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Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads

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GUEST,George Frampton 24 May 15 - 12:19 PM
Jim Carroll 24 May 15 - 01:13 PM
Gurney 24 May 15 - 05:21 PM
Bill D 24 May 15 - 05:29 PM
Jim Carroll 24 May 15 - 07:14 PM
GUEST,SteveT 25 May 15 - 07:41 AM
Reinhard 25 May 15 - 08:29 AM
Jim Carroll 25 May 15 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,SteveT 25 May 15 - 09:14 AM
GUEST,wysi-nocookie 25 May 15 - 04:01 PM
Gurney 25 May 15 - 05:24 PM
Jim Carroll 26 May 15 - 03:00 AM
The Sandman 26 May 15 - 06:00 AM
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Subject: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: GUEST,George Frampton
Date: 24 May 15 - 12:19 PM

The scientist within me is gaining the upper hand ...
What was a 'broken token' as in 'the ring from off his finger he instantly drew' and other such palaver?
As any metallurgist/physicist will tell you, break a metal object in two as simply as that (?!) and the crystal structure is so deformed, that to link the two halves together will remain unconvincing.
Is the 'token' just that and the 'ring' be composed of some less deformable material, or should the participants go to Specsavers?

Answers, please!


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 24 May 15 - 01:13 PM

This is the note we wrote for 'Lady in her Father's Garden' when it was put up on Clare Library website.
Pat uncovered the information in Chamber's Book of Days - as far as we know, there is no reference to it anywhere in connection to a 'broken token' song, but it makes sense to us (could never get my head around the idea of a would-be lover wandering around looking for a woman with a hacksaw sticking out of his back pocket).
Chambers gives several illustrations of the Gimmel Rings - one of which we used for a note for another version of the song on the Travellers CD, 'From Puck to Appleby - it can be seen on the 'Musical Traditions' website which carries the full notes.
Jim Carroll

"This is probably one of the most popular of all the 'broken token' songs, in which parting lovers are said to break a ring in two, each half being kept by the man and woman. At their reunion, the man produces his half as a proof of his identity.
Robert Chambers, in his Book of Days (1862-1864) describes a betrothal custom using a 'gimmal' or linked ring:
'Made with a double and sometimes with a triple link, which turned upon a pivot, it could shut up into one solid ring... It was customary to break these rings asunder at the betrothal which was ratified in a solemn manner over the Holy Bible, and sometimes in the presence of a witness, when the man and woman broke away the upper and lower rings from the central one, which the witness retained. When the marriage contract was fulfilled at the altar, the three portions of the ring were again united, and the ring used in the ceremony.'
The custom of exchanging rings as a promise of fidelity lasted well into the nineteenth century in Britain and was part of the plot of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. These 'Broken Token' songs often end with the woman flinging herself into the returned lover's arms and welcoming him back.
Tipperary Travelling woman, Mary Delaney, who also sang it for us, knew it differently and had the suitor even more firmly rejected:

For it's seven years brings an alteration,
And seven more brings a big change to me,
Oh, go home young man, choose another sweetheart,
Your serving maid I'm not here to be!"

Reference:
The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, W & R Chambers, 1863-64.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 24 May 15 - 05:21 PM

Pretty tragic it must have been in the old days. A girl says goodbye to a fresh-faced young man, and some years later, back comes a heavy-set, one-legged, heavily bearded, greasily unwashed (he's been travelling) lout with a face covered in pock-marks and powder burns. He SAYS he's that young man.
I read somewhere that the token could be anything, a page from a bible, a key, a dated coin... A broken coin would be best for poor people, because it would not decay and the parts would actually fit together at the angle they broke at. You'd have to get a blacksmith to break it for you, though.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 24 May 15 - 05:29 PM

from a Charley Noble post a number of years ago

"(Written by Biggs Tinker (Ed Bronstein)
As sung by Bobbi Keppel, 1998
Tune: "Wayfaring Stranger")

D-------------------A-------D
It happened on a Monday morn-ing,
--G---------------------D
A mournful maiden shed a tear,
-----------G----------G7
Because her true bespok-en lover,
--------D
Was off to sea for many a year.


But ere the time had come for parting,
Into her parlor then she went;
She pulled the leg from her grand piano,
Off it came, all broke and bent.

"Take this piano leg," she told her lover,
"And while you're gone, I'll truly yearn;
The piano now is all lopsided,
I cannot play 'til your return."

Then off to sea this young man traveled,
Worked seven years upon the deck,
Then he returned to claim his true love,
The piano leg around his neck.

But he approached unrecognized,
His back all bowed just like an egg,
So heavy was his constant burden,
Around his neck, the piano leg.

He said, "My dear, I've come to marry."
She said, "Oh no, that cannot be;
I'm betrothed to another
Who sails upon a distant sea."

He said, "I am your true betrothed;
This piano leg will prove it so;
Pray place it back 'neath the piano,
From whence it came so long ago."

She cried,"My dear, I'm glad to see you;
The piano is lopsided yet;"
They placed the leg back beneath the piano,
And side by side played a duet.

Now you've heard the tale of a broken token,
When a dear possession's broke in two,
And when the parts are all reunited,
Two lovers cry, "My god, it's you!"


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 24 May 15 - 07:14 PM

"A broken coin would be best for poor people"
As is pointed out in Chambers, the Gimmell Ring was an established custom that lasted right into the 19th century - it is mentioned in Hard's 'Far From the Madding Crowd', when Sergeant Troy presets his lover Fanny with one he buys from a stall at the fair.
These would have been two cheap metal rings rings riveted together - the lovers made stratches across the two of them so that, when they are re-joined, the marks matched.
Mour elabourate Gimmell rings actually fit together and could prove extremely expensive - you could still buy reproductions of them at 'Past Times' a few yras ago.
Gimmell ring
"back comes a heavy-set, one-legged,"
This scenario forms part of the plot of Mrs Gaskell's 'Sylvia's Lovers', where a young man is pressed to sea and returns to the girl he left behind burned by cannon fire from taking part in a sea-fight.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 25 May 15 - 07:41 AM

Jim, thanks for the information. A few years ago I remember that "puzzle rings", consisting of two or three interlocking rings, were quite popular and I thought at that time that they would make very good "broken token" rings. I hadn't come across the term Gimmel Ring before.

The verse you gave from Mary Delaney is also interesting. The version of this song that I sing has the old Penguin Book of English Folk Songs lyrics (collected from Mr. Burridge, Surrey, 1908 by Vaughan Williams?) with the tune I heard from the Dransfields. (That might be the one in Penguin but I can't read music so I don't know)

Which version of the "Lady in her father's garden" did Mary Delaney sing? Is the version printed somewhere here on Mudcat and what tune is used?   Every time someone sings a broken token song at the singarounds I get to there's always a discussion about the recognition/welcoming back so it would be nice to be able to sing a "traditional" alternative.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Reinhard
Date: 25 May 15 - 08:29 AM

SteveT, as Jim said, Mary Delaney's version can be found on the Musical Traditions website. See From Puck to Appleby.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 May 15 - 08:40 AM

Can't lay my hands on Mary's Text, but it's a seven verse version of this, which we got from another Travelling woman, Mary Cash

Lady In Her Father's Garden      (Laws N24) (Roud 264)
Mary Cash.

There being a lady in her father's garden,
A bright young sailor was passing by.
And he stood a while for to gaze all on her,
He said, fair lady, would you fancy I.

Oh no kind sir, I am no lady,
I'm but a poor girl with a low degree.
There before, young man, choose another sweetheart,
I'm not fitting for your slave to be.

It is seven years since I had a sweetheart,
And seven more since I did him see.
And it's seven more I'll wait all on him,
If he's alive he'll come home to me.

Or maybe your love he is dead and drownded.
Or maybe your love he is dead and gone.
Or if he is sick I'll wish him better,
And if he's dead I will wish him rest.

Saying, lady, lady, I'm your own true lover,
I came from sea love, to marry you.
For seven years all on the ocean,
Makes alterations between me and you.

Saying, if you're my own and my single sailor,
Show me the token that I gave to you.

For he put his hand all in his pocket,
His lily-white fingers they were long and small,
And it's up between he pulled a gold ring,
And when she seen it to the ground she fell.

He picked her up all in his arms
He gave her kisses most tenderly,
Saying I'm your own and your loyal true lover,
You're the only young girl that my heart love best.

Saying, if I had you in those Phoenix Islands,
One thousand miles from your native home,
In some lonesome valley, love, between two mountains,
It's there, sweetheart, I'll call you my own.

Saying, I've a house, I've a good way living,
I've plenty of money for to spend on you,
And if you come there love, it's a lady I'll make you.
I'll have some servants for to wait on you.

You haven't me in those Phoenix Islands,
Neither one thousand miles from your native home.
Neither in that valley between two mountains,
Nor later sweetheart you'll call me your own.

Mary Delaney sang another, 4 verse song which I believe to be related to the 'Lady in Her Father's Garden family

Phoenix Island    (Laws N37) (Roud 267)   
Rec. from Mary Delaney

I wisht I had you in Phoenix Island
One thousand mile from your native home,
It's there I 'd spend some long hours to court you,
Make you my wife and call you my own.

You will not have me in Phoenix Island
One hundred from my native home,
Nor you will not spend long hours for to court me,
You'll never make me your wife nor call me your own.

I wish to have you laid in your coffin
And satisfaction wrote on your shroud,
And your friends to bury you on their shoulders,
And you to be one among the crowd.

You will not have me laid in my coffin
Nor satisfaction wrote on my shroud,
Nor your friends won't bury me on their shoulders,
Nor you won't be one among the crowd.

The references to Phoenix Island in vs. 1 and 2 appear in "O'Reilly From The County Leitrim or The Phoenix of Erin's Green Isle", (O.Lochlainn, Irish Street Ballads).   This is a version of "John (or George) Riley" (Laws N37), a song very popular among traditional singers in The United States.   The story is similar to "Lady In Her Father's Garden", (Laws N24); a sailor returning from sea meets his lover who does not recognise him. He asks her to abandon her former love and come away with him; in most texts, including the Irish, the proposed destination is Pennsylvania.   Mary Cash's "Lady In Her Father's Garden" actually includes the two "Phoenix Island" verses. (Ref).
The Phoenix Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean in the Kiribati Group. As remote as they are, they would have been well known to sailors because of their trading importance.
They would also have been familiar to seamen because of the whaling trade, which was carried on in the vicinity. Formerly part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, they were part of the British Empire up to 1979.
The song is sometimes located in Feenish Island and one version has it in Mweenish Island, both in Connemara, County Galway.
Somewhere in its development, Mary's Delaney's version has shed the main part of the story and what we are left with is an extremely bitter dialogue. She was quite certain that the song was complete and certainly it works as such.

References
Irish Street Ballads                                Colm O'Lochlainn,   
Sam Henry's Songs Of The People.           Ed. Gale Huntington.
American Ballads From British Broadsides    G Malcolm Laws Jnr,

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 25 May 15 - 09:14 AM

My thanks to you both.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: GUEST,wysi-nocookie
Date: 25 May 15 - 04:01 PM

Just checking-- you guys realize it's not about broker hardware but rather broken trust, right?

~S~


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 25 May 15 - 05:24 PM

Guest (WYSIWYG?), it IS about broken hardware. In days of yore there were no photographs, no telephones, no postal service, people hardly knew anyone's address as opposed from where they lived, -'the cottage just past the pub'- and 'The Press' was not what we mean by that term today. In desperate need, young men enlisted or were pressed, or sought for work elsewhere. Holidays/vacations were very few, 'holy days' was the original term, and left no time for travel, and opportunities to find a partner were also limited to the local people.
People returning to their lovers were often very different-looking to the young people who had left years before.

There are enough broken token songs in the English tradition to make that plain.


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 May 15 - 03:00 AM

"Just checking-- you guys realize it's not about broker hardware but rather broken trust, right?"
The actual practicalities of the situation play an important in reltionships - soldiers/sailors on the randy, young women torn between forming relationships and wishing to protect themselves from betrayal and being abandoned.
The token is such a common motif that its physical presence presence as guarantee/link between two lovers has to have some significance.
Chambers article deals with the custom as part of the full significance of the ring in human relationships - both symbolic and practical.
In Hardy, the abandoned (by mistake) lover dies giving birth and is buried with the ring.
Would highly recommend the new 'Madding Crowd' by the way - it may be missing Christie/Bates/Finch/Stamp, but it has its own beauty and power, and they don't do too bad a job on the music and song
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: What comprised a broken token in ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 May 15 - 06:00 AM

thanks jim for the info on the rings,interesting.
slightly off topic, in the film far from the madding crowd it was not julie christie that actually sang bushes and briars but isla cameron.


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