|"On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at"|
Ilkley Moor, setting of the song
|English title||On Ilkley Moor without a hat|
|Composer(s)||Thomas Clark|
"On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at" (Standard English: On Ilkley Moor without a hat) is a folk song from Yorkshire, England. It is sung in the Yorkshire dialect, and is considered the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire. According to tradition, the words were composed by members of a church choir on an outing to Ilkley Moor near Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
The song tells of a lover courting the object of his affections, Mary Jane, on Ilkley Moor without a hat (baht 'at). The singer chides the lover for his lack of headwear – for in the cold winds of Ilkley Moor this will mean his death from exposure. This will in turn result in his burial, the eating of his corpse by worms, the eating of the worms by ducks and finally the eating of the ducks by the singers.
In The Yorkshire Dictionary (Arnold Kellett, 2002) it was said the song (i.e., the lyrics) probably originated from the Halifax area, based on the dialect which is not common to all areas of Yorkshire.
The title is seen in various transcriptions of the dialect, but is most commonly On Ilkla Mooar [or Moor] baht 'at, i.e. "On Ilkley Moor without [wearing] the hat"; idiomatically "On Ilkley Moor without (i.e. bar) the hat". Dr Arnold Kellett reports the traditional belief that the song "came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding".
The first published version of the words appeared in 1916, when it was described as "a dialect song which, for at least two generations past, has been sung in all parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire". Arnold Kellett judged that the song "could well have originated in the early years of the second half of the [19th] century, and not as late as 1877".
Sung to the Methodist hymn tune "Cranbrook" (composed by Canterbury-based shoemaker Thomas Clark in 1805 and later used as a tune for "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"), the song became so popular that the origin of the music as a hymn tune has been almost forgotten in the United Kingdom.
It is still used for the traditional words "While Shepherds Watched" in some churches including Leeds Parish Church, but no longer widely recognised as a hymn or carol tune in the United Kingdom.
Cranbrook continues in use as a hymn tune in the United States, where it was not adopted as the tune of a popular secular song and is customarily used with the lyrics of Philip Doddridge's "Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound".
Within the lyrics there is a central verse, the first, third and fourth lines are changed with each following verse. All the verses feature the second, fifth, sixth and seventh lines "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at".
Many sources give the first line as "Wheear wor ta bahn when Ah saw thee?" (Where were you going when I saw you), though "Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' Ah saw thee" is the more common version nowadays.
Some singers add the responses "without thy trousers on" after the fourth line of each verse, and "where the ducks play football" after the seventh. Other variations include "where the nuns play rugby", "where the sheep fly backwards", "where the ducks fly backwards", "where the ducks wear trousers", "an' they've all got spots", and "where they've all got clogs on".
Also in some recitals, after the first two lines of "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at" it is followed by a "Where's that?". Another variant adds "Howzat?" after the first line and "Not out!" after the second. In Leeds the line immediately before the chorus is often ended with "And we all got wet". In the United States, "Then we will go and eat up the ducks" is often followed by a shouted "Up the Ducks!"
There are also alternative endings, where verse nine states: "There is a moral to this tale", and is followed by a chorus of "Don't go without your hat / Don't go without your hat / On Ilkey moor baht 'at" (which is sung commonly within West Yorkshire), or "Don't go a courtin' Mary Jane" (another variation known in the Scouting movement). Alternatively, verse nine is sung as "There is a moral to this tale", and verse ten as "When courtin' always wear a hat".
We can at least clear the ground by looking at the most widely accepted tradition that On Ilkla Mooar came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding.