North Staffordshire Souling Song

I’ve 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 Christianising of the end lines…

“Soul, soul, an apple or two
If y’ave non apples, pears u’ll do ;
Up wi’ your kettles, down with y’ pans,
Pray, good missus, a soul-cake, do!

Souling-day comes once a year
When it comes, it finds us here.
The cock sits up in t’ yew-tree,
The hens came cackling by,
I wish you a merry Christmas,
And a good fat pig i’ the stye.

All us stand at yonder gate
A’ waiting for a soul-cake ;
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a swan to fly o’er all.”

The Mount (1909) by C. F. Keary

A newly discovered novel, set in the Potteries. Charles Francis Keary‘s The Mount (1909) is set in his home place of Stoke-on-Trent…

“The scene of The Mount is that part of Staffordshire where the towns lie beneath an almost unbroken pall of smoke, and the chemicals with which the air is laden bite into the face of Nature, pitting, discolouring, and withering everything. Those who were not tied to the place by industrial connexions have fled before the blight, and a new ‘aristocracy’ has arisen…” [it’s not for everyone, such as] “the hasty reader whose palate cannot taste fine shades of flavour will perceive no reason for the insistence on minute differences of tone and meaning. Mr. Keary does not write for him, and is, we suspect, splendidly indifferent to his judgement.” (The Spectator review, 4th September 1909).

Sadly the 300-page book is utterly obscure and unobtainable. Keele Local Collection doesn’t even have it. I didn’t even know about it, re: my recent survey of local novels (FactoryMag #1). There’s one copy in the British Library, and a Google-scanned copy in Hathi is on an annoying and unnecessary copyright lockdown.

C. F. Keary was the son of the borough of Stoke-on-Trent’s first Mayor, and the brother of the local folklore collector Miss Keary. His book of weird tales Twixt Dog and Wolf was admitted by James Joyce to have been an influence on Dubliners.

From the Times obituary…

[His novels] “The Journalist” (1898), “High Policy” (1902), “Bloomsbury” (1905), “The Mount” (1909). Keary’s novels, aiming at depicting life, after the manner of the great Russian writers, in its chaotic reality and avoiding conventional selection and arrangement, never had a large popular circulation. They were, however, very highly though of within the limited literary set. Besides his novels proper two little books of Keary’s call for notice. One was a small volume “The Wanderer” (1888), published under the pseudonym H. Ogram Matuce, in which Keary strings together a number of disconnected thoughts and criticisms under the assumed person of a retired man of letters, somewhat in the manner of Gissing’s “Papers of Henry Rycroft.” This is perhaps the most perfect and charming of Keary’s prose works. The other little book is a series of short sketches in the the weird and macabre, “Twixt Dog and Wolf” (1901), excellently done.

If there is perhaps another Stoke or Staffordshire setting hidden in these titles, other than The Mount, is unknown.


Miss Keary on the sing-song proverb-speech of the Potteries

Miss Alice Annie Keary of Oakhill, Stoke-on-Trent, confirming in 1896 the habit of the Potteries people in the 1880s and 1890s to naturally speak as in sing-song proverbs and poetic epigrams, but not to realise that they were doing it…

“…proverbs I have for myself found very difficult to collect, owing to the Poyser-like habit of our people of expressing themselves in an epigrammatic and metaphorical fashion which may be proverbial, but is quite as often extemporised.”

Keary, though the key North Staffordshire folklore and folksong collector of the mid 1890s and presumably rather experienced at such things, thus found it very difficult to distinguish between ordinary speech and proverbs. Keary alludes above to Mrs. Poyser, a proverb-spouting character in the novel Adam Bede by George Eliot.

Miss Keary on doorstep luck in North Staffordshire

The North Staffordshire folklore and folksong collector of the mid 1890s, Miss Alice Annie Keary of Oakhill, Stoke-on-Trent, on riding her white horse in Penkhull…

“Not long ago [c.1894] I was told of a person (not quite an uneducated person either) who excused herself for having adopted,, without much enquiry, a black kitten which had strayed from another house, on the ground that “she had always understood it was very lucky to have a black cat come to your house.” A similar belief in the luckiness attending white horses must have been inculcated in the minds of a party of children in no more remote a village than Penkhull, who one day about fourteen or fifteen years ago [meaning circa 1880], saluted me, as I rode past them on a whitish grey steed, with the rhyme,

“Good luck to you, good luck to me,
Good luck to every white horse I see.”

[The association of black/luck with the doorway of a home, evident with the black kitten mentioned above, was evidently also present in New Years Eve traditions … ]

“Another old-world notion [in North Staffordshire] is impressed on the mind of the householder who is roused from his bed at midnight on New Year’s Eve by a thundering knock at the door; and on asking who is there, is informed that So-and-so “just thought he’d like to have the New Year let in for him.” Possibly in some cases the hope of a “tip,” or at all events of a glass of beer is mingled with a neighbourly regard for the householder’s welfare during the ensuing year, but there are many people even now-a-days who would feel that such an offer should not be lightly rejected, at least if it came from a man with black or very dark hair. For it is well-known that it is very unlucky to “let the New Year in” by being the first person to cross your own threshold on January 1st and also that it is very important that this office should be performed by a dark-haired man. An old woman of our acquaintance who lived for the greater part of her married life in Trent Vale, told my sister that her husband, being a very dark man, was quite in request among his neighbours, at that season.”

Miss Keary 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.

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”.

An inspection of the Bridestones, 1895


By J. T. Arlidge, B.A., M.D., F.R.C.P.

ON the southern slope of Cloud Hill, lying to the east of the town of Congleton, is a group of massive stones commonly known as the Bridestones.

The greater part of the stones, composed of the millstone grit of the neighbourhood, are employed to form an oblong box, much like a gigantic coffin, 18 feet by 11 feet. In the interior, about a third from the east end, is a cross stone, only a little above the level of the soil. The side stones are of irregular flat shape, stood on edge, but seem to have been roughly cut so as to fit together at the angles of contact. This is well seen in one large side stone now prostrate, but which, if raised, would fit in and make up accurately the vacant gap. Ward states that the whole of this side of the Kistvaen was originally of one stone, but that owing to a bonfire made in the enclosed area it was split, and this portion fell outwards. On what authority this assertion is made I know not, and I am not prepared to receive it, at least in its entirety.

Near the north-east angle of the stone enclosure is the largest rock on the ground. It stands quite apart from the Kistvaen — for such is the structure described in the nomenclature of Druidical remains. This stone is about eight feet high, three feet wide, and a foot and upwards in thickness, and roughly hewn, and its upper edges are rounded at the angles by weather and by destructive visitors.

It might be compared to a great headstone of a grave, but it is not placed in line relative to the direction of the Kistvaen. This pillar-like block calls to my mind some stones found in Ireland, in the Isle of Man, Scotland, and elsewhere, which bear those very primitive and difficultly deciphered markings known as the Ogham characters. My examination of it was too hurried and superficial to enable me to say if any trace of such characters exist upon it. I fear, indeed, that if ever they did so the mischievous hands of ignorant visitors and the wear and tear of the elements have destroyed them.

Further away and to the north of this largest mass is a smaller rock set upright, and about four feet high, much damaged by weather and other causes of injury.

But the surface of the ground within the enclosure clearly indicates the existence of other stones, which it would be interesting to uncover. For it is clear that we have not before our eyes the whole of this interesting monument as originally constructed. In fact, I was told by the present owner of the locality, that some very large stones were removed many years since to cover a neighbouring culvert or drain in an adjoining field.

The name applied to this monument — the Bridestones — admits of no explanation other than it is a corruption of some ancient word. Legend, however, has found for it, as in many like instances, an explanation to suit the word, asserting that a bride was buried on the spot; or, according to another version, that, in ancient British times, marriages were celebrated at the spot.

Mr. Abner Dale, the present owner of the spot, called my attention to the existence of very numerous long mounds, resembling grave mounds, in the adjoining fir coppice. These mounds are placed all in the same direction, east and west, and in parallel lines. They certainly have not the look of accidental elevations, and Mr. Dale informed me farther that when dug into the soil was found to be a mixture, and not virgin soil ; also that, having on one occasion to dig into a rabbit burrow, he came upon an impression in the earth bearing the semblance of a human form, and especially of the chest and ribs. I could much wish that some archaeologist living not far from this region would, with the kind permission of the owner, carefully open up two or three of these mounds.