W.H. Long PlaqueAbout W. H. Long

William Henry Long was born in the village of Calbourne, Isle of Wight on 6 October 1839. A plaque on the front wall of Grants Cottage, Lynch Lane commemorates his birthplace.WHL

William Henry was the illegitimate son of William Warne (1821-?), a chaise driver in the employ of Sir Richard Simeon at nearby Swainston Manor, and Eliza Long (1821-1893), daughter of Isaac and Charlotte Long, farmers of 70 acres. Charlotte Long had died in childbirth with Eliza’s younger brother James in 1823, and Isaac married Jane Cotton in 1826. Though his natural father seems to have disappeared from the scene rather rapidly, William’s birth was duly registered by Eliza on 19 October 1839, and he was baptised at the Parish Church of All Saints, Calbourne on 30 August 1840. Eliza, still a minor at the time, subsequently married George Salter, a farm labourer from Brighstone. The ceremony took place in the comparative seclusion of the Chapel at Newtown on 16 September 1841. The couple settled in the nearby village of Shalfleet where they began a family of their own. However, William remained at his grandfather’s farm and was raised alongside his uncle Jim (1823-1892).

In 1931 WHL’s elder son, Aston, recalled that his father was born into a world where he encountered:

the very last of the old customs and usages in his farmhouse home …The fire was still lighted by flint and steel … the ordinary beverage at all meals was beer, tea being considered a drink only fit for old women … wrecks and smuggling provided excitement … (and) … the older farm hands could recall stories of storms and rich “galloons” coming ashore with a wealth of cargo … [Being] a sturdy youngster [he was] as soon as ever he was able to … put to work … at plough, hedging and ditching, harvesting or attending to the horses.

CalbourneDespite terrible short-sightedness, however, WHL was determined to escape the family farming tradition and set about learning to read and write. Legend has it that William’s cruel grandfather cast his pencils, books and papers into the fire in effort to stop him writing! The determined lad countered this prohibition by secretly making bonfires for charcoal pencils and writing on limestone tablets and barn walls.

Despite the domestic tensions, William did eventually attend the National School in Calbourne for six years, where his thirst for knowledge was noticed by the Rector of All Saints, Revd. A. M. Hoare. The parson undertook to tutor the lad in exchange for labour in the rectory garden.Calbourne

Records suggest that Revd. Hoare secured the eighteen-year-old William an exhibition place at the Winchester Diocesan (teacher) Training College (later King Alfred’s College), where he commenced his studies in January 1858.  Despite a promising start which found his “General Ability” to be “good, but irregularly cultivated”, by Christmas of the first year his report noted the student’s health to be only “fair”, his conduct “moderate” and his temper “uncertain”, and forecast that his capacity as an instructor was only “moderate”.  By the year’s end he had “left for want of funds”, with some learning, but little prospect of becoming a teacher.

His eldest son later recalled: “Thanks to a fine memory [however, he had] laid the foundations of a wonderful knowledge of English literature, history and antiquities which he had ample opportunity of extending in later life”.

Census extract

The 1861 census finds the 21 year-old WHL lodging with farm labourers, William and Eliza Needs, at Uplowman near Tiverton in Devon, and working as a “book hawker”. Long’s neighbours, the village blacksmith and his wife, James and Frances Elworthy, have taken into their household a young school mistress from Kenwyn in Cornwall, by the name of Elizabeth Ann Eustace. On 7 April 1863 they were married at the Parish Church in Uplowman and later settled in Bedminster in Bristol where William found employment as a “bookseller’s assistant”.  Three children swiftly followed: Aston Henry Long (1866-1950), Herman George Long (1870-1944) and Amy Eleanor Long (1871-1928).  By 1881 William had become a “bookseller” in his own right, with premises at 120 High Street, Portsmouth.


WHL grew up in an age when rural Wight life, which had remained relatively unchanged for centuries, was suddenly accosted by the march of progress: the arrival of the railway and the first influx of genteel tourism which followed Queen Victoria’s taking up residence at Osborne House in 1845, made the Isle of Wight a fashionable destination. It is clear that Long, now based in Portsmouth, was acutely aware of these changes.  From the Summer of 1885 the newly-founded local newspaper, the Isle of Wight County Press, carried a series of weekly adverts promoting a new book:

Now in preparation … a Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect with

illustrative anecdotes and tales … and native songs … As railways

and school boards are fast sweeping away every trace of insular

peculiarity of speech, the publishers confidently anticipate that

Islanders and visitors will very largely avail themselves of this work…

a treasury of Island manners and customs as they existed fifty years

ago … which will be issued at a moderate price in August next.

Somewhat ahead of schedule, in February 1886, the Dictionary (or, to give it it’s full title, A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect and of Provincialisms used in the Island with illustrative anecdotes to which is appended the Christmas Boys’ Play an Isle of Wight Hooam Harvest and Songs Sung by the Peasantry forming a treasury of Insular manners and customs of fifty years ago)was published, by subscription.

First EditionLong’s principal intention in compiling his Dictionary was to record Island dialect and folklore and, of the fifty five songs at the back of the book, he made no great claims, stating in his Introduction:


the native songs of the Isle of Wight are not remarkable for their excellence … they may be roughly classed as amatory, naval –

generally with a mixture of amorous sentiment; bucolic; and

humorous and satirical … versions of many are to be found in

other parts of the country; but a large proportion have been taken

down from the lips of the singers, and it is believed now for the

first time appear in print.

Though cautious about the originality of these songs, Long was rightly proud of their authenticity. Although, sadly, no tunes were recorded, and there are no clues as to his sources, Long’s book remains the only substantive evidence of ineteenth-century folksong on the Isle of Wight, and represents an important and neglected early example of southern English song collecting.

There are indeed classic English songs known all over the country: ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’,‘Banks of Sweet Primroses’, ‘The Spotted Cow’. There are Southern songs that mirror the later collections of the Hammond Brothers and George Gardiner in Hampshire and Dorset: ‘Bold General Wolfe’, ‘Abroad As I Was Walking’, ‘The Crockery Ware’. There are bowdlerized antiquities with their roots in the bawdy seventeenth century collection Pills to Purge Melancholy: ‘Cis and Harry’, ‘The Old Man Clothed in Leather’. And there are rollicking chorus songs (‘The Barley Mow’, ‘Joan’s Ale’) andballads (‘The Loss of the Ramilies’, ‘The Banks of the Sweet Dundee’). Finally, there are a few songs that do not appear to have been collected anywhere else: ‘The Breeches’, ‘I’m in Haste’ and ‘The Little Carpenter’. In short, the collection provides an excellent representative snapshot of the type of songs in Vectensian folk currency in the second half of the nineteenth century, and its publication predated the foundation of the English Folk Song Society by twelve years.

For clues as to Long’s inspiration, therefore, we have to look elsewhere. WHL was a member of the English Dialect Society and, in appending songs and folk customs to his dialect Dictionary, he may well have been taking a leaf out of the book of one of his acknowledged sources. C. R. Smith’s Glossary of Isle of Wight Words (1881) includes a couple of song fragments and rhymes, a version of ‘The Carrion Crow’ (also collected by Long), and ‘A Song as sung at Shorwell Harvest Home’.  Its appendix also has short sections on Superstitions and Sayings, Sports, Pastimes and Games. It is feasible that it is in this context that Long’s collection of traditional songs heard on the Isle of Wight justified inclusion in his own local etymology. Unlike those celebrated early folk song collectors of the mid-nineteenth century, John Broadwood and William Allingham, W. H. Long’s enthusiasm for traditional song seems to have been folkloric rather than musical.  But this is not to say that his discoveries, unattributed though they may have been, cannot lay some claim to precedence in the chronology of English folk song collection. For example, the version of ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’, in Hooam Harvest, is virtually identical to that collected by George Gardiner from an Arreton man, John Brading, in Alverstoke Workhouse in 1909.

After the publication of his Dictionary, Long went on to ‘achieve considerable eminence in matters literary and antiquarian’. He became a regular contributor to the Isle of Wight County Press and published several other works including The Oglander Memoirs (1888), The Memoirs of Emma, Lady Hamilton (1891), and Medals of the British Navy and How They Were Won (1896). Sadly he never lived to see the last title in print as The Times review of his book records: ‘Owing to the sudden death of its author on its day of publication a melancholy interest attaches to this volume, the last literary labour of a remarkable man’.

His eldest son related the events of the morning of 11 June 1896 at the official inquest, reporting that his father seemed to be in his usual health, left his residence at 24 Victoria Road North, Southsea to proceed to his place of business.  A bricklayer walking in front of Mr Long noted him stagger, seize the railings by the side of the road and then fall to the ground. The witness went to his assistance raised his head and appealed to two or three people to help him but they passed on. A sergeant of the marines, however, came up and undid the necktie of the deceased which was very tight. The deceased did not speak and died with is head on the witness’s neck. A post mortem examination attributed death to sudden failure of the heart.

Coroner ReportW. H. Long was buried on Monday 15 June 1896 at the Highland Road Cemetery in Southsea in a ‘coffin covered in wreaths’.  His heavily listing grave stone is still visible in a quiet corner of the cemetery and bears an inscription that he had penned himself in 1868 at the age of 29: ‘the bands that twine together kindred souls are never snapped by death they are but grown to fuller stature’.

W H Longs GravestoneWilliam Long was survived by his widow, Elizabeth, who later settled at Winchester Villa, Belvedere Street in Ryde, IW.  She remained on the Island, with the comfort of her daughter Amy Thearle and younger son Herman, until her death in 1925 at the age of 87.  Amy died in 1928 at the age of 56.  Both are buried in Ryde Cemetery. Aston took over the Portsmouth family business, publishing posthumously his father’s Naval Yarns (1899), and writing an affectionate tribute by way of preface to the 1931 reprint of his father’s Dictionary.

Following the Dictionary’s second edition in 1931 it passed out of print for over seventy years, apart from a 1970s paperback anthology which excluded the songs.  Copies of it still surface from time to time on the second hand market commanding prices in excess of £100. There is some evidence that Long’s songs were still being sung in the pubs of Ryde in the late 1950s by gentleman of the road, Theodore Racine Searle, who slept rough in several West Wight barns and whose statue stands in Ryde Town Square. The rehabilitation of WHL’s pioneering work is long overdue.