> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Ploughman

The Condescending Lass / I Am a Pretty Wench / The Ploughman

[ Roud 2538 ; Master title: The Condescending Lass ; Ballad Index VWL084 , BGMG082 ; VWML RVW2/2/194 ; Mudcat 22853 ; trad.]

Henry Burstow sang The Ploughman in 1909 to Ralph Vaughan Williams [VWML RVW2/2/194] . This version was printed in 1959 in Vaughan Williams’ and Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, which commented:

This song started out, as some songs will, with intent to end otherwise. Mr Burstow’s first verse was originally:

It’s of a pretty wench that came running long a trench,
And sweetheart she could not get one.
“When there’s many a dirty sow a sweetheart has got now,
And I, a pretty wench can’t get one, get one,
And I, a pretty wench can’t get one.”

Here we are on familiar ground, for the beginning is that of the well-known Condescending Lass, often printed on broadsides, and not infrequently met with in the mouths of country singers to this day. The Condescending Lass belongs to a sizeable family of songs on the theme “I wouldn’t marry a …”. In it the girl reviews men of various trades, and rejects them all until she finds one whom she will deign to consider. But the present version loses sight of this theme, and from verse two onwards forgets all about the persnickety girl, settling down to a eulogy of the ploughman’s trade, though here and there the words still recall those of The Condescending Lass. For the sake of coherence we have abandoned Mr Burstow’s first verse and given it another title (he called it: Pretty Wench).

The Taverners Folk Group sang The Ploughman in 1974 on their Folk Heritage album Times of Old England. They noted:

If The Seasons Round can be instantly recognised as being a typically English song, then The Ploughman is undoubtedly Scottish. The song has a fine lilt for the words and music are irrepressably cheerful; it is a song of a happy man.

Turning over frozen earth in dark January days behind a horse drawn or an ox drawn plough, must have been back breaking labour. The hours were long, pay was poor. A ploughman at the Alnwick Hiring Fair of spring 1819 for instance, was offered merely bed and food as payment for his fee for six months work. In the depression of that year, the ploughman had no choice, yet, these ploughmen appeared to enjoy their job and approached life with a sense of honest reality and humour. Their songs are nearly always cheerful.

Cyril Tawney sang The Ploughman in 1974 on the Argo anthology The World of the Countryside.

Jon Loomes sang The Ploughman in 2005 on his Fellside CD Fearful Symmetry. He noted:

In this jolly little anthem to the delights of the rural lifestyle, our agrarian hero attributes his personal desirability to a diet of booze and fags. I got this from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs which has recently been reprinted and improved—it now has a picture of Eliza Carthy on the front instead of a bloke forcing a bear to dance by poking it with a stick.


Henry Burstow sings The Ploughman

A ploughman dresses fine, he drinks strong beer ale and wine
And the best of tobacco he do smoke;
“Pretty maids don’t think amiss a ploughman for to kiss,
For his breath smells as sweet as a rose, a rose, a rose
For his breath smells as sweet as a rose.”

A ploughman in his shirt he completely does his work
And so loudly to the little boy do call,
Saying, “Be nimble and be quick by the swishing of your whip.”
And so merrily he’ll rattle them along, along, along
And so merrily he’ll rattle them along.

When our shears are shod, to the blacksmith off we wad
And so loudly to the blacksmith we do call,
Saying, “Be nimble and be quick, and throw your blows in thick.”
And so merrily he will swing his hammer round, round, round,
And so merrily he will swing his hammer round.

When our shears are done to the ale-house we will run
And so loudly to the landlord we do call,
Saying, “Bring to us some beer, for while I am here,
A ploughman is always a-dry, a-dry, a-dry
A ploughman is always a-dry.”