Chapter Three 3

Hey Ho Raggedy-O


Chapter 3 – page 4


Another broadside from the London printer E Hodges, from sometime between the years of 1855 and 1861, is also probably Cowell’s. Undated Sheet music, held in the National Library of Australia, of a Billy Barlow song by Sam Cowell has many verses in common with the Hodges broadside. The first verse of the Hodges version differs slightly, in that it begins: ‘Oh! London genl’men how do you do? ‘ The second half of the song as printed by Hodges, and also by the London printer of the sheet-music now in the National Library of Australia, has verses that are about Kossuth, a Hungarian patriot living in exile in England between 1849 and 1859. Kossuth was very popular in England. In the Hodges version the song gradually lapses into comic Hungarian dialect, a typical Cowell device. Note also the pun in the last line.

Verse 6:
For a trip to Southampton I went t’other day
When a crowd gather’d round & I heard a chap say
Why that’s Kossuth, incog. and I’d have you to know
They set the bells ringing for Billy Parlow
         Oh dear! — Oh Raggedy, Oh!
‘Cause a Hung’ry young hero was Pilly Parlow.

The next verse refers to the Great Exhibition of London, held in The Crystal Palace in 1851. The Crystal Palace was a huge metal-framed glass edifice, built in Hyde Park for the exhibition, and later dismantled. It survived, rebuilt in Sydenham as a glittering fairy-tale castle, until 1936, when it burned down. Many of the Billy Barlow songs contain references to it. These references, along with a certain similarity in style, raise the possibility that a large proportion of the Billy Barlow songs after about 1851 might well be fragments of Sam Cowell’s songs.

I paid sixpence t’other day and odd it did seem
To see lots of chickens a-hatching by steam;
So I said to the man who conducted the show —
Can you hatch me a chicken like Pilly Parlow?
         Oh dear &c.
He’s a rather rare bird, is Billy Barlow.

Now London gen’lmen, I’ll bid you goodbye
I’ll get a new suit when clothes ain’t so high;
My hat’s shocking bad, that all of you know
But it looks well on the head of Pilly Parlow.
          Oh dear &c.

Except for the comic Hungarian corruption of Billy’s name, these verses are identical to the Sam Cowell song in the Australian Library. The Hodges broadside is embellished with a woodcut of a black dancer dressed in knee-breeches, vest, and bandanna. There is no apparent connection with either the Billy Barlow song or with the other song that shares the page.

Another Bodleian ballad that presents Billy as a grown man was printed in Belfast by James Moore. The Bodleian library gives the date as between 1846 and 1852, but as there are verses about the taking of Sebastopol, it must date from after 1855. The song is well-crafted and contains references to events that occur in Cowell’s Billy Barlow songs. The wording and style are different, however, so that it may have been the work of a different writer. There is a slightly naughty verse, uncharacteristic for Billy, about monkeys at the Royal Pleasure gardens playing their “water-pipes” on him. The woodcut that appears with the song is of a grinning man in a wide-brimmed hat.

Billy Barlow’s Trip to Paris is a broadside that was clearly composed by a clever songwriter. In fact it may well be the best of all the Billy Barlow songs. Sam Cowell’s talents were equal to the task, and the use of classical references, puns, and funny foreign words were his trademark, but there is no specific indication of its authorship. There are no direct references to other Billy Barlow songs, although clearly it is one of them, except for the “O, dear! Raggedy oh!” (or ho!) refrain that occurs in only some of the verses. It is undated, and the printer is not named. It can’t be from earlier than 1852, and was probably printed well before 1861, when Prince Albert died.

(Oh, dear mys-ter-y Oh!)

Ladies and Gentlemen, how do you do?
My appearance in print, you will say is quite new;
But the fact is, I should have been there long ago;
The world wants a few writers like Billy Barlow.
Oh, dear! Raggedy, ho!
There was Dickens, Carlyle — now there’s Billy Barlow.

The Emperor Napoleon remark’d t’other day,
“My Great Exhibition here, somehow don’t pay.
How the deuce shall I manage to make it a go?”
Says the Empress, “send over for Billy Barlow.”
Oh, dear. Raggedy, ho!
“Here the telegraph — quick! for young Billy Barlow.”

There are twelve more cleverly-written verses that tell the story of Billy’s trip to Paris, which is a wild and delirious fantasy or possibly a dream. Through the song he refers to himself variously as:

    Young Billy Barlow,
    a statesman,
    a seaman called Lieutenant Barlow,
    a young Long Tom Coffin, –(The hero in James Fenimore Cooper’s first novel,
    The Pilot, published in 1823. Tom is an elderly American Sailor.)
    Mounseer Guillaume (French form of William) Barlow,
    Ulysses Barlow –” ‘gainst Syrens quite proof”,
    William Barlow,
    Mounsigneur Barlow,
    the first of Queen Victoria’s subjects,
    Lord William Barlow,
    and the Emperor’s visitor: Mr. Barlow.

Billy makes wonderful speeches, is toasted and treated like royalty. Everyone cheers him, and a fireworks display is given in honor of “Victoria, Albert, and Billy Barlow.”
Finally it happens that he can’t find lodgings that are expensive enough for him:

Soon I dropp’d off to sleep ‘neath a popular (sic) tree,
But was roused by the words “On ne dort pas ici”
‘Twas a rough man in blue, who ‘twould seem, didn’t know
What was due to the person of Billy Barlow!
Oh, dear! Raggedy, oh!
They have just called the case on of Billy Barlow!

A printer by the name of Taylor c1834 produced a song called Billy Barlow’s Breeches, but this is a case of a maverick song where a well-known story has had the name of a popular character slotted into it. There is no attempt to turn it into a Billy Barlow song, no refrain, and the hero has none of Billy’s characteristics. The tune is given as Hodge & His Leather Breeches, the author as John Morgan.







A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)

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