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Sir John Fenwick

Although 'Sir John Fenwick’s the Flower Amang Them All' is regarded as one of the classics of the Northumbrian repertoire there is a tendency to regard it as a beginner’s tune with little to interest the more advanced player. This is regrettable but understandable, and is mostly due to the fact that only one version is generally known, the one which appears in the first Northumbrian Pipers’ Tune Book. The problem is not that this is a bad version (which it is not) but that many other versions, with a different slant on the melody, or with melodically satisfying variations, never get played.

The tune has a long history and many different titles. It is probably Scottish in origin, with many of the early versions named after Mary Scott, the Flower of Yarrow. The earliest known version, though, is called 'Long Cold Nights', and appeared in the 1690 edition of Playford’s Apollo’s Banquet. Here it is, from Les Jessop’s transcription in his article “Who was Sir John Fenwick?” in the 1988 Northumbrian Pipers’ Society Magazine:

Long Cold Nights (Playford)
Long Cold Nights, Apollo’s Banquet, Playford, 1690.

This is obviously different in many ways from the well known version, but still clearly recognisable. What is more interesting is how some of its details are found in many of the much later local versions which we will look at: the A-G melody of bar 15 recurs in later versions, or in some of their strains; in strain 2 bars 5 and 6, where we feel the underlying chord ‘move up’ from G to A minor, the note B does not move up to C as in the well known version, and in many versions the high G does not move up to high A either. This ‘Partial Shift Phenomenon’ is not common, but it does occur elsewhere, e.g. in William Dixon’s The Black And Grey.

The Flower Of Yarraw (Atkinson)
The Flower Of Yarraw, Henry Atkinson manuscript tune book, 1694/5.
click here to see full size image.

Henry Atkinson’s 'The Flower Of Yarraw' is slightly younger than Playford’s Long Cold Nights. Note that one of his 6/4 bars is equivalent to two of the usual 3/4 bars. Again, we recognise the tune easily but notice several unfamiliar features. Some passages are very familiar though - bar 7 of Atkinson’s strains, equivalent to bars 13 and 14 of other versions, is what pipers play today. Atkinson’s strain 2 is not the usual one, and not found in later versions as a variation either; it seems unsure of itself. Strain 3 is more familiar. It opens like the usual strain 2, but then continues with the same insistent figure. We will meet it again.

Next, and over a century later, we come to John Bell’s and Robert Bewick’s versions. By this time the tune had been renamed for Sir John Fenwick, who unfortunately lost his life in 1697 for his Jacobite sympathies (see Les Jessop’s article for more detail on Sir John).

Sir John Fenwick (Bell)
Sir John Fenwicke, John Bell, Collection of the local tunes as played in Northumberland, c.1812.
click here to see full size image.

These were both copied into the Ancient Melodies Committee manuscript. John Bell’s, here reproduces from bell's own manuscript, is almost certainly the source of the Northumbrian Minstrelsy version which, with the Bs replaced by Cs in strain 2 bars 5 and 6, became the Pipers’ Tune Book version.

Sir John Fenwick, copied from Robert Bewick (Ancient Melodies Committee ms)
Sir John Fenwick, copied from Robert Bewick, Airs and dance tunes collected and constructed by the Melodies Committee of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society, 1857-1887.
click here to see full size image.

Bewick’s version, overlooked by the Minstrelsy editors, is more interesting for many reasons. It has a more embellished version of the basic melody as well as two more strains than we are used to hearing, and the extra strains are based on good material. The whole set fits entirely within the plain chanter range, and it preserves the partial shift of the early versions. In short, a gem.

The fullest flowering of the tune, though, is found in Joseph Crawhall’s collection.

Sir John Fenwick (Crawhall)
Sir John Fenwick, Northumbrian music collected by Joseph Crawhall, 1872.
click here to see full size image.

Here we have Bewick’s four strains plus three ‘new’ ones, and many passages that use the extra notes of the keyed chanter. The strains in common with Bewick have many different details, including a different slant on the partial shift in strain 3, with high G moving up to high A, but a D where we would expect an E.

It is a fascinating blend of old and new. While most of it can still be played on the keyless chanter, the new technology is brought fully into play in strain 5. The closing strain 7 reprises Atkinson’s strain 3 amazingly closely, whether by coincidence or by survival, joining the ‘two ends’ of the tune’s local development over a gap of a century and a half.

An identical version to Crawhall’s (which is also in his published collection) is in the John Rook ms, Cumbria, 1840 (see The Morpeth Rant, Dragonfly Music 1990, pp. 62-3), showing that, wherever the setting originated, pipers at this time were circulating the latest variations among themselves.

In this article I have concentrated on one strand of the tune, with many common features shared by the earliest and latest versions. It is also worth mentioning, without going into detail, three other ‘semi-autonomous’ strands which branched off from it. Two of these are also in Bewick’s manuscript and are in the published selection Bewick’s Pipe Tunes. One, with four strains in D and for fiddle, with a range of a twelfth, was published in William MacGibbon’s Scots Tunes, and widely copied. The second, much more common, is found as a reel and strathspey, variously called Carrick’s Rant, Mary Scott, or The Smith’s A Gallant Fireman (see Vickers’ tune No. 315 for an example). Thirdly, there is another Cumbrian sighting in John Barns’ fiddle ms (c. 1790), in D, with some points in common with Crawhall and some unique features.



Morpeth Rant
Morpeth Rant
Core Tunes - article 4

Core Tunes - Introduction

Rattlin Roarin Willie
Rattlin Roarin Willie
Core Tunes - article 1

Sir John Fenwick
Sir John Fenwick
Core tunes - article 2

Bobby Shaftoe
Bobby Shaftoe
Core Tunes - article 3

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