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Published in 1833 by Whitings, a street ballad seller who appears to have had limited success in the songs world, the “Pretty Girls of Brummagem” has the kind of title you might associate with bawdy singsongs. However, it’s quite the opposite, being something of a sweet, melancholy look at how various Brummie men of the pre-Victorian era attempted to get the courage up to go a-courting.

We hear from the cocksure dandy strutting down New Street with his “killing pair” of whiskers, the shopkeeper who fancies his chances but ends up on his arse, the chimney sweep who can only dream of going “where there is fun done”, and the “old gentleman of 64” for whom the excitement of love is an antidote to his ailments.

I’ve yet to find another recording of this song, although it shares the catalogue number (V1691) with “The Pretty Girls of London”. But even if I did find a recording or scored notation of it, the tune would be different. As with many broadsides, this song had no melody with it, and didn’t recommend one either. I was given a facsimile of the song by Mrs Palmer, the widow of eminent folk scholar, Roy Palmer, and felt the words were too good to leave lying in a folder. So the tune is something I wrote to accompany them. I hope it does it justice.

Lyrics to “The Pretty Girls of Brummagem”

Let poets sing about the fair
And praise their wit, their grace and air
The country has its damsels rare
Who many hearts have undone
But for rosy cheeks and forms divine
For sparkling eyes and teeth so fine
No other maidens can outshine
The pretty girls of Brum

The dandy takes such mighty care
To spruce his person, curl his hair
Wears whiskers too, a killing pair,
And thinks he’s not by one done
Then up New Street he struts so gay
Smokes his Havannah on the way
He swaggers in his fine array
To charm the girls of Brum

The shopman saves up all his cash
About the streets to cut a dash
In beauty’s heart to make a smash
With pride enough to stun one
On Saturday his clothes get out
On Sunday proudly struts about
By Monday he’s all up the spout
Through treating girls of Brum

The chimney sweeper cries, “Oh wow
I hate this vulgar calling now
I means to be a slap-up beau
And go where there is fun done
I’ll wash my skin so lilly white
And sport my Benjamin all right
Then shan’t I flare up, blow me tight
I’ll game the girls of Brum

Old gentlemen of sixty-four
By gout and asthma plagued so sore
Inspired by love feels pain no more
And anxious as a young man
Cry talk of age – poh poh all stuff
I’m quite a lad, I’m hale and buff
I’m sixty four, that’s young enough
For the pretty girls of Brum

So in every rank, in every stage
The Brummagem girls are all the rage
Their beauty charms both youth and age
They really are by none done
Their bliss, their lovely faces dear
Where’er or when they may appear
And may good fortune ever cheer
The pretty girls of Brum

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