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The Old Miser

[ Roud 3913 ; Ballad Index FSC048 ; trad.]

Peter Bellamy learned The Old Miser from Harry Cox and sang it in 1967 on The Young Tradition's second album, So Cheerfully Round. Peter Bellamy commented in the album liner notes:

The Old Miser is a ballad which has not to my knowledge been previously collected from Harry Cox, although other versions of this particular song are not uncommon and the story line is encountered time and time again under various titles and employing only slightly different details. The present text has a more bloodthirsty ending than most, with multiple deaths equalled only by The Banks of the Sweet Dundee and The Boston Strangler. I learned the song from hearing Harry sing it at The Windmill, Sutton, in Norfolk on the 21st September last year. (I do not have the total-recall memory attributed to traditional singers, not even the ability to know so short a ballad on only one hearing. There were several tape recorders present.)

I don't know of a recording of Harry Cox of this song, either.

Chris Willett sang a much less bloodthirsty version of The Old Miser in a 1962 recording by Bill Leader and Paul Carter in the singer's home on a caravan site near Ashford, Middlesex. The young lover is sold into transportation and the daughter sulks at home. This was published in 1962 on the Willett Family Topic LP The Roving Journeyman and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land (The Voice of the People Series Vol. 4).

And Mary Ann Haynes sang The Old Miser in a 1970s recording by Mike Yates on the 1975 Topic LP Sussex Harvest: A Collection of Traditional Songs from Sussex and in 2003 on the Musical Tradition anthology Here's Luck to a Man: Gypsy Songs and Music from South-East England. Mike Yates commented in the former album's sleeve notes:

Many ballads tell of lovers who are parted by jealousy or over-protective parents. It was a much used broadside theme and no doubt that carried a certain degree of plausibility in the days of the press gang. The Old Miser was printed in the early 1800s by James Catnach of Seven Dials and it became especially popular with gypsies in southern England. Cecil Sharp found it in Gloucestershire in 1908 and a version sung by the gypsy Chris Willett is included on an anthology of gypsy songs, The Roving Journeyman.

Walter Pardon's The Old Miser on his 1977 Leader LP Our Side of the Baulk is quite similar to Chris Willett's version, too.

Betsy Renals sang The Old Miser in a recording made by Pete Coe in 1978. It was published in 2003 on the Veteran/Backshift CD Catch Me If You Can: Songs from Cornish Travellers. Mike Yates noted in the booklet:

Singers have this song in two forms. The first begins with the line, “There was an old miser in London did dwell”, while in the second the girl has become, “a silk-merchant’s daughter”. Singers in Southern England (including Harry Cox, Walter Pardon, Mary Ann Haynes and Chris Willett) have preferred the first version, but Scottish and American singers seem to have chosen the second. Betsy’s version is somewhat truncated. In longer versions the girl, disguised as a sailor, follows her love to sea. The ship is lost and the survivors draw lots to decide which person should be killed to provide food for the others (Shades of the ballad Bonnie Annie—Child 24—here). The girl is chosen, but, having revealed who she is, her true love (who had previously failed to recognise her!) offers to take her place. Luckily, a rescue ship is sighted before the lad is killed and the couple later marry.

Faustus—Paul Sartin, Saul Rose and Benji Kirkpatrick—sang The Old Miser in 2008 on their eponymous Navigator CD, Faustus.

Andy Turner learned The Old Miser from the Willet Family's album and sang it as the April 7, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Peter Bellamy sings The Old Miser

It is of an old miser in London did dwell;
He had one only daughter, such a beautiful girl.
Five hundred bright guineas was her portion in gold
Until she fell in love with a young sailor bold.

Now when the old miser heard about this affair
All on the young sailor he would curse and would swear:
“No more shall that young man go and plow the salt sea
And before tomorrow morning his butcher I'll be.”

Now when that pretty fair maid heard her father say so
It filled her eyes full of tears and her heart full of woe.
“Oh, Willie, dear Willie, I wish you was here;
How quickly I would warn you of the danger that's near.”

So she dressed herself up then so rare and complete
For she was determined her sailor to meet.
She had pumps on her feet and a cane in her hand
And she met her own true love as she walked down the strand.

“Oh Willie, dear Willie, from this place you must flee
For my father, he's determined your butcher to be.
Go quickly to Dover, I would have you go there
And in less than eight-and-forty hours I will join you there.”

Then up spoke this pretty fair maid with a tear in her eye,
Saying, “I will have him or else I will die.”
Straightway then she gave him two handfuls of gold
And she walked down along the strand like some young sailor bold.

Now as that pretty fair maid walked along down the strand,
She met her own father crying, “You are that man!”
And a sword from his side he most instantly drew
And into her body he pierced it quite through.

And when that old miser saw what he had done
He tore off his hair and his finger he wrung.
“Oh wretched cruel monster, what have I now done?
I have killed my only daughter, she's the flower of London.”

And then that old miser, he took it so hard,
He put his sword to his breast till it pierced his own heart.
“Forgive me,” he cried as he drew his last breath
And then he closed his eyes in the cold hand of death.

And when that young sailor heard about this affair,
He come quickly from Dover and died in despair.
There was father and daughter and a young sailor bold:
All died an untimely death for the sake of bright gold.

Chris Willett sings The Old Miser

There was an old miser, oh in London did dwell,
Who had but one daughter that a sailor loved well.
And when this old miser was out of the way
She was courting her sailor both night and by day.

And when the old miser, oh, became for to know,
Straightaway to the captain, straightaway he did go,
Saying, “Captain, bold captain, good news I have to tell,
I have got a young sailor here a transport to sell.”

“Oh, what will you give me?” this old miser did say,
“I will give you ten guineas, I will send him away.
I will take him, I will send him straight over the main
That he will never come to England for to court her again.”

But when this young damsel her became for to know
Straightaway to the captain, straightaway she did go,
Saying, “Captain, bold captain, bad news I have to tell,
You have got my young sailor here a transport to sell.”

“Oh no,“ says the captain, “Oh, that never will be,
For your father has sold him as a transport to me.
I have took him, I have sent him straight over the main
That he will never come to England for to court you again.”

Put her hand in her pocket, poured out handfuls of gold,
And down in the quarter-deck ten hundred she told.
“I will give you this money and twice as much more
If you will grant to me my sailor, he's a lad I do adore.”

“Oh no,“ says the captain, “Oh, that never will be,
For your father has sold him as a transport to me.
I have took him, I have sent him straight over the main
That he will never come to England for to court you again.”

“Put a curse on my parents wheresoever may be
For I think in my own heart that they have quite the ruin of me.
I'll go home to my cottage, I'll set myself down,
All night for my sailor, all night I will mourn.”

Walter Pardon sings The Old Miser

It's of an old miser in London did dwell
Who had but one daughter whom a sailor loved well.
And when the old miser was out of the way
He courted his lady by night and by day.

And when the old miser heard of the news
Until the captain he immediately goes,
Saying, “Captain, bold captain, good news I've to tell,
I've got a young sailor a transport to sell.”

And when the young lady she heard of the news
Until the captain she immediately goes,
Saying, “Captain, bold captain, bad news I've to tell,
You've got a young sailor a transport to sell.”

Her hand from her pocket drew silver and gold
And on the main deck immediately rolled,
Saying, “Captain, bold captain, all this I'll give to you,
For my jolly young sailor's my right and my due.”

“Oh no, dearest lady, that never can be,
I've sold your young sailor a transport to be.
Your love shall go sailing right over the main;
He will ne'er come to England to court you again.”

“Bad luck to my father where'er he may be
For I think in my true heart he has quite ruined me.
You've sent my love sailing right over the main;
He will ne'er come to England to court me again.”

“Bad luck to my parents where'er they may be
For I think in my own heart they have quite ruined me.
I'll go to my cottage and I'll lay myself down,
And all the night long for my sailor I'll mourn.”