Union Songs

The coalowner and the pitman's wife

A Song by William Hornsby

A dialogue I'll tell you as true as my life
Between a coal owner and a poor pitman's wife
As she was a walkin all on the highway
She met a coal owner and this she did say
Derry down, down, down derry down

Good morning Lord Firedamp, this woman she said
I'll do you no harm, Sir, so don't be afraid
If you'd been where I've been the most of my life
You wouldn't turn pale at a poor pitman's wife
Derry down, down, down derry down

Then where do you come from, the owner he cries
I come from Hell, the woman replies
If you come from hell, then come tell me right plain
How you contrived to get out again
Derry down, down, down derry down

Aye the way I got out, the truth I will tell
They're turning the poor folk all out of hell
This is to make room for the rich wicked race
For there is a great number of them in that place
Derry down, down, down derry down

And the coal owners is the next on command
To arrive in hell, as I understand
For I heard the old devil say as I came out
The coal-owners all had received their rout
Derry down, down, down derry down

Then how does the old devil behave in that place
Oh sir, he is cruel to the rich wicked race
He is far more crueller than you could suppose
He's like a mad bull with a ring through his nose
Derry down, down, down derry down

If you be a coal owner, sir, take my advice
And agree with your men and give them a fair price
For if and you do not, I know very well
You'll be in great danger of going to hell
Derry down, down, down derry down

For all you coalowners great fortunes has made
By those jovial men that works in the coal trade
Now how can you think to prosper and thrive
By wanting to starve your poor workmen alive
Derry down, down, down derry down

So come ye poor pitmen and join heart and hand
For when you're of work all trade's at a stand
In the town of Newcastle all cry out amain
Oh gin the pits were at work once again
Derry down, down, down derry down


A.L.Lloyd writes in his Folk Song in England
"Seemingly it was made at the time of the 1844 Durham strike by a colier, William Hornsby of Shotton Moor... in using a classical ballad form, the pitman-songmaker was not inspired by a romantic wish to revive the beauties of past folk song. In fact, no doubt involuntarily, his ballad emerges rather as a witty caracature of the lyric of former times. The tune belongs to the great family of "Henry Martin" and a score of ballads with 'derrydown' refrain"

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