W.C. Hazlitt, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (London, 1869, p.82) gives:
Beggar’s bush, Briton’s row:
Fox Fold, Garton Ho.
G. L. Apperson, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases: A Historical Dictionary (London, 1929, p.89) gives a variant Fox Row.
This seems to record a colloquial derogatory reference to a Briton’s Row in Gorton, Manchester, which would fit the derogatory use. However, it appears to be an error.
Hazlitt gives as a source Higson’s MSS. Coll. No. 50. This must be John Higson (1825-1871), of Droylsden who was employed as a book-keeper for the Springhead Cotton Spinning Company, but was a dedicated antiquarian and topographer. His son Charles (1862-1930) was also engaged in local history, and was a prominent member of the Lancashire and Cheshire Archaeological Society, whose library and notebooks were donated to Oldham Local Studies and Archives.
Higson published The Gorton Historical Recorder (Drolylsdon, 1852) containing accounts of the town, with notes of events, families and place names. That contains a reference from the year 1782:
“1782. Three cottages erected near Kirk Lane, by Mr. Joseph Taylor, of Openshaw, one of the chapelwardens. They were named Briton’s Row, from a favourite assertion of his when inebriated, when he used to say, with much gusto, “I am a Briton.” Soon after this some local poet immortalised four remarkable places in this locality, by composing the following rhyme, in the patois of the villagers:-
“Beggars Bonk, Briton’s Row,
Fox Fowt, un’ Gorton Ho’”
Gorton Local History Group Publication Archives says Joseph Taylor, a warden at Gorton Chapel, (d.1800) built Britton Row, described as a row of terraced houses running between the Lord Nelson and the Vale Cottage public houses. It was knocked down in the 1980s. The Lord Nelson is at 3 Fox Fold, Manchester, M18 7FA (on the junction of the A57 Hyde Rd and Chapman Street). The Vale Cottage is in Kirk Street about 100m north east along the valley. Entries on a message board say Briton’s Row was one of the oldest streets, build before 1745, and near Tan Yard Brow which had a reputation on the twentieth century for the awful smell in that area.
The reference to Beggars Bush seems to be an error. Beggars Bonk must be Beggars Bank which is recorded in the Street Indexes for the Chorlton District Census Returns for 1841, 1851 and 1871. There is no other reference to a Beggars Bush in the area.
It seems that Hazlitt (who has aware of the phrase as he gives an entry for Beggars Bush in the same anthology) has mistranscribed Higson’s manuscript note or the entry in the Register. Hazlitt also seems to have corrected or converted Fox Fowt to Fold. That is far more likely than that Higson mistranscribed his own note when preparing the Register. Apperson gives no source so presumably followed Hazlitt.
‘Townships: Gorton’, A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4 (1911), pp. 275-279.
Susan Smith, Local Studies and Archives Assistant, Oldham Local Studies and Archives