Caught by the River

Along The Harrow Way

Stephen Cracknell | 11th May 2013

stephen_cracknellPhoto: Brian David Stevens

Memory Band main-man, Stephen Cracknell, plans to mark the release of his band’s latest album On The Chalk (Our Navigation Of The Line Of The Downs) by undertaking “three days walking from “Farnham to Stonehenge in search of the route of the “lost” section of the Harrow Way, going via the site of the ancient Weyhill Fair”.

Stephen continues: “For inspiration I’ve been reading a couple of amazing books written by the writer George Bourne at the turn of the last century about a character called Bettesworth. He was an agricultural labourer who lived in one of the villages on squatted heathland around Farnham. It’s fascinating the stories of how much labourers travelled all over the country back then, mostly on foot.

Bourne’s quite a character himself, he ran the Wheelwrights shop in Farnham (Surrey, England) and wrote an wonderful book about that under his real name George Sturt.This is George Bourne writing about Bettesworth at The Weyhill Fair including the drinking song I used to open the Memory Band album:

“And so it fell to him to take the hops down in the waggon to Weyhill fair, by Andover. Forty years ago, to visit that fair was a great event : and Bettesworth kindled with glowing recollection of the exciting things he had experienced at Weyhill. He tried to tell me of a song which ” colts ” or strangers to the fair were called upon to sing ; but, breaking down in that, he passed on eagerly to tell of “driving for the ribbons” — the ribbons that rewarded the carter who brought the first load of hops on to the hill. ” I’ve drove,” he said, ” all night, purty near a trot, purpose for to git the ribbons. There’s four bunches o’ ribbons for your ‘orses. . . . Who gives ‘m to ye ? Ooh — I dunno. . . . They up there. I s’pose it comes out o’ the fair, . . . You should see our old Miss laugh when we come ‘ome with the ribbons. One o’ the Burtons, she was — reg’lar rich people. Why, she ‘ad fifty thousan’ pound come to her all in one lump — an’ no family. Very nice sort o’ woman she was, too. . . .”

Here, without explanation, my notes revert to the song already mentioned, and the ceremony called “horning” connected with it. At a certain inn at Weyhill there were two horns mounted so that the ” colt ” could wear them on his head while singing. And ” there was a little place in ‘tween the horns, purpose for to put a half-pint cup full o’ beer in. Him what ‘ad the *orns, he used to have to sing this here song ; and then he had to pay the fine if he didn’t sing it right.” Doubtless the fine was beer free to all the company. Sometimes, probably as often as possible, an old stager, if well-to-do, would be caught and expected to ” treat ” handsomely, Once they ” horned ” an older brother of Farmer Barnes. Said he, ” ‘ You thinks you got hold o’ a fine colt, I dessay ; but I thinks he’s more of a old ‘oss.’ ” But the ” old ‘oss ” enjoyed the fun, and contributed half a sovereign for beer. Be sure, too, that Bettesworth was in the thick of these games. ” I ‘ad ’em on three times one year. They didn’t know but what I was a colt. And I liked ‘avin’ of ‘m on.” Pressed for the words of the song, he could give me only the refrain :
” Harn, boys ! harn !
Drink like yer daddy wi’ the long pair o’ harns !”
and one other line. I owe it to a friend’s inquiries in other directions, that I am able here to give a version of the song that is at least complete so far as it goes : —
” So fleet run the hare, so cunnin’ run the fox,
Why should not this young calf grow to be an ox ?
For to get his livin’, through briars and through thorns,
And die like his daddy with his long pair o’ horns.
Horns, boys, horns !
Horns, boys, horns !
And drink like his daddy with the long pair o’ horns.”

The Wearing Of The Horns (Weyhill On My Mind) 1

On The Chalk (Our Navigation Of The Line Of The Downs) is out on 20 May and available to pre-order here.

Stephen will be playing records at the Holloway book launch at Rough Trade East on Tuesday.