Knaptonian – Walter Pardon

Walter William Pardon was born in Knapton on 4th March 1914, in the same red brick farm worker’s cottage that his mother, Emily (Née Gee), was born in 1874, and that he lived in until he died on 9th June 1996 and was buried in Swafield churchyard, having been a carpenter since 1928 when he began work in nearby Paston.

Walter was one of the best singers of traditional folk-song in England and he learned most of his songs from his uncle, Billy Gee (b. 1863), who shared the cottage.   Yet outside his family, no one knew of his singing until he was 59 years old.

He was a shy man who did not relish the pub environment, finding it disrespectful to the songs.    He preferred a quiet gathering like those he used to have with his family which was rich in singers and musicians (Walter played melodeon) and sometimes seemed rather bemused by the folk clubs and concert halls he found himself in after his “discovery”.

Walter Pardon image

It was in 1974 that he finally came to national prominence in the folk-song world.
Walter’s cousin, a schoolteacher named Roger Dixon, used to hear Walter singing and playing the melodeon when, as a schoolboy, he would visit Walter’s parents.  He subsequently gave him a tape-recorder and asked him to record some of the songs for him (some accounts say that Walter refused the gift, but subsequently bought a recorder himself).  According to Walter it took him all winter to remember and record about twenty of them.  A copy of this tape was then passed on to the revival singer Peter Bellamy, who had once been taught history by Roger, and Peter passed on Walter’s details to Bill Leader, who recorded and issued his first two seminal LP albums.

Walter was subsequently recorded extensively for a number of LPs on the Leader, Topic and Home Made Music labels and appeared in numerous folk-clubs and festivals including the one held at the Smithsonian Institute of Folklife in Washington, DC in 1976 as part of the US Bicentennial celebrations.   The folklorist Mike Yates then began a project to record and document Walter’s repertoire of over 150 songs and these recordings from the late 1970s capture a beautiful, gentle singer at the height of his powers.

He’d either sing them at night, here by the fire, or else, if it was raining and he couldn’t work, we’d sit in the toolshed singing to one another. You see that big drum hanging up there… that was from the Knapton Drum and Fife Band. Uncle Billy played the fiddle with them. We didn’t sing much in the pubs. Uncle Billy had done, in his youth. He picked up some songs in the ‘Mitre Tavern’ in North Walsham. But not me. I only sang at home.”

Uncle Billy told me that his father used to play the clarinet in the Church Band and that he had the words and music of the songs printed on sheets – broadsides you call ‘em – but I never saw them, not that I can remember. Like you say, a lot of the songs are Irish. Peggy Bawn, The Bonny Bunch of Roses, and I think that when they built the North Walsham to Dilham canal in 1812-1827, that’s when those songs came in around here, brought here by the Irish navvies.”

Uncle Billy Gee image

Uncle Billy Gee

Uncle Walter Gee image

Uncle Walter Gee

This accordion – I bought it in Norwich ten year ago this summer; sixteen pound, ten.  My uncle Walter, he paid ten shilling for his, and that’s just about equal in value, ’cause that’s what his week’s wages were.  I still play that, have done for years, in here alone on a Saturday night, never missed. I sometimes sit on the stairs and play, so people can’t hear me.  I never bring it out. I’ve never considered myself good enough to bring it out.”

It was only later in life that he appeared in the folk song clubs and then more or less by chance. His style has been developed away from an audience, in the cottage kitchen or in his toolshed on rainy days. In consequence, his singing is thoughtful rather than showy. Perhaps he has always regarded the songs, especially those deepest in musical folklore, more as personal bits of cultural baggage than as entertainment for others.

Listen to three of Walter’s recordings, here on site or on YouTube

The Bold Fisherman

The Trees They Do Grow High

The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife

Walter’s Album covers

A Proper Sort - Walter Pardon - Album Cover

Released in 1975

Our side of the baulk - Walter Pardon - Album Cover

Released in 1977

A Country Life - Walter Pardon - Album Cover

Released in 1982

A World without Horses - Album Cover - Walter Pardon

Released in 1982

Bright Golden Store - Album Cover - Walter Pardon - SMALL

Released in 1983

Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father - Album Cover - Walter Pardon image

Released in 2000

Sources and Additional References

East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

A Celebration of Walter Pardon’s life – Conway Hall, London, 1997

During the recent office move in Stowmarket, we came across a large cardboard envelope full of exhibition items that had been passed on to EATMT in 2005 – we think to be included as part of the Trust’s “Playback” project which took place around Norfolk that year. The exhibition had been originally created in 1997 …

Continue reading A Celebration of Walter Pardon’s Life – Conway Hall, London, 1997

Walter Pardon at home

Talking and singing to Cliff and Pauline Godbold and Sheila Park – a transcription by Rita Gallard of Sheila’s recording.  (SP tapes 15(ii))   No date.  In due course, audio of this interview will be added to this page. It is currently being digitised Song:  Broomfield Hill WP: Had that from my uncle.   Nine is the …

Continue reading Walter Pardon at home

Compiled by Chris Holderness, May 2021 Walter Pardon (1914-96) of Knapton in Norfolk was a highly regarded singer who was discovered later in life after he had amassed a large repertoire of songs, most of which were learned from his family, and came to wider notice through albums released of his music and public performances…

Continue reading Best of the Bunch

We remember another legendary traditional singer from Norfolk, Walter Pardon, 25 years after his death on 9th June 1996.   What started out as an article celebrating Walter’s life has now happily snowballed into several articles and features.

Continue reading Remembering Walter Pardon

The second in a series of portraits of traditional singers and musicians from East Anglia, written by people who knew them and are now carrying on their traditions, featuring the classic Norfolk singer, Walter Pardon (1914-1996) from Knapton near North Walsham. Written by Peta Webb, herself an influential singer for several decades, and …

Continue reading Walter Pardon by Peta Webb

Additional Sources

Leader Records produced two of Walter’s albums, A Proper Sort (LED 2063 – 1975) and Our Side of the Baulk (LED 2111 – 1978).

Leader Records was a British folk music label, started by Bill Leader, that operated between 1969 and 1978.   In the 1980s the Leader catalogue was sold to another record company which then went into receivership, and was subsequently sold to Celtic Music.  The vast majority of Leader records have remained unobtainable since then, with only a handful of tracks re-released on CD.

This is the link to Leader’s page for Walter. (now Folkopedia)

Topic Records produced two of Walter’s albums, A Country Life and A World Without Horses, in the 1980s.

The link below will take you to their “Walter Pardon” page which provides details of both albums.

Topic Records – Walter Pardon

The Magazine for Traditional Music throughout the World.

The three links below will take you to three source documents on the Mustrad site, each one providing a wealth of information about Walter and his music

The Socio-Political Songs of Walter Pardon
“Men make their own history, but they do not know that they are making it”

Put a Bit of Powder of Powder on it, Father
An deep dive into this album – including all the lyrics – and  Walter’s reminiscence of the 
Knapton Drum and Fife Band

Haste to the Wedding
The Melodeon playing of Walter Pardon

Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music

This site provides a comprehensive record of Norfolk music and musicians.

The link below will take you to their section on Walter Pardon, detailing both the albums that he made on his own as well as those compilation albums that he has tracks on.

Walter Pardon

The link below will take you to the section devoted to Walter Pardon which has a wealth of information and links to references material on Walter’s life and his music.

In-depth Notes

The following notes, made by Michael Yates, can be read on the Notes Booklet which accompanies the last CD.   These can be found on the Mustrad website on a document called Pardon2.  Click here to go there.

Walter’s Recorded Legacy outlines how Walter’s recordings were made and includes some impressions of what it was like to record him.
The Walter Pardon Discography lists all of Walter’s recordings that have been issued on record albums, cassettes or CDs.
The Walter Pardon Repertoire contains the titles of 182 songs we are aware that Walter knew.  Details are given of which songs were issued on commercial recordings.  Where the word ‘tape’ is shown after a song title, this indicates that an unissued recording is known to exist.

In-depth Notes

The Socio-Political Songs of Walter Pardon
The following notes, written by Michael Yates in 1983, can be read on the Notes Booklet which can be found on the Mustrad website on a document called Pardon.  Click here to go there.

It includes details of the songs and their lyrics.

In-depth Notes

Haste to the Wedding
(The melodeon playing of Walter Pardon)

The following notes were made by Chris Holderness, who is part of Rig-a-Jig-Jig: A Norfolk Music History Project, in 2010.
They can be be found on the Mustrad website on a document called Pardon3.  Click here to go there.