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For three centuries, ballad-singers thrived at the heart of life in London. One of history's great paradoxes, they were routinely disparaged and persecuted, living on the margins, yet playing a central part in the social, cultural, and political life of the nation. This history spans the Georgian heyday and Victorian decline of those who sang in the city streets in order to sell printed songs. Focusing on the people who plied this musical trade, Oskar Cox Jensen interrogates their craft and their repertoire, the challenges they faced and the great changes in which they were caught up. From orphans to veterans, prostitutes to preachers, ballad-singers sang of love and loss, the soil and the sea, mediating the events of the day to an audience of hundreds of thousands. Complemented by sixty-two recorded songs, this study demonstrates how ballad-singers are figures of central importance in the cultural, social, and political processes of continuity, contestation, and change across the nineteenth-century world.


'There are many books about the British ballad, but this one is different. It’s about the men, women and children whose voices made ballads happen. Often despised, frequently ridiculed, these hardy performers now have a champion in Oskar Cox Jensen. He has revealed a human story that is both richly researched and deeply moving.'

Roger Parker - King’s College London

'As Oskar Cox Jensen says, ‘there are precious few forms of historical enquiry to which song is not germane’. His study boldly combines meticulous scholarship with an invigorating imagination, its structure echoing the patterning of the ballads themselves. Oskar Cox Jensen’s is one of the most exciting new voices in cultural history.'

Jacky Bratton - Royal Holloway

‘… The Ballad-Singer in Georgian and Victorian London provides a more nuanced and even challenging reading …’

Ian Haywood Source: Modern Philology

‘… a major advance in scholarship on the history of this ephemeral yet remarkably robust literary form.’

Katherine Craik Source: Times Literary Supplement

‘… this book is essential reading and a good solid grounding on which all future work will be built. Physically, Cambridge University Press have produced a book that is a pleasure to hold and read …’

Steve Roud Source: Folk Music Journal

‘Oskar Cox Jensen is currently one of the most insightful and prolific scholars of the ballad, and his latest book, The Ballad-Singer in Georgian and Victorian London, is a welcome addition to the field. By focusing on ballad-singers themselves, an understudied group, Jensen adds new dimensions to scholarly understanding of the place ballad-singers held in society … this is a well-researched, well-written, creative, and original book that has much to offer students of ballad history. The website with recorded songs that accompany it is an added bonus that will bring pleasure to readers.’

Robin Ganev Source: Journal of British Studies

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