Charles Potipher (or Potiphar), an Ingrave labourer, died today (21st June) in 1909. He is remembered specifically for being the first person from whom Ralph Vaughan Williams collected – i.e. noted down – his first of a collection of folk songs.
Potiphar was born in South Weald, married in Ingatestone and later moved to Ingrave. He was a local man. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Ingrave churchyard.
The visit by Ralph Vaughan Williams to a humble labourer’s cottage on 4th December 1903 ignited the composer’s passion for folk song. He came on a 10-day cycling tour of Ingrave, Willingale, Little Burstead, East Horndon and Billericay the following year to collect further examples – over 100 from Essex - and visited many places in southern England and East Anglia in order to “give them back to the world”.
Last night ‘Potiphar’s Apprentices’, a trio of local folk musicians (John and Sue Cubbin and Adrian May) brought back to Ingrave Church Hall the story and songs collected from Charles Potipher and others. Sue Cubbin, who used to work at the Essex Record Office, mounted an exhibition in Chelmsford dedicated to Vaughan Williams’ visits to Essex (2003) and wrote the book of the exhibition entitled ‘A Precious Legacy’ (2006). The audience in the Church Hall heard a number of songs including:
- ‘Poacher’s Song’
- ‘I’m A Stranger’, collected from Mrs Humphries whose father and grand-father lived in Blackmore
- ‘Bold Turpin’, an 18th century ballad commemorating the deeds of the Essex highwayman, Dick Turpin
- ‘Lay Still My Fond Shepherd’, which otherwise is known as ‘Lark In The Morning’
- ‘In Jessie’s City’, the sad ballad of a maid who became pregnant by a postman boy – the tune of which later was used as the setting of the hymn ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ (Herongate) when Vaughan Williams edited the English Hymnal (1906)
- ‘The Sheffield Apprentice’, used again in the English Hymnal for the setting of the tune of ‘There’s a friend for little children’ (Ingrave)
- ‘Bushes and Briars’, the first song collected from Vaughan Williams at Potiphar’s home.
For more information on ‘Potiphar’s Apprentices’ Visit: http://potiphar.org.uk/
The English Hymnal (1906)
Cubbins, Sue. That Precious Legacy. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Essex Folksong (Essex Record Office, 2006)
Previous essay written for Blackmore Area Local History (2.8.08): http://blackmorehistory.blogspot.com/2008/08/vaughan-williams-and-essex.html