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Published: July 18th 2014
Tom Pearce's grey mare on the way to Widecombe Fair
...with Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all...
Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, Lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want to go down to Widecombe Fair
wi' Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
To be sung in a fake Devon yokel's accent, preferably after a few pints of strong local ale.
So goes the first verse of a folk tune called 'Widecombe Fair'. It does go on quite a bit longer - possibly a bit too much longer, unless someone else is buying the next round of drinks.
It tells a tale of Tom Pearce's old grey mare being borrowed, getting lost, falling ill, dying, and haunting the moor ever after. I won't bore you with it all here but, if you're so inclined, skip to the end of this blog for the other eight verses and a video rendition!
Because of the song's boringly long list of people, we strange British folk have come to use the term 'Uncle Tom Cobley and all' as a humorous and exasperated way of saying et al
or 'all that lot'
is a real place, here on Dartmoor. It was just a few miles to the west of where we were spending our week's holiday, up and down hill along twisting roads across the moor with broad new vistas at almost every turn. There was probably a real Old Uncle Tom Cobley
A distant view, with the church just visible centre right
once upon a time too. He's reputed to have been a randy bachelor in his younger days - but when paternity orders came in thick and fast, he refused to maintain any little ones which didn't have red hair like his!
There's an annual Widecombe Fair
as well. You still have time to be there this year - it's on 9th September 2014. There'll be loads of events and competitions, and you can be sure that there'll also be a local fellow dressed just like old Tom, complete with a grey mare!
Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to give it its correct name, is a pretty place - providing you avert your eyes from the coachloads of tourists who descend upon it for an hour or two every morning for a glimpse of what was once a typical village, quintessentially Dartmoor. For all its popularity, it's still worth a visit though, with its fine old buildings, some of them thatched, and ponies grazing on the village green beside the church.
The church, dedicated to St Pancras, is one of the most visited in England. It's known as the 'Cathedral of the Moor', probably because it's far too large for the population of
the village and once served other small communities throughout the moor without their own churches. It was originally built, mainly with funds raised by tin miners, in the 14th century. Inside, a panel records disastrous events on a day in October 1638, when lightning struck the tower, dislodging blocks of masonry onto worshippers, killing four and seriously injuring 60 more. Local legend has it that the Devil himself had been seen earlier in the day spitting fire and riding a black horse across the moor!
The Church of St Pancras is architecturally noteworthy and its graveyard is well-kept with some interesting old headstones - a more recent one, for a former vicar, Eric Archibald Newbery, has pride of place in a raised position with tremendous views over God's country beyond. But it was an ancient symbol that we'd come in search of here. What we sought is found in many parts of the world (the earliest known, in Buddhist caves in China, dates back to 581AD) but, here in Britain, the symbol's seen mainly in medieval churches as carved bosses where the roof beams cross. On and around Dartmoor, 17 churches have a total of 29 of them. Although
The three rabbits on a roof boss
Above the chancel in St Pancras Church, Widecombe
no-one can agree on its true meaning, the symbol's made up of three rabbits (or some say hares) running in a circle with their ears joined in the centre, forming a triangle which gives the illusion that they each have two ears when, in fact, they only have one.
To the accompaniment of a rousing Bach prelude played by the organist practising for a concert, we found the elusive symbol, carved and painted brown, green, white and red, high up above our heads in the chancel. We found another one of these rare things at the Church of St Michael the Archangel in Chagford. There were actually two of them there, but we we'd have needed a very bright torch to see the other one! Chagford
, an easy 20-minute drive north of Widecombe, proved to be a characterful small town with attractive buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. One in the heart of the town, an old octagonal market house with a strange tower, now holds some little shops and the public toilets! Across the road is the Birdcage
, a very pleasant coffee shop and restaurant - with gourmet pizzas that are bellissimo.
from running rabbits in the church, another of Chagford's claims to touristic fame are two hardware shops - yes, hardware shops. They're next door to one another and, from the outside, look like small but well-stocked village shops. Go inside and Dr Who has landed in his Tardis! You can buy almost anything there for your kitchen, your bathroom, your bedroom, your dining room, your living room, your wardrobe, your garden... The shelves in these shops just keep going on, and on, and on, and on, and on... a bit like the Old Uncle Tom Cobley song!
If you've downed a few pints, you can now continue the tale of the grey mare who went to Widecombe Fair.
Many sung versions appear on YouTube, with slight differences to the words. Some are ridiculously badly performed, but I think one of the best is sung barber-shop fashion by The Kings Singers - and even that's a derivation of the original!
All together now... (but beware: this is the original, full version and not the edited one being sung in the video!)
And when shall I see again my grey mare?
Uncle Tom Cobley and All
A model made by the late Harry Price
along, down along, out along lea. By Friday soon, or Saturday noon, Wi' Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all. So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare. All along, down along, out along lea. And off they drove to Widecombe fair, Wi' Bill Brewer... Then Friday came, and Saturday noon. All along, down along, out along lea. But Tom Pearce's old mare hath not trotted home, Wi' Bill Brewer... So Tom Pearce he got up to the top o' the hill. All along, down along, out along lea. And he see'd his old mare down a-making her will, Wi' Bill Brewer... So Tom Pearce's old mare, her took sick and died. All along, down along, out along lea. And Tom he sat down on a stone, and he cried Wi' Bill Brewer... But this isn't the end o' this shocking affair. All along, down along, out along lea. Nor, though they be dead, of the horrid career Of Bill Brewer... When the wind whistles cold on the moor of the night. All along, down
along, out along lea. Tom Pearce's old mare doth appear ghastly white, Wi' Bill Brewer... And all the long night be heard skirling and groans. All along, down along, out along lea. From Tom Pearce's old mare in her rattling bones, Wi' Bill Brewer... If you managed to sing along right to the end, give yourself a round of applause! Now scroll down for more pictures and double-click on them to enlarge. The panorama at the top of the page is a short slideshow.
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