Rothwell Debtors Prison Song

from by 12 Dead in Everett

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about

The paradoxical institution of the debtor's prison was much feared by rich and poor alike in the 18th and 19th centuries. These prisons confined those unable to pay their debts indefinitely, or until such a time as they had secured funds for their release. Inmates were also obliged to pay for their keep, often resorting to begging from the gates in order to do so. They were places of utter loneliness and despair.

It is said of the debtors prison at Rothwell in Yorkshire that new inmates were greeted by the 'Society of Debtors', who would demand that they either pay a fine (the 'garnish', referred to in the second verse) or forfeit their coat. Having saved little money from their grasping creditors, the fate of the new inmate’s coat was a forgone conclusion. The Rothwell Debtor's Prison Song recounts one such instance.

Our version is sung to the tune written by Wendy Price and used by her family. It is from their recordings that we learnt the song. We are grateful for her kind permission to use it here.

lyrics

We bid you welcome, brother debtor, to this poor but nary place,
Where no bailiff, bum or satyr dares to show his frightful face.

Now, kind sir, as you’re a stranger down the garnish you must lay,
Or your coat will be in danger, you must either strip or pay.

Ne’er repine at your confinement, from your children and your wife,
For wisdom lies in true resignment, through the varied scenes of life.

What was it made great Alexander weep at his unhappy fate?
It was because he could not wander through this wide, strong prison gate.

For every island is a prison strongly guarded by the sea.
Kings and princes for that reason prisoners are as well as we.

credits

from We Bid You Welcome Brother Debtor, released May 19, 2016
Traditional arranged by 12 Dead in Everett. Tune by Wendy Price.

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12 Dead in Everett England, UK

A low-down, seditious trio playing old time, folk and rebel music. Songs to fan the flames of discontent and tell your boss to go to hell. Sweet harmonies of reason in a world deaf to exploitation.

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