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24 September 2014
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Hartlake memorial: Hartlake Bridge song
Jasper Smith.The song 'Hartlake Bridge' has been handed down through the Smith family for many generations.


AudioListen to Jasper sing it
Audio.Listen to Ambrose sing it
Jasper Smith
The Romany culture is historically an oral one, the culture and language being handed on by word of mouth and songs such as Hartlake Bridge which describe true events remain an important part of local Gypsy history.

Historical events have always been commemorated in song. For centuries there were professional ballad writers who composed verses to mark newsworthy occasions, these were then printed on single sheets of paper and sold in vast quantities.

These 'Broadsheet Ballads' were in some ways the pop songs of their day as well as being a way of spreading news. Songs were written about military victories, political dealings and other more grizzly subjects, such as those that claimed to be the last writings of those who sat in the condemned cells awaiting their public hanging.

Jug of ale

As well as these professional songwriters there have also always been the anonymous composers, local singers who created new songs that were only of real relevance to their immediate communities. They would have been sung in the local pub on a Saturday night or perhaps at gatherings around a jug of ale in farmhouse kitchens.

These songs became part of the folk tradition, they never existed in print but were passed on purely by word of mouth as singers increased their repertoires by learning from each other.

'Hartlake Bridge' is one such song, it was never written down until it was recorded by a folk song collector during the early 1970s from a local Romany Gypsy, Jasper Smith.

Ambrose Cooper
Ambrose Cooper

Until then it was unknown outside the local Gypsy community but had survived by being kept in the family repertoire for several generations. These traditional songs together with tunes and stories would all have been heard around the open fires at night as Travellers relaxed after a day's work.

We don't know who first composed it but the fact that it was important and relevant to those who sang and listened to it ensured its survival and today the song is still being sung by Jasper's nephew, Ambrose Cooper.

The Hartlake Bridge Disaster

Now seven and thirty strangers a hopping they had been
They were 'ployed by Mr Cox's down by old Golden Green
For it was in the parish of Hadlow, close by old Tonbridge Town
That's where they laid those poor souls after they were drowned

Now some were man and women, the others girls and boys
They were a going across the bridge when the horses they took shy
They were going across the bridge and everyone was drowned
Just to hear the screams of those poor souls as they were going down

Now people came from everywhere just to see what could be done
But no one was saved that day, they were drowned everyone
No one was saved that day, yes everyone was drowned
To hear the screams of those poor souls when they were going down

Now some were men and women, the others girls and boys
They were a going across the bridge when the horses they took shy
They were a going across the bridge and everyone was drowned
Just hear the screams of those poor souls when they were going down


AudioListen to Jasper sing it
Audio.Listen to Ambrose sing it

Gypsy Travellers
Friends, Families & Travellers
More from Romany Roots
Hartlake memorial
Homepage
Details of the service
Order of Service
History of hopping
The River Medway
Hartlake Bridge song
Hartlake poem
Picture gallery
Lord's Prayer in Romany


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