Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thrashing Machine, The

Back to browse page
Performer: Orchard, George
Place Collected: Staverton
Date collected: 2000
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 1491

The first successful horse- or ox-powered machine for separating grain from its husks is said to have been invented by the Scottish mechanical engineer Andrew Meikle in the 1780s.  Meikle’s invention was one of the primary innovations of the Agricultural Revolution. By 1812 such devices, which could also winnow the grain, were in wide use, though their high cost meant that small farmers had to rely on the machines of regular, itinerant operators.

This song, however, collected in both Britain and Ireland, is about an entirely metaphorical machine. Oxford’s Bodleian Library holds a number of broadside versions of “The Thrashing [or “Threshing”] Machine,” which is usually sung to the all-purpose tune of “Villikins and Dinah.” The earliest broadside printing that can be dated accurately is from about 1845, and all are very similar.   Like “The chandler’s boy” and “Nellie the milkmaid,” this is one of several bawdy songs from nineteenth-century broadsides that have enjoyed a long survival in oral tradition.

The tune used by George Orchard (gypsy) is similar to that of the American song “Cigareets, Whuskey and Wild Wild Women”. While George was singing, sitting down, his feet were executing a step dance to the rhythm.

Notes by Jon Lighter

Media & Downloads

Hear the song/tune as collected (mp3 stream):

See the song/tune as collected (PDF file)
Hear the song/tune (midi file)
Version to sing (PDF file)
Hear a version to sing (midi file)

Modern recording performed by: May Thrill

Hear a modern recording (mp3 stream):

Song/tune as collected (abc file)
Version to sing (abc file)