The Last of the Wold Rangers

Ordinary farmworkers have always had it tough, but the gradual process of enclosure which took place between the 16th and 19th centuries, along with the introduction of agricultural machinery, created a landless and homeless class of rural folk. Many of them migrated to the growing industrial towns and found work in the factories, but a few remained, travelling the countryside looking for seasonal work and being allowed to graze their cattle on what was left of common land. The Wold Rangers were one such nomadic group, living off the land on the Yorkshire Wolds. They were hardworking and trustworthy and were never turned away when they appeared looking for work; at the very least they would be given some food.

The last of the Wold Rangers was one George Smith, better known as Dog Geordie, who died in Driffield at the age of 76, in March 1987.

Imagine if you can, across this green and pleasant land
To the days of yore when there was work for every hand
Days were long in summer heat and biting winter rain
Toil was done all for a Master’s gain

The wretched would abound in every vale, on every moor
But even among these did live the poorest of the poor
The landless and the rootless, with a beast or two in pay
On common ground their squatters’ rights did lay

Came a time the landowners did have the fields enclosed
An act of selfish benefit for those who had the most
Machines arrived to do the work and men would take their rest
Now those who once had none had even less

A ragged band of nomads who had lived to bear this loss
Roamed the chalky upland where two ancient Ridings cross
Living rough and dying young, a life so hard but free
Yorkshire’s own Wold Rangers they would be

Camping on the green lanes, finding shelter where and when
On every farm a door was left ajar for honest men
No need to fear or worry when the Rangers were around
All things were left exactly as were found

Drifting with the seasons, fleeting work did meet them well
Gathering at the cattle fairs, their labour for to sell
Lambing time and harvest were the best months of the year
Enough to keep a Ranger all in beer

In Fridaythorpe and Foxholes, Sledmere and Thixendale
Folklore had the Rangers at the heart of many tales
Limpy Joe, Mad Halifax, Croom Mable, Horse Hair Jack
They’d ramble on but always they’d be back

A Ranger named Dog Geordie was the last one of his kind
A handsome and more pleasant man you’d struggle for to find
Four decades back, in Driffield, came a sad and empty day
The last of the Wold Rangers passed away