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Green Gravel

[ Roud 1368 ; Ballad Index R532 ; Bodleian Roud 1368 ; Wiltshire Roud 1368 ; trad.]

Green Gravel is printed in Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland's book English County Songs (London: Leadenhall Press, 1893) where Lucy Broadwood described this children's game:

This game is played by girls only, all joining hands and dancing in a ring. One, called the “mother”, who by the way does not stand in the middle, but in the ring, names the girls in any order she pleases. As each girl is named, she turns her back on on the ring and covers her face with her hands or pinafore; the game then goes on without her.

This dismal little game, which has been found in many parts of the country, is obviously a dramatic representation of mourning, and the suggested explanation of “green gravel” as a corruption of ‘green grave’ is almost undoubtedly the right one. In the Scottish lowlands, about a hundred years ago [i.e. c.1790], the attendants on a corpse newly laid out went out of the death-chamber, returning to it backwards. Is there possibly a reference to this or a similar custom in the words “turn round your head” in this game?

Evelyne Beers sang Green Gravel in 1975 on the Fox Hollow Festival 10th anniversary album, A Place to Be.

Fay Hield took Green Gravel from Alice Bertha Gomme's book The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland Vol. 1 (London: David Nutt, 1894). She sang it on her 2016 album Old Adam, and it was also released in October 2015 as an advance digital download single. Fay commented in her sleeve notes:

Green Gravel is a playground song with many versions and variants, none telling the full story. I took bits and pieces and built something that makes sense to me.

Lyrics

Fay Hield sings Green Gravel

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
Such beautiful flowers as ever were seen.

Oh Annie, oh Annie, your sweetheart has fled,
He's sent you a letter to turn round your head.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The fairest young damsel that ever was seen.

She's neither within, she's neither without,
She's up in the garret a-walking about.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The pretty young maidens are plain to be seen.

Oh Annie, oh Annie, your sweetheart is dead!
They sent you a letter to drop down your head.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The dismalest damsel that ever was seen.

Oh Mother, oh Mother, do you think it is true?
Oh yes, dear! Oh yes, dear! Then what shall I do?

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The pretty young maidens are not to be seen.

We washed her, we dried her, we rolled her in silk,
And we wrote down her names with a gold pen and ink.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The flowers are all faded, there's none to be seen.

Around the green gravel the grass is so green,
The flowers are all faded, there's none to be seen.