“Charity Seed, The/We Never Died in the Winter Yet”


The singer hears two people discussing "Wealthy people and their greed" and farmers with good crops "all applying for the charity seed." In good times, food is plentiful, but the bad brought "great distress"; now Gladstone will repair the matter


This is a curious song, seeming to refer to the potato famines-- but with other references arguing for a later date (perhaps 1869). The famines of 1845-1851 saw the British government try, ineptly and with insufficient commitment, to supply relief -- but the results were not sufficient to the problem. (For details, see the notes to "Over There (I - The Praties They Grow Small)".)

Frankly, given the technology of the time, the British probably could not have saved all the people who starved -- but they certainly could have done more, and done it more efficiently. The blame for this, however, did not fall on Disraeli, but on Sir Robert Peel (Disraeli opposed Peel's measures, but did not become Prime Minister until 1868).

Disraeli served as Prime Minister twice: 1868 and 1874-1880, and was twice replaced by Gladstone, who served 1868-1874, 1880-1885 (plus 1886 and 1892-1894).

The best date for this song in its current form is thus 1869, when the newly-elected Gladstone put a final end to the corn laws (the original law, passed 1815, had forbid imports of grain except in conditions of extreme famine; modified slightly in 1828, Peel had managed to get the rates reduced in 1846, in response to the famine, but a slight duty remained until Gladstone ended it).

Incidentally, dying in winter (or spring) was a genuine problem for those dependent on the potato, since they had effectively no other food. Although most peasants had enough land to grow a year's worth of food, the potatoes would often rot by the end of that time. - RBW


  1. SHenry H766, p. 43, "The Charity Seed/We Never Died in the Winter Yet" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #13357
  3. BI, HHH766


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1938 (Sam Henry collection)
Found in: Ireland