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Four Manuscript Fiddler’s Books from the Browne Family Papers now held in the Armitt Library,Ambleside.

The transcriptions into ABC for the Village Music Project were done in 2000 by Cherri Graebe and Chris Partington.


These notes by me were first made in December 2000, but I have revised them in response to communications from Hugh Taylor in 2001, Jay Enwright in June 2005, and Sue Allan in April 2007. I append their notes in full at the end of this piece. The changes in my notes are the result of their more complete information regarding inscriptions in the manuscripts.

The Browne family came from the village of  Troutbeck, 3 miles from the town of Windermere in the old County of  Westmorland in the English Lake District, which since the boundary changes of 1974 has formed part of the new County of Cumbria. The family farm at Troutbeck is now in the possession of The National Trust.

These Manuscript books are held in the collection of the Armitt Library in Ambleside. Many of the pages have been subsequently inscribed in the top corners as ALMS11, 12,13,or 14. I shall refer to them as BF11, 12, 13, or 14 as referring to the family whose books they were.

BF11, 12, 13 are all of similar 4 ½” x 9 ¼” dimension, 4 staves per page, typical of late 18th/early 19thC manuscript fiddler’s tune books in good condition. It is difficult to say for sure from my old photocopy whether the staves are hand drawn or printed. All the pages have been numbered in what looks to be the same 20thC hand that added the ALMS11/12/13/14 inscriptions. BF14  is in poor condition. It is 3” x 9” roughly hand cut paper, stitched together at home, and ruled by hand with a five-nibbed pen in three staves. Some pages are loose and some appear to be missing altogether.

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Transcribed into ABC Music Notation for The Village Music Project by Cherri Graebe and Chris Partington

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(70 tunes)(James Lishman) is largely written in a hand that I shall refer to as “Lishman” (formerly “Browne A”) (65 tunes). The selection of tunes in this hand I believe to be consistent with a date of c1800.e.g. 7 tunes at least are from J.Aird, Playford and Walsh, the rest are consistent with c1800-10 Country Dances and Scottish Reels.  Spare staves and pages have been infilled in a markedly different hand that I shall call “Browne B” (5 tunes). These include The Annan Polka. BF11.70, which makes it unlikely that this hand is prior to c1850.

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Transcribed into ABC Music Notation for The Village Music Project by Cherri Graebe and Chris Partington

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(34 tunes) starts chronologically in 12th April 1778 with 4 Psalms written in by “John Cook” (formerly “Psalm Hand”) followed by 13 tunes. One later untitled tune which I have taken the liberty of naming “Wilson’s Hornpipe. BF12.15” contains the inscription “J.Wilson, June 18, 1833”, and although this may just about mean it was collected from J.Wilson, I regard this as extremely unlikely since I’ve never come across this practice elsewhere, yet it was certainly common practice at the time to write your own name randomly in your own MS book, as can be seen from many of the other Village Music Project MS books on this Website; therefore I shall refer to this writing as “J.Wilson Hand”, and since the inscription “Kesswick June 19 1833 appears with “She Wants A Fellow. BF12.17” I assume that J.Wilson of Keswick wrote this part of book BF12 in 1833.There are no quadrilles etc. in this selection, the rep. being more reminiscent of c1810, (Country Dances and Scottish Reels). These are followed by 15 tunes in what I shall call “Thomas Browne” formerly “Browne C”, plus another one that has been inserted in a spare couple of staves before the Psalms. This must be subsequent to 1833, but it also contains no quadrilles.

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Transcribed into ABC Music Notation for The Village Music Project by Cherri Graebe and Chris Partington

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(110 tunes) In Dec 2000 I wrote “…is said to have belonged to or had some connection with a dancing master called James Lishman, of whom I have as yet no further details, although I believe more is known. 14 of the tunes, including 2 Polkas, are in the same hand as “Browne B”(c1850) from BF11, so that is what they shall remain for the time being.”

The remaining 96 tunes appear to be in what I previously referred to as “J.Lishman Hand” but is now the “Mystery Hand” . The presence of Latee Quadrille (L’Ete Quadrille), tune 82, suggests a date of around 1820-25 for this portion of the MS, which is well within Lishman’s lifetime, but the handwriting does not match that in MS BF.11.

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Transcribed into ABC Music Notation for The Village Music Project by Chris Partington

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(14 tunes)(Anonymous) is written in a clearly different hand -“Browne D”, though also very similar in notes, letters, clefs etc. to elements of the other Mss. The content is similar too, to the extent that 6 of the 14 tunes are repeated almost identically elsewhere. i.e. Money Musk BF12.06; Jinny O BF13.005; Chips & Shavins BF006; Peggy’s Wedding BF13.008; Russian Dance BF13.009; Boy in the Baskett BF13.010; complete with mis-spelling. These are all J.Lishman(?) c1825 except Money Musk, J.Wilson 1833. I would not like to say positively what the date would be, except to hazard a guess at post 1780 to pre 1820, with the weight on 1810.

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“James Lishman

Parson & White Directory 1829 – Drawing & Dancing Master in Troutbeck Bridge.

Mannex Directory 1849 – Dancing Master, Gandy St., Kendal.

Mannex Directory 1851 – Ditto.

Traditional Step Dancing in the Lake District by Tom Flett – He was known to Dorothy Wordsworth who in 1822 compared some children dancing in New Lanark, Robert Owen’s model village (see R.D.Owen MS), to Mr. Lishman’s ball in Ambleside.

Lancaster and Kendal phone book – 32 Lishman entries.

John Cook of Crook

Parson & White Directory 1829 – only Cook in Crooke is a Thomas Cook, Yeoman, Birch Moss

Only references to a John Cook are –

    Farmer, Great Strickland, nr. Penrith

    Farmer, Sandy Hill, Stavely, next village.

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(a) The Brownes

The Browne family of Troutbeck. (the Browns in the cottages of Troutbeck were related, but the side of the family with the ‘e’ thought themselves rather better!)

The Browne family library contained 1000 – 1500 books, which reflect what was circulating 200 years ago. George Browne as early as 1640 had around 1500 onwards books. He died 1783. He was a High Sheriff of Westmorland, and the family in general could be regarded as social climbers, although as yeoman farmers they were very rooted in the countryside and its customs and had antiquarian interests, being inveterate collectors of books and old furniture.

Most of the books were very practical books on useful agricultural topics, sheep, brewing etc Gervase Markham’s ‘The Way to get wealth’ (?), and ‘The Husbandman’s recreation’ as well as books on law and devotional books.  As a young man he read and collected plays, Dryden etc, and the collection included novels of 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

There was also a set of 35 chapbooks (three quarters of which previously unrecorded, eg Blind Beggar/Bethnall Green; Carols; A Crafty Chambermaid’s Garland); and these fiddle tune books.

George’s son was Benjamin Browne (1664-1748). Another George Browne died in 1804, and another was born 1834 … I have yet to sort out just which Browne collected (and/or used?) the fiddle tune books, and who bequeathed them to the Armitt Library - as most of Browne papers are in Cumbria Record Office at Kendal, and most of the books still at Townend (the house is open to the public, but its library isn’t)

(b) James Lishman

AL MS 11 has inner front pages inscribed ‘James Lishman’.  

Lishman was well-known by Dorothy Wordsworth: whilst on a tour of Scotland in 1822, she visited a school and watching the children dancing, she commented that “the dancing would not have disgraced the Ambleside quality children at Mr Lishman’s ball.”   

I found the following information from a Lishman family website: ( ed. -See JD Enwright’s information below, which is a larger version of the same, and the source referred to by Sue Allan)

"James Lishman (1777 - 1849) was an artist, drawing teacher and dancing-master who taught in and around the Kendal and Windermere area throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. He may have taught the children of William Wordsworth to dance? He was the eldest of six children of Robert Lishman and Eleanor Wilson of Applethwaite, Windermere and was baptised at St. Martin's Church, Windermere in 1777.

On 25 July 1829 at the mature age of 52 he married Jane Jackson, 30 years his junior, in Kendal Parish Church. He was described as being ’of Ulverston’, but appears in a trade directory of that year as a dancing master in Troutbeck Bridge, which is also part of Windermere. It seems likely that he was married prior to this, but no evidence of a previous marriage has yet been found in either Ulverston, Windermere or Kendal.  He certainly married again after Jane died, as at his death he left a widow, Frances.

(being from Ulverston sounds to me quite wrong, and I wonder whether the Lishman who married at Kendal was our James the dancing master at all?)

I have a photocopy of a poster for ‘Mr Lishman’s Ball’ at Keswick in 1822.

(c) John Cook inscription

AL MS 12  is inscribed:  ‘John Cook, Crook, Born the 12 of April

                  In yeare of the Lord 1778’

And below:             ‘Thomas Browne’s Book

                  Troutbeck Westmorland, 1833’

… which makes it appear that one of the musical Brownes perhaps acquired an older tune book in order to play from it himself (Probably same as with Lishman book)

AL MS 13   has what an old index (from the Armitt, I think) describes as: “a ms account on front inner cover; letterpress rhymes (tonic-sol-fa) inscribed ‘Thomas Browne.’

The above from Sue Allan,  March 2007

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James Lishman


Dear Chris,

James Lishman (1777 - 1849) was an artist, drawing teacher and dancing-master who taught in and around Westmorland and the Furness area of Lancashire throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. A friend of mine, and fellow Lishman researcher, was brought up to believe that William Wordsworth's children were taught to dance by a Mr. Lishman, but she does not know the origin of this belief. Certainly he was known to the Wordsworths, as Dorothy mentions him in the journal of her tour of Scotland in 1822. She was impressed by the dancing prowess of the cotton-mill workers' children at New Lanark and commented "The dancing would not have disgraced the Ambleside quality children at Mr. Lishman's ball" (quoted in Traditional Step-Dancing in Lakeland by J.F. & T.M.Flett, published 1979 by EFDSS).

He taught dancing, and held balls, throughout the Lake District - certainly at Keswick, Ambleside and Grange-over-Sands. There is a letter in Kendal Records Office discussing possible lessons at Sedbergh school, but I do not know if these materialised. He was also an artist, and taught drawing at his home in Castle Street, Kendal.

e was the eldest of six children of Robert and Eleanor Lishman of Applethwaite, part of the Parish of Windermere. He was baptised at St. Martin's Church, Windermere in 1777. His mother was the daughter of James Wilson, the blacksmith in Troutbeck Bridge, who, in 1770, built a new dwelling and smithy at the bottom of St. Catharine's Brow, where it joined the new turnpike road from Kendal to Ambleside, and had it licensed as an inn. It remained in the Wilson family until 1853, and there is still an inn there today, where copies of documents pertaining to the family (including James Wilson's will) are framed on the walls.

 A younger James Wilson, grandson of the blacksmith and thus a cousin of James Lishman, married Dorothy Browne, daughter of George Browne of Townend, Troutbeck in 1818. Townend belonged to the Browne family from at least 1525 until 1944, when it was sold and later transferred to the National Trust complete with much of its original furnishings. Some of the family's papers (including James Lishman's Music Book) were donated to the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.

On July 25, 1829, at the mature age of 52, James Lishman married Jane Jackson, 30 years his junior, in Kendal Parish Church. He was described as being "of Ulverston", but he appears in a trade directory of that year as a dancing master in Troutbeck Bridge. It seems likely that he was married prior to this, but no evidence of a previous marriage has yet been found in either Ulverston, Windermere or Kendal. Jane died in 1841, and three years later he married a widow, Frances Ormandy.

James and Jane had five children James William, Eleanor Emma, Anne Amelia, Robert Wilson and Ann Amelia. Eleanor died unmarried at the age of 19. Anne Amelia presumably died in childhood before the birth of her namesake. The second Ann Amelia died in 1852 at the age of 11. James and Robert both moved to London after their father's death in 1849.

JD Enwright, June 2005

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BF11 was therefore started by James Lishman, who I formerly referred to as Browne A, in c1800-10.It passed to Brown B in about1850, who entered 5 more tunes.

BF12 was by a person I shall assume to be J.Wilson, of Keswick, in 1833, in a book that had previously been used by another person, John Cook of Crook, 1778, for writing four Psalms and some other tunes in. This book then passed to Thomas Browne, (formerly Browne C) c1833, who entered more tunes.

BF13 was started by a person I previously assumed to be James Lishman, Dancing Master, c1825. I was wrong in identifying it thus. He or she has become the Mystery Hand. The book then passed to Browne B, who entered some more tunes, along with some in BF11.

BF14 was wholly written by a person I shall call Browne D in about 1810. It was heavily copied by Mystery Hand (formerly J.Lishman) in about 1825.If this was in the possession of Mystery Hand it may have passed to Browne B, 1850., along with BF11 and 13.

Admittedly a complex picture, and merely my interpretation/guess in places, but my best guess anyway.

Further information concerning the family ties between the Lishmans, Brownes and Wilsons can be found in the items provided by Sue Allan and Jay Enwright above.

What is clear is that by 1850 at the latest, books BF11/13 were in the possession of one person, Browne B, who wrote in both of them, and we may suppose BF12,14 also were in his possession. James Lishman seems to have owned BF13 at some point, according to reports, and they were certainly in the possession of the Browne family of Troutbeck, Westmoreland, when they were collected by whoever it was who donated them to the Armitt Library so that they may be used by future generations to enjoy.

BF11a---James Lishman (formerly Browne A)  c1800-10

BF11b---Browne B                                            c1850

BF12a---Thomas Browne (formerly Browne C)c1835

BF12b---John Cook (formerly Psalm hand)        1778

BF12c---J.Wilson                                                1833

BF12d---Thomas Browne (formerly Browne C) c1833 -

BF13a---Mystery Hand (formerly J. Lishman), c1825

BF13b---Browne B                                             c1850

BF14-----Browne D                                            c1810

Chris Partington. 18/12/00, revised May 2007

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