- WORKSONGS & CHANTS
PORTLAND STONE QUARRIES
Unique actuality recordings made by Peter Kennedy in Dorset in 1954 in the
last of the privately owned stone quarries at Easton on the Isle of Portland,
near Weymouth, Dorset. In addition to the ten songs and chants, there is plenty
of explanatory talk about the processes of Reaming-up, moving stone and using
the wooden Portland jacks. Includes EE KALAZEE (The French Song) ROLL THE CHARIOT
ALONG/ FLEETING UP/ BOLD DANIEL/ BEAT THE DRUM AGAIN/ROLL OUT THE BARREL/ PARLEZ-VOUS
1. REAMING UP CHANT - 0'56"
2. CHANT repeated - 0'58"
3. EE KALAZEE "The French Song" - 1'16"
4. ROLL THE CHARIOT ALONG - 1'16"
5. MADEMOISELLE FROM ARMENTIERES - 0'53"
6. ROLL OUT THE BARREL - 0'56"
7. EE KALAZEE repeated - 2'02"
8. Fleeting up song: ROUND, BOYS, ROUND - 0'27"
9. BEAT THE DRUM AGAIN (or The Female Drummer): song: George STONE (talk
after) - 1'04"
10. THE BOLD DANIEL: As previous - 0'57"
11. Talk about Reaming-up process & use of nick-names by Harry Hounsell
& further talk about methods by George Stone- 3'12"
12. Further talk by H.H.about methods of keeping together, names of songs interviewed
by PK - 1'48"
13. Talk about The French Song, EE KALAZEE, by Joe White, then sung with further
talk - 3'08"
14. Talk about "Fleeting up" by Jack Tewkesbury; he then sings ROUND,
BOYS, ROUND; talk, sung again, then further explanations of moving the roach
of the crane - 2'54"
15. Talk about Portland jacks by Jack (pump engine in background) and sound
of jack working - 1'37"
16. Talk by Jack Tewkesbury and Joe White describing the process of reaming
up a large rock of a thousand tons in 1907 - 3'55"
17. Talk by Joe about Companies, leadership and apprenticeship - 1'20"
Recorded by Peter Kennedy October 1954. Edited by Peter Kennedy and first published
on Folktrax cassettes 1975.
THE STONE MEN OF PORTLAND: The Isle of Portland, near Weymouth, not only provides
protection for the Naval Base, but its quarries are renowned for its quality
of stone and cement. Portland stone was used in London for the Whitehall Banquetting
Hall by Inigo Jones in 1619 and also for St. Paul's Cathedral by Sir Christopher
Wren and for the BBC and many other buildings. Portland is in the Domesday Book
as "Land of the Kings" and its Court Leet is still extant, being a Crown Court,
with no intermediary between royalty and the tenants, having the right to quarry
on common lands and paying royalty to the Court.
When this recording was made in the 1950's, there were still some small privately-owned
stone quarries, with gangs of 6 or 8 men, working in pairs, and a boy to each
crane. The gang recorded here were known, officially, as "Harry Hounsell and
Company", Harry being responsible for the books, but, in fact, it was the apprentice
boy, being able to read and write, who looked after the books. Harry was not
the boss, all decisions were taken, democratically, by the company as a whole.
Since the Company was paid by the tonnage of squared stone, their pay packets
depended on the way they split the rock evenly along each seam, and this depended
on unified timing. They worked in pairs, right-handed and left-handed, in turns,
driving in each wedge with heavy sledge-hammers, keeping in timewith improvised
shouts, chants or by singing well-known songs, hymns "Abide with me" or "Lead kindly light" or by traditional songs, including the so-called "French song", possibly originally sung by by Basque sailors stranded
There were only a few family surnames on Portland: Hounsell, Stone and
Tewkesbury or Stewkesbury, so the quarrymen were identified by an extensive
use of nick-names, such as "Wold Young's young-un, Tangaloo, Bunnockses,
Poker, Shiner, Fleisher Lop-an-trot" etc., these names often being used
in the Work Chants.
The process of REAMING UP involved 6-8 men lifting a large rock, up to
a 1,000 tons, off the bed by hewing an oblong cavity in the base along the line
of its natural seam. Two iron pigs were inserted and 4 large wedges driven in
between the pigs, each pair of men driving 4 wedges in turn. After all 4 are
tight, they work on 3, allowing the fourth to become loose, when they shout
out "'Bout". Reaming then stops while a small packing piece is inserted.
They would then work on this wedge and two others, again until the 4th comes
loose. The fine for not shouting "'Bout" or not having a wedge loose enough
was half a gallon of ale, so the results at the end of a "Ream" can well be
HEAVING THE JACK was used in the days before cranes were widely available
to lift the squared stone onto carts using the Portland jacks. These were peculiar
to Portland, but similar ones were employed in some French quarries. The Jacks
were operated by turning a handle to operate a geared wheel which raised a lever,
having a foot at the bottom and a clawed end at the top. Each half turn required
considerable strength, and it was essential for all the men to lift evenly so
that the load would not tip. Except in the third line of ROUND, BOYS, ROUND,
the song gives one word for each half turn of the handle. The third line was
always improvised such as: "Johnny Skinner - lost his dinner, Benny White
- out all night, Robert Fall - stayed down hole" and so on
Before Peter Kennedy visited Portland in 1954 with a tape-recorder, the
BBC had already made some acetate discs in 1937 and 1939. These discs are kept
in the Folktrax Archive. Part of a 1968 BBC Programme, A-ROVING, with Peter
Kennedy, can be heard on Folktrax 308.