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Broadside ballad entitled 'The Orphan Boy'


This ballad begins: 'I hear the people sing about the Drunkard's raggit wean, / As I wander through the streets, quite dejected & alane, / Baith hungry, cauld, and raggit, and nae frien's at a' hae I; / And oh! there's few to pity me, a puir wee Orphan Boy.' Other editions of the same ballad mentioned that it was written by John Wilson of Glasgow. The broadside carries no publication details.

Songs like the 'The Orphan Boy', which used images of poverty to pull at the heartstrings of their hearers, were quite commonly found on broadsides especially in the late nineteenth century. It is likely that they were also intended to raise awareness of the poor social welfare afforded to orphaned and abandoned children. Interestingly, the first line of this song makes an explicit reference to another popular song on a similar subject, 'The Drunkard's Raggit Wean', which also appears on broadsides held by the National Library of Scotland.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1850-1870   shelfmark: RB.m.169(061)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Orphan Boy'
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