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An early nineteenth century manuscript from Worsborough in South Yorkshire

It contains a great many common time hornpipes plus a number of reels and a few jigs and waltzes

Transcribed into ABC Music Notation for the Village Music Project by Ruairidh Greig

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Kept at Vaughan Williams Memorial Library

Part published in P.Davenport "South Riding Tunebook", ISBN 0 9529857 0 5, The South Riding Folk Network; 1996/7

The following introduction by Ruairidh Greig

Joshua Burnett

Joshua Burnett was born in Barnsley in 1808. Although his birth is not recorded on the International Genealogical Index, this date is consistently given in the census returns from 1851 to 1871. The next record of his existence is his marriage, on 22nd August 1833, to Sarah Luker at Worsborough, which lies a few miles south of Barnsley. By the time the 1841 census was taken, they had four children and were living at Worsborough Common. Joshua’s occupation at the time is given as “weaver”.

A family tragedy is recorded by the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1847. The Burnett’s third son, three-year-old Joshua, whilst in the care of a sibling, dropped asleep and fell in the fire and was fatally burnt. His Mother was out, hoping to borrow a shilling to buy food, the family being in great distress due to the lack of work.

By 1851, the date of the next Census, Joshua had moved with his wife and five children to Gawber, on the north-west side of Barnsley. His occupation is given as “linen weaver.” His wife, Sarah, died in 1855, and the death of another daughter, Esther, is recorded in 1863. Joshua stayed in the same area, eventually living according to the 1871 census with his youngest daughter  Sarah ,with her husband James Burgess and their young family, in Pogmoor.

He died, aged 80, in 1889 and is buried in Gawber churchyard.

Joshua Burnett’s fiddle passed down through his family until it came into the possession of Mr Frank Mitchell. He contacted the local paper and an article was printed.

The manuscript includes 74 tunes. Most have names; eight are simply labelled “hornpipe,” four tunes are untitled. Many have been published in the aforementioned “South Riding Tune Book”
One of the untitled tunes has the inscription "By James Knight a Blindman". This is a clear reference to one of a group of blind Sheffield musicians researched by Paul Davenport. See his website here for details:- This inspired Paul to name some of the otherwise untitled tunes in the Burnett MS after members of that group.

The manuscript is unusual, in that includes a high proportion of hornpipes (77%), with only a handful of jigs, reels and other dances, which are much more common in other contemporary collections. It could be that this is one of a series of books kept by Burnett, and that others might contain more tunes of other types. It could also be that he specialised in playing hornpipes. If, as a poor man, he had to supplement his meagre income as a hand-loom weaver by playing his fiddle in local public houses, then hornpipes would be a suitable choice. It is also possible that he accompanied a step or clog dancer, or even played and danced at the same time.

There is an unusual spread of keys in the tunes. The key of Gmaj is under-represented, at only 17.5% against the usual >30%. Fmaj is slightly over, and Bb an A much more so. The frequent setting of tunes in A, F, and  Bb, suggest that Burnett was not only a very capable musician but also possibly  that he played in a group with other instruments, such as flutes, clarinets and bassoons, possibly in a church band. A printed music book of hymns was also kept with the fiddle, which may support this theory.

R. Greig, 2020.

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