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Broadside ballad entitled 'St Andrew Agnew's Agony Bill'


This ballad begins: 'Dear me what a change has seen our Nation, / Since we've reform'd out legislation, / Each M.P. as is now the fashion, / Brings a new bill every session.' A note above the ballad states that it should be sung to the air of 'Kate Dalrymple'. The sheet was published by the Poet's Box, 6 St Andrew's Lane, Glasgow, and cost one penny.

This light-hearted ballad is a satirical attack on the Sabbatarian, Sir Andrew Agnew (1793-1849), and his proposed bill to force people to observe the Sabbath more closely. The ballad-writer certainly provides his audience with an entertaining read, as he exaggerates the effects that such legislation would have in Scotland. For instance, he quips that the sheep will have to stop bleating and the cows must leant to milk themselves. Pregnant women, meanwhile, must postpone their labours until the Monday. Although the topic is treated in an amusing manner, the kirk session courts formerly possessed much power and influence over the parish, so this ballad indicates the gradual social shift that was taking place in Victorian Scotland.
The Poet?s Box in Glasgow operated from 1849 to 1911. Matthew Leitch was the proprietor at 6 St. Andrew Lane?s, a narrow street on the south side of Gallowgate, from 1850 to 1858. His son William Munsie Leitch worked at the same address from 1859 to 1865 and at varous addresses in London Street until 1911. Many of the broadsides published by the Glasgow Poet?s Box were dated and some carried advertisements, not just for printed items but also for shoe blacking and ?soap for lovers?! Like the other ?boxes? in Dundee and Edinburgh, the Glasgow one sold love songs, sea shanties, parodies and dialogues. 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 owned 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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Date of publication: 1858   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(47b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'St Andrew Agnew's Agony Bill'
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