marketplace, a handful of coins in their pockets with which they were reluctant to part. According to my Dad, once you accepted money from the farmer, you agreed to stay in his employ for a year. I believe my Dad made a long two-mile trek to work in the village next to his!

  7. Susie Kelly says:

    Most farmworkers were taken on for 6 months but Horsemen were taken on for a year….

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

    @Susie Kelly…………..I bow to Susie’s in depth knowledge and conclude that “blin’ Ballad singers” rather than “balancer” is correct. Especially as the phrase is followed by a further note of disablity””folks wi no airms”.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    Wonderful! And thanks for all the informative notes. At 2.30am, it’s too late to go trawling for yer own!

  10. John Bryson says:

    A lovely song – mention of the hiring fair leads me to the song ‘Girl from the Hiring Fair’ written by Ralph McTell and also performed by Fairport Convention – would love to hear Jon’s take on that song

  11. SRD says:

    Lovely song, beautifully presented.

    Stephen H: At the risk of getting all Pythonish; 2 miles isn’t such a long trek; it would only have taken half an hour, in my early teens I used to walk that distance to catch a train to go to school with a further mile to walk at the other end. I made a similar journey when I first started working in London frequently choosing to walk from Victoris to my workplace just off Regent Street. I imagine many people do much the same nowadays.

  12. StephenH says:

    SRD: Yes, well, my inability to convey irony trips me up again. What I remember from the way my Dad used to talk about it was that it might as well have been two hundred miles as his working life didn’t leave much time to see his parents and siblings on any sort of regular basis.

  13. Little miner(bowels of earth) says:

    @StephenH…………..Irony……I’ll give you irony……me and my dad…well

  14. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Little Miner……….Blimey…you and Old John Barleycorn..always whingeing!

  15. Diana says:

    Got you again Muzza – it was all those dots that gave you away this time – I was on earlier and thought I recognised your handiwork. You will have to change your modus operandi to fool Jane and I.

    As for the song it seems I am out of step with everyone else – it is one that I do not care for.

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Bowels of earth? Ye Gods! What fresh hell is this? Too much John Barleycorn, eh? Or is it your old Italian complaint… innuendo…? Hahahahaha! Ye have bin rumbled by yer wimminfolk – yet again!

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    I see this song says “What Barleycorn Johnny sees fit tae declare Is law for he’s king at the Copshawholm Fair.” Watch out, Muzza! Your end is in sight!

    I like this song for the evocative lyrics StephenH mentions above, & well-delivered as always, Jon. Getting the word ‘Copshawholme’ out every time is a challenge in itself!

  18. S HolmesEsq(Baker Street) says:

    @Diana&@Jane……………..Having read your comments above….I wonder if you two good ladies would consider joining myself and my friend Watson in a little detective agency that we are considering setting up.
    (Note to self……..before posting, delete the dots as they apparantly are a giveaway!)

  19. S HolmesEsq(Baker Street) says:


  20. Diana says:

    Dear Mr. Holmes I would love to join you and Dr. Watson as long as you don’t expect me to replace that patient woman Mrs. Hudson who had to put up with your violin playing at all hours, quite apart from the opium taking in which I believe you indulge.
    Being mercenary – what is the salary you are offering? yours hopefully.

  21. S HolmesEsq(Baker Street) says:

    @Diana-salary- nil….
    but I could arrange an exciting trip with the seven yellow men from tomorrow’s song

  22. Diana says:

    Mr. Holmes I must decline your not so generous offer and go and work with Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade who have both offered a lucrative deal which does not involve any gypsies of whatever colour.

  23. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana & Muzza: Hahahahahaha! Your responses above cracked me up… and I am not easy to crack! Not so easy as that S. Holmes Esq. Methinks it is us who deserve to be honorary Holmes and Watson. Muzza, how do you fancy being Mrs Hudson? Have you a pinny? I know you have the (repaired) pots and pans in exchange for the ex-wife. Just think, Diana, no ironing!

    PS For those that don’t know, a pinny is an apron round ‘ere!

  24. Diana says:

    Jane I would accept your suggestion with alacrity if there was a Mrs. Hudson to do the ironing, pinny or no pinny. I know what you mean about the pinny anyway, even if it is a strange word for some.

    Finished the DVD on “Longitude” and found it fascinating. That poor John Harrison spending 40 years perfecting his clock with very little gratitude. I know you listened to the audio version but seeing made it easier to understand.

  25. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    perhaps if he’d changed his attitude, he’d have had more gratitude for Latitude.

  26. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Jane…ref pinny (as in Pinafore)………
    understanding the word is a generational rather than a regional difference.
    My dear old mum lived in hers. I wouldn’t have recongised her had she removed it!

  27. Diana says:

    Funny when you think of it – latitude never seemed to pose any problems but longitude did. Still Muzza liked your little ode.

  28. S HolmesEsq(Baker Street) says:

    “Holmes old chap……
    I could not but notice that you have painted your front door a citrus yellow”
    “Yes……it’s a lemon entry dear Watson!”

  29. Diana says:

    Very funny Holmes old bean – how about “I know what he sediment but I don’t know what the element”.

  30. Diana says:

    Holmes have just remembered the ending to above quote “but by helicopter”. Get it!

  31. S HolmesEsq(Baker Street) says:

    @Miss Diane(a), sorry-went right over my head….but I did invent an ejector seat for a helicopter-it wasn’t a success!

  32. Diana says:

    Holmes old fellow, you amaze me – went over YOUR head. – just try saying the words aloud and it should read “I know what he said he meant” etc. As for your ejector seat – I am not surprised it wasn’t any good it would go right through the rotor blades wouldn’t it?

  33. Muzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    I have news dear gentlefolk..
    from the latest edition of ‘Computer Active’:-
    In June 2013, The English folk dance&song society ( put on line a project called ‘The Full English’. A free Archive of 58,ooo tracks of traditional music & dance.
    And for Jane..”track cats in your neighbourhood” at

  34. Linda says:

    @Muzza, have tickets for Bury Met for The Full English with Fay and friends see Fay’s site for more details.

  35. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Titanic tragedy anniversary today…….(just one of the terrible things that have happened in the world over the years)..No disrespect intended by the following, egotistic, post.

  36. Linda says:

    10 out of 10 for production Muzza………..

  37. Linda says:

    Always think about the polar bear when I see anything Titanic related thanks Muzza

  38. Jack says:

    It was Steeleye Span who got the name and the tune wrong. It is Copshawholm fair and should be sung to the tune Carolans cottage

  39. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Oh dear….I was just going to mention that the Titanic sank this day in 1912 and dismayed to see that I had posted the Any news of the Iceberg video on a previous comment.
    I reconfirm…no disrespect intended.

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