In the slang of the British and Irish tramps, the phrase to sleep in Mother Greenfield’s (lodgings), and its variants, mean to sleep out in the open fields.
The following are, in chronological order, several texts in which this phrase, and its variants, occur:
1-: From The Weekly Standard and Express (Blackburn, Lancashire, England) of Saturday 10th February 1900:
SLEEPING IN A CAVE.
By a Vagrant.
Three Scottish knights in the brotherhood of the road, with whom I had mated, declared one day towards the fall of evening that they could find me a “skipper.” Now, I was at a loss to know what they meant by “skipper,” my mind naturally reverting to the sea along whose coast we were travelling. Had it some reference to a Dirk Hatterick 1 and the trade of smuggling, for which this coast was once famous? What sort of fellows had I dropped in with? Were they smuggling, and was the skipper whom they were going to find me their captain? One does not know, methought, whether smuggling has been altogether suppressed on these wild Scottish coasts even yet. The wild and wierd [sic] surroundings in the gloaming favoured these gloomy forebodings, which were however dispelled by an explanation of what the roadster’s skipper was. It appears that “skipper” is a tramp’s familiar expression for a “doss out,” in the words, some outbuildings in which to sleep to distinguish it from Mother Greenfield’s lodgings or “lie down” under the open canopy of heaven.
1 Dirk Hattaraick is a Dutch smuggler in Guy Mannering; or, The Astrologer (1815), by the Scottish novelist and poet Walter Scott (1771-1832).
2-: From The Londonderry Sentinel (Derry, County Derry, Ireland) of Saturday 8th May 1909:
DISTURBING A TRAMP’S SLEEP.
At a special Court held in Limavady on Thursday, before Mr. J. D. Boyd, a tramp named John Roy was charged with vagrancy. Mr. Arthur Gibson, Burnally, gave evidence to the effect that on Wednesday night he went round his premises before retiring for the night. He smelt tobacco smoke, and on opening the barn door he saw a tramp lying huddled up under a bag, apparently having made himself comfortable for the night. Witness demanded the man’s business on the premises, to which the tramp replied that he was “just resting himself, and came there for shelter, as, although it was the month of May, it was still too cold to seek lodging with Mr. Greenfield.” Witness thereupon asked the man to accompany him to Limavady. The tramp made no objection to this course, and went with him to the police barrack, where he lodged a complaint. Asked what he had to say for himself, the accused replied, “Well, your Worship, I was in Limavady, and all the lodging-houses were filled up, and I just walked out and took this place for shelter, when this gentleman disturbed my sleep—(laughter)—but I did not mean any harm.” His Worship discharged the accused on condition that he would leave the town immediately.
3-: From Lloyd’s Weekly News (London, England) of Sunday 26th December 1909:
“ON THE ROAD” ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
Kind Hearts Furnish Wayfarers with Sumptuous Repast.
THE THREE HALF-CROWNS.
[The following contribution is from Mr. Payne, the “Tramp Poet,” from whom we published some time ago a series of articles headed “The Literary Tramp.”]
I turned sharply at the sound of the voice and beheld a few yards away a brother of the road. […]
[…] I answered his cheery hail with one quite as cheery.
“Funny sort of weather for Christmas, mate?” he remarked, walking by my side.
“You’re right,” I replied, “it is.”
“Come far?” he asked, after a short pause.
I named a town some four miles distant, on hearing which he gave vent to what sounded like a contemptuous snort.
“I’ve done twelve miles since five o’clock this morning,” he said.
“You’re an early riser,” I rejoined.
“Mother Greenfields!” he remarked, significantly.
“Rather cold dossing out, wasn’t it?” I queried.
“Didn’t notice particularly, I was canned up when I flopped down. I met a good Samaritan last night, and he treated me to as much whisky as I could drink. That’s the worst of those sort of good Samaritans. A bloke can have as much drink as he likes, but they never think of asking him if he wants something to eat, or give him a copper towards his lodgings. What’s the use of filling a hungry man up with drink? That’s no use to him. A good feed’s more in his line.”
4-: From a list of wounded soldiers, published in the Northampton Mercury (Northampton, Northamptonshire, England) of Friday 25th September 1914:
BARRINGER, PRIVATE TOM, 1st Northants Regiment.
[…] Private Barringer has been wounded in the left arm, but does not know how it happened. In a letter written home before he was wounded, he said, “It is fine to sleep in ‘Mrs. Greenfield’s lodgings’ and watch the firework display. It reminds you of the Fifth of November.”
5-: From Half a Million Tramps (London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1936), by W. A. Gape:
“These chicks of mine can generally spot the police as they come up the road, so I’ve dodged them for weeks. It’s a pity they can’t leave us alone where we’re doing no harm. It must be the ‘kip house’ keepers what keep them up to it. They’re jealous because we don’t use their lousy ‘kips’. I’ll watch getting lousy and paying eightpence for it too. I’d sooner have ‘Mrs. Ashtip’ 2 or ‘Mrs. Greenfields’ any day.”
2 According to A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), by Eric Partridge and Paul Beale, Mrs. Ashtip is tramp slang for a shelter near a limekiln or a furnace.
6-: From the Carmarthen Journal (Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire, Wales) of Friday 3rd February 1984:
Man sleeps in Mother Greenfield’s . . .
A man who claimed to have a passion for sardines was fined £10 by Whitland magistrates after pleading guilty to stealing tins of sardines valued at 72p from Carmarthen’s Tesco store.
Conrad Brown, aged 43, of no settled address, when asked where he slept, told the court: “it is difficult to answer that question. Sometimes I sleep in Mother Greenfield’s . . . I sleep rough,” he said.
A different phrase, to worship under Dr. Greenfield, and its variants, mean to go for a walk in the countryside rather than to attend a religious service.
This phrase occurs, for example, in the following from South Molton and Methodist Union. Visit of Church Leaders, published in the North Devon Journal (Barnstaple, Devon, England) of Thursday 16th July 1931:
The Rev. Fred Barrett spoke on the theme of “The religion of the warm heart.” There were plenty of people, he said, whose enthusiasm was akin to fireworks, which were very pretty and spectactular [sic] while they lasted, but which did not last long. “They go up like a rocket and come down like a stick.” There were a lot of people who were in the habit of declaring that they preferred to worship under “Dr. Greenfields” rather than under some minister like himself. Some would tell him that they could worship God as sincerely at golf as in church.
It seems that the phrase to worship under Dr. Greenfield occurs in the sermon preached in the Cathedral of Dunblane, by the Rev. Dr Macgregor, during the tenth annual festival of the union of the parish church choirs of Perthshire, as transcribed in The Perthshire Advertiser (Perth, Perthshire, Scotland) of Monday 29th April 1895—unless the Rev. Dr Macgregor was alluding to an actual person, which nothing in the newspaper article suggests:
Apart from the direct work in which the Union was engaged they were doing the young and rising generation a very great service by giving them an interest in the house of God. That was an important matter these days when there were so many forces at work to draw them away from it. Dr Greenfield was a very popular preacher, but they usually found that those who worshipped only under Dr Greenfield very soon gave over worship altogether. If they wished to kipper young people to the Church give them something to do for it.