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Broadside ballad entitled 'Fine Big Woman'


Verse 1: 'I feel so dreadful nervous, / That I'm frightened of my life, / For by this time tomorrow, / I'll be fastened to a wife. / An agricultural Irish girl, / That's twice the size of me, / Upon my word I'm doubtful / What the consequence will be.' This ballad was 'Sung with great success by Walter Munro', printed by William Shepherd, at the Poet?s Box, 182 Overgate, Dundee.

The battle of the sexes was a common theme in broadside ballads. In this example, as in many others, the ballad is designed to elict sympathy for the rather pathetic male narrator, and the descriptions of the 'fine big woman' of the title are quite misogynistic. However, women historically had a more active role in writing and performing ballads than in most other areas of composition, and this is reflected in the fact that there is quite a number of ballads in the National Library of Scotland's collection that describe a woman's situation from a woman's perspective, and in some cases challenge society's paternalistic morality.
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 at 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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Probable period of publication: 1880-1885   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(48b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Fine Big Woman'
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