Lancashire, in common with most counties in the north of England and the midlands, did not feature much in the first folk revival. That is to say, Sharp, Hammond, Vaughan Williams and the rest didn’t come collecting. The less well known, but splendid Anne Geddes Gilchrist got some fine sea songs from the Southport area, but generally the county has manifested a different kind of song culture. Lancashire dialect poetry was astoundingly successful in the late 19th and early 20th century and many of the poems have been put to music, so vibrant a chord did they strike in the hearts and minds of working folk. The big names were Ben Brierley, Sam Laycock, Edwin Waugh, and Ammon Wrigley, whose publications are legion, and still widely available. What is not always appreciated is that the writers and songs came from such a small area, on the very south east tip of the county. The centre of this tradition was Oldham, a town that deserves the title “Cottonopolis” more than Manchester, which lies very close to Cheshire and the west riding of Yorkshire. It was near here that the legendary John o’ Greenfield arose from the pen of Joseph Lees, a weaver, giving rise to a whole tradition of 16 songs during the 19th century. During the folk revival, the few traditional Lancashire songs were “recovered” by the younger generation led by Harry Boardman, and were supplemented by the humorous creations and performances of people like Mike Harding, Bernard Wrigley, The Oldham Tinkers, and Les Barker, again all based in the south-east of the county. Other things which mark Lancashire out are Clog Morris, which it shares with Cheshire, Pace egging, which it shares with Yorkshire, and the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup, which it shares with nobody in the world!
The definitive 19th century collection of folk songs and folk-lore were published by the same authors in the same year:
- Ballads and Songs of Lancashire, Harland and Wilkinson, 1882, John Heywood, and reprinted by EP in 1976.
- Lancashire Folk-Lore, Harland and Wilkinson, 1882, John Heywood, and reprinted by S.R. publishers in 1972
John Roby, Traditions of Lancashire, Manchester: George Routledge & Sons, 1872
Available through Project Gutenberg: