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Thame Town

Thame is a vibrant market town in Oxfordshire, England, located about 13 miles east of the city of Oxford. The town has a rich history and is known for its well-preserved medieval architecture. It is also recognised for its colourful history which includes a role in the Civil War, historic characters such as John Hampden; the boxer, James Figg; landlord and raconteur, John Fothergill and more recently, Robin Gibb from the Bee Gees.  Its traditional market and annual fairs have been held since the 13th century and continue to this day. 

River Thame

The River Thame flows through the counties of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in southern England. The river has a relatively short course, running for approximately 40 miles starting near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and flowing generally south-eastward, passing through Thame, and joining the River Thames near Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

Our album takes you through some of this history and gives a flavour of a charming and typical English market town: 

History River (Martin Butcher)

Thame doth derive this spring or pedigree

Near Mesworth in the Vale of Aylesbury

From whence many miles with strange meanders

To find his lovely Isis, slowly wanders

From: Thame Isis 1632

John Taylor (The Water Poet)

History River features the river and takes us back to the English Civil War. The river Thame played its part in the battles between the Parliamentary army in the east and King Charles’s base in Oxford in the west. In particular the Battle of Chalgrove Field where Thame citizen and influential parliamentarian, John Hampden, was injured and subsequently died.

Thame’s Most Famous Son (Chris Hallsworth)

The mighty combatant the first in fame

The lasting glory of his native Thame

Rash and unthinking men be wise

Consult your safety and resign the prize

Nor tempt superior force, but timely fly

The vigour of his arm, the quickness of his eye

This song is about the first “Champion of England” James Figg born in 1684 in Thame and died in 1734. 

We tell the story of how this young lad went on to become famous as the best fighter with ‘fist, staff and sword’ in the country and, leaving his headquarters in the Greyhound Inn (now the James Figg) pub, made his fortune in London. James Figg went on to fight 270 bouts, only losing one. He then went on to set up a successful academy, off Oxford Street, in London to teach others fighting skills.

A Drink in Thame and We All Fall Down (Jim Greenhough)

From the towns all Inns have been driven:

From the village most:

Charge your hearts or you will have lost your Inns

And will deserve to have lost them

But when you have lost your Inns

Down your empty selves

For you will have lost the last of England

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)

The mention of the Greyhound Inn (now the James Figg) leads on to the history of the pubs in Thame which, so dear to our hearts, we felt deserved recognition. 

We consulted Alan Hickman and David Bretherton’s book “Thame Inns Discovered” and ended up referencing fifty pubs that existed through the centuries. (The quote above is from the same book and shows that pub closing times have been an issue for many, many years).

Simon Diegan and Jim worked on the idea of a traditional tune within the song which we call “A Drink in Thame”.


A Man Beating Iron on an Anvil (Chris Hallsworth)

In another local book “The Changing Faces of Thame” by Marilyn Yurdan, we reflected on the 

romantic notion that Thame still has a Blacksmith’s forge which was started by the Timms family in Long Crendon in 1829. Over the years the work changed from farriering to ornamental ironwork, but even after various ups and downs we are still proud that Thame has a functioning forge and a Timms family member is still involved.

The Salley Garden (Words: WB Yeats     Music: Herbert Hughes)

WB Yeats (1865 – 1939) arguably Ireland’s finest literary poet, when newly married, moved to 

Thame in 1921 where his son was born.  Yeats went on to win the Nobel prize for literature in

1923.  When he was a young man of 24 in1889 he wrote The Salley Gardens - a poem later set

 to music by a Herbert Hughes. The poem is suggested to be inspired by the banks of a river 

in Sligo where he holidayed and where he is buried.  The word Salley in the song refers to the 

willow trees along the bank of the river.

Who Would be Free (Jim Greenhough)

We first performed some of our songs about Thame in St Mary’s Church in November 2022.  At the end of the concert a lady approached Jim and asked if we knew the story about the Suffragists passing through Thame on the Great Pilgrimage in July 1913.  With the help of Jane Robinson’s book “Hearts and Minds’ and a visit to Thame’s Museum, we learned more about the story.  About how the Suffragists marching across the country came from Oxford to Thame and camped on the ‘Rec’ (still a recreation field today) on Southern Road.  In the face of violent protest, they persevered and marched on to join 50,000 of their kind in Hyde Park.  We thought that these indomitable, but peaceful protesters deserved a song of their own.

The Green Fields of France (Eric Bogle)

As the “Who Will Be Free” indicates it was not until the Universal Franchise Act of 1928 that the protestors got their way and universal suffrage became enshrined in law. One of the reasons for the 15-year delay was because political attention switched to The First World War - although that period also demonstrated the critical roles women took, gaining new, much-deserved respect.

Thame takes a strong role in making sure we never forget the bravery and sacrifices made by its citizens.  We want to thank Thame Remembers and the war memorial for helping us rethink the words of a much-loved Folk song.  Jim took the liberty of re-writing Eric Bogle’s haunting Green Fields of France to tell the story of one Thame’s own sons, Private Arthur “Bobby” Howland, the youngest of four brothers from Queens Road in Thame.

Bobby Howland was in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and died on 20th September on the first day of the Battle of the Menin Road during the 3rd Battle of Ypres.  He is buried in Bard Cottage Cemetery, Ypres, where our song is set.

The Last Letter (Chris Hallsworth)

While thinking about the first world war, Chris wrote a song that we felt fitting and poignant to the album. This song “The Last Letter’ is from a young man at the Western front writing to his lady love. They share a love of music and a song that is theirs.  The words are poignant because, of course, neither has any idea that this will be the last letter. 

On stage, we use the backdrop to remind you of some of the songs of the time while Julia, as the reader, and Jim, as the writer, take you back to those times.

Thame Fair (RD “Wag” Puddefoot)

After much research, we could only source one existing folk song mentioning Thame. That song is “Thame Fair” which is perhaps unsurprising as Thame and fairs have a long history. Although we initially assumed that this was a traditional song it seems that it first appeared in the early 1970’s and was composed by an RD “Wag” Puddefoot of Ivinghoe. As you listen you will quickly realise the song isn’t really about Thame or the Fair, it is, in classic folk song tradition, about the shenanigans of a young man and a young lady. 

Come All Ye (Jim Greenhough)

Thame has an extraordinarily long tradition of Fairs. 

The Ancient Charter fair held in October (the small fair) dates from 1215 (over 700 years!) started by the Bishop of Lincoln.

The “large fair” is a comparative youngster and originated around the week of the much-missed Thame Show on the third Thursday of September.  The Thame show began in 1888 and ran until 2009 although the September fair in the centre of town carries on.

We are sure that we all have different memories of the Fair, but we chose to give a romanticised version of music, excitement, and happy times.

This song also incorporates an original tune inspired by a Swedish polka Eklundapolska #3 by Viksta-Lasse.

The Best Innkeeper of them All (Jim Greenhough)

Now we come to John Fothergill, the legendary landlord of The Spread Eagle from 1922 until 1931. Chef, wine connoisseur, early campaigner for “Real Food” and passionate about interior design, Fothergill attracted the great and the good of Oxford Arts and Society and by all accounts was rude to all of them. Bizarrely, this seems to have made him very popular.  Fothergill is probably most remembered most for his book “An Innkeeper’s Diary” published in 1931 and still in print.

Thame Park for Heroes (Jim Greenhough)

…and so, we arrive at the Second World War

Our much-loved Thame Museum put on an exhibition about Thame Park and its use during the war by the SOE (Special Operations Executive). It became Special Training School 52 where radio operators were trained to be dropped into France to support the French Resistance. The house was referred to as “A Little Piece of France”.

The girls were given French code names and it is estimated that the life expectancy of these brave volunteers was six weeks. We think they were all heroes...

I Started a Joke (Bee Gees)

It is difficult to imagine creating a musical journey about Thame and its history without thinking about Thame’s most famous musician, Robin Gibb, who lived in the 

Prebendal for many years.  From the cannon of Bee Gees music and the songs that Robin Gibb wrote we went back to 1968 and a song he wrote with Barry and Maurice, from the album “Idea”.

The Ghost Will Walk Abroad (Jim Greenhough)

Well it can’t all be about heroes and history. During out research we stumbled on many fascinating stories of the weird, wonderful and supernatural in the area.

Headless Horseman, ghostly lepers, nannies, school masters and landladies, not to mention murder and little green men.

Mary on the Banks of the River Thame (Jim Greenhough)

Mary on the Banks of the River Thame is the song that led to the launch of this project.  Julia and Jim live just outside Thame, in Shabbington, and are lucky to be able to walk their dog, Ralph, along the banks of our beautiful river most mornings through spring and summer observing as the seasons take shape.  It was on one of these walks that Jim imagined the folk who had walked along this river bank over the years and he pictured Mary walking sadly on her own…..forever searching for her lost love.

Thame and the River (Jim Greenhough)

A rousing chorus song celebrating all that is good about a great English market town.

The underlying message being “let’s celebrate what we have got”, but at the same time being aware that “change has happened and will continue to do so” and challenging us to embrace the future as well as our glorious past.