> Eliza Carthy > Songs > The Poor and Young Single Sailor
> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Broken Token

The Young and Single Sailor / The Poor and Young Single Sailor / A Fair Maid Walking / The Broken Token

[ Roud 264 ; Master title: The Young and Single Sailor ; Laws N42 ; G/D 5:1038 , 6:1201 ; Henry H471 , H818 ; Ballad Index LN42 ; VWML PG/5/25 ; Bodleian Roud 264 ; GlosTrad Roud 264 ; Wiltshire 375 , 884 ; Mudcat 22883 ; trad.]

The Young and Single Sailor is a, if not the, archetypal “broken token” song. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd printed it in 1959 in their Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Linda Adams sang it accompanied by Jez Lowe on guitar and dulcimer in 1986 on the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud printed this song as Fair Maid Walking in Her Garden in 2012 in his updated version, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Jeannie Robertson sang The Broken Token, in a recording made at her home in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Hamish Henderson commented in the sleeve notes:

Often known as A Pretty Fair Maid (Miss) in the Garden, this ballad has achieved as wide circulation in the United Stated as in the British Isles. It makes moving use of the oldest ballad themes, detailing the dialogue and action of a long-absent returning lover who resolves to test his sweetheart's fidelity; upon finding her true, he identifies himself by matching parts of a broken ring.

Winnie Campbell sang The Broken Token in a concert presented by the EFDSS at the Royal Festival Hall on 4 June 1965. A recording of this concert was issued in the same year as the EMI/HMV album Folksound of Britain.

Sarah Makem sang A Servant Maid in Her Father's Garden at home in Keady, Co. Armagh in a recording made by Bill Leader in 1967. This was released in 1968 on her Topic album Ulster Ballad Singer. An earlier recording made by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in 1952 was included in 2011 on her Musical Traditions anthology As I Roved Out. A third recording made by Paul Carter and Sean O'Boyle in 1967 was included in 2012 on her Topic anthology The Heart Is True (The Voice of the People Series Volume 24).

Robin and Barry Dransfield sang A Fair Maid Walking All in Her Garden in 1970 on their Trailer duo album The Rout of the Blues.

The Broadside sang A Fair Maid Walking on their 1971 album of Lincolnshire folk songs, The Gipsy's Wedding Day. They noted:

Collected by [Percy] Grainger at Barrow-on-Humber in 1906. [ VWML PG/5/25 ] . […] Often known as The Broken Token. The theme is widespread in folklore.

Sarah Anne O'Neill sang A Fair Young Maid in Her Father’s Garden in her home near Derrytresk, Coalisland, Co. Tyrone in 1977 to Robin Morton. This recording was released a year later on her and her brother George Hanna's Topic album On the Shores of Lough Neagh. It was also included with the title Standing in Yon Flowery Garden on the 1998 Topic anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10).

Mary Cash sang A Lady in Her Father’s Garden in a recording made between 1973 and 1985 by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie that was published in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs of Irish Travellers in England, From Puck to Appleby. Jim Carroll noted in the album's booklet:

This is probably one of the most popular of all the ‘broken token’ songs, in which parting lovers are said to break a ring in two, each half being kept by the man and woman. At their reunion, the man produces his half as a proof of his identity.

Robert Chambers, in his Book of Days, 1862-1864, describes a betrothal custom using a ‘gimmal’ or linked ring:

Made with a double and sometimes with a triple link, which turned upon a pivot, it could shut up into one solid ring… It was customary to break these rings asunder at the betrothal which was ratified in a solemn manner over the Holy Bible, and sometimes in the presence of a witness, when the man and woman broke away the upper and lower rings from the central one, which the witness retained. When the marriage contract was fulfilled at the altar, the three portions of the ring were again united, and the ring used in the ceremony.

These ‘broken token’ songs often end with the woman flinging herself into the returned lover’s arms and welcoming him back, but [this] version has it differently and, Mary Delaney, who also sang it for us, had the suitor even more firmly rejected:

For it’s seven years brings an alteration,
And seven more brings a big change to me,
Oh, go home young man, choose another sweetheart,
Your serving maid I’m not here to be.

Cyril Tawney sang The Broken Token on the 1992 Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams commented in the album's booklet:

Broken Token ballads abound in the English Tradition. The general idea is that the lovers divide a ‘token’ (usually a ring) when they part (he usually goes off to foreign parts as a soldier or sailor) and agree to be faithful. He later returns, but she does not recognise him at first, etc. etc. Cyril learnt this version in his native West Country from his Mother and this goes to show how difficult it is to regionalise folk songs because she learnt it from her Grandmother, Mary Sharkey, in Northern Ireland! Cyril's rolling West Country accent sounds just right for this charming little song. Cyril is an ex submariner, an expert on sailors' songs and a noted songwriter.

Nancy Kerr sang The Poor and Young Single Sailor in 1995 on her and Eliza Carthy's second album Shape of Scrape. She commented in the record's sleeve notes:

A classic “Broken Token” song, sometimes called A Lady Fair or A Fair Maiden Walking. Two lovers part, breaking a ring between them as a token of their love. She naturally spends seven years pining, moping and generally preserving her honour until he returns having made his fortune and “tests” her fidelity. The subject of his honour is not broached. Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1908 from a Mr Burridge, near Capel, Surrey.

Maggie Murphy sang Seven Years Did I Have a Sweetheart on her 1996 Veteran CD of “traditional folk songs and ballads from Tempo, Co Fermanagh”, Linkin' O'er the Lea.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang this song as A Fair Maid Walking on their 1998 album, Heartoutbursts: English Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger. Its sleeve notes commented:

The “broken token” theme is well known, and many versions of this particular story line exist. [Percy] Grainger recorded this one in 1906 from Mrs. Thomson at Barrow-on-Humber. It appears in Lincolnshire Posy as The Brisk Young Sailor (who returned to wed his True Love).

Home Service recorded Grainger's A Lincolnshire Posy including A Brisk Young Sailor in 1986 for their album Alright Jack.

Bob Lewis sang The Young and Single Sailor at a concert he did with Bob Copper at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on 17 October 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

Magpie Lane sang I Saw a Maid in My Father's Garden in 2002 on their CD Six for Gold.

Finest Kind sang Fair Maid Walking on their 2003 album Silks & Spices. They noted:

The return of a man after years away at sea, disguised so he can test his lover’s faithfulness, was probably an ancient story device when Homer sang about Odysseus and Penelope. During the past 200 years, the plot has been the basis of the “broken token” ballad, sung in dozens of versions on both sides of the Atlantic. Each is a dialogue between a maiden and her disguised sailor lover who tries to woo her. When the maid spurns him, the sailor reveals his identity by producing the “token” of their love—his half of a ring they broke before he went away—and the couple is happily reunited.

Shelley [Posen] learned our version in the 1970s from the singing of the English brother duo Robin and Barry Dransfield on their classic album, The Rout of the Blues. They got their tune from Percy Grainger's Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs, and the words from the EFDSS songbook, Marrow Bones.

Steve Turner sang The Poor and Single Sailor in 2008 on his Tradition Bearers album The Whirligig of Time. He noted:

This Scottish version of the classic ‘broken token’ ballad is one of the fullest I've come across. The song is a tribute to short memories and good hiding places.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang Young and Single Sailor in 2009 on their WildGoose CD Cold Fen. Mary Humphreys noted:

Ida Huckell wrote this song out in sol-fa notation for Lucy Broadwood and sent it via the Bull family. I can find no record of Ida Huckell after the 1891 census. She was 15 in September 1906 when she sent the song to Miss Broadwood. Ida wrote that the song came from a great-aunt, though she does not name her. I do not believe that the song has ever been published. It has a very pretty tune and compares favourably with other versions.

Hannah James sang The Young and Single Sailor in 2009 on her and Sam Sweeney's first duo CD, Catches & Glees. They also performed it at a House Gig in Bedfordshire in October 2011:

Old Blind Dogs sang Broken Ring in 2010 on their CD Wherever Yet May Be. Aaron Jones commented:

I worked with fiddler/singer Tom McConville for a couple of years and he used to sing an Old Time ‘Broken Token’ song called Pretty Fair Maid. I found this old Irish version of the song in the fantastic Sam Henry's Songs of the People. The concept that you can go abroad, return and your beloved not recognise you is a concept familiar to many gigging musicians!

Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer sang The Broken Token in 2011 on their WildGoose album Stones on the Ground. They noted:

Collated from a number of traditional variations on the broken token theme. Boy goes off to make a fortune but somehow has the foresight to think that on his return, his true love won’t recognise him. Perhaps in disguise, on his return he wants to find out if she has been faithful. In all the versions we have read, there’s never been a reference of her seeing if he has been faithful. That’s equality for you!

Arthur Knevett sang Seven Years Did I Have a Sweetheart on his 2016 CD Simply Traditional. He commented in his liner notes:

This ‘broken token’ ballad is from the singing of the wonderful Irish singer Maggie Murphy. There are many songs in which a ring is broken in two, each half being kept as a love token and a means of recognition after a long separation, usually by the young man going to sea for seven year. H.G. Wells in his book Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul uses the same idea when Kipps is given half a sixpence as a love token by his sweetheart Ann.

Helen Diamond sang Standing in Yon Flowery Garden on her 2018 eponymous first album Helen Diamond. She noted:

This version comes from the fantastic Armagh singer Sarah Anne O’Neill. I learned it from Topic Record’s Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10).

Annie Winter sang Fair Maid Walking in Her Garden on Amsher's 2018 album of Hampshire songs collected by Lucy Broadwood in Oxfordshire, Patience Vaisey at Adwell 1892. Bob Askew noted:

Also known as Sailor Boy and Fair Phoebe. Another broken token song: a sailor returns unrecognised. This was very popular with over 100 entries in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. In her pre-cinematic time, perhaps think of young Patience imagining herself swooning into Clark Gable's arms!

More Maids sang Maid in Her Father's Garden on their 2021 CD Fourmaids. They noted:

We first heard this song played by the band North Cregg, and we gave it our own spin. It combines two common motives in traditional ballads, one being a nobleman’s romantic advances to a poor girl who subsequently turns him down because she believes that their social differences cannot be overcome or that his reasons are not honest and fair. The other one being the broken token motive: Lovers exchange a token—often a ring—before one of them—usually the man—leaves to go to sea or to war. Often the man will test the girl’s faithfulness by disguising himself when approaching her upon his return.

This particular story takes a different turn—o such an extent that one might suspect the gentleman isn’t the lost lover at all, but a villain who got hold of the ring in a dubious way.

Compare this to Lal Waterson singing The Welcome Sailor on her and Norma Waterson's LP and CD A True Hearted Girl and on the CD reissue of The Watersons' For Pence and Spicy Ale, and to The Dark-Eyed Sailor, sung by Steeleye Span on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, and by June Tabor and the Oysterband on their album Freedom and Rain.


Nancy Kerr sings The Poor and Young Single Sailor Linda Adams sings The Young and Single Sailor

A fair maid walking all in a garden
A brisk young sailor she chanced to spy
He stepped up to her thinking to view her
Said he, “Fair maid, could you fancy I?”

A fair maid walked all in her garden.
A brisk young sailor she chanced to spy.
He stepped up to her, thinking to view her.
Says he, “Fair maid, could you fancy me?”

“You seem to me like a man of honour,
A man of honour you seem to be,
How can you impose on a poor young woman
Who is not fit your servant for to be?”

“Oh no, young man, you're a man of honour,
A man of honour you seem to be.
So don't impose on a poor young woman
Who is scarce fitted your servant to be.”

“If you are not fitted to be my servant
Then still I have great regard for thee.
I'll marry you and make you a lady
And you'll have servants to wait on thee.”

“If you tell me you're a poor young woman,
The more regard I shall have for you.
So come with me and I'll make you happy,
And you'll have servants for to wait on you.”

“But I have a true lover of my own, sir,
For seven years he's been on the sea
And seven years I have waited for him.
If he's alive, he'll be true to me”

“Oh no, young man, I have a sweetheart,
And seven long years he's away from me,
And seven more I will wait for him,
And if he's alive he will return to me.”

“Oh, seven years makes an alteration.
Perhaps he's drowned and is now at rest.”
“Then no other man shall ever join me,
For he's the darling boy that I love best.”

He put his hand all in his bosom,
His fingers being both long and small,
Saying, “Here's a ring that was broke between us.”
And when she sees it then down she falls.

He put his hand all in his pocket,
His fingers being both long and small,
Saying, “Here's the ring, love, we broke between us.”
Soon as she saw it, then she down did fall.

He took her up all in his arms,
Giving her kisses one two and three.
Said, “I am the poor and young single sailor
Who has returned for to marry thee.”

He took her close all in his arms,
He gave her kisses by one, two, three,
Saying, “I'm your young and single sailor,
That has come home for to marry thee.”

Steve Turner sings The Poor and Young Single Sailor

A fair maid all in her garden walking,
A young man chanced her to see.
He stepped up to her, thinking to gain her,
And said, “Fair maid, can you fancy me?”

First with smiling and then reviling
She said, “Young man, what want you with me?
For I am neither to woo nor marry
Nor yet a serving girl to fee.

“I'm just a poor and forsaken maiden
Which causes many to laugh at me.
I had a true love all of my own, sir,
And seven years he's been gone from me.”

“If seven years he's been gone to sea, love,
Then surely he has forgotten thee.
Or else by now he'd have written to you
Were he not drowned all in the sea.”

“If he's alive I do love him dearly,
And if he's dead I wish him rest;
For of all the young men I ever saw
I do declare that I love him best.”

“Don't you see yon bonny lands, love?
So bonny they lie in and out,
And don't so see yon bonny castle
The stormy winds do blow about?

“And don't you see yon bonny garden
Decked all around with flowers fine?
Will you forsake your young single sailor
To follow yonder and you'll be mine?”

“I'll never have your bonny castle
Were my single sailor to come home,
Nor all your lands and all your rents, sir,
Though you count them all in a high sum.”

He said, “I will no longer feign now,
It's a pity true love should be crossed.
I am your poor and your single sailor
By the raging seas you thought was lost.”

“If you're my poor and my single sailor
Your form and colour do not agree.
For in long absence he might have changed,
It's seven years since I did him see.”

He put his hand all in his bosom,
His pretty fingers were long and small;
He drew the ring that they broke between them
And when she saw it down she did fall.

He took her up all in his arms then,
He gave her kisses one, two and three,
Saying, “I'm your poor and your single sailor
Just now returned for to marry thee.”

They went unto the church directly
Thinking that it would end all strife.
And the very next morning there they were married,
Now she's become the sailor's wife.

More Maids sing Maid in Her Father's Garden

There was a maid in her father's garden
A gentleman being passing by
He stood a while and he gazed upon her
Saying, fair young lady will you marry me

I'm no lady but a poor girl
And a poor man's daughter of low degree
So now, young man, choose another sweetheart
For I'm not fitting your maid to be

I have houses and I have lands
And I have money to set you free
I'll make you a nice young lady
And you'll have servants to wait on thee

It's seven years since I had a sweetheart
And seven more since i did him see
Seven more I will wait upon him
If he's alive he'll come home to me

It's seven years since you had a sweetheart
And seven more since you did him see
Seven more you will wait upon him
Perhaps that young man you'll never see

If he's sick I wish him better
And if he's dead I wish him rest
If he's alive he will come home to me
He’s the fairest man I do love best

He put his hand into his pocket
His gentle fingers they were thin and small
And out between them he drew a gold ring
And when she saw it down she did fall

He took her up all in his arms
And gave her kisses most tenderly
Saying, I'm your true love, a single sailor
Who came home from sea, to wed with thee

If you're my true love, a single sailor
Your face and features are strange to me
But seven years make great alterations
On the raging seas between you and me


The words are from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959. Linda Adams' variations transcribed by Reinhard Zierke. Thanks to Garry Gillard for the Nancy Kerr transcription.