SOUND THE DRUM
One morning in early spring 2008 there was a knock at my door. It was my neighbour (and, some twenty years ago, our children's child-minder) Diane Taylor, with a suggestion for a song.
She gave me two papers. One was the surviving fragment of a ballad from perhaps 1760-ish called Long Preston Peggy - just two verses that Peggy (Rathmell) herself was reproted to have sung as an old lady when in her cups. This is recorded in Dixon's 'Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (1857).
The other told at least some of Peggy's story.
Diane suggested I might like to write the missing verses, but the more research I did the less the song seemed to reflect the kind of woman Peggy was, nor her extraordingry achievement. (There is in fact a third version of this story, a 20 verse epic by Abraham Holroyd of Eldwick near Bingly (pre 1888), but like the original this is a flowery, romantic piece which both Diane and I felt failed to capture the essence of the tale).
So I did some research, and eventually this song emerged. There is actually no evidence to suggest that the 'cunning strategem' was Peggy's rather than Dickson's, and the story of the funeral and the riot came from different sources, but both took place in St Anns square on the day before Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Manchester, and as both involved a handful of Jacobites, I think it's acceptable to suggest that this was what happened, and that it was indeed a deliberate plan.
There is no direct evidence that Dickson died at Carlisle, but it's reported that the Manchester regiment (who were presumably recruited at this time) were left to defend the city while the main force headed North to prepare for Culloden. I think it's at least possible that Dickson could have stayed with them. The battle for Carlisle was a disaster for the Jackobites. Those who survived were transported or hanged.
I found no evidence that Peggy turned against Charles Stuart either - she may in fact have remained loyal to the Jakobite cause, but after the catastrophe of Culloden (which was entirely Charles' fault - he overrulled the man who'd been responsible for all his military success to date, Lord Murray), and Stuart's general weakness as a person (he became a paranoid drunk), many did.
I'm fairly sure that Peggy would have thought the old song anodyne, though, even though she did sing it. She was plainly nothing like the 'singing damsel' in the original. In fact some sources report that she was a prostitute! I suspect this was just people being disapproving of a woman who'd joined an amy - but I think we can sefely call her a camp follower. She certainly did have 'a strong propensity to indulge in spirituous liquors' anyway.
There are number of coincidences attached to this song. The Jackobies had just won the battle of Preston Pans, Peggy came from Long Preston, and joined the army in Preston. The book containing the original verses is by Dixon, and the sergeant is Dickson. But best of all; when I finally sent the finished song to Diane and her husband Peter (himself a very fine singer, who you'll see at many clubs and festivals - the Taylors even used to run a club themselves down South many years ago) another coincidence emerged. I'd failed to find a name for the drummer, so I called him Taylor as a small gesture of thanks. Peter's reply was; "If you ever decide to record it you may like to know that I spent many years of my youth playing the side-drum, first in a Boys' Brigade band, then in the corps of drums of the school cadet force - and finally I spent four years in the TA where I played the fife, as they had enough drummers when I joined."
So I hope that when I finally record this song, I'll use a 'real Taylor here, the real drummer!'
So you want to hear me sing of how I met the Bonnie Prince?
And how Long Preston's thus connected with his glory?
Well, that song's a pretty rhyme, but it doesn't quite convince
Maybe it's time for me to tell you the full story
Well, you might not think it now, but I was strong in limb and will
And I'd turn any soldiers head from Leeds to Kendle
So when they told me Charlie's army was encamped beyond the hill
I decided it was time for me to ramble
Tran tan ta tum, sound the drum sound the drum
Tran tan ta tatter sound the drum.
From the Highlands down to Lancashire they’d vanquished every foe
More handsome Jackobites had never soldiered
But the knave who stole my heart he was a sergeant brave and bold
And this Dickson slid his arm around my shoulder
Saying come my pretty Peggy let me put you to the test
For I see that you are jousting for adventure
There are plenty bonny laddies who would join us in our quest
Will you out with me, scouting to Manchester?
There was three that rode that night - I held tight behind my man
The third was little Taylor, Dickson's drummer
And in the Bull's Head Tavern I presented them a plan
That might make this mighty city soon surrender
So we beat for new recruits till we were nearly thirty strong
Then marched into St Ann's, the city forum
Where a funeral was passing for priest who'd served the king
And we stopped in line and doffed with due decorum
But when the Loyalists saw we wore the tartan bright and proud
Just as I knew it, they soon flew to harm us
But Dickson fired his blunderbuss, and Taylor drummed so loud
The crowd could see they never could alarm us
And all the while we stood the city fathers stayed indoors
So Dickson ups and makes a proclamation
That Manchester is captured for the Royal Stewart cause
And all night long we bravely held our station
Then on the morrow morning when the Prince and all came in
He shook us by the hand and thanked us warmly
For the taking all of Manchester by cunning stratagem
When a sergeant, maid and drum was all our army
But when they rode to Derby they’d not take a maid to war
So back again to Yorkshire I was banished
And it fairly broke my heart, for I saw Dickson never more
As in the rearguard action he was vanquished
And in the end that Young Pretender weren't so bonny after all
And I cannot now salute the Stewart banner
For he left my darling Dickson for to hang from Carlise wall
Even after all his loyalty and valour
And by foolishness in battle, and by pride, destroyed our cause
And finished all his men had fought and died for
And dressed up as a woman, the coward fled our shores
With a real woman here the real soldier.