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Jovial Foresters, The

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This is a song which is firmly about the Forest of Dean and yet the origins of the song are obscure. According to Roy Palmer, it was printed as a street ballad in Cheltenham in 1830. The Travelling Morris in 1925 took down a version from Richard Beach who was working at the Whitecroft colliery. Christopher Mason of the Morris added that the song was apparently well-known in the Forest and that it was supposedly written in the 1850s (which is contradicted by the 1830 reference) by William Trotter of Coleford.   It was certainly printed in the 19th century with a full piano arrangement as “An Ancient Song”. There is a record of it being sung in a London concert in 1877, and mentioned in the Forest of Dean novel “Heaven’s Gate”, published in 1886. It is further printed in The Essex House song book: being the collection of songs formed for the singers of the Guild of Handicraft” (1903).

By the later 19th century, it was well enough known to be parodied: a political canvassing song of 1892 had the words

We are the jovial foresters,

Sir Charles will be our man

We’ll send him back to Parliament….

Despite the allegation that it is well-known in the Forest of Dean, where it is occasionally sung by local choirs, it has never been collected in oral tradition apart from Mr Beach (above). Perhaps the rather precious language mitigates against it being in regular traditional circulation.


Notes by Gwilym Davies 5 April 2015