Nottamun Town

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"Nottamun Town" (Roud # 1044) is an English folk song that dates from the late medieval period.[1] It was brought from England to North America during the early colonial era.

In England it was considered a "lost song", not sung since the early 18th century; though the words were preserved on paper, the melody was forgotten. Musicologists in North America discovered people in parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains still singing the song in the early twentieth century. All of these singers were illiterate, and the song had been passed down to them through oral tradition since the 1600s. The song was found in regions as geographically distant as the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield, West Virginia, East Tennessee and North Georgia, though in all cases the melody and lyrics were the same, despite the singers not knowing one another, and being located hundreds of miles apart from one another. The work of British musicologist Cecil Sharp is credited with preserving songs such as Nottamun Town for future generations.[2][3][4]


Most versions of the song run along these lines:

In fair Nottamun Town, not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town
I rode a grey horse, a mule roany mare
Grey mane and grey tail, green striped on his back
Grey mane and grey tail, green striped on his back
There weren't a hair on her but what was coal black
She stood so still, She threw me to the dirt
She tore-a my hide, and she bruised my shirt
From saddle to stirrup I mounted again
And on my ten toes I rode over the plain
Met the King and the Queen and the company more
Came a riding behind and a walking before
Come a stark naked drummer, a-beating a drum
With his heels in his bosom come marching along
They laughed and they smiled, not a soul did look gay
They talked all the while, not a word they did say
I bought me a quart to drive gladness away
And to stifle the dust, for it rained the whole day
Sat down on a hard, hot cold frozen stone
Ten thousand stood round me yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hand, for to keep my head warm
Ten thousand got drowned that never was born

In America[edit]

The song was discovered in a handful of locations spread through the Appalachian mountains, and their remoteness from each other suggest that the song was brought to America from England. It has been recorded by Jean Ritchie.

Bob Dylan borrowed the melody to "Nottamun town" for his 1963 song "Masters of War" on the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.[5]

Iain Matthews used the melody for his song "So Many Eyes" on the 1996 album God Looked Down. However, there was previously a reference in Second Spring (1969) on the track "Southern Comfort" written by Sylvia Tyson.

Origins and versions[edit]

The song is fairly popular in the English Midlands, particularly in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Southern Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, which lends credence to the theory that the Nottamun in the song is a corruption of Nottingham.

Theories abound as to the meaning of the song, but two are generally accepted as probable:[citation needed]

  • That it derives from the Feast of Fools or Mummers' Plays and their absurd topsy-turvy worlds.
  • That it refers to the English Civil War. In this war, Charles I of England raised his first army around Nottingham and it may be a corruption of that city's name that gives the song its title. A popular theme at the time with diarists and pamphleteers was 'The World Turned Upside Down' and there are many famous woodcuts dating from this period with illustrations of cats chasing dogs, men wearing boots on their hands and the like.

Well-known versions have been recorded by Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch. The British folk artist Steve Tilston has recorded a version with contemporary lyrics on his 2011 album 'The Reckoning'. The English folk trio Lady Maisery recorded a version of this song, 'Nottamun Fair', which appears on their 2011 album Weave and Spin.

English folk rock band Galley Beggar recorded Nottamun Town on their second album in 2012.

Cats Laughing recorded the song on Another Way to Travel.

John Langstaff recorded the song on the album of the same name.

LA producer Listenbee recorded a dance/electronic version of the song in 2015. [6]


  1. ^ David Hajdu, Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, p. 141
  2. ^ Hal Rammel, Nowhere in America: The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias, p. 84
  3. ^ Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, p. 166
  4. ^ Dean Tudor, Popular Music: Annotated Guide to Recordings, p. 139
  5. ^ Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973, p. 116
  6. ^ Listenbee – Nottamun Town, retrieved 2018-04-07

External links[edit]