The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Mock-Beggars Hall

Mock-Beggers Hall, with his scituation in the spacious Country, called, Any where.

For Christmas

Compare: The Map of Mock Beggar Hall (Roxb 1.252-253)

Words: English Traditional, Early 17th Century

To the tune of" It is not your Northern Nanny," or "Sweet is the Lass that loves me."

Printed at London for Richard Harper, at the Bible and Harp in Smithfield, ca. 1633-1652.

Source: The Roxburghe Ballad Collection, the British Library
The English Broadside Ballad Archive,
EBBA ID: 30866, Roxburghe 3.218-219

1. In ancient times when as plain dealing
Was most of all in fashion,
There was not then half so much stealing,
Nor men so given to passion;
But now a days, truth so decays,
And false knaves there are plenty,
So pride exceeds all worthy deeds,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

2. The hangman now the fashion keeps,
And swaggers like our gal[l]ants;
While love and charity sits and weeps,
To see them waste their Talents;
Spend all their store upon a whore,
Such Prodigals there are plenty;
Thus brave it out, while men them flout,
And Mock-begger hall stands empty.

3. Ned Swash hath fetchd his cloaths from pawn
With dropping of the barrell,
Joan Du[s]t hath hought a smock of Lawn,
And now begins to quarrell,
She thinks her self poor silly elfe,
To be the best of twenty,
And yet the whore is wondrous poor,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

4. I read in ancient times of poor,
That men of worthy calling,
Built Alms-houses and Spittles store,
Which now are all down falling;
And few men seek them to repair,
Nor now is there one among twenty,
That for good deeds will take any care,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

5. Farm-houses which their fathers built
And Land well kept by tillage,
Their prodigall Sons have sold for gilt,
In every Town and Village:
To the City and Court they do resort
With gold and Silver plenty;
And there they spend their time in sport,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

6. Young Land-lords when to age they come,
Their rents they would be racking,
The tenant must give a golden sum,
Or else he is turnd packing:
Great fines and double rent beside,
Or else theyl not contented bee,
It is for to maintain their monstrous pride,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

7. Their fathers went in homely freez,
And wore good plain cloth breeches;
Their stockings with the same agrees,
Sowd on with good strong stitches:
They were not called Gentlemen,
Though they had wealth great plenty.
Now every gulls grown worshipfull,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.


The second part, to the same Tune.

8. NO Gold nor Silver parchment lace
Was worn but by our Nobles,
Nor would the honest harmless face,
Wear Cuffs with so many doubles;
Their bands were to their shirts sown then,
Yet cloth was full as plenty;
Now one band hath more cloth then ten,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

9. Now we are Apes in imitation,
The more indeeds the pity;
The City followes the strangers fashion,
The Country followes the City:
And ere one fashion is known throughout,
Another they will invent yee;
Tis all your gallants study about,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

10. Me thinks it is a great reproach
To those that are nobly descended,
When for their pleasures cannot have a coach,
Wherewith they might be attended;
But every beggerly Jack and Gill,
That eat scant a good meal in twenty,
Must through the streets be jaunted still
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

11. Theres some are rattled thorow the streets,
Probatum est, I tell it;
Whose names are wrappd in parchment sheets,
It grievs their hearts to spell it,
They are not able two men to keep,
With a coachman they must contented be,
Which at Goldsmiths hall door ins box lies a sleep,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

12. Our Gentlewomen whose means is nothing
To that which they make shew off,
Must use all the fashions in their cloathing,
Which they can hear or know of;
They take such care themselvs to deck,
That money is oft so scanty,
The belly is forcd to complain to the back,
While Mock-begger hall stands empty.

13. There is a crue, and a very mad crue,
That about the Town doth swagger,
That seems like Knights to the peoples view,
And wear both sword and dagger;
That sweetens their cloaths once a weak,
Hunger with them is so plenty,
The Broker will not have them to seek,
While mock begger hall stands empty.

14. Some Gentlemen and Citizens have
In divers eminent places,
Erected houses fine and brave,
Which stood for the owners graces,
Let any poor to such a door
Come, they expecting plenty,
They there may ask till their throats are sore,
For Mock-begger hall stands empty.

15. Thus plainly I to you declare,
How strangely times are changed;
What humors in the people are,
How virtue is estranged:
Now [e]very Jackanapes can strut,
Such Coxcombs there are plenty,
But at the last in Prison shut,
So Mock-begger hall stands empty.


A recording in MP3 format is available for this version.

Also found in John Payne Collier, A Book of Roxburghe Ballads (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1847), pp. 49-54.

Editor's Note.

Mock-beggar Hall or Manor. A grand, ostentatious house, where no hospitality is afforded, neither is any charity given.

No times observed, nor charitable lawes,
   The poor receive their answer from the dawes
Who, in their cawing language, call it plaine
   Mock-better Manour, for they come in vaine.
             -- Taylor, Works [early 17th Century]

    Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, ed., The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. New Edition. (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1900), p. 849.

In this context, the phrase “mock-beggars hall” refers to a manor hall where a beggar could expect to call at the back door and receive a handout of food, but which is now closed during the Winter, and the Christmas-tide, because the Lord and Lady of the Manor have elected to spend the holiday in London or Westminster (or, in some cases, where the King and Queen were celebrating their holiday). This was a common practice in the late 1500s, and was the subject of considerable criticism.

There are two known Broadsides concerning the “Mock-beggar Hall,” both printed by Richard Harper of Smithfield, London, and both are found in the Roxburghe Collection according to Professor Patricia Fumerton, et al, Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2010). Both ballads have been reproduced at the exceptional web site, English Broadside Ballad Archive.

The earlier Broadside had the title “The Map of Mock-beggar Hall, with his scituation in the spacious Countrey, called, Anywhere” (Roxburghe i. 252-253).

The later ballad was found at Roxburghe 3.218-219, and was also reproduced in John Payne Collier, A Book of Roxburghe Ballads (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1847), pp. 49-54. Concerning the ballad, Mr. Collier wrote:

This ballad is a very amusing and clever satire on many changes for the worse, about the period it seems to have been written—the beginning of the seventeenth century. The full title is " Mock-Begger's Hall, with his situation in the spacious country called Anywhere;" and we have been obliged (from the existence of no other, excepting a still more modern reprint,) to use a copy published, during the civil wars [1642–1651]: it purports to have been " Printed for Richard Harper, at the Bible and Harp, in Smithfield." The wood-cut at the end is a representation of Tarlton, the comedian, who was so popular before 1588, when he died. If the entry in the register of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, apply to him, as no doubt it does, his name has never been accurately spelt in the quotations of it: it there stands Richard Torrelton; and it is remarkable that he was buried on the very day his will bears date, September 3. We may conclude perhaps that he died of the plague. There was a wood-cut of Tarlton, playing upon his pipe and tabor, as early as 1590, no doubt similar to that we have inserted, and not unfrequently found at the head of old ballads.

Both of these ballads lament the decline in hospitality during the Christmas-tide, a theme common in the 17th century. The earlier ballad consisted of 12 verses, and can be seen at Roxburghe 1.252-253 at the English Broadside Ballad Archive. The later version runs to 15 verses, and is found in Roxburghe 3.218-219. A recording in MP3 format is also available for this version.

There are references to “Mock-Begger's Halls” in two of the carols on this website, So, Now Is Come Our Joyfulst Feast and All You That To Feasting and Mirth Are Inclin'd (which is also known as Old Christmas Returned). There is also a reference in a prose work, The Examination And Tryal of Old Father Christmas.

In the first carol, So, Now Is Come Our Joyfulst Feast (1622), author George Wither quotes a portion of the later broadside:

5. Ned Squash hath fetcht his bands from pawn,
    And all his best apparel;
Brisk Nell hath brought a ruff of lawn
    With dropping of the barrell;

The verse from the later “mock beggar's hall” ballad is:

3. Ned Swash hath fetched his cloaths from pawn,
With dropping of the barrell;
Joan Dust hath bought a smock of lawn,
And now begins to quarrell:

The other carol, All You That To Feasting and Mirth Are Inclin'd, celebrates the return of “Old Christmas” with the restoration of the monarchy, and “hospitality revived” with the passing of Cromwell and the Puritans. This carol observes that “The court, and the city, and country are glad” because “Old Christmas is come to cheer up the sad.” Even better is that:

9. Now Mock-beggar-hall it no more shall stand empty,
But all shall be furnisht with freedom and plenty;
The hoarding old misers, who us'd to preserve
The gold in their coffers, and see the poor starve,
     Must now spread their tables, and give them in brief,
     Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minc'd pies, and roast-beef.

Finally, here is a portion from the text of The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas. that will give the reader a bit of the flavor of the time:

Counselor Verj. My Lord, here are two more substantial witnesses we desire may be heard against the Prisoner [Christmas], the learned Sir Musty Make-bate, and the worshipful Squire Flant of Mock-beggars Hall.

Cryer. Sir Musty Make-bake, and Squire Flant come into the Court, make room there, I think in my Conscience the Door is too little for the Squire's new Pantaloons.

Judge. Come Squire Flant, what have you to say?

Squire Flant. My Lord, I say this Christmas is a pitiful mechanick, gutling Fellow, Company for none but Plow-men, and Carters, and regarded only by a few Yeoman of Kent, or here and there an out-of-fashion'd Gentleman, that loves to walk in the dull ways of his Fore-fathers, and live at the same rate his great Grandsires did, in the days of Queen Dick; whereas the true bred Gallant and man of Quality, in this our refined Age, manages his Affairs at another strain. He has something else to do with his money, than to keep open house for pampering the Paunches of a parcel of lubberly Clowns, and have the Pavement of his Hall spoiled with the dancing of their Hobnails; and therefore when this troublesom Fellow comes abroad cannot endure the Country for him, but as soon as ever Michaelmas Rent is received, to avoid his Impertinences, flips up to London in a Stage-Coach, and there lodges privately till his Jury of Cormorants, call'd the Twelve Days, are past, to save charges.

Counselor Crab.
Rare Husbandry indeed: What heretofore
Was spent on Tenant, and the Neighbouring Poor,
Is now consum'd in private on a whore.

Note that Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael, occurs on Sept. 29, and was the the date that rents were calculated by the reeve (bailiff) of the manor, and the date upon which payment was due. It also marked the beginning of autumn, signaled the start of the university school year, and marked the first term of the court system.

This flight of the nobility from the country to the cosmopolitan cities was disapproved of by King Charles I, who on Sept. 9, 1630, issued a proclamation commanding that “diverse Noblemen, Knights and other Persons of Quality” shall not spend the Winter Season in London, Westminster, “or other Citties and Townes,” but shall instead “give over their Housekeeping and Hospitality” in the County where they dwell. Charles observed that this was the lawful custom during the time of Elizabeth I and of James I, his father (of blessed memory), as well as other times in English history. The reason for this requirement is that “the Winter tyme [was] a tyme when the Countrie hath most need of their Residence, and keeping amongst their Neighbours, and attending the publique Services and Occasions.” He further found that if they had lawful business at locations other than their normal residence that they should return to that Residence as soon as their business is completed so that they might “be a comfort and relief to such of their poor Neighbors as shall stand in need.”

Anyone so described by his Majesty was charged and commanded to observe this proclamation, upon pain of his Majesties “high displeasure,” and that they could expect such punishment to be inflicted upon them as demanded “by the Lawes or his Majesties Royal Perogative,” at their peril!

A complete copy of the Proclamation can be found in Robert Sanderson, ed., Foedera, Conventiones, Literae et Cujuscunque Generis Acta Publica Inter Reges Angliæ (London: Per J. Tonson, 1832), pp. 192-194.

This order directing the nobility and gentry who had mansion-houses in the country “to repair to them to keep hospitality meet to their degrees,” was still in effect in 1637-38, when Sir John Ashley, due to ill health, requested and obtained permission to reside in London or elsewhere, at Christmas or at any other time. Collier’s History of Dramatic Poetry, vol. ii (1831), p. 89, note.

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