Rosemary Lane / He Called for a Candle / Bell Bottom Trousers
Anne Briggs sang Rosemary Lane in 1964 on her Topic Records EP The Hazards of Love. This recording was reissued on her Fellside and Topic compilation CDs, Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A.L. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:
Though nowadays it seems amiable enough, earlier in this century the text of this widespread and popular song was considered unfit for printing. Many collectors found it but preferred to fit its tune to other words. Thus, the Rev. Baring-Gould wrote a fakelore text for it, called The Blue Flame (the soul after death appearing as a blue flame) and Cecil Sharp adapted the words of another ballad, The Councillor's Daughter, to the Rosemary Lane melody. The text Anne Briggs sings is the one obtained by Sharp from Mrs Overd, of Langport, Somerset, but never published by him. To another tune, and to rather coarser words, Rosemary Lane has remained the most popular of all folk songs among seaman (indeed it's one of the very few traditional songs to have survived in merchant ships). A few years ago, a sadly weakened version had a brief vogue as a pop song, Bell Bottom Trousers.
Bruce Laurenson of Lerwick, Shetland sang Rosemary Lane on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).
Martin Carthy sang this song unaccompanied as He Called for a Candle on his 1972 album Shearwater. He commented in the record's sleeve notes:
Bruce Laurenson, the Shetland singer, first sang He Called for a Candle to Patrick Shuldham-Shaw, and it was subsequently released on the epic Caedmon series, now re-released by Topic, at last. More usually known as Rosemary Lane, it's still sung in various forms, and when I was part of Steeleye Span, one of our roadies, Dennis Jordan, knew a version which he learned in the orphanage when he was a child, ending up with the immortal couplet
She picked the piss-pot and banged him on the head
Take that you dirty bugger for doing me in bed.
Bert Jansch sang Rosemary Lane in 1971 as title track of his album Rosemary Lane.
Chainmaker Lucy Woodall sang Rosemary Lane in a recording made by Mike Yates at Warley, Worcestershire, in ca. 1976. It was issued in 2006 on the Veteran CD It Was on a Market Day 2. Mike Yates commented in the album notes:
This well-known song goes under a number of titles, such as Once I was a Servant, Bell-Bottom Trousers and The Oak and the Ash, although it only seems to have been printed by a handful of broadside printers. These include Pitts and Jennings (both of London), Baird (of Cork) and Jackson (of Birmingham). According to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, the “Oak and the Ash” verses come from a 17th century broadside, The Northern Lasse's Lamentation, that can be dated to sometime between 1672 and 1695. MacColl & Seeger add that “In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the London thoroughfare known as Rosemary Lane (now called Royal Mint Street) consisted mostly of cheap lodging-houses and shady second-hand shops.” (Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland. London, 1977. p. 166). Mrs Woodall (1894-1979) heard the song being sung in Staffordshire chainmaking ‘shops’ when she was a young girl.
Bob Roberts sang this song as Bell Bottom Trousers on his 1978 Topic LP Songs from the Sailing Barges.
James Yorkston sang Rosemary Lane in 2003 on his promotional EP Someplace Simple.
Mike Bosworth sang Rosemary Lane in 2004 on his CD of songs from the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould Collection, By Chance It Was.
Josie Duncan sang He Called for a Candle on her and Pablo Lafuente's 2018 album The Morning Tempest. They noted:
We heard this song from the fantastic singing of Mick West. It it, a sailor wins over a young girl and leaves her pregnant. The girl justifies her situation to her mother, confident her love will return. Whether or not the sailor did return is up to the listener. The English version of this song known as Rosemary Lane was considered unsuitable for printing in the early 20th century because the narrative sees a man invite a woman to bed and pregnancy outside of wedlock.
Anne Briggs sings Rosemary Lane
I lived in service in Rosemary Lane,
I kept the good will of my master and dame.
Till a sailor came there one night for to lay,
And that was the beginning of my misery.
He called for a candle to light him to bed,
And likewise a silk handkerchief for to tie up his head.
To tie up his head as he used for to do,
Says he, “Pretty Polly, Won't you come to bed too?”
This girl, feeling young and foolish, she thought it no harm
To jump into bed for to keep herself warm.
But what what done next I'll never declare,
But I wish that short night had been seven long year.
It was early next morning the sailor arose
And into her lap he threw handfuls of gold,
Saying, “This I will give, and more I will do
If you'll be my Polly wherever I go.”
“And when your baby is born, you put it to nurse,
And sit like a lady with gold in your purse.
With gold in your purse and milk in your breast,
Saying, that's what you've got by your sailor in the west.”
“And if it's a boy, he shall fight for the king,
And if it's a girl, she shall wear the gold ring.
She shall wear the gold ring and her top knot shall blow,
Saying, that's what you've got by your sailor true blue.”
Martin Carthy sings He Called for a Candle
He called for a candle to light his way to bed,
And likewise a handkerchief to tie around his head,
To tie around his head like the sailors often do
And he says, “Me pretty fair maid, will you go too?”
And Maggie was a young girl, she thought it was no harm,
She laid her down beside him for to keep his bosom warm.
In the middle of the night when the sailor he grew bold
He throwed into her apron five hundred pounds in gold.
And it was early the next morning when Maggie's mother rose,
Saying, “Daughter, dearest daughter, you have thrown yourself away,
You have thrown yourself away and you've birthed a baby,
And you'll pass for a young girl in a foreign country.”
“Oh mother, dearest mother, oh, I've done nothing wrong
For I've gold in me pocket and silver in me purse.
And when me baby's born we will pay the nurse a fee,
And I'll pass for a young girl in a foreign country.”
“And if it bes a girl child, she'll stay at home with me,
And if it bes a boy he will plough the dark blue sea.
He'll plough the dark blue sea like his daddy done before
And he'll skip about the deck like a young sailor boy.”
“And it is God bless the ocean that my love sails upon
And likewise the bonny ship that carries him along.
I'll write me love a letter and I'll seal it with a ring
And I never will be happy till me love returns again.”
Lucy Woodall sings Rosemary Lane
I once was in service down Rosemary Lane.
I had a kind mistress and master the same.
One day, a young sailor came to our house to tea
And this was the commencement of my misery.
When supper was over he hung down his head
Then he asked for a candle to light him to bed.
I gave him a candle as a maiden should do
But he vowed and declared that I should go too.
Early next morning when the young sailor rose,
He threw in my apron two handful of gold.
“Oh take it, oh take it, for the wrong I have done,
I have left you a daughter or else a fine son.
“f it be a daughter, she shall wait upon me,
But if it’s a sonny, he shall cross the deep sea.
He shall wear a blue jacket and his cap lined with gold,
He shall cross the blue ocean like his young father bold.”
Now all you young lasses take a warning from me.
Never trust a young sailor whoe’er he may be.
They kiss you, they court you, they swear they’ll be true,
But the very next moment, they’ll bid you adieu.
Like the flower in the garden when its beauty’s all gone,
So you see what I’ve come to through loving that one.
No father, no mother, no friend in the world.
So me and my baby to the workhouse must go.
Cyril Tawney sings Bell Bottom Trousers
I was serving maid down in Drury Lane,
My master he was good to me, my mistress was the same.
When along came a sailor ashore on liberty,
And oh, to my woe, he took liberties with me.
Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Singing bell-bottom trousers, coat of Navy blue,
Let him climb the rigging like his dayy used to do.
It was at a ball I met him, he asked me for a dance.
I knew he was a sailor by the way he wore his pants.
When the ball was over he asked to see me home,
Then asked if he could stay the night as he was all alone.
He asked me for a candle to light his way to bed.
He asked me for a handkerchief to tie around his head.
Me a foolish maiden, not thinking it no harm,
I jumped into the bed with him to keep the sailor warm.
He really was no Sampson but that night he went to town.
He laid me on the bed there till my blue eyes turned to brown.
Early next morning the sailor he awoke,
And the crafty bastard handed me a crabby ten bob note.
Saying, “Take this my darling for the damage I have done,
For if it be a daughter or if it be a son.
If it be a daughter, jounce her on your knee,
But if it be a son, send the bastard off to sea.”
Now come all you young maidens and listen to my plea,
Don't ever let a matelot get an inch above your knee.
I trusted one once and he put out to sea,
And left me with a daughter to jounce upon my knee.
Martin Carthy's version was transcribed by Garry Gillard.