Hal-an-Tow

DESCRIPTION: Spring ritual song; "Robin Hood and Little John they both are gone to fair-O"'; other verses similar. Cho.: "Hal-an-tow/Jolly rumble-O/For we are up as soon as any day-O/For to fetch the summer home, the summer and the May-O...."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: possibly 1660 (mentioned by Nicholas Boson of Newlyn); first actual text 1846 (Sandys); Palmer claims another text from 1838
LONG DESCRIPTION: Spring ritual song; "Robin Hood and Little John they both are gone to fair-O"; "Where are the Spaniards that made so great a boast-O/They shall eat the goose feather and we shall have the roast-O"; "Of all the knights in Christendom St. George he is the right-O." Chorus: "Hal-an-tow/Jolly rumble-O/For we are up as soon as any day-O/For to fetch the summer home, the summer and the May-O/For summer is a comin' in and winter is a-gone."
KEYWORDS: magic ritual dancing nonballad Robinhood
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Dixon-Peasantry, Song #12, pp. 187-189, "The Helstone Furry-day Song" (1 text)
Bell-Combined, pp. 387-389, "The Helstone Furry-Day Song" (1 text)
Reeves-Circle 62, "The Hal-an-Tow" (1 text)
Kennedy 92, "Hal-An-Tow" (1 text + Cornish translation, 1 tune)
Palmer-ECS, #135, "Helston Furry Dance" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, HALANTO*

Roud #1520
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Haile an Taw and Jolly Rumbelow
NOTES: A May song and Maypole dance. A version is still performed along with the Helston Furry Dance on May 8th of every year. Kennedy's Cornish words are a revivalist translation from the English. The phrase "Hal-an-tow [taw]" is variously translated as "heave on the rope" and "hoist the roof." - PJS
Both "hal-an(d)-to" and "rumbelo/rumble-o" have provoked scholarly discussion. No decisive answer seems to have been found. The phrases seem to date back at least to the beginning of the fourteenth century, however; Chambers, p. 74, quotes, with an astonishing lack of source detail, one of the "Brut" chronicles concerning the battle of Bannockburn:
Maydenes of Engelande, sare may ye morne,
For tynt [presumably past tense of tine, lose, forfeit] ye have youre lemmans at Bannokesborn,
With hevalogh
What wende [thought] the Kyng of Engleand
To have ygete Scotlande
With rombylogh.
Chambers explains both "hevalogh" and "rumbylogh" as "boating refrains," but does not show any supporting evidence, although this is accepted, e.g., by Phillips, p. 11n. Chambers also says that Fabyan's Chronicle (1516) has a similar rhyme, which is described as a dance and carol (p. 180).
Prestwich, p. 81, offers what seems to be a translation of this, which he describes as "a song mocking the oarsman's chant of 'Heavalow, Rumbalow'":
Maidens of England, sore may you mourn,
For you have lost your men at Bannockburn with 'Heavalow'.
What, would the king of England have won Scotland with 'Rumbalow'?"
Prestwich's source for this is F. W. D. Brie, editor, The Brut, Early English Text Society, 1906, 1908, volume i, p. 208 (i.e. the same original source as Chambers; cited also by Phillips, p. 11, who quotes both the original and the translation and also gives a little of the context).
Greene, p. 26, gives yet another slightly different version, said to be from Fabyan's Chronicle (as printed by Pynson in 1516):
Than the Scottish enflamyd with pryde, in derysyon of Englysshe men, made this ryme as foloweth.
Maydens of Englonde, sore maye ye morne.
For your lemmans ye haue loste at Bannocisborne,
With heue a lowe.
What wenyth the kynge of Englonde,
So soone to haue wonne Sotlande
WIth rumbylowe.
This songe was after many dayes sungyn, in daunces, in carolis of ye maydens & mynstrellys of Scotlande, to the reproofe and dysdayne of Englysshe men, w[i]t[h] dyuerse other which I ouer passe.
Evelyn Kendrick Wells, The Ballad Tree, pp. 204-205, has this same version (with minor variants), also attributed to Fabyan's Chronicle.
Those wishing to see a full list of sources -- there are about 18 of them -- may consult the Digital Index of Middle English Verse, #3331. This lists the texts of many of the versions; the variations are dramatic. The piece is #2039 in the Brown/Robbins Index of Middle English Verse.
Kennedy offers two alternate explanations for the words. One agrees in part with Chambers: Dutch "Haal aan het tow, "haul on the rope" was taken over by Cornish sailors as "hal-an-tow." Alternately, "hal an to/taw" may be Cornish for "raise the roof." It is not obvious how this phrase, whatever its origin, would be combined with the northern "rombylogh."
The verse about the "Spaniards that made so great a boast-O" presumably refers to the Spanish Armada of 1588, which signally failed to invade England and suffered losses of thousands of men and dozens of ships.
Kennedy's Cornish words are by Talek and Yleweth, as are many of his other Cornish songs. Talek (E. G. R. Hooper) is perhaps the most interesting of the Cornish revivalists. Berresford Ellis, pp. 182-183, has this to say of him:
With the death of Nance, E. G. R. Hooper (Talek) was elected as [the third] Barth Mur [Grand Bard]... in 1959 [and served until 1965 when the rules forced election of another]. Hooper has been a great benefactor to the revival by his publication of much work that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Perhaps his most notable achievement has been the editing and production of the all-Cornish periodical An Lef Kernewek in which has appeared much of the most notable writing in Unified Cornish.... A prolific translator and writer, he edited Kemysk Kernewek, a miscellany... in Cornish, published in 1964. An Lef Kernerek have also published, in 1962, Lyver Hymnys ha Salmow, containing 100 hymns and psalms in Cornish.
Parry/Shipley is not complimentary of most Cornish literature, which it calls amateurish, but mentions Talek's Kernow yn Catalunya ["A Cornishman in Cataluna"] as one of the few exceptions
Whether any of these explanations is true, or none, the "rumbelow" refrain was well enough known that W. S. Gilbert used it in "The Mikado." In Act I, lines 67-71 (p. 265 in Gilbert/Sullivan/Bradley), we find the chorus
Then man the capstan -- of we go,
As the fiddler swings us round.
WIth a yeo heave ho,
And a rumbelow,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!
Bradley often has notes on Gilbert's sources, but of this he can only say "rumbelow: A meaningless combination of syllables or words, like 'yeo heave ho', used as a refrain by sailors when rowing or performing some other routine and rhythmical task. In some editions of the libretto the phrase is altered to 'a rum below'."
Alexander, p. 99, also gives a reinterpretation, printing "Jolly Rumble, O!" for "jolly rumbalow." - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 3.7
File: K092

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.