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Broadside ballad entitled 'Forfar Fair'


Verse 1: 'When I was a 'prentice in Forfar, / I was a braw lad an' a stout; / My master was old Tailor Orquher, / That lived at the fit o' the Spout. / His wife's name was gleyed Gizzie Miller; / And O! she was haughty and vain, / For the bodies had plenty o' siller; / Forbye a bit house o' their ain.' This ballad was published at the Poet's Box, Overgate, Dundee by William Shepherd.

'Forfar Fair' is narrated by Tam, an apprentice tailor, who goes to the fair and gets drunk and amorous with a local girl, Maggy Jack. The ballad ends with Tam in a dilemma: Tam has fallen in love with Maggy, while the master tailor expects Tam to marry his daughter. The community fair, usually climaxing in drunkenness, violence or both, is a conventional setting in Scottish ballad poetry. It was used by the likes of Allan Ramsay and Robert Burns and originated with the great Scots poems 'Peblis [Peebles] to the Play' (anon. c.1430-1450) and 'Christ's Kirk on the Green', which has been attributed to James V of Scotland (b. 1512-1542).
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(77)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Forfar Fair'
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