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Looking Back.....


.....to June 1984


It is 25 years since the Federation came into being and these pages will look back at articles that have appeared within the pages of The North West Federation Of Folk Clubs' Newsletter and Folk North West as it later became known.


The article below was written for the Newsletter by Harry Boardman about a collection of Broadsides that Harry and Roy Palmer put together for the Manchester Education Committee.


The text is reproduced below

The Manchester Ballads by Harry Boardman

For those of us long in tooth and grey of whiskers, who have been involved in the folk song revival for the past twenty or thirty years, a slow but sure upgrading of the broadside ballad has been perceived.

As in all revivals, purity is all - at least in the early stages - and not only did we quote ad nauseum Francis James Child's dictum that broadsides were 'veritable dunghills in which, only after a great deal of sickening grubbing, one finds a very moderate jewel, we also believed it true. We have long realised, however, that many ballads collected from country singers have also appeared on broadsides and unfortunately we don't often know which came first - the scrubby tattered chicken or the beautifully rounded country egg. A broadside is simply a sheet of paper, printed on one side with a ballad, proclamation or religious tract and usually sold in the streets or at public hangings for a penny or so.

Almost two years ago, Roy Palmer, having previously produced a folder for Birmingham Education committee containing loose leaf facsimile ballads from that area, asked me if I would collaborate with him in producing a similar folder containing ballads concerned with Manchester and for the most part printed there. I readily agreed to publish it; their designer in the event did us proud - but more of that later.

In a way I suppose we approached our task as though we had never heard of a folk revival. By this I mean that we set out to gather up thirty or so broadsides which would represent various aspects of Manchester life, mainly in the nineteenth century, without worrying our heads about how 'traditional' or otherwise any ballad might appear to be. I feel that it is more positive to consider later broadsides as forerunners of our present day tabloids, producing 'overkill' on subjects dear to the heart, such as murder, rape, all manner of debauchery and not a little tear-jerkng as well.

Roy Palmer did most of his research and gathering away from Manchester because, apart from living in Birmingham, some of the ballads had travelled to the Bodleian Library, Stoke-on- Trent, Cambridge, Newcastle-on-Tyne and even Glasgow. For my part, I was on home ground and it was with great pleasure that I ploughed through broadsides - sometimes in folders, sometimes on microfilm. More tedious though fascinating, was sifting through every trade directory from the last century to try and find out when the Manchester printers actually functioned.

One has to start with the printers' name whenever it appears on a broadside because they were not entered as broadside ballad printers but simply as letterpress printers. It is still possible to view the spot in Cathedral Yard where Swindells sold 'numerous songs, ballads, tales and other publications, with horrid and awful woodcuts at the head, Robin Hood songs and the ballad of Chevy Chase' (Sam Bamford - 'Early Days'). These days, I feel a pleasant but ghostly atmosphere when I walk along Hanover Street (J. Livesey, Letterpress Printer - 1838-1845), or Whittle Street (J. Wheeler, Letterpress Printer - 1838-1845), or Great Ancoats Street (John and J.O. Bebbington, Letterpress Printers.- 1856-1861).

The Ballads? Well, we have "The Telegraph Girls in Canon Street": 

"To a telegraph man in Manchester,on the wires she sent her heart,

They vowed and swore by telegraph, for life they'd never part.

She never had seen him and all her life, she had his photograph,

And all the spare time this couple had, they made love by telegraph."

A jolly, semi music-hall piece, but no doubt highly topical.


Another ballad which might be wanting in poetry but must have had a spine chilling effect is "New Bayley Treadmill":

"In Manchester New Bayley we've got a new corn mill

And those whose action send them here of it will have their fill.

Prisoners let this a caution be, obey me in a crack

Or I will take my whip and flog you right well o'er your back.

So work work mind mind and work with free goodwill

In Manchester New Bayley, we've got a treading mill"


The New Bayley Prison - actually Salford - was opened in 1790 and the treadmill installed in 1824. The ballad, printed by Swindells, reads like a salutary warning to wrongdoers but is not without a touch of humour.

There are, by the way,  a number of familiar ballads in the collection such as "The Soldier's farewell to Manchester" ( The Manchester Angel), "Jone o' Grinfilt", "Victoria Bridge on a Saturday night" and "The Calico Printer's clerk" but for the most part, I think there will be some interesting surprises, at least for those who like their history a little less neat.

If I can be forgiven for seeming to play games, I will give every sixth title of the thirty five included, to give some sort of picture of the contents:

"The Soldiers Farewell to Manchester", "The Meeting at Peterloo", "Tinker's Gardens", (Vauxhall Gardens) "The Spinner's Lamentation", "Rag Bag", "The Calico Printer's Clerk", "New Song on the proposed ship canal".

"To Salford you can go when the tide is running low

And pick up shrimps and mussels by the score,

Fish for eels and sole in the old bog hole,

Or with Sally take a walk along the shore.

So wish them all success, may their shadow get no less,

The gentlemen who are doing this so well,

Another gill we'll fill and drink it with a will

Prosperity to Manchester and her ship canal."

Tunes can be a problem with broadsides of any period but quite a number are indicated on the ballads and otherwise, we chose tunes from the period or where the metre suggested a tune; this can happen surprisingly often.

Well I said I would get back to the design. Each separate folder has a facsimile print of the ballad, the tune and historical or explanatory notes. The individual folders are contained in a hard back wallet. I know the appearance of any book or collection is secondary to the contents, but I must congratulate the designer on a first class job.

Unfortunately the "Manchester Ballads" is only obtainable direct from Manchester Education Committee, Education Office, Crown Square, Manchester M60 3BB. The price is £11.75 which includes postage etc. 


Webmaster's Note:

 21 years down the line, I was wondering if the Manchester Ballads were still available to buy and I'm delighted to say that they are for the measly sum of £10 which includes p+p (UK only - overseas please enquire further)
Anyone wishing to purchase a copy, please send a cheque for £10 payable to "Manchester Music Service" with delivery details to:

Manchester Music Service
Zion Arts Centre
Stretford Road
M15 5ZA


You may be interested to know that Chris Harvey of Cock Robin Music and Mark Dowding have collaborated to record the entire set of "Manchester Ballads" on a double CD. This CD is now available to purchase by going to www.markdowding.co.uk and following the music link.



Harry Boardman

Harry was well known for his singing around the folk clubs of Britain since the early sixties. He was the founder and resident of one of the first clubs in Manchester in 1954. 

Harry was influential in the folk music careers of many people including Mike Harding, The Oldham Tinkers and Bernard Wrigley - All three appearing on the groundbreaking records "Deep Lancashire" and "Owdham Edge" - anthologies of Lancashire songs and verse - prior to releasing recordings in their own right.

Harry's repertoire of songs extended far beyond his native Lancashire as is shown on his last recording, "Personal Favourites", before his untimely death.

Other recordings made by Harry over the years are:

"A Lancashire Mon", "Trans Pennine" and "Golden Stream"

He has also made appearances on several "compilation" records such as:

"New Voices", "Steam Ballads" and "The Bonnie Pit Laddie"

 Your webmaster was a resident at Harry's club ,The Unicorn in Church Street, Manchester, in the early 1980's and made a number of recordings of Harry at the club singing not only his current songs, but also some of the Lancashire songs that he introduced to fans in the sixties with accompaniment by Lesley, his wife, on mandolin. I usually said to him one week, "Harry, can you do "Weaver of Wellbrook" or " Handloom vs. Powerloom" and he'd say "I'll have to practice that for next week" and sure enough we'd get to hear these wonderful songs over the course of a few months. A couple of the songs are taken from the "Manchester Ballads" collection and as far as I know are one of the few occasions he sang them.


For further details of Harry's recording and broadcasting career click HERE


Meanwhile, let's go to Autumn 1989 and an interview with Alan Bell....


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