It’s The Only Bit Of English That We’ve Got (Poor Old England)


Listen to a
clip of a 1909
Zonophone recording
by Billy Williams;
the reference to the
Lusitania adds a
note of poignancy.

Poor Old England, Edison cylinder
Letter dated 8 March 1906 from Fred Godfrey and Harry Castling assigning the performing rights of It’s The Only Bit Of English That We’ve Got to Billy Williams for 3 guineas.

Fred Godfrey & Harry Castling [EMI also credits Billy Williams], composed 1906; published London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1907.


* * * * * * * * * * * *

This nationalistic, anti–free trade effort was the first of scores of songs that Fred Godfrey provided Billy Williams, whose recording for Edison cylinders was among the earliest he ever made. Ironically, among Billy’s recordings of the song was one for Homophon, a label of German manufacture.

Here’s the chorus:

Poor old England isn’t in the picture
Everything is foreign, you’ll agree.
The table and the chairs,
Tthe carpet on the stairs,
Are made in Germany.
But when I go out in the garden,
Growing in a tiny plot,
Is a pretty little rose
That in the garden grows.
It’s the only bit of English that we’ve got!

The Stage (25 July 1907), rounding up the acts at the Holborn Empire, noted that “Mr. Billy Williams is in high favour with his catchy number ‘Poor Old England,’ and the house on Monday clamoured for a second song.”


Gramophone Concert GC-3-2920Recordings

Billy Williams recorded three versions of this song: ca. October 1906 for Edison Standard, 26 June 1907 for Homophon, and 3 October 1909 for Zonophone. Reissues appeared on several other labels.1

Arthur Gilbert (Gramophone Concert GC-3-2920, 1907)

Will Terry (Columbia D-126, 1908)



1  For comprehensive discographies of recordings by Billy Williams, see Brian Rust, British Music Hall on Record (Harrow, UK:
    Gramophone, 1979); and Frank Andrews and Ernie Bayly, Billy Williams’ Records: A Study in Discography (Bournemouth, UK:
    Talking Machine Review, 1982).