The Horkey: a Provincial Ballad



In the descriptive ballad which follows, it will be evident that I have endeavoured to preserve the style of a gossip, and to transmit the memorial of a custom, the extent or antiquity of which I am not acquainted with, and pretend not to inquire.

In Suffolk husbandry the man who, (whether by merit or by sufferance I know not) goes foremost through the harvest with the scythe or the sickle, is honoured with the title of ‘Lord,’ and at the Horkey, or harvest-home feast, collects what he can, for himself and brethren, from the farmers and visitors, to make a ‘frolick’ afterwards, called ‘the largess spending.’ By way of returning thanks, though perhaps formerly of much more, or of different signification, they immediately leave the seat of festivity, and with a very long and repeated shout of a ‘largess’ (the number of shouts being regulated by the sums given) seem to wish to make themselves heard by the people of the surrounding farms. And before they rejoin the company within, the pranks and the jollity I have endeavoured to describe, usually take place. These customs, I believe, are going fast out of use; which is one great reason for my trying to tell the rising race of mankind that such were the customs when I was a boy.

I have annexed a glossary of such words as may be found by general readers to require explanation: And will add a short extract from Sir Thomas Brown, of Norwich, M. D. who was born three years before Milton, and outlived him eight years.

‘It were not impossible to make an original reduction of many words of no general reception in England, but of common use in Norfolk, or peculiar to the East-Angle counties; as Baund, Bunny, Thurk, Enemis, Matchly, Sammodithee, Mawther, Kedge, Seele, Straft, Clever, Dere, Nicked, Stingy, Noneare, Feft, Thepes, Gosgood, Kamp, Sibret, Fangast, Sap, Cothish, Thokish, Bide-owe, Paxwax. Of these, and some others, of no easy originals, when time will permit, the resolution shall be attempted; which to effect, the Danish language, new, and more ancient, may prove of good advantage: which nation remained here fifty years upon agreement, and have left many families in it; and the language of these parts had surely been more commixed and perplex, if the fleet of Hugo de Bones had not been cast away, wherein threescore thousand souldiers, out of Britany and Flanders, were to be wafted over, and were, by King John’s appointment, to have a settled habitation in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.’—Tract the viii. on Languages, particularly the Saxon. Folio, 1686, page 48. [1] 

What gossips prattled in the sun,
Who talk’d him fairly down,
Up, Memory! tell; ’tis Suffolk fun,
And lingo of their own.
Ah! Judie Twitchet! [2]  though thou’rt dead,5
With thee the tale begins;
For still seems thrumming in my head
The rattling of thy pins.
Thou Queen of knitters! for a ball
Of worsted was thy pride;10
With dangling stockings great and small,
And world of clack beside!
‘We did so laugh; the moon shone bright;
More fun you never knew;
’Twas Farmer Cheerum’s Horkey night,15
And I, and Grace, and Sue—
But bring a stool, sit round about,
And boys, be quiet, pray;
And let me tell my story out;
’Twas sitch a merry day!20
The butcher whistled at the door,
And brought a load of meat;
Boys rubb’d their hands, and cried, “there’s more,”
Dogs wagg’d their tails to see’t.
On went the boilers till the hake [3] 25
Had much ado to bear ’em;
The magpie talk’d for talking sake,
Birds sung;—but who could hear ’em?
Creak went the jack; the cats were scar’d,
We had not time to heed ’em,30
The owd hins cackled in the yard,
For we forgot to feed ’em!
Yet ’twas not I, as I may say,
Because as how, d’ye see,
I only help’d there for the day;35
They cou’dn’t lay’t to me.
Now Mrs. Cheerum’s best lace cap
Was mounted on her head;
Guests at the door began to rap,
And now the cloth was spread.40
Then clatter went the earthen plates—
“Mind, Judie,” was the cry;
I could have cop’t [4]  them at their pates;
“Trenchers for me,” said I,
That look so clean upon the ledge,45
And never mind [5]  a fall;
Nor [6]  never turn a sharp knife’s edge,
But fashion rules us all.
Home came the jovial Horkey load,
Last of the whole year’s crop;50
And Grace amongst the green boughs rode
Right plump upon the top.
This way and that the waggon reel’d,
And never queen rode higher;
Her cheeks were colour’d in the field,55
And ours before the fire.
The laughing harvest-folks, and John,
Came in and look’d askew;
’Twas my red face that set them on,
And then they leer’d at Sue.60
And Farmer Cheerum went, good man,
And broach’d the Horkey beer;
And sitch a mort [7]  of folks began
To eat up our good cheer.
Says he, “Thank God for what’s before us;65
That thus we meet agen;”
The mingling voices, like a chorus,
Join’d cheerfully, “Amen.”—
Welcome and plenty, there they found ’em,
The ribs of beef grew light;70
And puddings—till the boys got round ’em,
And then they vanish’d quite!
Now all the guests, with Farmer Crouder,
Began to prate of corn;
And we found out they talk’d the louder,75
The oftner pass’d the Horn.
Out came the nuts; we set a cracking;
The ale came round our way;
By gom, we women fell a clacking
As loud again as they.80
John sung “Old Benbow” loud and strong,
And I, “The Constant Swain,”
“Cheer up, my Lads,” was Simon’s song,
“We’ll conquer them again.”
Now twelve o’clock was drawing nigh,85
And all in merry cue;
I knock’d the cask, “O, ho!” said I,
“We’ve almost conquer’d you.”
My Lord [8]  begg’d round, and held his hat,
Says Farmer Gruff, says he,90
“There’s many a Lord, Sam, I know that,
Has begg’d as well as thee.”
Bump in his hat the shillings tumbl’d
All round among the folks;
“Laugh if you wool,” said Sam, and mumbl’d,95
“You pay for all your jokes.”
Joint stock you know among the men,
To drink at their own charges;
So up they got full drive, and then
Went out to halloo largess. [9] 100
And sure enough the noise they made!!—
—But let me mind my tale:
We follow’d them, we worn’t afraid,
We’ad all been drinking ale.
As they stood hallooing back to back,105
We, lightly as a feather,
Went sideling round, and in a crack
Had pinn’d their coats together.
’Twas near upon’t as light as noon;
A largess”, on the hill,110
They shouted to the full round moon,
I think I hear ’em still!
But when they found the trick, my stars!
They well knew who to blame,
Our giggles turn’d to ha, [10]  ha, ha’s,115
And arter us they came.
Grace by the tumbril made a squat,
Then ran as Sam came by,
They said she could not run for fat; [11] 
I know she did not try.120
Sue round the neathouse [12]  squalling ran,
Where Simon scarcely dare;
He stopt,—for he’s fearful man—
By gom there’s suffen [13]  there! [14] 
And off set John, with all his might,125
To chase me down the yard,
Till I was nearly gran’d [15]  outright;
He hugg’d so woundly [16]  hard.
Still they kept up the race and laugh,
And round the house we flew;130
But hark ye! the best fun by half
Was Simon arter Sue.
She car’d not, dark nor light, not she,
So, near the dairy door
She pass’d a clean white hog, you see,135
They’d kilt the day before.
High on the spirket [17]  there it hung,—
“Now, Susie—what can save ye?”
Round the cold pig his arms he flung,
And cried, “Ah! here I have ye!”140
The farmers heard what Simon said,
And what a noise! good lack!
Some almost laugh’d themselves to dead
And others clapt his back.
We all at once began to tell145
What fun we had abroad;
But Simon stood our jeers right well;
—He fell asleep and snor’d.
Then in his button-hole upright,
Did Farmer Crouder put150
A slip of paper, twisted tight,
And held the candle to’t.
It smok’d, and smok’d, beneath his nose,
The harmless blaze crept higher;
Till with a vengeance up he rose,155
Grace, [18]  Judie, Sue! fire, fire!
The clock struck one—some talk’d of parting,
Some said it was a sin,
And hitch’d their chairs;—but those for starting
Now let the moonlight in.160
Owd women, loitering for the nonce, [19] 
Stood praising the fine weather;
The menfolks took the hint at once
To kiss them altogether.
And out ran every soul beside,165
A shanny-pated [20]  crew;
Owd folks could neither run nor hide,
So some ketch’d one, some tew.
They skriggl’d [21]  and began to scold,
But laughing got the master;170
Some quack’ling [22]  cried, “let go your hold;”
The farmers held the faster.
All innocent, that I’ll be sworn,
There worn’t a bit of sorrow,
And women, if their gowns are torn,175
Can mend them on the morrow.
Our shadows helter skelter danc’d
About the moonlight ground;
The wondering sheep, as on we pranc’d,
Got up and gaz’d around.180
And well they might—till Farmer Cheerum,
Now with a hearty glee,
Bade all good morn as he came near ’em,
And then to bed went he.
Then off we stroll’d this way and that,185
With merry voices ringing;
And Echo answered us right pat,
As home we rambl’d singing.
For, when we laugh’d, it laugh’d again,
And to our own doors follow’d!190
“Yo, ho!” we cried; “Yo, ho!” so plain,
The misty meadow halloo’d.
That’s all my tale, and all the fun,
Come, turn your wheels about;
My worsted, see!—that’s nicely done,195
Just held my story out!!’
Poor Judie!—Thus Time knits or spins
The worsted from Life’s ball!
Death stopt thy tales, and stopt thy pins,
—And so he’ll serve us all.200


[1] [Bloomfield cites Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82), The Works of the Learned Sr Thomas Brown, Kt., Doctor of Physick, late of Norwich. Containing I. Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors. II. Religio Medici: With Annotations and Observations upon it. III. Hydriotaphia; or, Urn-Burial: Together with The Garden of Cyrus. IV. Certain Miscellany Tracts (London, 1686).] BACK

[2] All editions except Poems [Stereotype] include a note by Bloomfield:] Judie Twitchet was a real person, who lived many years with my mother’s cousin Bannock, at Honington. BACK

[3] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] A sliding pot-hook. BACK

[4] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] Thrown. BACK

[5] Never mind] proof against Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[6] Nor] They Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[7] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] Such a number. BACK

[8] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] The leader of the reapers. BACK

[9] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] See advertisement. BACK

[10] Ha] loud Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[11] Grace . . . . fat;] The hindmost was the dairy-maid, / And Sam came blundering by; / he could not shun him, so they said; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[12] All editions except Poems [Stereotype] include a note by Bloomfield:] Cow-house. BACK

[13] All editions except Poems [Stereotype] include a note by Bloomfield:] Something. BACK

[14] Sue . . . there] This stanza is omitted in Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[15] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] Strangled BACK

[16] woundly] woundy all editions after 1806 BACK

[17] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] An iron hook. BACK

[18] Grace] Fire Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[19] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] For the purpose. BACK

[20] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] Giddy, thoughtless. BACK

[21] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] To struggle quick. BACK

[22] All editions include a note by Bloomfield:] Choaking. BACK