Widecombe Fair (song)

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"Widecombe Fair", also called Tom Pearce (sometimes spelt "Tam Pierce"), is a well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his friends.[1] Its chorus ends with a long list of the people travelling to the fair: "Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all." Some research suggests that the names originally referred to real people.[2]

As the last name in a long list, "Uncle Tom Cobley" has come to be used as a humorous colloquialism meaning "anyone and everyone". The surname is spelt as "Cobleigh" in some references.

History[edit]

The song was published by Sabine Baring-Gould in the book Songs and Ballads of the West (1889–91) (referring to the West Country in England), though it also exists in variant forms.[2] The title is spelt "Widdecombe Fair" in the original publication, though "Widecombe" is now the standard spelling of the town Widecombe-in-the-Moor. The ghostly 'Grey Mare' of the song may in fact refer to a lost folk custom similar to the Mari Lwyd or Hobby Horse of Welsh and Cornish tradition.

Local historians have tried to identify the characters in the song. Tony Beard, a member of the local history group that has researched the song says "I'm convinced the characters were real people", concluding that they are likely to have been inhabitants of the Spreyton area and that the song may commemorate an event that happened in 1802.[2]

Versions[edit]

A comic version with dramatic dialogue spoken by the characters, including Mrs Pearce, was recorded in 1930 by the Regal Dramatic players.[3] A review in Gramophone says it is "played with spirit and indeterminate dialect".[4] A straight version was also recorded by Raymond Newell. In 1932 Newell also appeared in Columbia on Parade, a record which included a version with other British singing stars at the time, who replaced the familiar list of names with their own.[5]

It was recorded by Burl Ives on 11 February 1941[6] for his debut album Okeh Presents the Wayfaring Stranger, introduced with a spoken explanation of the ghostly aspects of the song. Since then, it has been recorded by many others, including Paul Austin Kelly and Jon Pertwee in the persona of Worzel Gummidge.[7]

George Adamson, who lived for many years in Devon, illustrated the song as a picture book for children with the title Widdecombe Fair. First published by Faber and Faber in 1966, Adamson later converted his drawings into a lively poster.[8] "George Adamson has drawn a set of earthy characters to ride Tom Pearse's grey mare in the famous West Country song that are so obviously just right for their names. The colours are sombre, but there is humour and sly detail to delight an observant child." The Tablet[9]

The song lyrics, in full[edit]

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

And when shall I see again my grey mare?
All along, down along, out along lea.
By Friday soon, or Saturday noon,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And off they drove to Widecombe fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Then Friday came, and Saturday noon.
All along, down along, out along lea.
But Tom Pearce's old mare hath not trotted home,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

So Tom Pearce he got up to the top o' the hill.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And he seed his old mare down a-making her will,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

So Tom Pearce's old mare, her took sick and died.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And Tom he sat down on a stone, and he cried
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

But this isn't the end o' this shocking affair.
All along, down along, out along lea.
Nor, though they be dead, of the horrid career
Of Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of the night.
All along, down along, out along lea.
Tom Pearce's old mare doth appear ghastly white,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

And all the long night be heard skirling and groans.
All along, down along, out along lea.
From Tom Pearce's old mare in her rattling bones,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.


References[edit]

  1. ^ Digital Tradition Folk Music Database: link
  2. ^ a b c BBC: Devon - Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
  3. ^ Regal MR145, 1930.
  4. ^ Gramophone, October, 1930.
  5. ^ Columbia on Parade, in which Nineteen of Columbia's Greatest Artists and Bands provide a Unique Entertainment, CAX 6245 DX249.
  6. ^ Naxos: link
  7. ^ iTunes: Music Store
  8. ^ See the Widdecombe Fair page on the George Adamson web site.
  9. ^ Janet Bruce, The Tablet''