barbara bell

Barbara Bell

Barbara Bell appears in the three main collections, subtitled A New Song to an Old Tune.

Away to the picnic at Ryton away

Went off in the sunrise together pell-mell

And many were bonny and many were gay

But sweetest of any was Barbara Bell


As sweet as a cherry was Barbara Bell

Tricksy and merry was Barbara Bell;

Tho’ others that day were bonny and gay

The Queen of the charmers was Barbara Bell

Nan Harley was there, her locks in the sun

Did sparkle and burn, yet woeful to tell,

No spoils by her long yellow tresses were won

The lads only hankered for Barbara Bell.

Meg Wilson came up, her eyes black as jet -

And tho’ at a fair oft ruled by their spell,

Meg fail’d even one rosy apple to get -

No pickings were there but for Barbara Bell.

Nell Dowey appeared, in her dimples adorned,

The rose of the roses was she on the Fell;

But somehow this rose to a daffodil turned

That moment she glided near Barbara Bell

The lovely and young, they danced and they sung,

Till down came the night and darkened the dell;

When homeward they hied – a star for their guide -

And who was that star saving Barbara Bell!

In view of its subtitle, this was clearly envisaged as a song, but as no tune was indicated (and I have no knowledge of any song or tune called Barbara Bell) I decided to write one of my own, and settled on a waltz tune, which would give the chorus a 'singalong' character.

Since writing the song, I have realised that the folk dance tune usually called St Patrick's Day is sometimes referred to as Barbary Bell so it is possible that this tune was the one envisaged. It would be possible to sing the words of Barbara Bell to it, but I find it a bit of a struggle and, as there is no definite association with the poem (apart from the fact that Joseph Skipsey was born on 17 March so might have had a liking for the tune if he had heard it) I've decided to keep my own tune.

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