The Manchester Ballads

The Manchester Ballads is a collection of thirty five broadside ballads dating from the time of the industrial revolution. Collected by two local historians and folk music enthusiasts and published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, The Manchester Ballads was produced in a handsome hardback card case (Fig 2), and is in the form of a folio collection of loose-leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets.

There is accompanying text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. There are tunes suggested to allow the ballads to be sung communally in pubs and at home, and whilst penny broadsides were produced in the many hundreds, many were written to be sung to well known tunes. The impoverished audience would, with few exceptions, have no ability to read music (Boardman and Boardman 1973) and many would also be totally illiterate, only learning the songs through the oral tradition of singing in pubs, at markets and in local homes.

By repeatedly using well known tunes, the songs could reach a wider audience. This also meant that publishers could pay ‘hack writers’ to add new words to existing music, saving money on the production costs (Palmer 1980) as composers were rarely employed. The earliest ballad in this collection dates from 1785, the latest 1882, although within the wider collection of broadside ballads there are printed versions of songs that date back to 1550, and many are thought to be derived from folk songs passed down through the oral tradition for many years before they were ever printed (Boardman and Boardman 1974).

David Jennings (2015)

Manchester Ballads cover

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