On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at, Yorkshire Unofficial Anthem

header-cowcalf748.jpgThe traditional English folk song, ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at,’comes from the County of Yorkshire, and it is written in Yorkshire dialect. In The Yorkshire Dictionary (Arnold Kellett, 2002) says the dialect used in the song is representative of the area surrounding Halifax. In 1998, Dr. Arnold Kellett in On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at: the story of the song [Smith Settle. p. 55.], says, “We can at least clear the ground by looking at the most widely accepted tradition that On Ilkla Mooar came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding.”

The moor is in Yorkshire near Leeds and Bradford (and not anywhere near Hull). Ilkley Moor is part of a larger region of moorlands known as Rombalds Moor. Rombalds Moor was the home of Giant Rombald, who used to throw large stones across the moor. Some of these landed at the edge of Ilkley Moor and later became a well known landmark and a popular picnic spot for residents of Bradford and Leeds, who could travel by train to Ilkley, and then hike up the hill to the moor.

The first published version of the words appeared in 1916, when it was described as “a dialect song which, for at least two generations past, has been sung in all parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire.” [Kellett, page 83] Arnold Kellett calculates that the song “could well have originated in the early years of the second half of the [19th] century, and not as late as 1877 …”[page 89]

The title roughly translates into standard English as ‘On Ilkley Moor Without a Hat.’  Anyone who ever read Bronte’s Wuthering Heights knows something of moors. I set The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy on a Scottish moor because moors are often windy and cold expanse of land that is near to being a wilderness  As the song proves, a person needs a hat in the winter, and going to a moor without one is a bad idea. Ilkley is a town in Yorkshire, quite close to the cities of Leeds and Bradford, and Ilkley Moor is close by.  The song tells of a lover courting the object of his affections, Mary Jane. It serves as a dire warning about what happens to those foolish enough to venture to the the moor without appropriate headwear: they die, are buried, are eaten by worms which are then eaten by ducks, which are then eaten by the songs’ singers.  The song has more or less become the unofficial ‘national’ anthem of Yorkshire.

priests1.jpg According to tradition, the words were composed by members of a Halifax  church choir on an outing to Ilkley Moor near Ilkley, West Yorkshire. According to Ilkley.org, “In 1805 a hymn tune called ‘Cranbrook’ was composed by a cobbler of Canterbury. His name was Thomas Clark.  A hundred years later it was still being sung in Wesleyan Chapels to the words ‘O for a thousand tongues’ and at Christmas time to ‘While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.’ According to tradition, the members of a Halifax Wesleyan Church were picnicking beneath the Cow and Calf rocks, after their annual walk across the moors from Dick Hudson’s, when two of their party disappeared into the bracken.  On their return to the main group, a member of the choir bellowed out ‘Wheer wor ta bahn when ah saw thee?’ ‘Tha’s bin a-courtin’ Mary Jane,’ commented another.  Further lines in common metre were contributed until the choir burst naturally into the tune to ‘Cranbrook.'” On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘At was first published in 1916 and probably originated in West Yorkshire during the latter half of the 19th Century.

According to tradition, the members of a Halifax Wesleyan [Methodist] Church were picnicking beneath the Cow and Calf rocks, after their annual walk across the moors from Dick Hudson’s, when two of their party disappeared into the bracken.  On their return to the main group, a member of the choir bellowed out “Wheer wor ta bahn when ah saw thee?” “Tha’s bin a-courtin’ Mary Jane”, commented another.  Further lines in common metre were contributed until the choir burst naturally into the tune Cranbrook.

The lyrics include many features of the Yorkshire dialect such as Definite article reduction and H-dropping. Baht is Yorkshire dialect for “without.” [Yorkshire Dialect Society, September 2013] According to “While Shepherds Watched

Some singers add the responses “without thy trousers on” after the fourth line of each verse, and “where the ducks play football” after the seventh. Other variations include “where the nuns play rugby”, “where the sheep fly backwards”, “where the ducks fly backwards”, “where the ducks wear trousers”, “an’ they’ve all got spots”, and “where they’ve all got clogs on”.

Also in some recitals, after the first two lines of “On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at” it is followed by a “Where’s that?”. Another variant adds “Howzat?” after the first line and “Not out!” after the second. In Leeds the line immediately before the chorus is often ended with “And we all got wet”. In the United States, “Then we will go and eat up the ducks” is often followed by a shouted “Up the Ducks!”

There are also alternative endings, where verse nine states: “There is a moral to this tale”, and is followed by a chorus of “Don’t go without your hat / Don’t go without your hat / On Ilkey moor baht ‘at” (which is sung commonly within West Yorkshire), or “Don’t go a courtin’ Mary Jane” (another variation known in the Scouting movement). Alternatively, verse nine is sung as “There is a moral to this tale”, and verse ten as “When courtin’ always wear a hat”.

800px-ilkla_moor_-_heather

Ilkley Moor via Wikipedia

Yorkshire Day was created in 1975 by the Yorkshire Ridings Society after the abolition of the three traditional “ridings” in the local government reorganisation of 1974. Roger Sewell, chairman of the Yorkshire Ridings Society, said pride in being from Yorkshire was an “instinctive thing” to those born in the area. Each year members of the society read a declaration at four of the Bars, or gates, into York. Towns and cities across Yorkshire hold their own celebrations and a regional one is being held over four days in Skipton in North Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Flag, a white rose on a blue background, will be flown across the region.     

_69055467_dsc_0064

Check out this You Tube version of the song with Jack Kennedy, Jongo Kerr, Lesley Garrett, Alistair Griffin, and Brian Blessed. It even includes a rap… 

Resources: 

Lyrics

Wheear ‘as ta bin sin ah saw thee,
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!
Wheear ‘as ta bin sin ah saw thee?
Wheear ‘as ta bin sin ah saw thee?

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!

Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane
Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Tha’s bahn t’catch thi deeath o’cowd
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Tha’s bahn t’catch thi deeath o’cowd
Tha’s bahn t’catch thi deeath o’cowd

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Then we shall ha’ to bury thee
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then we shall ha’ to bury thee
Then we shall ha’ to bury thee

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Then t’worms ‘ll cum and eat thee oop
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then t’worms ‘ll cum and eat thee oop
Then t’worms ‘ll cum and eat thee oop

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Then ducks ‘ll cum and eat oop t’worms
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then ducks ‘ll cum and eat oop t’worms
Then ducks ‘ll cum and eat oop t’worms

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Then we shall go an’ ate oop ducks
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then we shall go an’ ate oop ducks
Then we shall go an’ ate oop ducks

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Then we shall all ‘ave etten thee
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then we shall all ‘ave etten thee
Then we shall all ‘ave etten thee

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

That’s wheer we get us oahn back
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
That’s wheer we get us oahn back
That’s wheer we get us oahn back

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

 

In some versions, the line “without thy trousers on” after the fourth line of each verse and “where the ducks play football” after the seventh line. Some sing “where the nuns play rugby,” “where the sheep fly backwards,” and “they all got spots.” 

In some variations, a “Where’s that?” replaces the third like of the chorus. In Leeds, the line before the chorus is “And we all got wet.” 

Advertisements

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in ballads, British history, customs and tradiitons, Great Britain, history, legends, music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at, Yorkshire Unofficial Anthem

  1. I can recall singing this with great gusto many years ago. Although a Geordie, song it is/was sung by the Scouse’s and the Cockneys, In fact just about anywhere, where a singalong was in order, the days before that damned TV took over the world, when people did singalong.

    Always the ‘eaten up thee’ bit got the biggest roar from all voices, We’d sing this at times after the Rugger matches at school.
    Grand old days. Thanks for the memory Regina. XD

  2. Just thought I’d let you know; I clicked the link and enjoyed a singalong; luckily for me I’m home alone with my dog. 😀

  3. Anji says:

    I can recall hearing the chorus when I was growing up in Leicester but didn’t hear the entire song until I came up to Yorkshire to go to University. Some of it was a mystery to start with but as I met a Yorkshireman at Uni and eventually married him, I’m able to follow it all now without translation!

    Yorkshire’s been home for the majority of my 61 years now – around 38 of them, I think, discounting the years of my childhood plus time we’ve spent living and working away. Personally, I consider myself very lucky, especially with where we’ve lived most of our married life – the spa town of Harrogate. We’re on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and I get to commute through some glorious countryside a lot of the time. Ilkley Moor itself is maybe 40 minutes drive away. You definitely need a hat, particularly this time of year! The photo at the top of your post, Regina, is of the Cow and Calf rocks above the town and is a famous landmark on the Moor.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Anji says:

      P.S. I forgot to add that it’s good to see that, in the photo of the Yorkshire flag, it’s flying the right way up. From what my husband says, it’s very annoying to a Yorkshireman if it’s flown the other way up!

    • Thanks for identifying the rock formation in the image, Anji. I knew it was near the Moor, but did not know its name.
      I thought of both you and my friend Jayne Smith when I decided to do this piece. I am adding different songs to the blog (starting with Auld Lang Syne at New Year’s Eve) just to show how they are also part of history.

  4. Anji says:

    I was actually working about four miles from Ilkley today but didn’t have a chance to go and take a look at the Moor. The weather was a little……well, inclement would be a polite way of putting it! A hat would definitely have been essential. There was wind, so it was cold. Because of the wind the rain that was falling was also blowing sideways. That’s Yorkshire for you in the winter. The bonus is that it wasn’t snowing. On my drive home, there was more rain and also thick fog, especially as I was driving over the wonderfully named Blubberhouses Moor. Yes, we Brits can talk forever about the weather!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s