Miss Keary rescues the North Staffordshire Halloween song

From Staffordshire Knots, 1895…


“I should be greatly obliged to anyone who could give me the whole of this “souling song” which I heard some Trentham school children singing only a few months ago and took down at the time. I understand that it used to be always sung in the neighbourhood [while going trick-or-treating] on [the eve, 1st Nov, of] All Souls’ Day but there used to be more to it.

“Soul, soul, an apple or two
If you have no apples, pears will do ;
Up with your kettles, down with your pans,
Pray, good missus, a soul-cake !

Souling-day comes once a year
When it comes, it finds us here.
The cock sits up in the yew-tree,
The hens came cackling by,
I wish you a merry Christmas,
And a good fat pig i’ the stye.

Peter stands at yonder gate
Waiting for a soul-cake ;
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.”

So interesting a relic as this, which must have come down with little alteration from mediaeval times, certainly ought not to be lost.”


Elsewhere she writes…

“In the north of the county [of Staffordshire] we have the custom of Souling, or [children] begging for apples [at the doors of local homes] on the Eve of All Souls’ Day, November 1st.”


Miss Alice Annie Keary was the North Staffordshire folklore and folksong collector of the mid 1890s. She was the sister of Charles Francis Keary. Also the very good friend of the famous folklorist Miss Charlotte Sophia Burne, who until circa 1894 resided at Pyebirch, Eccleshall.

The final three lines are, of course, a Christianised version of the famous children’s magpie counting rhyme: “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy… etc”.

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2 comments on “Miss Keary rescues the North Staffordshire Halloween song

  1. […] had a go at putting the North Staffordshire Souling Song c.1894 into a more singable form, added a rhyme back in on the fourth line, and stripped out the clunky […]

  2. David Haden says:

    Additional lines from an 1897 recording of the song at Rocester, on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border…

    “Put your hand in your pocket, pull out your keys,
    Go down in the cellar, bring what you please.
    If you bring nothing you’ll do it for spite,
    And we’ll remember you [at] the bonfire night.”

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