Sussex History - Sussex Songs From Under The Broadwood Tree

Sussex History – Sussex Songs From Under The Broadwood Tree

by Mark Broad

In the 1850s, annual production at the Broadwood piano factory in Westminster peaked at around 2500 instruments. John Broadwood (1732-1812) had come to London from the Lothian hills in 1761. A skilled cabinet-maker, he found employment in Burkat Shudi’s harpsichord workshop, making fine instruments for royalty, the very rich and eminent composers, including Haydn. By the time John took charge of the company, after Shudi’s death in 1773, research and development of the new ‘piano-forte’, an instrument with a greater variety of tone and dynamic, was occupying more of his time and imagination.

John Broadwood

John Broadwood died in 1812, leaving ‘an immense estate’ and the family firm continued to thrive under his sons. Broadwood pianos were delivered to Beethoven in Vienna and to King George IV at Brighton Pavilion. The firm has held the Royal Warrant longer than any other holder.

Just north of Rusper, near the Sussex-Surrey border, is Lyne House which was a country retreat of the Broadwood family and home to two persons whose interest
in the traditional songs of ordinary working people gave impetus to the Victorian Folk Revival.

The Reverend John Broadwood (1798-1864) made a collection of songs under the title (it’s a long one, take a deep breath): “Old English Songs as now sung by the Peasantry of the Weald of Surrey and Sussex and collected by one who has learnt them by hearing them sung every Christmas from early childhood by the Country People who go about to the Neighbouring Houses singing, or wassailing as it is called at that season. The airs are set to music exactly as they are now sung, to rescue them from oblivion and to afford a specimen of genuine old English Melody … harmonized for the collector in 1843 by G.A. Dusart, Organist to the Chapel of Ease at

Lucy Etheldred Broadwood © National Portrait Gallery

Because the Reverend John was careful to keep words and tune together, just as his singers delivered them, and insisted on preserving the modal character of their melodies (refusing Mr Dusart’s inclination to ‘correct’ and harmonize in a manner more suitable for refined company) he is considered a pioneer among collectors of English folksong. A fellow member of the Sussex Archaeological Society testified that by his insistence on oral transcription John Broadwood had “the true feeling of an archaeologist”.

He reportedly sang these songs at home, “exactly as the smocked labourers sang”, and was met with polite boredom by family and friends. This was a story
repeated by his niece, the talented musician Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929), who later became a leading influence in the folk revival, a mentor to younger composers
and singers, and a founding member of the Folk Song Society.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Taking the songs collected by her uncle and adding more from her own sources, Lucy Broadwood collaborated with her cousin Herbert F. Birch Reynardson to produce a new volume titled ‘Sussex Songs’ (1889). Then she worked with Purcell scholar J.A. Fuller Maitland on ‘English County Songs’ (1893). Importantly, the source singers are credited. Names include Henry Burstow, bell-ringer and shoemaker of Horsham, who famously had over 400 songs, and Samuel Willett, baker of Cuckfield, who managed to elicit some payment for imparting his repertoire.

Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger, both protégés of Lucy’s in the folksong field, were encouraged by her in their use of the phonograph for capturing audio recordings of singers. Henry Burstow said: “This was the first time I had seen or heard one of these marvellous machines, and I was amazed beyond expression to hear my own songs thus repeated in my own voice.”

Parry, Mackenzie, Stanford

“It has often been asserted by foreigners that the English have no national music, and so frequently has this been repeated that Englishmen have come to believe it is true.” F.E. Sawyer, 1886. [Wasn’t the same in 1966! Ed.] Lucy was a prime mover in the formation of the Folk Song Society, involving such luminaries as Hubert Parry (Director of the Royal College of Music), Charles Stanford (Professor of Music at Cambridge), John Stainer (Professor of Music at Oxford) and Charles Mackenzie (Principle at the Royal Academy of Music). These worthy gentlemen were in pursuit of something they felt should amount to an English musical Renaissance. There was a need to dispel long-standing Germanic influence in music and connect with something essentially English. Apart from that it was difficult to find much agreement. Given these people’s positions of power, the idea was also jokingly referred to as the South Kensington Renaissance and ridiculed by George Bernard Shaw as a mutual admiration society.

In the Folk-Song Society’s very first Journal, Vol. 1, No.1 (1899) is described a gathering at the home of Mrs Beer (owner and editor of The Sunday Times and The Observer) at which Kate Lee recounts her earliest song-collecting efforts: in particular her stay at the house of Sir Edward Carson QC, in Rottingdean. There she found James and Thomas Copper – local farm Bailiff and pub landlord, respectively – and transcribed their singing, working over three evenings, with the help of whisky, and failing to exhaust their repertoire. The brothers Copper were duly awarded honorary membership of the inaugural Folk Song Society and credited by name in its Journal (they were then the only folksinger members). We do not know if they had been invited to present their songs in person, that evening in Mayfair.

Lucy Broadwood died in 1929 and is buried at Rusper, where every year the Broadwood Morris Dancers dance in her honour and lay a wreath.

Sussex Songs

John Broadwood, Lucy E. Broadwood;

Arrangements by H. F. Birch Reynardson

London: Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co., 1890.

Price: 2/6d


This Collection of Popular Songs of Sussex was begun by the Rev. John Broadwood, of Lyne, Horsham, about  fifty years ago, at which time many of the songs were remembered only by a few of the oldest singers in his neighbourhood. Of late years it has been considerably added to by his niece, Miss L. E. [Lucy Etheldred] Broadwood.

The songs, both words and music, were faithfully written down exactly as they were sung by country people in the Weald of Sussex.

Although most of the songs seem to be peculiar to Sussex and its borders, there are several, as may be supposed, of which versions, differing more or less from those given here, are sung in other counties. It is possible that some of the tunes or words may be recognised by readers, perhaps as old acquaintances under a new form. Should this be the case, any information on the subject will be very gladly received…