George Ridler's Oven
DESCRIPTION: Bald George Ridler built an oven; his three sons sing. "My Dog and I" verses that don't mention George or his sons. The singer's mother warns him that strong beer will prove his overthrow. The singer complains that he is only welcome when he has money.
EARLIEST DATE: 1802 (Fosbroke, _Abstracts of the Records and MSS respecting the County of Gloster_, according to Baring-Gould); 1803 (Ruff) [but see note below re Bell's analysis); 1776 (according to Bell-Combined)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Bald George Ridler built an oven from Bleakney quarry stone; his three sons sing: Dick sings treble, Jack the mean, George the bass. Verses shared with "My Dog and I" that don't mention George or his sons: the singer loves his hostess's maid Nell because she loves "my dog and I"; his dog can catch a hen; his dog has a trick to cure sick maidens. The singer's mother warns him that strong beer will prove his overthrow. The singer complains that he is only welcome when he has money.
KEYWORDS: poverty sex theft drink nonballad dog children mother money
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Williams-Thames, pp. 291-292, "George Ridler's Oven" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Gl 171)
Bell-Combined, pp. 419-422, "George Ridler's Over" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: H. Ruff, editor, The History of Cheltenham and its Environs (Cheltenham, 1803 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 334-202, "George Ridler's Oven" (1 text)
Robert Bell, editor, Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (London, 1857 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 199-202, "George Ridler's Oven" (1 text)
S. Baring-Gould, English Minstrelsie (Edinburgh, 1896 ("Digitized by Google")), Vol. VI, pp. 100-101, x, "George Ridler's Oven" (1 text, 1 tune)
ST WT291 (Partial)
cf. "Todlin Hame" (one verse) and references there
cf. "My Dog and I" (some verses) and references there
NOTES: Bell-Combined has notes explaining this piece as a sort of allegory of the time of Charles I. Certainly his text, in an affected dialect, makes little sense as it stands. I'm not sure the alleged explanation is much better, though. - RBW
Ruff: "The following song is considered as the great provincial song of [Glocestershire] ....."
Bell: "This ancient Gloucestershire song has been sung at the annual dinners of the Gloucestershire Society, from the earliest period of the existence of that institution; and in 1776 there was an Harmonic Society at Cirencester, which always opened its meetings with 'George Ridler's Oven' in full chorus."
At this point Bell introduces a controversy: "The substance of the following key to this very curious song is furnished by Mr H Gingell, who extracts it from the Annual Report of the Gloucestershire Society for 1835.... The words have a secret meaning, well known to the members of the Gloucestershire Society, which was founded in 1657, three years before the Restoration of Charles II. The Society consisted of Royalists, who combined together for the purpose of restoring the Stuarts. The Cavalier party was supported by all the old Roman Catholic families of the kingdom; and some of the Dissenters, who were disgusted with Cromwell, occasionally lent them a kind of passive aid."
Bell decodes the secret meaning of each verse. For example, "First Verse. ["The stwons that built George Ridler's oven, And thauy keam vrom the Bleakney quaar, And George he wur a jolly old mon, And his yead it grow'd above his yare."] -- By 'George Ridler' is meant King Charles I. The oven was built by the Cavalier party. The 'stwons' that 'built the oven,' and that 'came out of the Bleakney quaar,' were the immediate followers of the Marquis of Worcester, who held out long and steadfastly for the Royal cause at Raglan Castle, which was not surrendered till 1646, and was in fact the last stronghold retained for the King. 'His head did grow above his hair,' is an allusion to the crown, the head of the State, which the King wore 'above his hair.'" The verse about the singing sons refers to King, Lords and Commons. Bell's book is available online and you can read the rest of his decoding there.
Baring-Gould states that "Dixon gives this song in 'Ballads of the Peasantry of England' ... afterwards republished by Robert Bell; he says that it is an old Gloucestershire song...." and Baring-Gould goes on to recount the theory of secret meanings. His conclusion is that "all this is absurd. What seems clear enough is, that it is a simple folk-song relative to a certain George Ridler, who built an oven of Blakeney stone from the Forest of Dean. There is a comical touch in making the eldest son take the bass because he is the first born. The entire ballad consists of eight stanzas, of which three consist of the song sung in accordance with George Ridler's boast. This song is the well-known old "My dog and I .... There is [also] ... a verse that has a certain similarity to the Scotch song ['Todlin Hame'] but it does not in the smallest degree follow that in George Ridler there is any reminiscence of a Scotch song, but that both derive from an original common throughout England and the Lowlands of Scotland."
One assertion by Baring-Gould should be corrected. "George Ridler's Oven" is not in Dixon's book; it is one of the songs and notes that Bell (1857) did not crib from Dixon (1846). Apparently, this secret meaning is the result of Bell's own research.
What is the "secret meaning" of the verses shared with "My Dog and I", a song concerned with sex, petty thievery, and a passing reference to the defeat of Charles I (see that entry)? The reference to the maid who loved "my dog and I" is decoded as the Queen's Roman Catholic church's attachment to a leader -- "we must suppose" -- of the party and the dog, "a companion or faithful official of the Society." The dog, "good to catch a hen," is able "to enlist as members of the Society any who were affected to the Royal cause." And so on.
What about the verse shared with "Todlin Hame," a song about the joys of drink (see that entry): "When I have dree zixpences under my thumb, O then I be welcome wherever I come; But when I have none, O, then I pass by, 'Tis poverty pearts good companie" is explained as an allusion "to those unfaithful supporters of the Royal cause, who 'welcomed' the members of the Society when it appeared to be prospering, but 'parted' from them in adversity."
A final problem for Bell would be the Williams-Thames text that adds two "my dog and I," verses not in Ramsay, putting down "vools" who travel from "merry owld England." - BS
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