Gathering Rushes


Jon attributes this as “From Anne Briggs, whose version is so sublime nobody else has bothered trying to record it. A great song to sing. On the odd occasion when I feel the need to do a warm up (I don’t normally  hold with ’em really) I generally end up singing this through as an ornaments exercise apart from anything else.”

We’re at the opposite end of life’s cycle today. You’ll see that actually both Shirley Collins and Maddy Prior with Steeleye have recorded this as well and find the notes to Anne’s version at Mainly Norfolk, where Bert Lloyd suggests that this one bypassed the collectors, presumably on moral grounds. Whilst children born outside wedlock are certainly no big deal in today’s society with almost 50% in the UK (more for first children) being so, it was certainly frowned upon comparatively recently. I wonder indeed whether it may have upset the collectors more than the protagonists in the song, although the father of the young lady clearly isn’t best pleased.  I’m speculating and in need of another history lesson probably, but I’m wondering how common illegitimate children were in the days before effective contraception. I don’t suppose people were ever likely to be less inclined to have sex and there seem so many songs about the taking of or protecting of maiden status. But then there are the obvious issues of another mouth to feed and also the wedding prospects for the young lass, although unless inheritance and title is involved I am curious as to whether it was actually a big deal. It certainly became one in the C19th and C20th and I suppose there are tales of the poor wretched mothers cast out into the cold, but those seem to have a Victorian moralizing element to them. I guess what I’m asking is whether there’s a class element to such tales, or even a rural/urban dynamic? In most respects the issue is simply economics and it’s single parents and their ability to provide/burden on the state that are the headline issues today. Anyway it’s a fine song and could equally take us off into the realms of women’s fashion and the pocket stowed beneath the dress or apron to hold valuables and such like.



30 Responses to “Gathering Rushes”

  1. the_otter says:

    Totally right about the sublimity of Anne Brigg’s version. GRitMoM is probably my favourite of hers, closely followed by the Snow it Melts the Soonest, Hills of Greenmore and Thorneymore Woods.

    I like Jon’s very Briggs-like singing here. The ornamentation is beautiful.

  2. SRD says:

    I must search out the Anne Briggs version, this is a fascinating song.

    Regarding illegitimacy:

    ‘In the mid 18th century with the Industrial Revolution illegitimacy began to rise sharply with around 3 in every 100 births in 1750. By the early 19th century this had risen to nearly 7 in every 100 births. Changes in social attitudes reversed this trend in the early 20th century when illegitimacy fell to around 4 in every 100.

    This rise in illegitimacy called for a wealth of records to be created mostly by the local parish and stored in the County Record Offices. The Old Poor Law instructed the local parish churchwarden and the overseer of the poor to force a pregnant unmarried mother to identify the father. This was due to the increased burden that could fall onto the parish.

    This was known as the Bastardy Examination but there are eight documents which can help to find the father of an illegitimate child.’
    (taken from

    I have wondered if the plethora of songs regarding seductions by here today/gone tomorrow soldiers etc. are actually ‘cover up’ tales to prevent extra-marital affairs becoming known to the wife and also to duck having to pay for the upkeep of the child.

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Beautifully sung, Jon.

    Here’s a YouTube link to the Anne Briggs version:

    With me, it’d be a cat under that apron…

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    This song is also a bit like Willie O’Winsbury, which Anne Briggs also sang:

    Mainly Norfolk notes and lyrics here:

  5. John Biggs says:

    The ‘gathering of rushes’ could form a biblical link to the numerous folk songs/ hymns relating to the birth of Moses, and the question of his legitimacy. Oops, dangerous ground!!
    Beautifully sung, Jon.

  6. Maggie says:

    Lovely song and well sung.

    About the question of unmarried women having babies … it is not at all unknown today for girls to hide pregnancies from their family and friends. Sadly it happens in real life (I work in a GP practice) not just on Holby et al, Maggie

  7. Shelley says:

    Coincidentally, I was listening to Maddy’s version of this over the weekend. Well sung Jon.

  8. Jane Mickelborough says:

    “I suppose there are tales of the poor wretched mothers cast out into the cold, but those seem to have a Victorian moralizing element to them.”

    A bit more than just a moralising element! My great great grandmother was indeed ‘cast out’ when she got pregnant, and she and her son, (my great grandfather) was born, and lived in a poorhouse till he was 10. It appears her father was only willing to re-establish a relationship with her when she eventally married and he had become a widower – so he had someone to look after him!

  9. johnone says:

    Well, many an intellectual comment here. And I am sure from many and accomplished musicians and songsters.

    I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t value Jon and all the support from all the good people including Simon of course.

    I don’t really sing and I definitely don’t bother to really understand the words. But, sometimes I feel that Jon’s words come across quite thin and lacking real emotion. Perhaps that is the way it’s meant to be.

    I can understand the drudge of doing a folk song a day for a year and how that chore could turn into just an ordinary day job that you have to do.

    However people are so polite. Like some of the comments that people leave on viewing photos in flickr.

    But, when I’m in the mood I add my own more emotional harmonies in full voice in front of my PC and speakers. What a wimp I am! I could never do it live in front of people.

    However, there are times when I feel Jon’s heart isn’t in it! And I can truly understand why.

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

    A sad song but the story is sensitively told….and very listenable to.
    A difficult situation for both father and daughter.
    It did set me thinking though……I have three offspring…one black , one brown and one yellow and my ex-wife assured me that it was because she had birth cravings for liquorice allsorts…thank goodness we stopped at three..we could’ve had a BLUE one!

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

    Forgot to say that I loved the phrase “Draggle in the dew”…much more powerful than the bland ‘drag all in the dew’……….
    @Johnone………….Jon has a ‘laid back’ style when recording in the front room with the fairy lights round the mirror…………but dress him in a silver suit at a live gig……..then
    Just light the blue touch paper and stand back!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Well-said ref Jon’s many and varied styles and prodigious, multi-faceted talents! I love this song and his delivery – no pun intended!

    Ref your children, you only need to worry when they are silver… and fly around the room…

  13. Diana says:

    This song just goes to show how times have changed (perhaps not altogether re:Maggie’s comment) but we do live in more enlightened times, at least I would like to think so.

    @ Jane I am in the middle of a non-fiction book at the moment which I wondered whether it would interest you, It is “Profile of a Killer” the story of Jack the Ripper which took place in Victorian times which really is not so long ago is it? The lower end of the population reallly had it bad. The police without the aid of forensic pathologists and DNA used to group murders and suicides together as there was no way to tell them apart and suicides were rife due mainly to alcoholism and prostitution. I am not sure how this relates to AFSAD but it just struck me listening to the song how lucky we are to be here and not there.

  14. Diana says:

    Still at it I’m afraid, just in case you haven’t had enough of my musings.

    I have been to the library and got “Mother Tongue” Reynard. I always did well in all of my English language exams (A’s) but I feel sure that I shall learn quite a lot more when I read this book.

  15. Aesthete says:

    What’s that groaning noise when I click the little ‘play’ button, please?

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    Aesthete – aptly named methinks!

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

    @A…………Jane beat me to it…..had to look it up………..look forward to YOUTUBE link in which Aesthete shows us how he would sing this song (or anything he might have done—–
    (Damn, blast, roast it and set fire to it!….I have responded to a windup merchant)

  18. Reynard says:

    Diana, I’m sure you will like Modern Tongue. It’s a well written and entertaining book about the English language. The only thing that annoys me is Bryson’s patronising sneer at “unpronouncable” languages like Welsh and Croatian. Strange at is is, the Welsh are well able to pronounce their own words, thank you very much; they just dare to use the rules of their own language instead of those of their colonial masters.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    Don’t know about Croation, but perhaps Welsh is a phonetic language, as someone will be able to tell us on here, I’m sure. English isn’t, and therein lies the differences that can only be learnt in say, 38 different spellings for the pronounciation of ‘air’!!!

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Of course, it would help if I could spell Croatian! Hahahahahaha!

    Wonder where Aesthete’s been these past 2 years of AFSAD? Lol.

  21. Diana says:

    Reynard I have already started “Mother Tongue” and I have found it amusing already and he does seem a little critical of other languages. I must say that the very first page sets the tone with his three descriptions of the word “fly” – expect that will raise (rays, raze – these same sounding words are endless) someone’s interest don’t you think? As for Welsh and Croation – as long as they can speak it what business is it of anyone else. He is certainly disparaging about the French but then who isn’t these days.
    I really must pack it in I seem to have let my scribbles run away with me today – boring people I have no doubt. One thing though I am not sure what you men by “colonial masters”. Not us surely.

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

    @Diana. my little scribbler……….yep……Old Reynard means us……
    but let us not persue that thread further……………
    Ref Croatian………………I thought that was the language seacrabs spoke and then I realised I was thinking of Crustacean.
    Stop worrying about the vagaries of English and Welsh…try Mandarin where one character can mean 34 things depending on your voice inflection.
    I once got me face slapped by a Chinese girl for using the wrong inflection when asking for “Salt and vinegar” on me chips.

  23. Diana says:

    Muzza that is what I thought – enuff said. A lot of people believe that plants communicate so why not your crustaceans – I am sure that I have heard that lobsters scream when dropped in boiling water. I don’t eat fish or seafood so can only take that with a pinch of salt and not from your Chinese girl. Clever you speaking Mandarin. I can only manage a little French (not too bad) even less German and Italian.
    At school I wanted to go into the language stream so where did I end up but with the Sciences. Sod’s law.

  24. Simon says:

    Aesthete is presumably hearing the sound of his computer being unable to match his planet sized intellect and therefore groaning at the prospect of having to disappoint him once again. Either that or his speakers or ears are jiggered!

  25. Diana says:

    Simon you know who will be preening himself at your suggetion of a planet sized intellect so please do not encourage him in this fantasy – he causes enough trouble as it is.

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

    Ref the lobsters..bless their little cotton socks…the “screams” are the result of the air being forced from their crustacean crevices by the ingress of boiling water.

    Clever ol’ you speaking languages…the only foreign phrase I know is
    “On Ilkly moor baht ‘at”..
    but where you gonna find a person that would understand that!

  27. Diana says:

    Muzza I don not know how you think up these things – I really don’t. Fancy you speaking a really strange foreign language – what on earth does that mean? “On ikly moor bah’t at”. Perhaps Jane will have a dictionary which will help transcribe.

    Thanks for explaining about the lobsters – it wasn’t a very nice thought.

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

    @Diana..ref the vagaries of the English language:-
    l”The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” — James D Nicoll

  29. Diana says:

    You are so right Muzza – on reading Reynard’s recommendation “Mother Tongue” we have pinched words from so many diverse languages it’s not true. But I have discovered a lot of our language originated in parts of Germany and our two countries do have the same generic roots. I hope I understood what I was picking up from Bryson’s book. It’s very wordy – it must have taken ages to research it all.

  30. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ref Diana and Reinhardt’s comments above…here is a link to the book they are talking about.
    I wonder what some of our folk songs would have sounded like in very old English!

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