Peg a Ramsay

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PEG A RAMSAY. Irish, English; Air (4/4 time). C Major (Chappell): D Mixolydian (Kines). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Chappell): ABB (Kines). The tune appears in William Ballet's Lute Book of 1594, and a Scottish version in the Rowallan Manuscript (c. 1629) under the title “Maggie Ramsay.” John Glen (Early Scottish Melodies, 1900) believes Scottish sources predate English ones, and says that the William Ballet tune is merely an English version of the Rowallan one (believing the Ballet book not to have the antiquity claimed for it). Irish musicologist Grattan Flood (1906) explains that it was curiously called a "dump tune" by Thomas Nash in 1596 (in his Have with you to Saffron Walden), and again in his 1598 Shepherd's Holiday when he alluded to "Roundelays, Irish Hayes, "Cogs and Rongs, and Peg a Ramsay." Shakespeare, in his play Twelfth Night (act ii, sc 3) refers to the dance when the character Sir Toby calls Maluolio a "Peg a Ramsay" and also makes mention of "merry dumps," "dreary dumps," "deploring dumps," and "doleful dumps." Perhaps because of the latter three references Chappell (1859) thought the dump a slow dance (see "Irish Dumpe (The)"), while Cowyn equates it with the Irish duan or dan (meaning a song or poem). According to Flood (who was not always the most accurate of researchers, and sometime notoriously erroneous), it referred to the music of an ancient Irish harp-like instrument, the "tiompan or timpan. The timpan was also popular in England in the 15th and 16th centurys, and the words "dump" and "thump," which mean to "pluck" and "strike" the timpan entered the English language, originally in connection with the instrument. Thus Shakespeare's reference to a "merry dump" is explained as descriptive of a technique of playing or a type of sharp musical attack (See "Dump").

Chappell says that Ramsey was a town in Huntingdonshire that was formerly an important burg, called "Ramsey the rich" before the destruction of its abbey. In later years the title “Peg-a Ramsay,” meaning ‘Peg from Ramsey’ became the name “Peggy Ramsay.” “Bonny Peggy Ramsey” with bawdy words (and a different tune) appears in Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, vol. v (1719, p. 139) and exactly fit the tune in Dr. Bull's manuscript book, states Kines (1964). A 'Peg a Ramsay' entered popular usage to refer to a bawd, and the term sometimes crops up in old literature. The lyric goes:

Bonny Peggy Ramsay that any man may see;
And bonny was her face with a fair freck I'd eye;
Neat is her body made and she hath good skill,
And round are her bonny arms that work well at the mill
With a hey tro-lo-del, hey tro-lo-del, hey tro-lo-del lil;
Bonny Peggy Ramsay that works well at the mill.

Peggy to the Mill is gone to grind a Bowl of Mault,
The Mill it wanted Water, and was not that a fault;
Up she pull'd her Petticoats and piss'd into the Dam,
For six Days and seven Nights she made the Mill to gang;
With a hey, &c.

Some call her Peggy, and some call her Jean,
Bot some calls her Midsummer, but they all are mista'en;
For Peggy is a bonny Lass, and grinds well her Mill,
For she will be Occupied when others they lay still:
With a hey, &c.

Peg, thee and I se grin a poke, and we to War will leanes,
I se lay thee flat upon thy Back and then lay to the steanes;
I se make hopper titter totter, haud the Mouth as still,
When twa fit, and eane stand, merrily grind the Mill:
With a hey, &c.

Up goes the Clap, and in goes the Corn,
Betwixt twa rough steans Peggy not to learn;
With a Dam full of Water that she holdeth still,
To pour upon the Clap for burning of the Mill:
With a hey, &c.

Up she pull'd the Dam sure and let the Water in,
The Wheel went about, and the Mill began to grind;
The spindle it was hardy, and the steane were they well pickt,
And the Meal fell in the Mill Trough, and ye may all come lick:
With a hey trolodel, hey trolodel, hey trolodel lill,
Bonny Peggy Ramsey she gives well her Mill.

As noted above, a second tune for “Peg a Ramsay” is cited by Chappell, that of “Watton Town's End,” to which several songs were sung, including “Bonny Peggy Ramsey" and "London is a Fine Town.”

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time, vol. 1), 1859; p. 248. Kines (Songs From Shakespeare's Plays and Popular Songs of Shakespeare's Time), 1964; p. 10.

Recorded sources:




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