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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35 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!

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

    Janey, Janey……surely this one will lure you back to comment on the site!

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    Duly lured by my love of mill songs, Young Muzza, if not your charming description of me by the coal-lit fireside!

    And timely this song is, because I have recently been learning about the biggest mill disaster in Bradford, at the long-gone Newlands Mill. A wonderful recorder of local history, has this to say about it on his website (Phil Robinson History and Photography):

    “On Wednesday, 27th December, 1882 workers returned to Newlands Mill in West Bowling after their Christmas break.

    The following day, shortly after 8am, workers were at their morning breakfast break when the mill’s massive chimney collapsed. 54 people were killed and many more injured. Had the chimney fallen earlier, during the early morning shift, many more people would have been killed.

    Many workers had gone home for the break, but those who breakfasted at their looms were caught up in the disaster. Whole families were lost, and many of the survivors were seriously injured.

    Newlands Mill was part of the vast Ripley Mills complex, which spanned Parma Street and Upper Castle Street. Over 2,000 people worked in the mills and many were children. [My note: More than half who died were children under 18, the youngest being 8.]

    The Newlands Mill chimney was 255 feet high and weighed 4,000 tons. It stood behind the boiler house, which provided the steam power to drive the spinning frames and looms.

    There had been extensive coal and iron mining on the site of the mill complex and a warren of tunnels and excavations ran under the buildings. Despite some opposition at the time, the tall chimney was built directly over the old pit shaft, which had been filled in with wood and other debris.

    The chimney suffered continually from structural problems and by 1882 cracks, and even a bulge, had appeared and masonry was beginning to fall from the structure. Some repair work had been undertaken during the Christmas break.

    Although largely forgotten for 120 years a commemorative stone has now been unveiled in memory of those killed in the disaster.”

    The simple memorial stone, with the 54 who lost their lives listed, can be seen on Phil’s website:

    Despite an inquest, no blame was attached to the owner, Sir Henry Ripley (who at 69 had died a month before the disaster) even though he had personally driven the way the chimney was built and subsequently repaired. A jury in Bradford found that the victims were accidentally killed and that the owners had done “all that ‘unpractical’ men could reasonably be expected to do under the circumstances.”

    This view was not shared by local people at the time, & was much-modified later by more expert construction opinion. See this excellent article from Bradford’s local Telegraph & Argus reporter, Vivien Marsh, from 16 July, 2018:

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    This tragic story came to my attention via a young and talented folk singer/songwriter who has recently started performing at the Topic Folk Club in Bradford. (The oldest folk club in the world!)

    His name is Ben Ashton. I believe he said he found a song about the disaster with a not very inspiring tune, so he reworked it. The result is this, and I think it makes the social point about lack of justice for the poor workers very well:

    Check out some of his other/own songs on YouTube.

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    But as per the humour in ‘The Old ‘arris Mill,’ this should lighten proceedings! A hark back to the original ‘Shade of the Old Apple Tree,’ as famously sung by Louis Armstrong, not to mention a very young Petula Clark, and a host of others to be found on YouTube.

    I think the original singer was a gentleman called Henry Burr, with the song’s words by Harry Williams and the music by one Egbert Van Alstyne.

    Several versions can be viewed via this link. Check out the Georgia English trio of lively young ladies and attendant musicians!

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

    Huzzah….the old Cat botherer is back and in fine factual/literal form.
    looking at the links she gave and the names of the children on the memorial adds poignancy to this little ironic song.

  30. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    I will always link this song with that Chimney falling tragedy,and the old apple tree tune will always remind me of the war …..yes I am that old (That’s WW11 Janey…not the Boer war!)

  31. Jane Ramsden says:

    Crimea, Young Muzza?

  32. Linda says:

    Always think Jon sounds quite posh the old Harris mill …….but again humming this for a couple of days

  33. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    This song will always remind me of the tragic circumstances of the chimney collapse, and how fate determined the timing and who would be affected.
    It also reminds me of my lucky escape (aged 13)at the Farnborough Airshow in 1952…….a chance decision to move off the hill, just half an hour before the disaster.

  34. Linda says:

    Ear worm

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