FARMER JAN OF KENTISBEARE
A BALLAD OF SMUGGLING DAYS
The following is described by the Reverend E.S.Chalk, Rector of Kentisbeare as one of the last genuine ballads written in Devon. It was composed, he says, by a Mrs. Mortimer, of Hamyock, and was not the only ballad from her pen. Mrs. Mortimer was a great-granddaughter of John Frost, about 1850. The only mistakes which she made (observed by Mr. Chalk) were those to call her ancestor 'farmer' - a term hardly used in our registers in the 19th Century. He should, of course, have been called 'yeoman'.
She also supposed that he had been registered civilly. He married Diana Leddon (November 27th, 1752) at Kentisbeare. His family seems to have come to the parish about 1690, and rapidly became one of the most numerous and influential in the whole countryside. He seems to have been the son of John and Eleanor Frost, baptised at Kentisbeare on April 9th, 1734.
A FINE BUILT MAN
At Kentisbeer, in Devonshire,
There lived a farmer brave;
On Halsbeer Farm, which was his own,
The same he wished to save.
In mid of Eighteenth Century,
His name was Farmer Jan;
But he was registered John Frost,
And was a fine built man.
To neighbours he was good and kind,
As also was his dame,
They had two sons, a daughter too,
And Ellen was her name.
She was her mother's greatest help,
With cows and poultry, too,
And nothing of the dairy work,
That Ellen could not do.
Her brothers, John and Edmund both,
Were fine industrious men,
Each worked upon his father's farm
They ploughed and sowed the grain.
In peace and plenty years rolled on
In love they strove to live;
Whene'er a friend required help,
To him they freely gave.
But troubles came, as oft they do,
And in a way so strange.
Some smugglers with brandy kegs,
Did round the homestead range.
By the Excise were followed up,
And, fearing to be caught,
They found a duck pond close at hand,
And there the kegs they brought.
They rolled them in, yes, one by one,
And thought them safely lodged;
Rejoicing they so cleverly
The King's Excise had dodged.
WITH FULL DRAWN SWORD
Excise and Supervisor both,
Required an entrance tree,
To make a search within the house'
Perchance the kegs they'd see.
But Farmer Jan would not consent,
To have his house run o'er,
Undaunted stood, with full-drawn sword,
To keep them from his door.
They turned their steps for further search,
A duck pond caught their eye;
One says "Kegs may be below",
The other says "Let's try".
So try they did, and found that they
Were surely hid below.
"Ah, now!" they say, "This is a game
That Farmer Jan must know".
Assistance then was quickly got,
The brandy brought to land,
So, consequently, Farmer Jan
Had all the blame to stand.
Was summoned down to Exeter,
Dear man, he lost the day
Quite heavy, the expenses were;
The same he had to pay.
But nothing daunted did he feel,
And thought it to be right,
To take the cause to London and
With Government to fight.
Among the other witnesses,
His Ellen was required,
And when she understood the same,
Did as she was desired.
TO LONDON CITY
To take the Journey she prepared,
And saddled up her steed;
To London City posted off,
Oh! Yes, she did, indeed
Beneath the keen-eyed curly judge,
And cutting lawyers, too,
She gave her evidence as clear,
As any girl could do.
The trial had to be adjourned,
Until a future day;
She mounted on her trusty steed,
And homeward made her way.
Within her arm reclined a babe
That she'd engaged to take
From London down to Kentisbeer,
For it's dead mother's sake.
Just on two hundred miles the babe
Rode cuddled in her arm,
While she enjoyed the country air,
That gave to her such charm.
Much pleased, indeed, Dame Dinah was,
Her daughter to receive;
But when she heard the message sent,
She could not help but grieve.
How all the money she packed off,
When her dear husband went,
Though used with greatest carefulness,
Was nearly all now spent.
So she must set another sum,
and send without delay;
For lodging and provision too,
There was so much to pay.
THE SECOND TRIP
Dame Dinah did consult her sons,
As to how to get the gold;
Reluctantly they did consent,
The oxen should be sold.
And so they were, the money sent,
But that did not suffice
To meet the very great expense
It only seemed a slice.
Then, next, the horses from the plough,
They were compelled to take.
The Dame must speedily contrive
Another sum to make
Another message now arrives
That Ellen must appear-
A question in discussion that
Cannot be brought quite clear.
Her trusty steed is well prepared
To take the second trip,
And Ellen in the saddle mounts,
Cheery and well equipped.
The money for the horses, too,
She takes with greatest care,
And canters off on Dobbin now,
It seems without a fear.
At length to London she arrives,
Not worse for the long ride,
And very soon within the Court
Was by her father's side.
Her honest face and truthful tongue
Did much to gain the day'
Both Judge and jury did agree
Farmer should have the sway.
How pleased indeed he must have felt,
With Ellen by his side,
To know he'd conquered Government,
Which cannot be denied.
So now the case is finished up,
They all prepared to leave,
And view again the country scenes,
And country air to breathe.
THE WELCOME BACK
In every town and village, too,
Through which their journey lay
The ringers rang a merry peal,
And Jan the cash did pay.
To Stowford Water now arrived,
Kentisbeer bells are rung,
And by the old inhabitants
A welcome song is sung.
The villagers are now inclined
To Stowford Water haste,
To join in the rejoicing and
The good old cider taste.
Two hogsheads of the primest sort
Stood on the King's highway;
Until the casks were empty quite
They all declared they'd stay.
Edmund and John Just then appear,
With dog in blue well dressed,
Quite Pleased to see his master, and
Get Ellen's fond caress.
At Halsbeer Farm a well-filled board
Dame Dinah had prepared;
The family circle gathered round;
In unity they fared.
But Farmer Jan was cut at heart
To see his near-stripped farm;
The riches of hay and corn were gone,
And he'd an empty barn.
Good Dame had kept her dairy cows,
Pigs, Poultry and her bees,
For she declared they should not go
To pay the lawyers' fees.
With energy they set to work
For to restock the farm;
Also to till and stock the land,
In hopes to fill the barn.
He lived to see his farm well stocked,
Also his barn refilled;
He charged his sons and daughter, too
Ne'er to oppression yield.