> Folk Music > Songs > False-Hearted William

False-Hearted William / The False Young Man / Floating Down the Tide / By the Deep River Side

[ Roud 1414 ; Master title: False-Hearted William ; G/D 6:1155 ; Ballad Index CrSNB053 ; MusTrad DB19 ; VWML CJS2/9/795 , CJS2/9/1730 ; GlosTrad Roud 1414 ; Wiltshire 14 ; trad.]

Tom Willett sang The False Young Man in c. 1960 to Ken Stubbs. This recording was included in 2013 on the two Willett Family anthologies A-Swinging Down the Lane and Adieu to Old England. Rod Stradling commented in the latter’s booklet:

This appears to be a fragment of Floating Down the Tide (aka Camden Town etc). Tom’s words are very close to those in the version collected by Sharp from Mrs Tremlett in Bagborough, Somerset, in 1908 [VWML CJS2/9/1730] . This ballad was noted several times in England: in Somerset, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Dorset; in Scotland in Aberdeenshire; and in Ireland in Co Fermanagh.

Mary Delaney sang In Charlestown There Lived a Lass on one of Jim Carroll’s and Pat Mackenzie’s recordings of Irish Travellers in England made in 1973-1985 that were published in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology From Puck to Appleby. The collectors commented in the accompanying booklet:

Otherwise known as Floating Down the Tide; The Collier Lad; Molly and William etc.; this ballad was taken down several times in England: in Somerset, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Dorset, and in Scotland, in Aberdeenshire. As far as we could find, there has been only one version made available from Ireland, that sung by publican Annie Mackenzie of Boho, Co Fermanagh, although the collector, Seán Corcoran, says it was widely known in that area.

The English texts locate the events as taking place in Camden, Brighton or Cambridge, while in Scotland it is set in Kilmarnock, Dumbarton or Marno (Marnock, Banffshire?). A Canadian version places the location as Charlottetown, similar to Mary’s Charlestown. One English version gives the unfaithful lover as a farmer’s son, while the three complete Scots texts make him a collier; otherwise he is, as here, ‘a false young man’.

Mary’s text has similarities to the two version of the song Camden Town (Roud 564; Laws P18), recorded from English gypsies William Hughes and Nelson Ridley by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, particularly the verse that begins “Now I will not go home…”.

Elizabeth Stewart sang this song as In London Town on her 1992 Hightop Imagery cassette ’Atween You an’ Me. She also sang it at the Edinburgh International Festival, a recording of which was included in 1995 on the Greentrax CD Folk Songs of North-East Scotland. Peter Hall commented in the album’s notes:

There are numerous songs which tackle this all too common theme of women betrayed and there are nearly fifty such items in Volume 6 of the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection. There are, however, none which end in precisely the same way with the betrayer himself laying down his life. The song was learned by Elizabeth from her aunt, Lucy Stewart, whose formidable repertoire contained many songs never before collected; a timely reminder that the tradition can never be totally captured even by the most assiduous searchers. The singing style is quite typical of the traveller’s talent for extending and embroidering a very simple basic melody to give it a tragic majesty.

Andy Turner learned Floating Down the Tide from a Sharp MSS at the Library at Cecil Sharp House, collected on 27 December 1906 from Susan Williams (1832-1915) of Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset [VWML CJS2/9/795] . He sang it as the 19 January 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Tom Willett sings The False Young Man

Now as Johnny was a-walking
Down by the river side,
He saw his own dear Polly dear
Go a-floating with the tide.

With a-pulling off of his fine clothes
For to swim across the clear,
When he catched hold of his Polly
When she then was frightened in.

May the Lord have mercy upon my soul,
I have provèd a false young man.
So all night on these cold Claudy Banks
I’ll sleep with my Polly.

Spoken: I don’t know more …

Mary Delaney sings In Charlestown There Lived a Lass

For in Charlestown there dwelled a lass,
She was as constant as she was true,
When the young man fell in courting her
And drew her in despair.

He courted her, oh, for six long months,
And to him she proved unkind,
Then he courted her for six long months,
And by him she proved a child.

“Oh, go home, go home to your dwelling place,
And don’t bring your parents in disgrace.
Oh, go home to your dwelling place
And you proved with a false young man.”

“Now I will not go home to my dwelling place,
For to bring my parents in disgrace,
I would sooner go and drown myself
In a dark and a lonely place.”

Now as Willie, he went out walking,
He went out to take fresh air,
And he seen his own love Mary
In the waves of the silvery tide.

Oh, he strips off his fine clothing,
To the river brim he swum,
And he brung his own love Mary
From the waves of the silvery tide.

“Oh Mary, darling Mary,
Is this what you have done,
And the last words I have said to you,
I just said it for fun.”

Elizabeth Stewart sings In London Town

In London Town there lived a maid,
She was lovely, young and fair,
Till a young man come a-coortin her
And he brought her to despair.

O seven long months hae passed and one
And the ninth one comin on;
Sayin, “Willie my dear, will ye marry me
Before my baby’s born?”

“For to marry you I shall not do,
Nor neither tend to do.
So go and let your parents know
That I’ve proved false to you.”

“To go and let my parents know,
For them to grieve ower me;
I’ll go down to yonder sandy banks
And I’ll float wi my baby.”

One day while Willie was walking
Down by the river side,
It’s who did he see but his own Mary
She come floatin in wi the tide.

He lifted up her lily-white hand
For to see if she was dead,
Sayin, “Lord, hae mercy on her soul,
She has gone to a watery grave.

“To go home and let her parents know,
For them to banish me;
I’ll go down to yonder sandy banks
And I’ll float wi my Mary.”