Little Mister Patchy Britches

One of my own favourite posts in this blog concerns my late Mother and how we finally got to sing together.  You can read that one here

One of the key points of that post was that, although Mum never sang in public, she was always singing and humming around the house and quite a few of the songs I heard in that way have never been heard by me anywhere else, before or since. 

Now and again these songs turn up – on the radio, in a movie – and it an odd experience whenever I hear one.

One such song turned up out of the blue about a week ago.  It wasn’t on the radio, nor in a movie, it was in my head.  I was watching Twitter when someone mentioned in passing that they were thinking of re-lining their coat rather than getting it done professionally, to save a few quid… 



Pow! There it was – a fully formed song in my head - a song I hadn’t thought of in over thirty years, a song I had only ever heard in one place.

The song was all about stitching and patching, you see, so that’s why the coat-lining thing brought it back.  I thought it was called ‘Little Mrs Patch-Me-Britches’ because that’s how Mum sung it but it turns out it was actually called ‘Little Mister Patchy Britches.’  The chorus went like this:

Little Mister Patchy Britches
I love you
If you'll be my Sunday follow
I'll patch them with pink and with purple and yellow
And folks shall say
As we lean on the old sea wall
Lena's been patchin' his britches
Til he's got no britches at all.

I went looking straight away but there’s no YouTube or Blip of the song that I can find.  I found nowhere to hear it except in my head.

So I did a little research and some Twitter buddies helped.  Together, we found that the sheet music for this song is available and there’s a forum where people have discussed it and posted much more lyrics than I ever knew.  We also found out that the song was recorded by Carol Deene in 1970 and was the flipside to her single ‘Windmill in Old Amsterdam’.

That’s about all we got though.  Not very much at all.  So, sod it, I thought, I can’t just let the memory go again.  I’ll write a blog post, I thought, that’ll do it.

But that doesn’t really do it, does it?

I know how the song goes, don’t I?  What am I supposed to do about that?  Let it go?

Can’t do that… so brace yourself.  This is me in ‘lullaby’ mode, something I still do every night though my song is Bob Dylan’s ‘All The Tired Horses’.  So it’s not any good but it does give an idea how the song’s chorus went – the lyrics aren’t exact but they are how they were sung in our house years ago.



Now don’t start – I know I don’t sing well.  But there are two reason for embarrassing myself like this.  The first is that this post will now become first in the search engines for any other poor bugger who comes looking for ‘Little Mister Patchy Britches’ so I might actually be doing a public service by collating what little information I have on it.

The second reason is trickier…

Although this song was released in 1970 on the back of a single, it goes back way before that.  Mum was singing it before that.  I believe (but can’t be sure) that she sang it as a lullaby.  It’s more likely that I heard it being sung to my younger sisters rather than me but again can’t be sure.

So here’s a little piece of memory that has popped to the surface after a long time.  It deserves to be cleaned up and kept, doesn’t it?  It is incumbent upon us to keep the memory of the dear-departed alive in whatever ways we can – by laughing about them, telling stories about them, including them in our day, by remembering them.


So long as we do that, there is at least a little bit of life after death…

…for sure.

31 comments:

hope said...

I love stories like this! There is something warm and comforting in remembering the sweetness of childhood, when we didn't know the world could be cold or cruel. And I found your version endearing. :)

Mom's was "Que Sera, Sera". Guess that "whatever will be, will be" sort of became a silent guiding factor for me at times. :)

And before your head or ego explodes I must add...I LOVE that new photo.

Have a wonderful weekend. Feel free to find something else to sing to us.

Oh...by the way. Yes, I know. You thought I was gone. What happened with your movie?

Betty said...

Actually, it was lovely ;)

Rachel Fox said...

I've heard much worse singing!

You might have given me an idea for a challenge next week too...

x

Ken Armstrong said...

Hope: Sorry for late reply. My head exploded. I'm okay now though. :)

I didn't think you'd gone away, it's open house here and we come and go as we please, myself included.

Ce Sera would have been sung in our house too - a lot.

I think I'll hold the singing for a while now. :)

Betty: Thank you. You're potential career as an X Factor judge is now over. :)

Rachel: I hope I have given you an idea - I love that! :)

Pam Nash said...

Great story. My grandma always sang 'Beautiful Dreamer' to me - she died in 1969, but whenever I hear the song, I'm transported right back to my childhood and Saturday afternoons in front to the fire.

Your singing? Robbie Williams should be worried, but Placido Domingo shouldn't ;)

Elisabeth said...

Grade two Our Lady of Good Council school in Deepdene, Melbourne, Ausralia. This is how I remembered it. We were to put on a play that had a Dutch theme.

I did not get a leading part, which felt cruel to me then even as I knew I lacked any star qualities but my parents had come to Australia from Holland only eight years earlier and I felt that I might play the part better than the Australian girls. I knew some Dutch. I could create an accent.

We made clogs from hessian bags and my mother had trouble sewing them together.

I know the song well. The words I learned were only slightly different from words, Ken. The music is the same.

Little Mt Baggy Britches, I love you.
Will you be my Sunday fellow
I'll patch you with purple
With green and then yellow
And folks will sa-ay
As we lean on the old sea wall, Lena's been patching poor Jacob Till he's got my britches at all.

Thanks for this trip down memory lane, Ken.

Susan at Stony River said...

What a wonderful post; I love the thoughts you chose to end it.

But AGH I can't get the audio to play -- me and my 6bps connection. pffft.

My mother and I can't sing at all, but my father could whistle beautifully. Moon River was his favourite, and every time I hear it I'm suddenly six years old and in my mother's kitchen again.

Terry Heath said...

Your story reminds me of something I got from an old Shirley Temple movie . . . I think it was called "The Bluebird of Happiness" (okay, thanks Google. It was, and it was made in 1940). In one scene Miss Temple's character (and her brother) come across their grandparents, who have long since passed away (but the encounter wasn't at all scarey). The grandparents tell the children they continue to live as long as they are remembered, it's only when they are forgotten that they really are gone. I've always remembered that.

I'll come back and listen to your song when nobody else is in earshot, just so they won't wonder why I've got some guy singing a lullaby!

Jim Murdoch said...

My mother also sang all the time. She sounded like Gracie Fields. My dad sang occasionally. He thought he sounded like Bing Crosby.

Dee GF said...

Can I hire you to come and sing lullabies for my children? Am charmed to bits by that. xx

belongum said...

Funny how that happens eh... I know it's the same for me too. Bit's of memory bob up from time to time and you rarely get the chance to get a rope around 'em and drag the buggers in!

That it set Karen off here and took her back to primary school in Melbourne (can't help that Karen ;-) ) is amazing too - suddenly your memory has reach out across this world and flipped their memory switch as well...

These yarns always make for the best stories eh Ken
Cheers

Ken Armstrong said...

True to form, I've messed this post up a little. The song is called 'Little Mister Baggy Britches' rather than how I remember it.

I wondered where the links we had found had all gone... I was searching 'Patchy' instead of 'Baggy'... 'story of my life, really. :)

Pam: Imagine me worrying Robbie. :)

Elisabeth: See? You had the words right all along! I *do* think 'no' britches makes more sense than 'my' britches - that might have been a wee bit too racey for your show. :)

Susan: You mean you didn't hear me sing? Poor lass!! :)

Terry: I think there's obviously some truth in that, don't you?

Jim: Bing had that kind of voice that made people believe it was easy to sing like him, when it patently wasn't. I must have a listen to some Gracie Fields to get the vibe.

Dee GF: I could do that. My 'All The Tired Horses in the Sun' is tried and tested. :)

belongum: Always a treat to see you here mate. I think we've got to lasso these memories and coral them whenever we can. :)

koe said...

Ken - wonderful posting. Really. Not much of a difference between 'Patchy' and 'Baggy.' I enjoyed the singing.

My mom used to sing to us in Portuguese - I just asked her what one of them was and she said - that the songs she sang didn't have any titles that she knew but she used to sing. . . O La Lindina, larinja limao which she said means "O pretty girl, oranges and lemons."

Mom - you had two boys and you sang 'O pretty girl. . ." to us?

Loved the post - sing more.

Claire said...

Oh you did a grand job!! :)

I love the story behind it too, I think your mum would love the fact that this is such a lovely memory for you.

So glad you decided to mark the memory with this post/sing a long :)

Greg (aka Drolgerg) said...

What a great post! It's fantastic when you suddenly come across a reawakened memory that reminds you of a departed loved one. My Dad loved music & was often singing around the house, & every so often I'll hear an old song that reminds me of him. And please feel free to keep singing :)

shinester said...

How utterly charming, Ken.

Anonymous said...

my version was sung to me in the 1940s by my British mother:
Little Mister Patchy Britches
I love you
If you'll be my Sunday fellow
I'll patch them with pink and with purple and yellow
And folks shall say
As they lean on the old sea wall
Mama's been patchin' his britches
Til he's got no britches at all.

Anonymous said...

I came across your comments when I was looking for the words to the Baggy Britches song for my 94 year old mother, who told me about it for the first time today! She remembered singing it at the Canterbury State School concert (Melbourne, Australia) as a child. My search lead me to an Australian archive site from which I was able to print off the 1915 sheet music - http://nla.gov.au/nla.mus-an12852185, so you might be interested to see it. Seems like that song had influence at an international level and captured the imagination of many children of that era.

JohnOC said...

The problem I have in writing a reply is the veil of emotional tears that make everything blurry. My mother used to sing this to me as a child, in the 1940’s. It came into my head so I popped the first few words into Google, and up came your blog. I have the tune in my head and it’s slightly different to yours. I’d offer a sung version, but I’d end up bawling. Men aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. Thanks for your bravery.

Like your mother, mine sang all the time, and I find I do too, to the amusement of all around me, and the distress of some. Perhaps there are others who remember the song, Little Brown Seed (- oh little brown brother) : another one to reduce one’s ability to breath properly. Whatever happened to the good old British stiff upper lip?

John Olliff

Anonymous said...

I love this song too and it's been playing in my head on and off for nearly 40 years since we sang it at drama club. We call my parents dog Mr Baggy Britches, as when he stands on his hind legs, his fur droops and wrinkles over his rear.

I remember the lyrics slightly differently:

Little Mr Baggy Britches
I love you,
If you'll be my Sunday fellow
I'll patch them in pink, blue and mid-yellow,
And folks will see
As we sit on the old sea wall:
Patches of pink, blue and yellow
Till you can't see those britches at all.

woodflower said...

Hi Ken, loved this!! My Grandmother used to sing this to me as both a fun song and a lullaby, our lyrics (Yours and mine) and the tune are practically identical. The only real difference is that we sing this in a rollicking kind of way,we always sing it right before 'Christmas is coming and The Pigs are Getting Fat'!Do you know it? These two songs go together in my mind. I was overjoyed to find your post.
I have a little story and it is as follows; my grandmother sang to me as did my mum, I sang to my children and grandchildren also as a result we sing every where we go.
About 10 or so years ago I sat down and wrote out all the songs we have sung as a family,in a very modest calligraphy hand.I the songs into one of those plastic sleeve binders, one copy for each of my four children.
MY granddaughter has recently given birth to a dear little boy. During her pregnancy she asked me if I would make a copy for her and her baby.
Being a little more IT savvy than previous I decided to to look for clip art pics to illustrate each song, it's working well. On a whim I entered "Dear Old Mr Baggy Britches" and while I haven't found any illustrations I found your delightful and I will add, your very brave rendition of this great old song, bravo! Thank you:) PS I fly up to Darwin to give the song book to her tomorrow :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Baggy Britches was one of my childhood songs, though I don't remember where it came from. I did spend the first 3 years of life with my grandmother and then a further 2 with my aunt, so it may have come from there. Goodness knows why it has been in my head all day, but decided to google it, and lo and behold, here it is! We always sang as children, with our parents teaching us all the war songs as well. We 10 children would ride in the back of the old ute, and we'd sing. There is another song I remember doing at school, but I just cannot get it. It was something to do with a rainbow, but NOT Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or I Can Sing A Rainbow. Maybe it will come to me, or someone else may remember it. Please share if you do.

Brenda Power said...

My dad and mam used to sing this song to us before 1970 also. It came up in conversation with my mam today as we reminisced about things, she is almost 86 now and we couldn't remember all the words. Thank you for this, I will show her the words tomorrow

Ken Armstrong said...

I'm pleased to have been of some use, Brenda. Send your Mam my best. :)

Dorothy Willetts said...

Am 62 now but can remember singing this little song at a sunday school concert when i was about 8 or 9 ....memories i never forgot the words.

Ken Armstrong said...

All the dates seem to collide, Dorothy. Sometime in the mid sixties, this must have been popular. :)

Fran Cleland said...

We all have similar lyrics for it,
But there's a chorous...

after
til he's got, no britches at all
Comes - nte the same rhythm

Yah, Yah Yah,
patches big
patches small
Yah, Yah Yah,
til he's got no britches at all

And that lets you start all over again...
little Mr Baggy Britches
I love you
So yu just keep crooning them off to sleep
Got it sung to me and I am 72 and sung it to my own children and my grand children

Lanky said...

Sat at home googling and came across little Mr baggy britches it was sung in a Sunday school concert in 55/56 I remember it went little Mr baggy britches I love you if you'll be my Sunday fellow I'll patch up with purple with pink and with yellow and folks will say as we lean on the old sea wall someone's been patching his britches till he's got no britches at all sung at St James church Accrington sun school happy days

Nanette said...

Just googled little mr baggy britches and found this delightful thread. With grandchildren in full dance concert mode I recall my own dance concert about sixty years ago where dressed in black baggy britches with pink and purple and yellow patches we danced and sang away. All still as fresh and detailed in my mind as yesterday. Over the years I sang it as a lullaby for my children and grandchildren. It's been a treat to read all the memories

Greg Hack said...

Hi, I'm from Australia and in my early 60's and our Mum sang this to us. My Sister (who is in her late 70's ) and I were only talking about this song yesterday, so I decided to get on the net to see if I could find the lyrics and came across your blog. Her version was:- Little Mr Baggy Britches, I love you. If you'll be me Sundy fella, I'll patch up your trousers with pinks and with yellows, And folks will say as we lean on the old sea wall, Lena's been patching her Ya ya till he's got not britches at all, Ya ya yaha patches big, patches small, ya ya yaha till he's got no britches at all. Not sure of the spelling of the ya ya's never saw the lyrics written, Mum just sang it and unfortunately we never asked questions about it. Thanks for your blog, I have enjoyed reading it. Regards Sue

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm 55 and my mother used to sing this song to me when I was small, in London. Her lyrics were as follows: Little Mr Baggy Breeches, I love you. Will you be my Sunday fellow? I'll patch them in green, and blue and yellow, and folks will say, as they sit on the old sea wall, 'Mummy's been patching his breeches, till he ain't got no breeches at all'. She recently died and so I remember this song with a sweet sorrow.