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Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe

GUEST,Dan 30 Aug 07 - 03:19 AM
GUEST,Dan 30 Aug 07 - 11:49 AM
Roberto 30 Aug 07 - 12:35 PM
Malcolm Douglas 30 Aug 07 - 05:21 PM
GUEST,Dan 03 Sep 07 - 03:13 AM
andrewq 03 Sep 07 - 04:30 AM
Charley Noble 03 Sep 07 - 04:35 PM
Jim Dixon 05 Sep 07 - 09:03 PM
Malcolm Douglas 05 Sep 07 - 10:03 PM
GUEST,Dan 06 Sep 07 - 02:57 AM
Malcolm Douglas 06 Sep 07 - 07:14 PM
Steve Shaw 12 Jan 11 - 10:43 AM
GUEST, Sminky 12 Jan 11 - 11:00 AM
Steve Shaw 12 Jan 11 - 12:41 PM
Steve Shaw 12 Jan 11 - 12:55 PM
Steve Shaw 12 Jan 11 - 12:57 PM
Taconicus 12 Jan 11 - 01:48 PM
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Subject: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: GUEST,Dan
Date: 30 Aug 07 - 03:19 AM

Does anyone know the lyrics or have further information on this song?

It's performed (quite splendidly) by Tim van Eyken and his band. Googling the title only brings up references to his version. Is it traditionally known by another name?

Many thanks for any help.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: GUEST,Dan
Date: 30 Aug 07 - 11:49 AM


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: Roberto
Date: 30 Aug 07 - 12:35 PM

I've tried to find something, but with no results, up to now. I think the best thing to do is to make a transcription of some of the most important verses and try to see if they match with something in the web, and maybe find a song with the same story and a different title...

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 30 Aug 07 - 05:21 PM

Is there no information on the cd? It's a form of 'The Lady Isabella's Tragedy' with the title changed. For background, see thread

Stepmother's cruelty

There is an unprovenanced text in the DT:


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: GUEST,Dan
Date: 03 Sep 07 - 03:13 AM

That's the one, Malcolm! Many thanks. There is no information on the CD apart from 'Trad. Arr.'

Thanks again.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: andrewq
Date: 03 Sep 07 - 04:30 AM

Fair Ellen of Radcliffe is in several of the Victorian anthologies of Lancashire verse including the daddy of them all, 'Ballads and Songs of Lancashire' by Harland and Wilkinson. It's the version that Tim van Eyken uses—whether from there or reprinted elsewhere. Here's what Harland and Wilkinson had to say about the ballad (Third Edition 1882):


Amongst the common people in the neighbourhood of Radcliffe and Bury, a story is currently believed that the kitchen of Radcliffe Tower was the scene of a cruel tragedy, perpetrated by a menial on the daughter of the lord, to gratify the malice and cupidity of a stepmother; and a red stain on the floor marked, as it is said, the place where the victim fixed her bloody hand while her murderer perpetrated the atrocity. Although there is nothing in the family history of the Radcliffes to support this tradition, and although for 100 years back, at least, there has been no such relic to be found in Radcliffe Tower, the tradition is not on that account the less firmly believed. A ballad of the murder, under the title of "The Lady Isabella's Tragedy," is printed in Bishop Percy's Reliques, with the following introduction:—"This ballad is given from an old black-letter copy, in the Pepys collection collated with another in the British Museum (H. 263, fol.) It is there entitled 'The Lady Isabella's Tragedy, or the Stepmother's Cruelty; being a relation of a lamentable and cruel murther, committed on the body of the Lady Isabella, the only daughter to a noble Duke,' etc. To the tune of 'The Lady's Fall.' To some copies are annexed eight more modern stanzas, entitled, 'The Duchess's and Cook's Lamentation.'" The legend runs somewhat thus:—"In times long past, Sir William de Radcliffe possessed Radcliffe Tower. His first wife had died in giving birth to her first child, a girl, who, when she grew up, became remarkable for her beauty. But, in the meantime, Sir William had married again, and the stepmother, a haughty and ambitious woman, cordially hated the only person who divided her husband's affections with herself. One day, when Ellen was about eighteen years of age, Sir William went out hunting. This seemed to the stepmother a good opportunity for the execution of a nefarious design she had long cherished. Calling her daughter to her, she said, 'Fair daughter, go, I beseech thee, and tell the master-cook that he must dress the white doe for dinner.' The damsel, unconscious of any harm, did as she was requested. When she had delivered her message the cook said, 'You are the white doe my lady means; and it is you I must kill.' In vain did the unhappy victim implore and intreat, and in vain did a scullion boy offer himself in her place; the damsel was killed, and made into a pie. In the meantime, Sir William's chase had been long and animated; but he was unable to drive away a foreboding of ill that kept crossing his mind, and at last he felt impelled to order his retinue to return. At dinner he called for his daughter to carve for him, as was her wont, but she appeared not. On asking his wife where she was, she urged as an excuse that she was gone into a nunnery, but the scullion boy exclaimed, ''Tis false; cut open that pie and there you will find your daughter!' He then related the sad catastrophe, and the cruel stepmother was condemned to be burned at the stake, and the cook to stand in boiling lead. The scullion boy was declared the heir of all his lord's possessions."

Dr. Whitaker, in his History of Whalley, says:—

"To this place and family (Radcliffe of Radcliffe Tower) are attached the tradition and ballad given by Dr. Percy under the name of 'Isabella,' but here applied to a Lord Thomas and Fair Ellenor, father and daughter, whose figures are supposed to be graven on a slab in the church, [This slab Dr. Whitaker describes as "an alabaster slab, north-west of the altar in Radcliffe church, covering the remains of James de Radcliffe, founder of the church. There are, as usual, a male and female figure cumbent, the man in armour, and some remains of children in praying attitudes, beneath. What can be recovered of the inscription round the verge is as follows:—Orate pr. aia Jacobi de Radclyff . . . qu ai . . . propicieret Deus." That is, "Pray for the souls of James de Radcliffe, etc., on whose souls God have mercy."] which the common people—concluding, I suppose, from its whiteness that it was meant as an emblem of the innocence it is said to cover—have mutilated, by breaking off small fragments as amulets for the prevention or cure of disorders. Traditions, always erroneous in their circumstances, are yet rarely devoid of foundation; and though the pedigrees of Radcliffe exhibit no failure of the family by the premature death of an heiress; though the last Richard de Radcliffe, who had daughters only, [He died in 1502, as per inquisition, aged 31, leaving daughters, who are not noticed in the descent.] certainly did not make 'a scullion boy the heir of all his land,' when he settled it on Radcliffe, Baron Fitzwalter; though the blood actually pointed out on the kitchen floor, where this Thyestasan banquet is said to have been prepared, deserves no more regard than many of the stories and appearances of the same kind; yet . . . we are not to discard as incredible the tradition of a barbarous age, merely because it asserts the sacrifice of a young and beautiful heiress to the jealousy or the avarice of a stepmother. When this is granted, the story of the pie, with all its horrors, may safely be ascribed to the inventive genius of a minstrel. On the whole, Radcliffe is a place which, not only from its antiquity and splendour, but from the great families which have branched out from it, and the romantic tradition attached to it, can scarcely be surveyed without enthusiasm, or quitted without regret." Both Radcliffe Tower, and the Hall, have long since been demolished. The ballad is printed both by Roby and Baines; the latter observing that the story is curious, and deserves to be preserved in its original garb, as well for its antiquity as for its poetic merit.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: Charley Noble
Date: 03 Sep 07 - 04:35 PM

My take on this story is that it probably was an early example of "product placement" in the troubador's repertoire, "Fair Ellen" being the name given to a new line of meat pies.

Are there any more details about preparing this meat pie? There may still be a market!

Charley Noble

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From: Jim Dixon
Date: 05 Sep 07 - 09:03 PM

From "Ballads & Songs of Lancashire Ancient and Modern", by John Harland, second edition edited by Thomas Turner Wilkinson, 1875 (found with Google Book Search):


There was a lord of worthy fame,
And a hunting he would ride,
Attended by a noble traine
Of gentrye by his side.

And while he did in chase remaine
To see both sport and playe,
His lady went, as she did feigne,
Unto the church to praye.

This lord he had a daughter deare,
Whose beauty shone so bright,
She was beloved both far and neare
Of many a lord and knight.

Fair Ellen was this maiden call'd;
A creature faire was she;
She was her father's only joye,
As you shall after see.

Therefore her cruel stepmother
Did envye her so muche,
That day by day she sought her life,
Her malice it was suche.

She bargain'd with the master-cook
To take her life awaye;
And, taking of her daughter's book,
She thus to her did saye:—

"Go home, sweet daughter, I thee praye,
Go hasten presentlie;
And tell unto the master-cook
These words that I tell thee:

"And bid him dress to dinner streight
That faire and milk-white doe
That in the parke doth shine so bright,
There's none so faire to showe."

This ladye, fearing of no harme,
Obey'd her mother's will;
And presently she hasted home
Her pleasure to fulfill.

She streight into the kitchen went
Her message for to tell;
And there she spied the master-cook,
Who did with malice swell.

"Nowe, master-cook, it must be soe,
Do that which I thee tell;
You needs must dresse the milk-white doe,
Which you do knowe full well."

Then streight his cruell, bloody hands
He on the ladye laid,
Who quivering and shaking stands,
While thus to her he sayd:—

"Thou art the doe that I must dresse;
See here, behold my knife;
For it is pointed, presentlye
To ridd thee of thy life."

O then cried out the scullion-boye,
As loud as loud might bee,—
"O, save her life, good master-cook,
And make your pyes of mee!

"For pitye's sake do not destroye
My ladye with your knife;
You knowe shee is her father's joye;
For Christe's sake save her life."

"I will not save her life," he sayd,
"Nor make my pyes of thee;
Yet, if thou dost this deed bewraye,
Thy butcher I will bee."

Now when his lord he did come home
For to sit downe and eat,
He called for his daughter deare,
To come and carve his meat.

"Nowe sit you downe," his ladye said,
"O sit you downe to meat;
Into some nunnery she is gone:
Your daughter deare forget."

Then solemnlye he made a vowe,
Before the companie,
That he would neither eat nor drinke
Until he did her see.

O then bespake the scullion-boye
With a loud voice so hye—
"If now you will your daughter see,
My lord, cut up that pye,

"Wherein her flesh is minced small,
And parched with the fire;
All caused by her stepmother,
Who did her death desire.

"And cursed bee the master-cook,
O cursed may he bee!
I proffer'd him my own heart's blood,
From death to set her free."

Then all in blacke this lorde did mourne,
And, for his daughter's sake,
He judged her cruel stepmother
To bee burnt at a stake.

Likewise he judg'd the master-cook
In boiling lead to stand;
And made the simple scullion-boye
The heire of all his land.

[The above text seems to be the original of STEPMOTHER'S CRUELTY in the DT (See Malcolm Douglas's link above). The version in the DT seems to have had its spelling and diction modernized somewhat, but is otherwise nearly identical.]

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 05 Sep 07 - 10:03 PM

Another long-out-of-copyright British book that Google has taken it upon itself to make freely available to the Great American Public, while deliberately witholding access from those of us living in the country to which the book belongs (literally: the digitised copy is made from a copy belonging to Oxford University).

Whether this is the result of presumptuous arrogance, ignorance, stupidity or mere laziness on the part of whoever handles 'google books' I don't pretend to know; but it is an unacceptable, though typical, example of American cultural imperialism.

In fact, Harland merely transcribes the standard broadside text; several examples of which can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads; which, fortunately, does not subscribe to google's racist policies and makes its material freely available to all.

[The] lady Isabella's tragedy, or, the Step mothers cruelty

Several years ago, I provided a midi file to go with the DT entry. This may or may not approximate to the tune (or one of the tunes) to which the broadside ballad was intended to be sung. I now have access to better sources, and will see if I can add a more appropriate tune as soon as I have time; and when I have got over seething with anger at google's hypocricy and presumption.

Meanwhile, I can add that this is number 3853 in the Roud Folk Song Index; and that there are only three examples listed from tradition. The most recent is a recording made by Helen Hartness Flanders in 1942, from Lily Delorme of Cadyville, New York. There is also a Scottish text (without tune) in Andrew Crawfurd's collection, and a single verse (with tune) in a MS songbook owned by the National Library of Ireland.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: GUEST,Dan
Date: 06 Sep 07 - 02:57 AM

Many thanks for all the information everyone.

Malcolm, this is what someone from Google Books has to say on the copyright issue:

"Only books in the public domain -- books no longer under copyright -- have the download feature available. For users in the United States, this typically means books published before 1923. For users outside the U.S., we make determinations based on appropriate local laws. Since whether a book is in the public domain can often be a tricky legal question, we err on the side of caution and display at most a few snippets until we have determined that the book has entered the public domain. These books...may be in the public domain, but until we can be sure, we show them as if they are not."

Taken from this page


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen Of Ratcliffe
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 06 Sep 07 - 07:14 PM

Yes, I know what they have to say on the subject. My comments stand.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 10:43 AM

Dr Whitaker is in error when he says that Radcliffe Tower has been long-demolished. I have a lovely photo of my mum standing in front of it which I took three years ago! Google Radcliffe Tower for a pic.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: GUEST, Sminky
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 11:00 AM

Steve - that's the modern extension.

"The surviving section known as Radcliffe Tower was a rebuild of the earlier manor house, built by James de Radcliffe in 1403."

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 12:41 PM

What I meant was that it is misleading to say that Radcliffe Tower is no more. The ruin that remains, now a Grade I listed building, is known by all and sundry as Radcliffe Tower.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 12:55 PM

I accidentally posted that before I'd finished! I know that the ruin that stands is not part of the original building but everyone calls it Radcliffe Tower, which is what I meant. There's a 17th century tithe barn in nearby Tithebarn Street, which is currently a convenience store. Also close by is the medieval parish church, well worth a visit.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 12:57 PM

As for "modern extension," I suppose so, but at 700 years old it's still the oldest building in Radcliffe by miles! ;-)

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Fair Ellen of Radcliffe
From: Taconicus
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 01:48 PM

Thanks for providing the folk music antecedent for (or version of) the "Snow White" legend. I was half expecting, while reading the lyrics above, that the master cook would warn the daughter to flee into the forest, where she would meet up with seven diminutive woodsmen.

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