Back to Barley Break
BARLEY BREAK. English, Air (3/2 & 6/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABC. The air appears in Lady Neville's Virginal Book. Chappell (1859) relates that barley-break was a very old and popular outdoors game played by six people (three of each sex), who were randomly coupled. A playing field was chosen and divided into three sections with the center section being designated as 'hell'. A mixed-sex couple would each take a division as 'home', and the center couple tried to capture the others as they dashed from end to end through the middle territory. The game ended when all the players were in 'hell', leaving a lone couple as winners. The name stems from the fact that it was often played among the grain stacks of the farmyard. There may also have been a dance called the barley-break, and, although Chappell was too prudish to have mentioned, barley-break was also probably used as a metaphor for lovemaking.
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time, vol. 1), 1859; p. 270.
Recorded sources: Island Records AN-700, Kirkpatrick & Hutchings - "The Compleat Dancing Master" (1974).