On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at

On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at
"On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at"
("On Ilkley Moor without a hat")
Ilkla Moor - heather.jpg
Ilkley Moor, setting of the song.
Music by Thomas Clark
Lyrics by Anonymous
Published 1916
Written 1805 (music)
1850s-1870s (words)
Language Yorkshire dialect
Ducks on Ilkley Moor, as in the song.

On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at (Standard English: On Ilkley Moor without a hat) is a popular folk song from Yorkshire, England. It is sung in the Yorkshire dialect, and is considered the unofficial anthem of the county.[1] According to tradition, the words were composed by members of a Halifax church choir during an outing to Ilkley Moor near Ilkley, West Yorkshire. [2]



The song tells of a lover courting the object of his affections, Mary Jane, on Ilkley Moor without a hat (baht 'at). The singer chides the lover for his lack of headwear – for in the cold winds of Ilkley Moor this will mean his death from exposure. This will in turn result in his burial, the eating of his corpse by worms, the eating of the worms by ducks and finally the eating of the ducks by the singers.

The Yorkshire Dictionary (Arnold Kellett, 2002) stated that the song (i.e., the lyrics) probably originates from the Halifax area, based on the dialect used in the song, which is not common to all areas of Yorkshire.

The title is seen in various transcriptions of Yorkshire dialect, but is most commonly On Ilkla Mooar [or Moor] baht 'at, i.e. "On Ilkley Moor without [wearing] a hat". The song's origins are believed to be as a ditty to poke fun at a courting couple, as sung by a mischievous local choir.

The first published version of the words appeared in 1916, when it was described as "a dialect song which, for at least two generations past, has been sung in all parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire".[3] Arnold Kellett calculates that the song "could well have originated in the early years of the second half of the [19th] century, and not as late as 1877 ...".[4]


Sung to the old Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook (composed by Canterbury-based shoemaker Thomas Clark in 1805 and later used as a tune for While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night), the song has become so popular that the origin of the music as a hymn tune has been almost forgotten in the United Kingdom.[5] It is still regularly used for the traditional words While Shepherds Watched in some churches including Leeds Parish Church, but is no longer widely recognised as a hymn or carol tune in the United Kingdom.

Cranbrook continues in use as a hymn tune in the United States, where it was not adopted as the tune of a popular secular song and is customarily used with the lyrics of Philip Doddridge's Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound.[6][7]


Within the lyrics there is one central verse to the song, the first, third and fourth lines are changed with each following verse. All of the verses in the song feature the second, fifth, sixth and seventh lines which are "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at".

Yorkshire lyrics
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Tha's been a cooartin' Mary Jane
Tha's bahn' to catch thy deeath o` cowd
Then us'll ha' to bury thee
Then t'worms'll come an` eyt thee up
Then t'ducks'll come an` eyt up t'worms
Then us'll go an` eyt up t'ducks
Then us'll all ha' etten thee
That's wheear we get us ooan back
Where have you been since I last saw you, last saw you?
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Where have you been since I last saw you, last saw you?
Where have you been since I last saw you?
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
You have been courting Mary Jane
You are bound to catch your death of cold
Then we will have to bury you
Then the worms will come and eat you up
Then the ducks will come and eat up the worms
Then we will go and eat up the ducks
Then we will have eaten you
That's where we get our own back

Some singers add the responses "without thy trousers on" after the fourth line of each verse, and "where the ducks play football" after the seventh. Other variations include "where the nuns play rugby", "where the sheep fly backwards", "where the ducks fly backwards", "where the ducks wear trousers", and "an' they've all got spots".

Also in some recitals, after the first two lines of "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at" it is followed by a "Where's that?". Another variant adds "Howzat?" after the first line and "Not out!" after the second. In Leeds the line immediately before the chorus is often ended with "And we all got wet".

There are also alternative endings, where verse nine states: "There is a moral to this tale", and is followed by a chorus of "Don't go without your hat / Don't go without your hat / On Ilkey moor baht 'at" (which is sung commonly within South Yorkshire), or "Don't go a courtin' Mary Jane" (another variation known in the Scouting movement). Alternatively, verse nine is sung as "There is a moral to this tale", and verse ten as "When courtin' always wear a hat".


The song has been used in various television programmes:

Commercial recordings:



  1. ^ "The National Anthem of Yorkshire 'God's own county'". DKSnakes.co.uk. 24 October 2007. http://www.dksnakes.co.uk/national_anthem.htm. 
  2. ^ Kellett, Arnold (1998). On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at: the story of the song. Smith Settle. p. 55. ISBN 1858251095. "We can at least clear the ground by looking at the most widely accepted tradition that On Ilkla Mooar came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding." 
  3. ^ Kellett, Arnold (1998). On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at: the story of the song. Smith Settle. p. 83. ISBN 1858251095. 
  4. ^ Kellett, Arnold (1998). On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at: the story of the song. Smith Settle. p. 89. ISBN 1858251095. 
  5. ^ Ian C. Bradley (1997), Abide with me: the world of Victorian hymns, p. 9, ISBN 9781579990107 
  6. ^ See, e.g., John P. Wiegand, editor, Praise for the Lord (Expanded Edition) (Nashville, TN: Praise Press / 21st Century Christian, 1997), Item 199.
  7. ^ "Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound". Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/g/r/gracetis.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-07.  But note that the default tune here is not Cranbrook.
  8. ^ "eil.com". eil.com. http://eil.com/shop/moreinfo.asp?catalogid=222302. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 

Published Versions

Further reading

  • Kellett, Arnold (1998). On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at: the story of the song. Smith Settle. ISBN 1858251095. 

External links

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