Ring the Bell, Watchman
DESCRIPTION: "High in the belfry the old sexton stands, Grasping the rope in his thin bony hands." He waits until he hears: "Ring the bell, watchman! ring! ring! ring! Yes, yes! the good news is now on the wing... Glorious and blessed tidings. Ring, ring the bell!"
AUTHOR: Henry Clay Work
EARLIEST DATE: 1865 (sheet music published by Root & Cady and by S. Brainard's Sons)
FOUND IN: Australia
REFERENCES (3 citations):
WorkSongs, pp. 115-117, "Ring the Bell, Watchman" (1 text, 1 tune, a copy of the original sheet music)
Meredith/Covell/Brown, pp. 113-114, "Ring the Bell, Watchman" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Click Go the Shears" (tune)
Click Go the Shears (File: MA024)
Oh Molly Reilly (Meredith/Covell/Brown, p. 159)
Palmer's Suits (Meredith/Covell/Brown, p. 180)
NOTES: Like many Henry Clay Work songs, the lyrics to this were too vague to gain much hold in tradition, but the tune too good to ignore. There is a sailing parody, "Strike the Bell, Second Mate"; in Australia, it produced the well-known "Click Go the Shears."
In response to my comment above, Bob Bolton wrote the following:
"This is rather the reverse of the fact. H C Work's lyrics were, in fact, too *specific* to retain much hold in tradition! The song commemorates the moment when the Northern States' victory was announced ... in this case, by the ringing of the church bells. It probably sold... and was sung.... for a while after the Civil War - but quietly faded soon after as the country began to repair its formerly severed self. However, the song was already in print in other countries... in Australia certainly by 1868... and it entered into 'home songster' collections... and was still in the last version I saw (the one I bought a few decades back) of a collection published by Allens Music.
"On top of that... the tune proved to be a really good one for the newly popular Barn Dance ... and folklore collectors, working from the early 1950s report that this tune became the de facto standard for the Barn Dance in any country hall!
"Our Australian collecting experience was, initially confused by the fact that British sailors had also made a very popular parody of the same song... encouraging the Second Mate to ring the bell to call for a change of watch ... and a rest for the singers!"
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