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The Crafty Farmer

[ Roud 2640 ; Child 283 ; G/D 2:267 ; Ballad Index C283 ; trad.]

This ballad is from a family of ballads about robbers outwitted. In The Crafty Farmer (Roud 2640; Child 283) it is the farmer himself who is, er, crafty. In The Highwayman and the Farmer’s Daughter (Roud 2638; Laws L2) it is his daughter and in Jack and the Robber (Roud 2637; Laws L1) it is the farmer's servant boy. The Traditional Ballad Index catalogues Child 283 and Laws L1 as the same song.

Alexander Keith printed The Crafty Farmer in 1925 in his book Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs. This version was collected by Gavin Greig from J.W. Beattie of New Pitsligo, Scotland, on September 21, 1909 as The Farmer and the Robber. Keith commented:

The Crafty Farmer is probably the best specimen of that considerable class of ballads, long popular among chap-book and similar printers, which tell how thieves have been outwitted by the cunning of various persons of both sexes. Child prints his version from a 1796 chap-text. Our version, while no doubt descended from a printed source, has lost some stanzas and lines, and acquired others which are not improvements, in the course of its oral career. We may describe it, and accept it as the traditional survivor of something better. Logan, in his Pedlar's pack, gives a number of particulars of the ballad's history.

Ewan MacColl sang The Crafty Farmer in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III. This track was also included in 2009 on his Topic anthology Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Golstein commented in the album's booklet:

This is probably the best example of the many ballads which deal with the outwitting of thieves and highwaymen by the cunning of plain folk. Such ballads were very popular with chapbook and broadside printers in the 18th and 19th centuries, so that versions which have come down in tradition show little variation from early printed copies.

Child did not have a very high opinion of this ballad, referring to it as being “very ordinary”. He included it in his great work, however, because it “has enjoyed great popularity, and is given for that reason and as a specimen of its class”.

For all of its early popularity, the ballad has been collected rarely in modern times. It has been reported only once in America, and not at all in England during this century. Numerous versions of other “outwitted thief” ballads, including The Yorkshire Bite and The Maid of Rygate among others, are still known in tradition in both countries. Only in Scotland, however, is The Crafty Farmer still found in tradition.

MacColl's version was learned from his father.

Ewan MacColl also sang The Crafty Farmer on his 1960 Topic album Chorus from the Gallows.

Kate Rusby sang this song as Silly Old Man in 2014 on her CD Ghost.

Lyrics

J.W. Beattie sings The Farmer and the Robber Ewan MacColl sings The Crafty Farmer

I'm gaun to sing a sang,
And I hope it will gie ye content,
Aboot an aul' fairmer,
Gaun awa to pay his rent.

I'm gaun to sing ye a sang,
And I hope it'll gie ye content,
It's a aboot an auld fairmer,
Gaun awa' to pay his rent.

Chorus (after each verse):
Sing falla la la la la,
Sing falla la la la lee,
Sing falla la la la la,
Sing falla la la la lee.

As he was riding alang,
Alang on the highway,
A gentleman robber rode up to him
And thus to him did say:

As he was a-ridin' along,
A-ridin' upon the highway,
A gentleman robber rode up to him
And these words he did say:

“How far are ye gaun this way, kind sir?”
Which made the aul' man to smile;
“Indeed,” quoth the aul' man,
“I'm jist gaun sax mile.

“Hoo far are ye gaun, kind sir?”
This made the auld man to smile;
“To tell you the truth,” the auld man said,
“I'm just gaun twa-three mile.

“I am an aul' fairmer
Jist rentin a small piece of ground,
And the half-yearly rent of it
Amounts to forty pounds.

“A doited auld carle am I,
Just rentin a sma' piece o' grund,
And the half-yearly rent o' it
Amounts to forty pounds.

“My landlord he's been absent
For twelve months or more,
Which makes the yearly rent of it
Amount unto fourscore.”

“But my landlord's no' been at hame,
I've no' seen him a year or more,
Which makes the yearly rent o' it
Amount unto fourscore.”

“Ye shouldna hae told this, kind sir,
When robbers they're so many,
And if they meet you on the way,
They'll rob you of your money.”

“You shouldnae hae told me this,
When robbers they are so many,
For if they met you on the way,
They'd rob you of every penny.”

The aul' man grew crusty,
Says, “I don't care a fig,
I have it well secured in bags,
Just under the saddle I ride.”

The auld man winked his e'e,
Says, “I don't care a fig,
My money is safe intae my bags,
Just under my saddle rig.”

The robber to the aul' man said,
“Deliver up your money,
Or else your life I'm sure to take,
For pistols are nae canny.”

The gentleman robber then said,
“Deliver up your money,
Or else your life'll be snuffed oot,
For pistols are nae canny.”

The aul' man he grew crusty,
Says, “What's in the world so many,”
Took aff the saddle, threw it over his head,
Says, “Ye fetch it if ye should have any.”

But the farmer he was crafty,
As i nthis world are many,
He threw the saddle oot ovet the hedge,
Says, “Fetch it, if ye'll have any.”

The robber dismounted his horse
With courage so stout and bold;
Away in search of the saddle he ran,
Gave the aul' man his horse to hold.

The robber he got off his horse
With courage so stout and bold;
Awa' in search o' the saddle he ran,
Gave the auld man his horse tae hold.

The aul' man got foot in the stirrup,
And then he got on at the stride,
And syne he set out at the gallop
Ye needna hae bidden him ride.

The auld man pit his foot in the stirrup,
And then he got on at the stride,
And syne he set oot at the gallop
Ye needna hae bidden him ride.

The robber he flew in a passion,
Because nothing was in the bags,
He out with an aul' rusty gully,
And he hackit the saddle to rags.

The robber he flew in a passion,
There was naethin' but straw in the bags,
So he drew oot his rusty auld gully,
And hackit the saddle to rags.

As the fairmer was riding hame again,
And riding through yon glen,
He spied his aul' mear Maggie,
And cries, “Maggie, will ye come hame?”

As the fairmer was ridin' hame,
And gallopin' through the glen,
He spied auld Maggie, his riding mear,
And shouted, “Maggie, come hame!”

When he arrived at hame again,
And told them what he had done,
The jolly aul' wife took off his saddle,
And roon the toon she ran.

And when that he got hame,
And told what he had done,
The auld man's wife pit on his claes,
And roond the hoose she ran.

And aye she ran and aye she sang,
And aye she sang in devotion:
“If ever our dother happen to be marriet,
It will help to enlarge her potion.”

When they opened the robber's bag,
A wonderful sight to behold,
There was five hundred guineas in silver
And five hundred guineas in gold.

When they opened the robber's bag,
'Twas wondrous to behold,
There were six hundred guineas in silver
And six hundred guineas in gold.
Sing fal al al al lee,
Sing fal al al al al lee.

And aye she danced around,
And made a muckle commotion,
“If ever oor dochter gets married,” she said,
It'll help tae enlarge her potion.”