Brister, William

Collection date: Aug 1905

Area: Somerset - Hambridge surrounds


William Brister (?): 3 songs inc 'Twelve Days of Christmas' (FT607) which was published in Folk Songs from Somerset vol2 in 1905 (click vwml link above). It's worth noting that Sharp collected 10 versions of the song in Somerset and that the 'standard' version sung today (as arranged by Frederic Austin with the accented 'Five Gold Rings') did not appear until 1909. The song appeared on broadsides throughout the 19th century and Brister had some interesting variant verses.

Because Sharp did not note the age of this singer at the Ilminster Fair 29/30 Aug 1905 and because ‘Brister’ is a very common name in the area, there are problems identifying the singer. Sharp reported that William was so drunk that he had to revisit him the following day when he was sober to get one song properly (Seventeen come Sunday FT608). The likeliest candidate is a William Brister who was not a resident of Ilminster at all but merely visiting for the fair. This William Brister was baptised in Barrington 5/1/1855, 4th child of John Brister agricultural labourer and his wife Jane. Jane was born in 1826, daughter of Philip Vile, who is found in the 1841 census in Puckington. Jane was shown as a seamstress (15) and living cheek by jowl with Sarah Bridge (also 15), future mother of singers Lucy White & Louie Hooper.

John & Jane Brister had moved to Hambridge by 1861 census, where Jane was listed as a glover. Then significantly in 1871 the Brister family was living in Westport Row - William was by then 16, an agricultural labourer (ref RG10/2400 f21 p1). He was doors away from the young Mary Jane & Lizzie Woodland, who by Sharp’s time would be the singers Mary Jane Ree and Lizzie Welch. It is so likely that they referred Sharp to William as a singer.

William Brister married Jane Loveridge at Barrington on 17/12/1874 and they had 7 children. They are listed in Barrington censuses 1881-1911. Jane is shown as a glover and her daughters as collar workers - all part of that intimate network too. Barrington is only 4 miles from Ilminster and the annual fair was a great attraction. William Brister probably died October qr 1918 (5c 585).

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