BOARDMAN, HARRY – MANCHESTER BALLADS – 1983. Manchester Education Committee.  


This is not so much a book, as a collection of thirty-five loose leaf ballads in a booklet presentation, though they are best read in chronological order, to give a history of the Northern English city and its changing fortunes through the Industrial Revolution. The ballads cover a one hundred year period from 1785-1885. The first, The Soldier’s Farewell To Manchester is a soldier lamenting to his girlfriend that he has to leave her to go and fight in the Napoleonic wars. She contemplates dressing as a man to accompany him, but he persuades her of the folly of this and goes. The second, Mr. Sadler’s Balloon tells of a demonstration flight of a hot air balloon, in Manchester, at a street now called appropriately, Balloon Street, in Shudehill. The song is humorous, but includes a prophetic vision of balloons being used to bomb cities. The zeppelin raids of WW1 would make that prophesy all too true. There is a powerful attack on the men who initiated the Peterloo massacre, (The Meeting At Peterloo) More light hearted and optimistic is Manchester’s Improving Daily, about the joys of waking up to new wonders in the city every day, including the fabulous clock tower which attracted tourists in droves to visit the Manchester Infirmary (Now removed). Manchester At Twelve O Clock tells how everyone stopped for lunch simultaneously, giving some sense of community before work recommenced. There are songs denouncing the horrors of prison life, such as that of the treadmill at Millgate Prison, which prisoners had to walk virtually every day. There are two songs on the Manchester Ship Canal, one about the commencement of the project, and the other in light hearted vein celebrating how Manchester has become a seaport town now. There is a dark song on the terrors of the great Flood, which sent coffins from graveyards like Philips’s Park floating down the streets. The best known ballad here is The Calico Printer’s Clerk about a girl who loves dancing, and the boyfriend who despairs when she dances away with the Printer’s Clerk of the title. Many folk groups, including the Spinners, covered the song. An audio CD recording of the ballads by Mark Dowding and Chris Harvey accompanied this unique book without binding, and both book and CD are available through Mark Dowding’s website. It is a history as much as an entertainment. Well worth a look and a listen.


© Copyright. Arthur Chappell

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