Spoilt Victorian Child


Past trees the fairies are flying (1)
Past trees with rose bushes in
The child was spoilt Victorian
The child was spoilt Victorian

Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child 
Spoilt Victorian child 

Sugar and cakes appear mean
Sitting at the table
Tigers pop-up from books (2)
Spoilt Victorian child

Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child

Let`s take it ten years on
You`re looking back from then
Under rough grey blankets
Thread loose stained grey blankets

Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child

Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child 

E.N.C.Y.C.L.O. - pedia
E.N.C.Y.C.L.O. - pedia
C.L.O. - pedia (3)

Musical chairs rouge cheeks he remembers
Through the aqueduct of five years (4)
S.V.C. shall avoid reflection
The child was spoilt Victorian

Child was spoilt Victorian
Child was spoilt Victorian
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child 

Mirrors can`t hid the toxic of disfigured poxes (5)
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child
Spilt Victorian child

Past trees the fairies are flyin
Past trees with rose bushes in
The butterfly shrugs to fly in
Sugar and iced cakes appear mean

The child was spoilt Victorian
The child was spoilt Victorian
Spoilt Victorian child
Spoilt Victorian child


I know that the servants keep their order knowledge
And as you walk on in the footsteps of steed, babe
Into the encrusted green unwild
You know you are a spoilt Victorian child


1. Fairies were quite popular in the Victorian era (1837-1901), along with all sorts of supernatural or occult themes and phenomena. The genre of "fairy painting" is most closely associated with this period. Although the Victorian era witnessed the ascendence of science and the cult of rationality, Romanticism continued to be influential, and it was the age of seances and Theosophy. MES may also have had the Cottingley fairies in mind when he penned this line, although these post-date the Victorian period. The Cottingley sisters (Elsie and Frances) took photographs of themselves surrounded by cardboard fairies, which they claimed had spontaneously appeared in the pictures. Arthur Conan Doyle famously declared his conviction that the fairies were genuine, and it wasn't until 1983 that the sisters admitted the hoax. Incredibly, however, Frances insisted to her death that one of the photos was not in fact a fake, although if it was indeed a real fairy, it does not look very different from its cardboard fellows.

MES had reportedly written a version of the  lyrics years before the song's appearance on This Nation's Saving Grace (cf. Reformation), when he was 18 years of age. Simon Rogers wrote the riff, which is in 6/4, and MES fit the lyrics to the music. At times he seems to strain to make the cadence work, although this could be an intentional effect, as the rushed diction makes the song feel like it's trotting along a bit too fast for the singer, adding a sense of urgency to the proceedings. 

The Fall revisited this song after an 18 year layoff, on 2004's Interim, where it is called "Spoilt Victorian Childe." It was played live seven times in 2004 before being mothballed again. 

SimonC points out that the riff resembles that of "Earth is not Room Enough" by Groundhogs. The Fall have covered two Groundhogs songs, "Junk Man" (originally titled "Junkman") and "Strangetown" (originally titled--you guessed it-- "Strange Town"). 



2. Pop-up books for children first became widely popular in the Victorian era, particularly in Germany.  


3. I suppose MES may have gotten the idea for the song when thumbing through an encyclopedia and reading about the Victorian era. Karl B comments:

I think the encyclopedia reference holds water. "Spoilt victorian child" referring to a type of behavior, not neccessarily a child. People who are spoilt invariably have or want everything. And what is an encyclopedia? A big book that attempts to contain and list everything.

Dan reminds us of the proverb, "Spare the rod and spoil the child" (Proverbs 13:24, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes").


4.Dan: "Worth noting that Victorian-made aqueducts were among the great achievements of the age. Hence perhaps why the mention here.

For an example the Victorian era Barton Swing Aqueduct."


5. Dan suggests the child have had smallpox, hence avoiding the mirror, "disfigured poxes," the "rouge cheeks," etc.


Comments (47)

  • 1. dannyno | 25/05/2014
Lots of minor errors here, and a biggie.

"Through the aqueduct of five years
S.V.C shall avoid reflection"

MES doesn't sing "spoilt Victorian child" in full at that point.

Correct final verse, with prepositions etc in the right places, is this:

"I know that the servants keep their order knowledge
And as you walk on in the footsteps of steed babe
Into the encrusted green unwild
You know that you are a spoilt Victorian child"

I'm not sure about "steed babe", but I'm sure about the rest.

And most of the time he sings "Child was spoilt Victorian", not "The child was spoilt Victorian".

In fact, in the first verse, and elsewhere, it sounds to me like MES is singing "Child was spoilt Victoria".

It's also "The butter shrugs to fly in", not "The butterfly"

And near the end, it's

"Past trees the fairies are flying
Trees with rose bushes in"

Not "Past trees"

But the biggie is all this encyclopedia stuff.

The first time, in the middle of the song, you could get away with it, but not the second time, just before the verse about servants. I'm not hearing "pedia" there at all, just "C.L.O."

I've been back and forth with my dictation pedal, and I'm not getting it. I'm not really hearing it the first time either to be honest, but it's a tiny bit clearer on the Peel Session, so...
  • 2. dannyno | 25/05/2014
Ah, OK, "Pedia" bits much clearer on Rough Mix on box set collection.

So although I can't hear it on the album version, I take back my skepticism.
  • 3. bzfgt | 28/05/2014
"Steed babe" is definitely, 100% wrong. The trouble is I have no idea what it is really. I adhor doing this, but in this case I resorted to brackets because I know the line is wrong.
  • 4. bzfgt | 28/05/2014
I'm not really too sure about all that encyclopedia stuff, either.
Joseph Mullaney
  • 5. Joseph Mullaney | 17/08/2014
To me it sounds like `speed babe'.
Karl B
  • 6. Karl B | 28/10/2014
I think the encyclopedia reference holds water.spoilt victorian child refering to a type of behavior,not neccessarily a child.people who are spoilt invariably have or want everything.and what is an encyclopedia? A big book that attempts to contain and list everything.
  • 7. Martin | 02/04/2016
A lyric sheet containing the words to this song was included in the Victoria box-set 7" single and, despite comment no. 3 above, the words "steed babe" are present.
  • 8. bzfgt | 19/05/2016
Wow, "steed babe," eh? Well I guess I can remove the brackets...thanks, Martin.
  • 9. dannyno | 12/06/2016
The similarity between this music and "Earth is Not Room Enough" by the Groundhogs has been noted on the FoF:

  • 10. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
Dan, it's already in the notes. This time I know it's not my reading your comments twice since the page says it hasn't been updated since 2013.
  • 11. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
Actually I may have been looking at the wrong date. Now I updated it so we'll never know.

I think I've been getting your comments and adding things and then forgetting I added them recently and then accusing you of telling me stuff that's already in the notes when I read the comment again. This has happened about 4 times recently and I don't know if it's you or me.
  • 12. dannyno | 08/09/2016
How about we say it's you? :-)
  • 13. bzfgt | 15/10/2016
Well, it most likely is, you have it together more than I do, I fear...especially at the hours I usually work on this site.
  • 14. dannyno | 13/02/2017
Worth recording the Victorian proverb, "spare the rod and spoil the child". Attitudes changed over time. Early in the 19th century, children were often regarded as brutes, but by the early 20th century childhood was seen in more idealistic terms.
  • 15. Robert | 18/02/2017
Very minor lyric addition... according to that Victoria box set lyric sheet mentioned above it is:

"In't the encrusted green unwild"

Which MES does seem to enunciate on the record.

  • 16. bzfgt | 25/02/2017
Yeah, it sounds like "into the encrusted green," and in fact he says the "o" rather clearly despite the lyric sheet's abbreviation. I think if there's no objection I'm going to make it "into." If you think that's insufficiently reverent of the lyric sheet, on the other hand, it will have to be given more thought. I clearly hear "into."

"The encrusted green unwild" is a cool lyric!

I wonder if I ever checked these lyrics? Maybe not, as you may have noticed there are a lot of songs, and a lot of these got imported whole from the Lyrics Parade. As the years go by the kinks get ironed out....speaking of the kinks, I was going to listen to [i]Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society" and I forgot.

By the way, I owe you an enormous 'thanks' for your help on this site, Robert.
  • 17. Robert | 02/03/2017
Listening to this again I realize I made a mistake in my previous claim. You're right he does say "into the encrusted green" and not "in't" as the lyric sheet says.

I got mixed up because in the previous line "And as you walk on in the footsteps of steed, babe" he kind of pauses and sounds like he uses that "in't".

You are welcome. Having internalized so much of the Fall's output during my youth it's a pleasure to have something to do with that knowledge. Your efforts are heroic and the analysis here makes for endlessly enjoyable reading.
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 03/03/2017
Thank you, Robert, and as you now know firsthand it is not only my efforts that go into this.
Ronnie Walker Dunn
  • 19. Ronnie Walker Dunn | 25/01/2018
Yer ears are full o' tatties.

The line 'musical chairs,rouge cheeks he remembers'
Is 'musical chairs,rouge cheeks and mammoths'
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 04/02/2018
My ears probably are full of tatties, whatever tatties are. Nevertheless it still sounds like "remembers" to me. Perhaps a third opinion?
  • 21. dan | 08/02/2018
  • 22. dan | 08/02/2018
Maybe this is a child who's innocence & beauty has been spoiled by (small?) pox. Avoids reflection.
Lower orders (milkmaids and grooms) who caught cowpox from cattle and horses developed immunity which became the basis for vaccination developed by Jenner from 'folk knowledge' at the end of C18th.
One of many infectious diseases still common in C19th England that killed or disfigured children and adults especially in burgeoning cities
1960s polio vaccine was administered with sugar. 1980 world declared free of small pox
dunno - just a thought.
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
The Annotated Devo site is two doors down.

Yes, the pox idea seems to have legs, let me work something in.
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
"Rouge cheeks" too then, maybe to hide the pocks.
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
For credit purposes, is this Dannyno or another Dan?
  • 26. dannyno | 17/02/2018
Not dannyno, some other dan. I always post with the facts cannon avatar.
  • 27. DannyMac | 06/03/2018
Sorry Dannyno - I guess theres more of us Dans than Johns or Petes around these days. I'm Dan McAndrew. Encyco-Paedia might refer to spoiled in another sense, I suppose. Although 'paed' apparently just refers to growth or development as in child-rearing (same root in paedophilia as encyclopaedia it seems - Wikipedia etymology). Incidentally, I think it was somewhere in southwest England in the 80s where a mob turned their misdirected fury on a paediatrician. Something to do with being named in the tabloids if I remember correctly.
  • 28. dannyno | 12/03/2018
DannyMac, comment #27.

The paediatrician/paedophile story is an urban myth.

Here's one version of the original story, which dates not to the 1980s but to 2000:


If you strip out the rhetoric, Dr Yvette Cloete moved out of her house "for the time being" because someone vandalised her house with the graffiti "paedo". The graffiti was removed. There was no mob, and not even really any "self-styled vigilantes".

Note that the incident happened in Wales, not southwest England.

Press Gazette has a good takedown of the myth: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/a-tale-told-too-much-the-paediatrician-vigilantes/

The police attributed it to kids.

There have been violent incidents involving mistaken identity, and indeed vigilante attacks on paedophiles, mind you, but no attacks on paediatricians.
  • 29. dannyno | 24/09/2018
"Through the aqueduct of five years"

Worth noting that Victorian-made aqueducts were among the great achievements of the age. Hence perhaps why the mention here.

See for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barton_Swing_Aqueduct

  • 30. dannyno | 11/08/2019
Chapter one of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is entitled The Spoiled Child. I expect this is irrelevant.
  • 31. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2019
Certainly worth noting.
  • 32. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2019
Well maybe worth noting, maybe not. Maybe you're right. I noted it anyway. But on second thought it's such a common phrase...I'm deleting it, your comment is enough.
  • 33. James | 10/09/2019
I think Karl B is dead on about this being about a type of person. If you go to any University English department you run into bookish types who came from well off backgrounds and are a little too into the Victorian literature that's a major part of the B.A.

The stuff about not being able to reflect 5 years on and then doing it 10 years later from under stained grey blankets naturally follows from it being about tweedy Literature graduates who can't get a job. The sort of people Smith would probably consider spoiled poxes.
  • 34. dannyno | 08/09/2020
Grey blankets may be military blankets. Someone fighting in the Great War would likely have been a Victorian child, wouldn't they?

  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 13/09/2020
I reckon so but there needs to be a bit more to go on...also would they be a "child" or "spoiled"?
  • 36. dannyno | 04/10/2020
We're definitely missing something here, aren't we.

If there is some biographical narrative here (big if), then I guess what I was indicating in comment #34 was that the song is based in some sense on the spoiled and pampered childhood years of someone who ended up fighting in the first world war.

The crucial bit of the lyric to stand that interpretation up is this:

Spoilt Victorian child

Let`s take it ten years on
You`re looking back from then
Under rough grey blankets
Thread loose stained grey blankets

So it's someone who was a child during Victoria's reign. Ten years on from the death of Victoria in 1901 gets you to 1911, obviously, but if we're a bit more generous in interpreting "10 years" as a decade-ish, then you get get to the first world war, and we now have a soldier looking back on his pampered childhood. But it could be another conflict, if this is remotely on the right lines. What colour were Boer War military blankets, for example?

I reckon if we keep thinking about this, we'll find the key. This does seem to be one of MES' "objective" songs, referring to something we might be able to find.
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 16/01/2021
I see, right...I was hasty. That is a promising line, and the "disfigured poxes" maybe the aftermath of chemical warfare? Or would that be referred to as "poxes"? Anyway you're right, we need a key...
  • 38. dannyno | 26/01/2021
From "Creek Show", by Edwin Pouncey (aka Savage Pencil of course) in Sounds, 28 September 1985, pp.6-7.

MES, p. 7:

I wrote that song when I was 18, about ten years ago. I never got to use it because nobody would ever play it in the group, I never had any proper music for it.

I wanted some really daft English music for it so Simon, being a classical musician, wrote the riff. I always wanted it with a harmonium or something really daft but Simon came up with this tune which fitted it perfectly. I wrote that song when we were doing 'Witch Trials', it's that old. I've changed all the lyrics but I've always had the title in my head.
  • 39. dannyno | 26/08/2022
Geoffrey Case's play Fairies, based on the Cottingley Fairies story, was "Play of the Week", BBC 2, 27 September 1978 (repeated on BBC 1, 14 September 1979).

Would be worth trying to find it, or the text, see if it might have inspired any of these lyrics.
  • 40. dannyno | 26/08/2022
Those dates might be a bit wrong. Maybe 13 September 1979 for the repeat.
  • 41. dannyno | 26/08/2022
Yes, 27/9 1978 and 13/9 1979.
  • 42. bramble | 27/01/2023
I think the 'pox' referred to is syphilis. Subject was once a spoilt Victorian child and is now a decade or more on from his childhood, diseased and reduced to gray shabby rough blankets - army issue? (First World War?) Or an opium den? How the mighty have fallen. Is it even a person the song's about or the British Empire collapsing?

Who is S.V.C I wonder. Could it actually be STC? (Samuel Taylor Coleridge - poet and opium addict).

Or just VC could be Victoria Cross medal?
  • 43. dannyno | 02/02/2023
S.V.C. is Spoilt Victorian Child, surely.
  • 44. dannyno | 02/02/2023
Comment #42, bramble.

Could it actually be STC? (Samuel Taylor Coleridge - poet and opium addict).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died three years before Victoria became Queen.
  • 45. dannyno | 01/05/2023

Mirrors can`t hide the toxic of disfigured poxes

In support of the other Dan's idea (with which I agree) that the "poxes" line refers to smallpox (see note 5), I found this in Gareth Williams' book Angel of Death: the story of smallpox (rev paperback, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p.xviii):

Some survivors killed themselves rather than live with their mutilated faces; even in the 1960s, mirrors were routinely removed from the rooms of female patents suffering a severe attack.
George Henderson
  • 46. George Henderson (link) | 24/05/2023
I don't have a copy of The Turn of the Screw, but this song reminds me of it and google tells me that when the Governess sees the ghosts of the children, it's like a mirror image. I think there's an undefined illness involved which could be smallpox. And a hint of paedophilia. I don't think the song is "about" the Turn of the Screw but I feel that's the mood MES wants us to feel. (it's a ghost story, with a look back in time)
Also, there's that butterfly again, see my comments on Spector vs Rector.
Mark Oliver
  • 47. Mark Oliver | 28/08/2023
Steed Babe? Emma Peel?

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