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Personal Choice 59

Songs my Grandmother Sang

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,

Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,

The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey,

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

Sing a Song of Sixpence is an English nursery rhyme, perhaps originating in the 18th century. It is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index as number 13191. The sixpence in the rhyme is a British coin that was first minted in 1551. The rhyme's origins are uncertain. References have been inferred in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (c.1602), (Twelfth Night), where Sir Toby Belch tells a clown: ‘Come on; there is sixpence for you: let's have a song’ and in Beaumont and Fletcher's 1614 play Bonduca, which contains the line ‘Whoa, here's a stir now! Sing a song o' sixpence!’

Bobby Shafto

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,

Silver buckles at his knee;

He’ll come back and marry me,

Bonny Bobby Shafto!

Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,

Panning out his yellow hair;

He’s my love for evermore,

Bonny Bobby Shafto!

Bobby Shafto is an English folk song and nursery rhyme, mostly associated with Robert Shafto, a British Member of Parliament for County Durham (elected in 1730) who used this song in his election campaign. The song is also associated with Bridget Belasyse, the heiress of Brancepeth Castle, who suffered when Robert Shafto broke her heart and got married to the heiress of Duncombe Park in Yorkshire, Anne Duncombe. It is said that she died two weeks after she found out the news. It is believed that the real Bobby Shafto was Irish, who lived in County Wicklow in the 18th century. This is the first published version of the song from 1805.

Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major

Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant-Major

Tuck me in my little wooden bed

Don’t forget to wake me in the morning

And bring me ’round a nice hot cup of tea

Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant-Major

Sergeant-Major, be a mother to me.

Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major is an English song written in 1939 and is considered a WWII soldier’s song. Though this piece is written by Art Noel and Dan Pelosi, the most famous recording is by Arthur Askey, as well as many others including The Friends of Fiddler’s Green on their This Side Of The Ocean album, Vera Lynn, George Formby, Chas & Dave, Sod’s Opera, Len Luscombe, Elsie Carlisle and Max Bygraves, whom were all famous for their work during the second world war.

These are the very first words I heard as lyrics from my grandmother’s lips as she sang us to sleep each night. I can remember being very afraid of the dark as a child with a recurring fear of not waking up in the morning. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? (Robert Hayden). Perhaps then just her sung comfort and her love of verse and us.


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