> Folk Music > Songs > Down By the (Old) Riverside / The Lily-White Hand

Down By the (Old) Riverside / The Lily-White Hand

[ Roud 564 ; Laws P18 ; G/D 6:1188 ; Ballad Index LP18 ; Bodleian Roud 564 ; trad.]

The Musical Tradition 2007 anthology of the Brazil Family, Down By the Old Riverside, starts with four versions of Harry Brazil, Doris Davies, Danny Brazil and Lemmie Brazil singing The Old Riverside. Three of them were recorded by Peter Shepheard in 1966, and Danny Brazil was recorded by Gwylim Davies in 1995. The booklet accompanying this anthology commented:

The Doris Davies track is amongst the first recordings Peter Shepheard made of any of the Brazil family—and it was Doris who pointed him to her father Harry. Her version of The Old Riverside was fairly complete, and it then became a challenge to try and get the complete Brazil Family version of the song by recording it from as many of the family as possible.

A well-known song, with 80 entries in the Roud Index, 21 of which are sound recordings. Almost all are from England, plus a few from the north of Ireland and North America. Gypsy names crop up frequently amongst the listed singers.

George Spicer sang The Lily-White Hand in a recording made by Mike Yates between 1972 and 1974 that was released on the 1975 Topic album When Sheepshearing's Done and on the 2001 Musical Traditions CD of songs and music from the Mike Yates collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. His son Ron Spicer sang it on the 1995 Veteran CD of traditional singing from the South East of England, When the May Is All in Bloom. Mike Yates commented in the first album's liner notes:

The Lily-White Hand is a song with a long, and at times complicated, lineage. “He took her by the lily white hand, and he laid her upon a bed” are lines in Chapman's May Day of 1602, and part of the song's theme appears in the early blackletter broadside of The Western Knight. The song is well known in Ireland under the title Blackwater Side. In the version called Abroad As I Was Walking, which George Gardiner collected in Hampshire in 1907, the girl is aged fourteen ant it is she who is responsible for the young man's seduction. No doubt Victorian morality was outraged by such sentiment and it would seem that our present song was rewritten in the 19th century in an effort to conform to what was then current taste.

May Bradley sang Down By the Riverside in a recording made by Fred Hamer in 1959, 1965 or 1966 on her Musical Tradition anthology Sweet Swansea (2010).

Fred Jordan sang a fragment of Down By the Riverside in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1965 which was published in 2003 on his Veteran CD A Shropshire Lad.

Harry Cox sang this song as The Grand Hotel in a recording made by Cliff Godbold in 1967 on his Topic anthology of 2000, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the liner notes:

Frequently collected in England in the 20th century, and also well-known in Ireland, Scotland and North America, under titles such as The Lily-White Hand or Down By the Riverside, but rare on broadsides. Traditional versions display a fair amount of textual difference, but with key phrases such as “the younger you are the better for me” cropping up time and again. In many versions, including the earliest known, collected in Ayrshire in 1827, the song ends with the girl's lament for the cruelty of men, while others agree with Harry in the description of the cold-blooded murder.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang Down By the Old Riverside in a recording made by Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset on April 19, 1968. This was published in 2012 on the Topic anthology I'm a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Series, Volume 22).

Cyril Tawney sang this song as The Squire and the Fair Maid in a recording made in 1971 by Tony Taverner. It was released in 1976 on his Trailer album of seduction songs from the Baring-Gould manuscripts, Down Among the Barley Straw. His liner notes said it was “from J. Hoskins of South Brent, 1889”.

Mary Ann Haynes sang Lily-White Hand in a 1973 recording made by Mike Yates which was originally published on the Veteran tape of traditional songs from Sussex, Ripest Apples (Veteran VT107) and later included on the 1993 Veteran CD of traditional folk music, songs and dances, Stepping It Out.

Sophie Legg sang Down By the Old Riverside in a recording made by Pete Coe in 1978 on the 2003 Veteran CD of songs from the Orchard family of Cornish travellers, Catch Me If You Can.

Jim Causley sang Down By the Old Riverside on his 2005 WildGoose CD Fruits of the Earth.

Carolyn Robson sang Abroad As I Was Walking on the WildGoose CD The Axford Five; it features fifteen traditional English songs collected by George Gardiner in 1907 from five woman singers in Axford, Hampshire.

Lisa Knapp sang Lily White Hand on her 2017 CD Till April Is Dead. She commented:

From a CD of songs published by Musical Traditions Records collected from the Brazil family; a Romany travelling family hailing from South West England who have an excellent repertoire of traditional songs. The desperate situation of the tricked young lady and the chilling sensibility of ‘kind Sir’ along with the romantic imagery of the clear running stream, the big house, ‘the moon adorned‘ and the gulden hills betray this simple tune's grisly ending.

Lyrics

The Brazil Family sings The Old Riverside

As I strolled out one May morning,
It was down by the old riverside;
'Twas there I met a fair young maid
And on her I placed my eye.

I asked her if she would take a walk
Down by the old riverside,
That there we might sit and talk a while,
Making her my lawful bride.

“No then, kind sir, to get married to you,
My age it is too young.”
“The younger you are more better you is,
More fitting you are for me.
That I should say in my old days
I married my wife a maid.”

He took her home to his father's house,
His lawful wife to be;
They laid there all that long night,
'Til daylight did repair.

All the first part of the night
The couple sport and played,
And the rest part of the night
Close in his arms she laid.

When that long night was past and gone
And daylight did repair;
The young man rose and put on his clothes,
Saying, “Fare thee well my dear.”

“This is not the promise you made unto me
Down by the old riverside;
You promised that you would marry me
And make me your lawful bride.”

“For to promise to marry a girl like you,
Is not such a thing I would do;
You go home to your own dear mother's house
And there you cry your fill;
And tell them all what I've done to you,
It was done by your own good will.”

“Do you think I'd go home to my own mother's house
To bring her trouble and disgrace?
I'd rather go and drown myself
And sleep in some lonesome place.”

Now he catched hold of her lily-white hand
And he kissed both cheek and chin;
He took her down by the old riverside
And he gently pushed her in.

See how she swims, see how she goes,
She goes floating with the tide,
'Tis the room of a maid to have a watery grave,
She had no right to have been my bride.

Now I'll sail away to some other foreign part
Where another girl will take my eye,
Where no-one will know the deed I've done
To the girl I left behind.

I've got a root in my father's garden,
Some do call it rue;
For fishes swims and swallows dive,
Young men they don't prove true.

May Bradley sings Down By the Riverside Fred Jordan sings Down By the Riverside

As I walked out one bright summer's morn
Down by the riverside
I met with a pretty fair young maid
Placing gently towards my side.

As I walked out one fine summer’s morn
Down by the riverside
I overtook a pretty fair maid
Pacing gently the waterside.

I took her by the lily white hand,
Kissed both her cheeks and her chin.
I took her down by the riverside
Just to spend one night with her.

“This is not the promise that you gave to me
Down by the riverside.
You promised that you would marry me
Make me your lovely wife.”

“Who'd think of marrying a girl like you
To make you my lawful wife?
You'd better go to your own mother's home
Just to dry those tears away.”

“I'd rather go and drowned myself
Down in some lonesome place.”

Now he took her by 'er lily white hand,
Kissed both her cheeks and her chin.
He led her down by the riverside
There gentlye pushed her in.

He took her by the lily-white hand
Kissed both her cheeks and chin
He took her by the riverside
And he gently pushed her in.

Oh there she goes, oh there she goes
She's going with the tide.
Instead of her having a watery grave,
Ah, she ought to have been my bride.

Oh there she goes, oh there she goes
She’s flowing away with the tide
Instead of having a watery grave
She ought to have been my bride.

Ron Spicer sings The Lily-White Hand Harry Cox sings The Grand Hotel

As Johnny walked out one midsummer morn
Down by the riverside,
Twas there he spied a pretty fair maid
Who was pleasing to his mind.

He'd met her by the riverside
And kissed both cheek and chin.
He took her to the grand hotel
To spend the night within.

“Good morning to you, my pretty fair maid,
Come sing me your lovers’ song.
For I should like to marry you.”
“Kind sir, I am too young.”

She said, “Kind sir, I'm much too young
To spend the night with thee.”
“The younger you are the better you'd be
To spend the night with me.”

“The younger you are, the better for me,
That in some future day
I may think within myself
That I married my wife a babe.”

He took her by the lily white hand,
He kissed both cheek and chin,
He took her to a very large house
To spend the night within.

The night being passed, the morning came,
The sun shone bright and clear.
The young man arose, put on his clothes,
Saying, “fare thee well my dear.”

The deed was done; the night was o'er;
The moon shone bright and clear.
The young man rose, put on his clothes
And said, “Goodbye, my dear.”

“And that’s not the promise you gave to me
Down by the riverside.
You promised that you would marry me,
Make me your lawful bride.”

“It's not the promise you made to me
Down by the riverside.
You promised that you'd marry me
And I should be your bride.”

“If that is the promise I gave to you,
It’s more than I can do,
To think of marrying a poor girl like you
So easily led astray.

“So you may go back to your mother’s house,
Then you may cry your fill
And think what you have brought on yourself
All by your own good will.”

“I will not go home to my mother’s house
To make any grief or distress.
But I will go and drown myself
All in some lonesome place.”

“I can't go to my parents' house
In shame and such disgrace.
I'd rather go and drown myself
Down in some lonely place.”

He took her by the lily white hand,
He kissed both cheek and chin.
He took her to the riverside
And he gently pushed her in.

He took her to the riverside;
He kissed both cheek and chin.
He took her by the lily-white hand
And gently pushed her in.

See how she plunge; see how she float
A-going with the tide.
This fair young maid I've drownded here
That should have been my bride.

Come all fair maids take warning by me
Down by the riverside,
And never court a rich man's son
For you'll never be his bride.