BETHAM, Matthew ms INFO


The manuscript music book, previously known as the Docker tune book, is held in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML) in Cecil Sharp House as part of the Anne Gilchrist collection.


Anne Gilchrist, 1863 ñ 1954, dedicated much of her life to collecting and studying folk music in England, specializing in songs and tunes from her home county of Lancashire. Known among folklorists of her time for her supporting role in England’s Folk Song Society, she was one of several independent-minded women active in folk music’s so-called First Revival between 1880 and 1914. After Gilchrist died, her executor sent her papers to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, though how this book came into her possession in the first place is unknown. (Is there a mention in her letters?) Apart from the Docker tune book (originally from near Morland), she also at one time had in her possession, amongst other books, William Irwinís collection of tunes, (see elsewhere on the Village Music Project website) some 40 miles to the west.

According to Malcolm Taylor at the VWML, the book has been rebound, though whether before or after it came to the VWML is unknown. It is approx. 11î wide by 6î high, and contains 4 lines of musical staves on each page. I have only seen photocopies and not the original.


1. The words to Sweet Jessie the Flower of Dunblane were written in 1808, and if we assume that the tune was written to fit the song, then the book must be later than 1808.
2. The tune ëHero of Salamancaí was presumably written after the battle of Salamanca which was fought in 1812 in Spain, so the book must be later than this.
3. Where a double ësí is written, the writer uses the long ësí which looks like ëfsí. This started to die out around 1800, and by mid C19 had almost died out.
4. On page 27 is the inscription ìMatthew Bethams Book 1815î.
If we assume that the date of 1815 was written contemporaneously, then this all points to a date of 1815 ñ see below for other possible options.


There are three different names written in the book, presumably by their own hand.
Inside the original front cover is the inscription ìWilliam Docker Newby Headî, which is probably why the book is referred to as Docker, perhaps by Gilchrist herself? Also in the book are the following inscriptions ñ

Cover = “William Docker Newby Head = hand 1
p12 = “Matthew Betham Towcett = hand 2
p12 = “M Betham Topwcett = hand 3, or hand 2 in a different style
p17 = “William Docker Newby Head = hand 1
p21 = “Jane Betham Towcett Hall = hand 4
p27 = “Matthew Betham’s Book 1815” = hand 2
p45 = “Matthew Betham Towcet” = hand 2

Newby Head and Towcett are both in the parish of Morland on the edge of the Eden valley. Morland itself is some 5 miles NE of Shap, and the church is unique in having the only Saxon tower in the north west of England. Thinking of Thomas Hardy and the Mellstock band playing in the local church for Sunday services, it may be of interest to note that there was no music in Morland church, with all psalms and hymns being sung unaccompanied, until a harmonium was used in 1871.

Newby Head (OS Landranger map 91, GR 589213) was originally known as Newby Stones, and is a hamlet 1.5 miles SW of Morland. The Docker family lived at Newby Hall and appear to be of some standing in the community, with the 1841 census describing the then incumbent William Docker (probably the grandson of the one above) as having independent means. William Docker (1752-98), the oldest of the possible WD candidates inscribed in the book, had 9 children, the youngest of which was educated at Appleby Grammar School and Oxford, so the family must have been of some wealth. The family were associated with Morland Church as wardens, and there are Docker family tombs in the churchyard.

Towcett (OS Landranger map 91, GR 574185) was previously known as Towside. It is a little settlement a further 4 miles to the south west from Morland towards Shap, and besides Towcett House includes a farm and several cottages, It is on the very edge of the Eden valley and rests on a low ridge overlooking the Lakeland fells, with High Street visible in the distance.

One source says that ìThe Bethams are a very ancient family, who until 1897 were owners of the Towcet [sic] estateî. The 1841 census records Matthew Betham as being unmarried, having independent means, and having 4 servants living in the house. In the early part of the 1800ís, a reference notes ìTOWCETT, a hamlet in Newby township, 3 miles N by E of Shap, where Matthew Betham, gentleman, has an estate, and is working a thin seam of coalî, with another source adding ìThis coal is worked for the use of the lime-kilns, near the hamlet of Towcettî. He has been described as being ìvigorousî. There is no record of him marrying until 1848 when at the age of 51 he married and had 4 children. In 1861 they were recorded as still living in Towcett House. There are inscriptions in Morland church relating to the Betham family including Matthew Betham and his son Edward who died aged 5.

The Towcett Estate now belongs to the Earl of Lonsdale, and Hugh Lowther, the 8th Earl who succeeded his father the 7th Earl in 2006 and inherited the title, now lives at Towcett House, although it is not the main house of the Lowther Estate.
The 8th Earl told me that Towcett House (shown above) was built in 1840 as a íCatalogueí house (the design was selected from a catalogue and built to that specification) and is one of six similar houses in the district. Perhaps it was built by Matthew Betham as a present to his new wife whom he married in 1848 as we saw above. Prior to that, the site was occupied by a pele tower, a sort of square fortified dwelling, common in the south lakes, and which may have become partially ruined. Matthew Betham could have lived in the pele tower or in one of the cottages that can be seen in the above photo to the right of the main building.
In the late C19, the dwelling was bought by the Lowther estate, though the Betham family continued to live there until about 1950. Since that time, there has been something of a diaspora of the Betham family, with members of the family occasionally returning to visit the ancestral home, mainly from Surrey and Singapore..

The Docker and Betham families are connected through a marriage made in 1775 between William Docker and Jane Betham, who between them had 9 children, two of whom emigrated to Australia and started a branch of the family over there. Within the Docker branch, there are 2 Williams that concern us, the elder, WD1 – 1752-1798, and one of his sons, WD2 – 1790-1849. Similarly, within the Betham branch there are three Mathews, the elder, MB1 – 1725-1795, his grandson, MB2 – 1797-1863, and Matthew William, MB3 ñ 1850-1867, the great grandson of MB1.

William Betham married Jane Bryham and produced a son John (1694-1775). He married a Jane Pearson and between them produced the first of our Matthew Bethams ñ MB1 (1725-1795). He married Sarah Bland (1716-1799), and they produced four children ñ Jane (1750-1825/8), Elizabeth (1752-1825), John (1754-1811), and Sarah (1757-?).
Jane Betham was the connection with William Docker ñ WD1 – who she married in1775, and between them they had 9 children, one of who was also a William Docker – WD2. We know little else about both Elizabeth and Sarah, but John married Elizabeth Walker (1760-1864?) in 1813 and she gave birth to three children Mathew ñ MB2 – (1797-1863), John (1800-1830), and Jane (1809-?).
Matthew married Alice Capstick in 1848, and they produced four children ñ Sarah (1848-1880), John (1849-?), Matthew William ñ MB3 ñ (1850-1867), and Edward (1853-1858).


1. If we believe that the inscription on page 27 was written by Matthew Betham in 1815, then he would have been only 18 years old, not an unusual age for MS authors. Was he practising his hand writing?
2. Is the handwriting of the tunes consistent, or are there two or even more hands? CGP believes the great bulk of the tunes are in one hand, with the probable exception of Death of Parker.
3. I assume the William Docker in the book is (WD1) William husband of Jane Betham. If so he must have acquired it before he died in 1798. Why would he do that unless he was intending entering tunes in it? Are any of the early tunes in his hand? The other main possibility is that he was (WD2), cousin of (MB2).
4. The Jane Betham on page 21 must have been the sister to (MB2), as if it was Jane the wife of (WD1) she would have signed herself Jane Docker, (unless she signed it before her marriage in 1775). She wasnít born until 1809, so was she practising her hand writing?
5. The two inscriptions on page 12 may be in different hands, or perhaps he was practising different styles?
6. Perhaps one of the Matthew Bethams mentioned is (MB3)? He died aged 17 so could have used the book to practice his writing.
7. Many of the tunes have comments or clarifications written alongside their titles, in a modern (20thC) hand.


The book contains some 106 tunes on approx. 50 pages, the latter pages being partially torn, thus rendering complete analysis impossible. All the tunes are consistent with the probability of the MS being of 1815.

Some simple analysis has shown that of the tunes that are complete,
G major (47)
D major (44)
C major (4)
A minor (3)
E minor (3)
A dorian (2)
G mixolydian (1)
D mixolydian (1)

The number of tunes in D or G is over 90% which is well above the average of 67% for the Lake District tune collections as a whole (Irwin, Stables, Lishman, and the various tunes under the collective ëBrowneí umbrella). Was this an indication of the playerís limited ability on violin, or was the possible instrument a keyless simple-system flute with a restricted home key?
There is the possibility due to the greater than normal number of tunes that go above top “a” that the instrument may well indeed be a flute.
Also worth noting is that 95 of the tunes are in major keys and that there are none in F major or Bb major.

The tunes themselves are a typical mixture for a ëborderí musician, though there are no tunes in 3/2 time. With Scotland only being some 38 miles away, it is not surprising that many (24) of the tunes are of Scottish origin or have Scottish titles, a high proportion even though there was then a vogue in England for Scottish dances and tunes.
Six tunes have titles of Cumbrian significance.

The nearest collection of tunes to compare with is that of the Rev. Harrison in Temple Sowerby, which is only some 4 miles away from Morland to the north, whose MS is also on the Village Music Project website. As his collection is also dated to c1815, it is interesting to speculate whether they met. On a quick comparison, Betham shares 35% of his tune titles with those of Harrison’s.
Thanks to ñ
1. Jean Jackson of Shap Local History Society
2. Jean Scott and The Vicar of Morland church
3. Hugh Lowther, 8th Earl of Lonsdale
4. The staff of the Cumbria Record Office in Kendal