A well-remembered scene in Arthur Ransome's stories for children is Chapter IX of Swallowdale in which the ninety-year-old Neddy Swainson sings the Holm Bank hunting song, to the great delight of the eight-year-old Roger Walker. Neddy's song is a variant of one that seems to have been well-known in the North of England. For example, a collection of 1811 with the title Songs of the Chace [sic] has a 24-stanza version, the first two stanzas being as follows:
One morning last winter, to Shirley Park came|
A noble brave sportsman, George Vernon by name;
Came hunting the Fox, for bold Reynard must die,
So they threw out the trail, and began for to try.
'Twas early in the morning, e'er day did them greet,|
A great many sportsmen appointed to meet;
To meet 'Squire Vernon, of honour and fame;
His hounds they bring glory and praise to his name.
The version of the song that Ransome used appears in Chapter XXXVII of a collection of essays The Heart of England (Dent, 1906) by his friend Edward Thomas, and celebrates a legendary hunt of 1743. From a Note in that book and a letter of 17th May 1906 (see R.G. Thomas (ed.) Letters from Edward Thomas to Gordon Bottomley, OUP 1968, p. 110) it appears that Thomas learnt the Holm Bank hunting song from George Rathbone, who in turn collected it from a folk singer during the annual Westmorland Musical Festival.
Graythwaite Hall is on the West side of Windermere, not far from Hill Top, where Ransome spent his last years, and Rusland, where he is buried. The Sandys family have lived at the Hall for over 500 years. Myles Sandys, the present incumbent, shares the same name as his illustrious hunting ancestor. He kindly allowed me to photograph the two splendid paintings shown below: click on the caption to see a larger reproduction.
One morning last winter to Holm Bank there came|
A noble, brave sportsman, Squire Sandys was his name,
Came a-hunting the fox, bold Reynard must die,
And he flung out his train and began for to cry,
Tally-ho, tally ho! Hark forward away, tally-ho! The season being frosty, and the morning being clear,
A great many gentlemen appoint to meet there;
To meet with Squire Sands with honour and fame
And his dogs in their glory to honour his name.
There's Gaby the huntsman with his horn in his hand,
It's hark dogs together, while Jona comes in,
There's Driver and Gamester, two excellent hounds,
Three times round low Furness they chased him full hard,
The dogs coming up made Reynard look sly,
Through Kirkby and Woodland they nimbly passed,
Since Reynard is dead he'll do no more ill,
Of such a fox chase as never was known,
You gentlemen and sportsmen wherever you be,
Edward Thomas gives the name of the squire as 'Sands'. In his extract from the song in Swallowdale Ransome gives the correct spelling shown above.
The Holm Bank Hunt
St John's Church, Ulpha
For an instrumental version of the song played by the Scotforth Duo (Suzanna Ivanic flute and Tim Ivanic guitar) click here (WAV version 1.38 Mb) or here (MP3 version 500 Kb).