> John Kirkpatrick > Songs > The Farmer's Boy

The Farmer's Boy

[ Roud 408 ; Laws Q30 ; Ballad Index LQ30 ; trad.]

George Townshend sang The Farmer's Boy to Brian Matthews in Lewes, Sussex on February 7, 1960. This recording was included in 2000 on his Musical Traditions anthology Come, Hand to Me the Glass.. Rod Stradling commented in the liner notes:

One of the most popular of collected songs in England (Roud has 153 instances), probably dating from about the 1820s … and it is one of the songs sung by the Boggins prior to the Hood game on January 6 at Haxey, Lincs. It was very common on 19th century broadsides and songsters, and also collected quite regularly in USA and Canada, but not much, apparently, in Scotland. It was once fairly popular in Irish songbooks and ballad sheets, but is seldom sung there now. The known texts vary very little—maybe due to a popular 78 from the 1930s. The tune is apparently Ye Sons of Albion—which dates from the Napoleonic Wars and the earliest record of the song so far is The Lucky Farmer's Boy in the 1832 Catnach catalogue. There are 17 sound recordings, only two of which are from Sussex—and the other one is from F.H. ‘Gabriel’ Figg, of George's birthplace in East Chiltington.

In mid-Cheshire there is a tradition that the original ‘farmer's boy’ of the song was the Reverend Thomas Smith, to whose memory there is a tablet in the Baptist Chapel at Little Leigh, near Northwich. He is said to have come to the village ‘weary and lame’, looking for work. He called at Heath House Farm, was given a job, and in time married the farmer's daughter“just as the song relates. Later he became a Baptist minister and he is buried in the graveyard of the Chapel.

Fred Jordan sang The Farmer's Boy on his 1966 Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker. Another recording, made by Ian Russell and Derek Schofield in 1990/91, was released in 1991 on Jordan's VWML cassette In Course of Time and was included in 2003 on Jordan's posthumous Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. The latter album's booklet commented:

in 1891 the Yorkshire musicologist Frank Kidson was able to say that, “Even now the popularity of The Farmer's Boy is great among country singers.” Kidson printed four distinct tunes for the song in his book Traditional Tunes, and noted that “at least two different airs, said to be traditional ones, are to be found published in modern sheet music.” Fred had the song from his father, and it became something of a signature-tune for him.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Farmer's Boy in 1966 on the Australian album A Wench, a Whale and a Pint of Good Ale. The sleeve notes commented:

A great favourite of Martyn's and once described by the collector Baring-Gould as “One of the most popular and widely known folk songs in England”.

Cyril Poacher sang The Farmer's Boy in a recording made by Ginette Dunn at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, Suffolk, on October 3, 1974. It was included in 2004 on his posthumous Musical Traditions album Plenty of Thyme.

The Holme Valley Tradition sang The Farmer's Boy in Will Noble's barn in Denby Dale, Yorkshire on September 27, 1986. This recording was released a year later on the VWML cassette Will's Barn.

Gordon Hall of Horsham, Sussex, sang The Farmer's Boy on his 2001 CD on the Country Branch label, Good Things Enough.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Farmer's Boy in 2011 on his Fledg'ling CD God Speed the Plough. He commented in the sleeve notes:

During the meetings to establish a trade union for the farming community in the second half of the nineteenth century, this some became something of an anthem for agricultural workers, and it continues arouse strong feelings to this day. And you can see why. It's irresistible—a story which combines humble beginnings, a willingness to work, a hefty dollop of good luck, good hearts all round, and a happy ending.

The folk song collectors have come across quite a few handsome tunes to this song, but the one which has won out above them all seems to have come originally from a warmongering piece designed to whip up feelings against the French in general and Napoleon in particular. This was called Ye Sons of Albion, and would undoubtedly have faded away as a vaguely interesting historical obscurity if its melody hadn't registered with some bright spark as a suitable vehicle for these words. The tune has also been used as a regimental march in the army, and its stirring strains have helped to make this one of the most popular ans well-loved songs in the English tradition.

Jon Boden sang The Farmer's Boy as the June 16, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Lyrics

Cyril Poacher sings The Farmer's Boy John Kirkpatrick sings The Farmer's Boy

The sun was set beyond yon hill
Across the dreary moor,
Weary and lame, a boy there came
Up to a farmer's door.
“Can you tell to me where'er there be
One that will me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

The sun had set behind yon hill
Across yon dreary moor,
When weary and lame a poor boy came
Up to a farmer's door.
“Can you tell me where'er there be
One that will me employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.

“My father's dead, my mother is left
With her five children small,
But what is worse for my mother still,
I'm the elder of them all.
Though little I be, I will labour hard
If thou wilt me employ;
I can plough and sow, reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy.”

“My father's dead, my mother's left
With five children large and small,
And what is worse for my mother still,
I'm the largest of them all.
Though little I am, I would labour hard
If I could find employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

“And if you will not me employ,
One favour I do ask:
Shelter me till the break of day
From this cold winter's blast.
At the break of day I'll win my way,
I'll swear to seek employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's wife cried, “Try the lad.
Let him no longer seek.”
“Father do,” the daughter cried,
Whilst the tears rolled down her cheeks.
“For those who'll work 'tis hard to want,
And wander for employ.
Don't let him go, but let him stay
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's wife said, “Try the lad.
Let him no longer seek.”
“Yes, father do,” the daughter cried,
As the tears rolled down her cheek.
“For those who would work 'tis hard to want,
And wander for employ.
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.”

The farmer's boy grew up a man;
The good old couple died.
They left the lad the farm they had,
And the daughter for his bride.
For the lad that was, and the farm now has,
Often smiles and thinks of joy.
He will bless the lucky day when he came that way
To be a farmer's boy, and to be a farmer's boy.

There you are!

The farmer's boy grew up a man
And the good old couple died,
Leaving the lad the farm they had,
And their daughter for his bride.
Now the lad which was, a man now is,
Often thinks and smiles with joy
And he blesses the day he came that way
To be a farmer's boy, to be a farmer's boy.