In The Shade Of The Old ‘arris Mill


Jon names his source for this as Mike Harding saying, “Fay’s started performing this which is much more appropriate, but I still enjoy singing it. Keep meaning to look at the original ‘apple tree’ lyrics in case they’re worth learning.” It’s of course based on the chorus of the popular song originally published in 1905, In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree. It seems that this wry social commentary was just one of several adaptations and this has something of the music hall or end-of-the pier about it, although it was written in America by Harry Williams and Egbert Van Alstyne and you can read more here on Wiki. Quite when it made this transition I can’t say, but it smacks of that early Edwardian industrial grime. Perhaps Mike might tell us where he got it from.

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25 Responses to “In The Shade Of The Old ‘arris Mill”

  1. SRD says:

    That garnered an early morning smile although the pathos of the ending twisted the smile a little awry.

  2. Reinhard says:

    Another fine song from Mike Harding’s _Folk Songs of Lancashire_ like yesterday’s one. Looks like this book is worth having (There is only one eBay offer ongoing for £98 plus £20 for shipping; that’s a bit silly). But some busy beaver seems to have the whole book typed up and posted on Mudcat in 2008, just search for the book title.

    I didn’t know this song before but the “tie yer ends up” line reminded me of the Silly Sisters “Doffin’ Mistress”, so I immediately felt comfortable with it.

  3. Phil says:

    It’s basically a variation on Poverty Knock, innit –

    The reeling is rotten
    And so is the cotton,
    We’ll have to give gaffer a pill.

    – plus a few lines out of the Doffing Mistress. Was this one seen in the wild before Mike Harding published it?

    I wouldn’t go to eBay for rare books. There are a few copies of Mike Harding’s songbook available for a tenner via Abebooks – although I suspect all you’d gain over the Mudcat transcription is that you could see the lack of any source information in black and white.

  4. Mark says:

    Lovely this, does Jon play the sqeezebox on these too? I didn’t know he played – but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Just to ask, I’ve noticed the updates haven’t been tweeted for a while. Is there any reason for this? I find it a useful reminder!

  5. Reinhard says:

    Thanks, Phil, I will remember AbeBooks for future wants; this time I’ve already bought it from an Amazon seller for a reasonable price (but more than it would have cost at AbeBooks).

    Mark, unless explicitely stated otherwise it’s always Jon singing and playing.

  6. Jon Boden says:

    Checked with Mike and he says… “A Mrs Hill mother of one of my old mates back in the late 60s sang it to me together with other fragments learned when she was a millworker.”

  7. Shelley says:

    I heard Fay sing this earlier in the year, and it is on my “to learn” list, as apart from it being a great song, it has my maiden name in the title (no, not mill!). Fay mentioned the Mike Harding book and I was able to pick up a copy for about £15 not long afterwards.

  8. Mike Harding says:

    I can’t remember Mrs Hill’s first name but she was the mother of Tony Hill who used to come to a folk club I ran in The Old House At Home. He later trained as a teacher, but I heard that he died a few years back.
    I met his mum several times; (his brother used to fix my battered old minivan up) she was a tiny bright lady who had lived, as many did, a very hard life. This was the most complete song she gave me – she did have many other fragments and one verse comic ditties.
    I based a song I wrote called Jinny Bobbin on things Mrs Hill and other old “mill girls” told me.
    Bernard Wrigley, Dave Brookes and myself put together a Northern review called In The Shade of the Old ‘Arris Mill which played at Bolton Octagon and the Contact Theatre Manchester. It went down very well.
    Well sung John by the way.

  9. Phil says:

    Thanks for that, Mike – please pardon my ungenerous comments earlier.

    I guess the song comes into the genre of filk, not that there’s anything with that – very much the folk process in action.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    Cracking! I can empathise as a Yorkshire lass, born in a back-to-back mill house (no running hot water, no bathroom and only an outside toilet!) so I understand what Mike says about hard lives…and I don’t consider I had one compared with my parents and grandparents. One grandmother worked at Lister’s Mill (velvets, Resiltex, not cotton). As you might guess, I love Doffin’ Mistress – a brilliant ditty! There is still accepting humour and spirit in these songs. You captured it very well, Jon. Looking forward to Bellowhead at St. George’s Hall on 13th November. And thanks to Mike for his Radio programme, keeping the unknowing like me informed of at least some of what’s going on!

  11. Simon says:

    Thanks Mike. It’s good to get to the heart of a story like that. With your experience on the circuit, Im sure there are snippets you can add elsewhere, but I know you’re a busy man. I’ll try and think to e-mail you in advance of anything that might be specially relevant to you, although you’re always welcome to dive in.

  12. Jo Breeze says:

    More about In The Shade of the Old ‘Arris Mill from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are no records of In The Shade of the Old ‘Arris Mill in the Library, but 19 records of In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree, including versions collected from Blaxhall in Suffolk – home of the famous Blaxhall Ship.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 10242, this produces 16 records – a number found in collections of ‘bawdy ballads’ and rugby songs!
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 collection.
    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

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

    Shelley…..(6 comments above)………was your maiden name “Shelley Shade?”..
    give us another clue if I didn’t get it right.

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

    Shelley…it’s me again (slow news day)
    I looked for the Bailey sisters singing “Old arris mill”…only found navigator(see link)…
    still on your “to learn list” then?

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

    I’m doing it again…using this dear old site as a dropbox. The link below is to a recent posting of that excellent folk duo Spiers & Boden

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    My mother always said not to buy cheap bobbins of ‘rotton cotton’ as your sewing won’t hold! Back in the day when we all did more of it…

  17. nev perry says:

    This song made me laugh, I know it talks about hard times, but in the face of adversity there comes humour, right northern humour. love it!

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Nev: I’m with you on the right Northern humour – love it!

  19. Diana says:

    A really great song. Fay also does a wonderful version of this as does Jon. There is a heck of a lot of truth in it as well – times were not easy for the workers in the cotton trade.

  20. Linda says:

    Another day humming this.Its one of them songs that once you;ve heard it your stuck with it all day. Both Jon and Fay sing this beautifully.

  21. Linda says:

    Stuck with it again!!!!

  22. Linda says:

    Colin remembers one of his Uncles singing this in a pub in Gt Harwood in the 50’s.. more ear worm for a couple of days

  23. Linda says:

    Here we go again dee dum dum…….

  24. old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    Can just see Janey enjoying this……huddled by her fire ..surrounded by cats…her shawl round her shoulders…tankard of beer to hand…sucking on her old clay pipe.. watching the flickering flames and reminiscing for the old days…ah bless!

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