A wander through the family history of the Luxtons, my maternal grandmother’s family, brought an encounter with Roger Luxton of Bratton Clovelly in Devon, a man presented as an ideal grandfatherly figure by the clergyman and writer Sabine Baring Gould. In Old Country Life, Baring Gould describes his meeting with Roger Luxton:
“At Halwell, in North Devon, lives a fine old man named Roger Luxton, aged seventy-six, a great-grandfather, with bright eyes and an intelligent face. He stays about among his grandchildren, but is usually found at the picturesque farm-house of a daughter at Halwell, called Croft.
This old man was once very famous as a song-man, but his memory fails him as to a good number of the ballads he was wont to sing.
“Ah, your honour,” said he, “in old times us used to be welcome in every farm-house, at all shearing and haysel and harvest feasts; but, bless’y! now the farmers’ da’ters all learn the pianny, and zing nort but twittery sort of pieces that have nother music nor sense in them; and they don’t care to hear us, and any decent sort of music. And there be now no more shearing and haysel and harvest feasts. All them things be given up.
Tain’t the same world as used to be—’taint so cheerful. Folks don’t zing over their work, and laugh after it. There be no dances for the youngsters as there used to was. The farmers be too grand to care to talk to us old chaps, and for certain don’t care to hear us zing. Why for nigh on forty years us old zinging-fellows have been drove to the public-houses to zing, and to a different quality of hearers too.
And now I reckon the labouring folk be so tree-mendious edicated that they don’t care to hear our old songs nother. ‘Tis all Pop goes the Weasel and Ehren on the Rhine now. I reckon folks now have got different ears from what they used to have, and different hearts too. More’s the pity.”
“A fine old man,” but Baring Gould seems to bring a Victorian reforming zeal to Roger Luxton’s work. He collected four songs from the Bratton Clovelly farmer, only one of which he did not feel a need to rewrite:
Constant Johnny. Words and melody taken down from Roger Luxton. It was a dialogue, and so Mr. Sheppard had arranged it. Such lover dialogues are and were very commonly sung in farmhouses. Ravenscroft gives one in broad Devonshire in his “Brief Discourse,” 1614, entitled, “Hodge Trellindle and his Zweethart Malkyn.” Our ballad seems to be based on “Doubtful Robin and Constant Nanny,” circ. 1680, in the “Roxburgh Ballads.” These dialogue songs between a lover and his lass were very popular. Addison, in The Guardian of 1713, gives snatches of a West Country ballad of this kind, and shows how vastly superior it is to the pastorals of Dresden china shepherds and shepherdesses of Pope and Philips.
However, it is a china figure sort of rural life that Baring Gould wants.
Furze Bloom: The melody from Roger Luxton to the words of the ballad, “Gosport Beach,” which could not possibly be inserted here. I have accordingly written fresh words to it
The Blue Flame. Melody taken down by Mr. W. Crossing, from an old moor man, to “Rosemary Lane.” Roger Luxton and James Parsons also sang “Rosemary Lane” to the same air. The words are objectionable.
Plymouth Sound. Melody taken down from Roger Luxton to a song of this name. There are three songs that go by the title of “Plymouth Sound” on Broadsides, by Keys, of Devonport, and by Such; but all are coarse and undesirable. I have therefore written fresh words to this delicious air.
The fine old man seemed to know some rude songs (and those were songs he was prepared to sing to the clergyman, his wider repertoire might have shocked Baring Gould).