"Ballad to M—"

See other interpretations available online.

Music and lyrics by Anne Lister. Instrumental arrangement for the Anne Lister Research Summit by Chloe Nacci and wife P.


On January 11, 1824, Anne Lister wrote a ballad for Mariana Lawton in her journal and practiced it on her flute. Mariana had written to Anne on the 10th, requesting a song so she could sing it at a masquerade party she was attending at Alderley Hall (Sir John Stanley’s) on the following Thursday—she was to dress as a housemaid or ballad singer.

Anne considered some options and decided to instead write something original for Mariana based on a tune of Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) Camp that she used to hear and whistle when she was a child. The lyrics exalt the virtues and promote good fortune to all those in Alderley Hall and the Stanley family.

While sickness and a mixup with tickets kept Mariana and her friend, Helen Pattinson, from attending the party, she did receive the ballad from Anne. When her husband Charles heard it, he commented on how wonderful it was thinking it was written by Mariana.

Full details about this story including the diary entry, letters and other 25 volumes of Anne Lister journals are available online courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Services. See collection item SH:7/ML/E/7/0096 for Ballad to M—.


'Ballad to M—' by Anne Lister

Music transcription notes

This is a modern transcription of Anne Lister's melody line, "Ballad To M—", as per my best interpretation of the notation in her diary. (Turns out her musical handwriting is just as scribbly as her English is.)

There's a single accidental - an F# - visible in the key signature, denoting the piece is either in G major or E minor. As the music resolves to a repeated G note, I reckon she intended it to be in G major.

You can see in the diary she's used a large capital "C" to express a 4/4 time signature, also known as "Common Time" (old-fashioned way of writing it). In the rework version Chlo and I have done, we have set the tempo fairly slow in order to draw out the melody. What Anne wrote is quite short, and we wanted to be able to use it as a basis for a good few minutes' worth of music.

The underlying chords (you can find these written above the stave) were added in by us - again to flesh out Anne's melody line into a full piece. We used a bit of creative license here; the chords we ended up using sit nicely under the melody, but it could be that she had quite different tonalities in mind when she wrote it. She may not have been a fan of synth either, but never mind.

Other than that, we’ve tried to keep the original melody as accurate to Anne's diary as possible, including what I believe are a couple of nice grace notes (F#). I have added the note names in case anyone needs them - be great to hear some other interpretations! Hope you like our version.


Ballad to M—

By Anne Lister, 1824

Both old and young, come listen all,

Come listen all to me;

There’s jovial cheer at Ald’ley hall

For high and low degree.

Them bonny lads, them twins, they say,

That talk is frank and free,

They’re com’d of age this very day,

And happy may they be!

Good luck and honour them betide,

To man’s estate upgrown,

Their mother’s joy, their father’s pride,

And lov’d by all they’re known!

Come listen all unto my song,

the quality that’s here,

And poor folk too. God bless Sir John,

And all he loves most dear,

And you, fair lady, mistress rare,

Of all his rich domain!

For God will hear the poor man’s prayers, heav’n

And pay you all again.

Full many a year, this noble hall

We’ve had the night cause to pray.

From father still to son may fall,

And Stanley all be they.

Thro’ all the land na blood can run

I’ better veins than theirs;

And when th’ old folk be dead and done,

As good may be the heirs!

I’m but a ballad-singer now,

Great folks look down on me;

But better hearts ha’nt high than low,

To bless old Alderley.

Right on from now for many a year,

As prosperous may it stand;

As well respected far and near,

As any hall i'th [in the] land!

And now we all must separate,

Such days to see na more,

Such like let others celebrate,

As we have done before!

Come join ye all, then, in my song,

Our hearts all wish same,

That health, and wealth, and life be long

To all the Stanley name.

God bless them all both [crossed out] young and old

And all this merry set!

For many a time it shall be told,

A merrier never met.

Musical arrangement, transcription and original recording by Chloe Nacci and wife. Lyrics transcribed on September 29, 2019 by Livia Labate with assist from Kathryn Williams, Marlene Oliveira, Pauline M. Additional context provided by Shantel Smith.