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Broadside ballad entitled 'John Tamson's Cart'


This ballad begins: 'Auld Jack Tamson rade hame frae the fair, / Late, late on o cauld winter night O! / He had toomed his three coggies, am mebbe ane mair, / Nae ferlie, his head it was light O! Below the title we are told that 'This Popular Song can always be had at the Poet's Box, 224 OVERGATE, DUNDEE', and at the foot of the sheet a mail order service for other publications is advertised. 'Toomed' means 'emptied', 'coggies' is a 'cog of beer' and 'ferlie' means 'wonder'.

With an element of Burns's 'Tam O'Shanter' about it, this light-hearted ballad tells the practical joke played upon John Tamson by his despairing wife, Jean. Fond of his beer, it seems that John quite often fell asleep when travelling back from the fair in his cart, since the horse knew its way home without his guidance. On this occasion, however, the horse also falls asleep, leaving both of them stranded. Wondering what has happened to him, Jean goes out to find husband and horse both sound asleep. To teach him a lesson, she leads the horse home, leaving John to go searching for the horse once he wakes up.

The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore and one in Paisley in the early 1850s run by William Anderson.

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: 1880-1900   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(11a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'John Tamson's Cart'
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