Our Secret History in Song

I’m very happy that this Creative Writing workshop at Wiltshire and Swindon History centre has been rescheduled to 16th March. I spent time exploring the Alfred Williams folk song collection – specific to Wiltshire – for material. So many songs to choose from! Poaching, as ever, a strong theme but I had trouble finding a good female character… ‘The Gamekeeper’ came close but I couldn’t stomach another murdered girlfriend song. Instead I will be working with ‘Georgie Barnell’, alongside tales of successful and unsuccessful poachers. The ‘naughty woman’ with her ‘vigorous eye’ caught my attention – but what is exactly going on? Why does she want his Uncle Triles [sometimes Tripes] murdered?

This is in fact a shortened version of a much older and longer ballad where all is, sort of, explained. But I like William’s version that leaves us wondering who these people are and leaves us with a vivid image of cawing rooks amongst a lonely spinney.


Near Cheapside there lived a merchant

And he was a man of very great fame

A youth was bound apprentice to him

And Georgie Barnell was his name.

Now Georgie was a very good servant

And a dutiful, beyond all doubt

He always kept within the door, sir,

Because his master would not let him go out

A naughty woman of the town, sir,

Upon him cast a vigorous eye,

She came into the shop one morning

A flannel petticoat to buy.

When that she paid down the money

She gave his hand a very hard squeeze

So that pleased poor Georgie Barnell,

And together he knocked his knees.

And soon this woman did persuade him

With her enervating wiles

To go down into the country

And there let loose his Uncle Triles

He saw his uncle in the grove, sir,

Studying over his good books,

And Georgie Barnell went and shot him

All among the crows and rooks.

Avebury blizzard forced new date!

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Poor Avebury was without power and roads were cut off from the outside world on Friday 1st February…I arrived in Swindon in a snow storm, beautiful chaos. All buses were suspended and when I asked for a taxi they told me, ‘there’s no-one going into Avebury and no one coming out.’ This didn’t look good for our performance. Unbelievably, accordionist Pete Watson made it through in his Honda Jazz. This is his pic. of the stones as he heads out home. Very frustrating as we were sold out! But all is well as we have a new date already: Friday May 17th. See you there!

Props assembled!

Yellow silk, threatening notes and feathered quills will be filling my suitcase for Avebury. After a brilliant rehearsal excited to perform at Avebury Social Centre this coming Friday, book signing at the Henge Gift Shop and exploring new songs at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre on Saturday…


Interview by Naomi Clifford…

I had a great afternoon with writer, Naomi Clifford, discussing the writing of the novel.  We explored the relationship between song, history and landscape and the challenges that arise when creating an authentic yet readable, historical voice. All here on this podcast alongside the music that inspired the story from Rebecca Hollweg, Frank Biddulph and Emmie Ward.

Published by Pen & Sword
Latest publication – The Murder of Mary Ashford