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Seditious Things

- the songs of Joseph Mather: Sheffield's Georgian punk poet

Joseph Mather was one of the greatest Sheffielders in history. His was the voice of the common person in the turbulent, revolutionary times of the late 18th century. He composed his songs to the rhythm of his hammer as he worked as a file-cutter – then he hollered them out in the streets and pubs of Sheffield on a Saturday night. This was the 18th century jukebox, karaoke and alternative comedy.
    This edition adds to the last published version of 1862, with previously unpublished songs and historical background.


The Songs of Joseph Mather … seared across my mindscape like a lightning flash…                          - Ray Hearne

Ray Hearne sings Joseph Mather
Ray Hearne's CD of Mather's songs
Ray Hearne and Steve Kay on Radio Sheffield -
00:00 / 00:00

During research for this book I came across the manuscript of a contemporary of Mather, Arthur Jewitt, whose father was involved with the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information, a reformist association in the town. This document confirms that it was Jewitt who wrote Mather's songs down (and possibly even penned a song or two attributed to Mather!):


"There was at that time in Sheffield a natural poet I say natural because he had no education beyond his ability to read. If he could write at all it was very badly. He was however really and truly a poet and for forcible expressions in any think {sic} satirical or plaintive I have never seen his superior. With education it is difficult to say what he might have been. But he was a poor man a filecutter who had from early morning till late at night to “wield his six pound hammer” as he expresses it “till he had grown round back’d” to earn a living for himself and his family. While sitting at his work he would think over his compositions and arranging his verse line by line in his mind he would commit them to memory till he had an opportunity of dictating them to some fellow workman little more instructed than himself to write them down for him on some slate or sheet of shabby paper, many times has he brought these copies to me to look over and comment in the spelling before they have been taken to the printers.

During the corporation dispute when every wit or witless was producing some squib or satire on one side or the other it was not to be expected that Joseph Mather would let his mind be idle particularly when he was one of those who felt most interested in the event - he therefore gave his Pegasus the loose rein and composed the song of the song satirizing some or other of the opposite party. These effusions were all printed by Crome and though they were highly libellous, and the parties attached sought out for evidence so that they might prosecute the printer the wary Scotchman denied their attempts by always taking care to have his types disturbed before a single copy left his office.

…During this time I also produced a song or two lampooning or satirizing some one of the Freemen’s opponents which were printed by Crome and attributed to Mather he himself declaring of some of these that he knew not whose was the child but he was at no loss to know who would be considered its father."

Arthur Jewitt's diary

More on Mather at:  

Bang Beggar Hall
Wilkinson - the black diabolical fiend
Beef- headed Bob
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